January 19, 2011 3:02 AM   Subscribe

Mefites who have successfully lost weight and kept it off: How did you stop yourself from obsessing about food everyday?

So, I'm exercising, eating less and losing weight! GO ME!

But I need strategies to keep me from obsessing about food. Thankfully, it is rarely about food I should not eat (chocolates etc) but more about the food I know I can. I am constantly mouth-hungry and anxious, and constantly planning meals or imagining how good something would taste even if I'm not hungry.

It's really not fun. I don't understand why I feel so anxious about food every time I consciously decide to reduce intake. But I do. Never when I am not watching what I eat; but when I don't watch it, I just seem to make the wrong choices automatically. It's a horrible toss-up: healthy and anxious/unhealthy and chilled.

I have a good and busy life with lots to keep me occupied. And I really like the food I am eating so it's not like I'm deprived and munching on Ryvita and cottage cheese everyday. But how can I feel less anxious and obsess-y the second I decide to eat a bit healthier?
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Does the food you're eating have enough fat in it? Try making sure you put cream in your coffee and whole milk on your cereal, instead of the skim milk of the devil, and see how much better you feel.
posted by tel3path at 3:11 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks tel3path, actually I should have mentioned that I'm lowering carbs more so than fat, although still limiting fat a little.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:13 AM on January 19, 2011

When you're hungry, acknowledge that feeling and get comfortable with it. I can't describe this any better, but that's what works for me when I'm watching what I eat.
posted by hannahlambda at 3:35 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: How long have you been doing this for? If it's only a few weeks (say, a new year's resolution), this is way normal. It take time to establish healthy habits and for eating healthy to become just another "thing you do" without really thinking about it. The longer you do it, the easier it will get, especially as you start to see good results and get positive reinforcement from the people around you. (Sadly, the really hard part is keeping on top of your loss when you're "done". One chocolate bar won't hurt...ooh look at that cake...oh crap I put most of it back on. OR SO I'VE HEARD.)

If you've been doing this for a while and still feel kind of angsty and obsessive about food - do you actually write down your food plan? I have a weekly planner where I write out all my meals (after I get my CSA box, so I know what vegies I have to use). Then it's DONE. If it's not on the plan, it doesn't get eaten, it's not in the house. If I think of something I really want, I make a note of it and add it to next week's plan. If I get snackish, the only stuff available is raw vegies.
posted by jaynewould at 3:36 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and along the lines of what tel3path said, little treats worked into your day = good. Like cream in your coffee (or, in my delicious case, dulce de leche - though that's certainly not low carb), a little bit of full-fat sour cream or butter with your vegetables. The diet versions of this stuff are craptacular, even if you can supposedly eat twice as much for the same calories. Give yourself little bits of something nice to look forward to each day.
posted by jaynewould at 4:21 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: You say limiting fat a little, consider eating fat until you're sated. It doesn't take much fat to do that. Don't mix the fat with carbs, you could have like buttery eggs or butter sauce on steak etc.
posted by Not Supplied at 4:26 AM on January 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The start of calorie restriction is hard. You have to retrain your body so it doesn't expect as much food. For me it took about a month or so.

Popcorn is the short term answer to your problem. Seriously. It fills you up and has hardly any calories.

Another trick is to plan what you are going to eat at the start of the day. That way it is over and done with. No anxiety just anticipation. If you do cheat you have to do extra exercise (an evening walk to burn of the cheating calories is my usual). Also remember your goal is long term.

I dropped 50lbs in a year and have kept it off for half a year just counting calories. Nothing else. No atkins. No south beach. No north beach. No beach at all. Those diets are mostly just gimmicks that trick you into incidentally lowering your overall calories until you figure out how to get the cals within their rule set and then they start to fail. So skip the trick and go straight to the cause. Count your calories.

People will tell you about GI this and Gluten that and silly ways to increase your metabolism (chew gum! Stand Up! ) or reduce your cravings and blah blah blah because they read articles in magazines that pay writers every month to write something new so they can sell more magazines. If you find yourself sucked into believing one of these is the answer skip past the article and go to the research support (if it even exists!) and look at the size of the effects. Then ask yourself if your goal is to lose 5lbs in a year. Your answer will be no as it should be. You are dieting because you want to lose more than that. So bypass all these marginal gimmicks and restrict your calories and watch the weight gradually come off at a pace of about a pound to a pound and half a week.

[budget for complete diet failure over xmas and vacations - you do have to live it up now and again]

Perversely, dieting has made me switch to eating far more delicious food than before. If I am going to have dessert it is going to be worth all the calories it has. Forget pre-made pseudo Twinkies when for the same caloric content I can have a slice of homemade Italian Dark Chocolate Torta. McDonalds losess out to Chicken Dhansak. If I am having a beer it is going to be a delicious Belgian rather than a bland Bud. Kate Moss seriously 'mis-underestimated' it when she said "No food tastes as good as skinny feels" . Being skinny makes food taste better and makes you taste better food.

Stick it out. It is worth it.
posted by srboisvert at 4:30 AM on January 19, 2011 [13 favorites]

Meditation has generally helped me. I try to sit for an hour a day focusing on my body's sensations and my ability to observe them and not react. I may end up visualizing something, but I have found my cravings greatly diminish because of a growing ability to observe my hunger/cravings and watch them go away. YMMV
posted by parmanparman at 4:56 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: n-thing the satiaty power to fat. I never limited fat when losing weight. It kept me sane because it kept me full.
posted by melissam at 5:44 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

srboisvert's experience mirrors mine. Counting calories honestly is incredibly helpful and I lost 30lbs without altering what I eat very much (beer every day and dessert after every dinner). If anything I started eating much tastier food because I'd plan the heck out of my meals.

I think you need to learn to deal with being obsessed. It kinda went with the territory for me, and even now that I'm not trying to lose more weight, I'm pretty damn obsessed with my next meal. It's 8:45am and I'm looking forward to dinner already. Channel it towards finding the absolute best and tastiest caloric bang-for-your-buck you can.

I never really stop thinking about my next meal anymore and I'm *always* in a state where I'd like to eat a bit more, even right after a meal. That's not a bad thing since it's the opposite of eating mindlessly, but it does take some getting used to, especially when instant gratification is tempting you everywhere.

That hunger and food obsession is probably a more normal state for your body and psyche than you think. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably felt the same way. Learn to live with it.
posted by pjaust at 5:57 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

But, I do obsess about food. I am an unapologetic "foodie" and I think about it all the time, and I spend a great deal of time collecting and preparing food. I fancy myself entitled to only the finest foods on the market and make sure I have them.

And then I eat them. But only in smallish quantities.
posted by kmennie at 5:58 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I've lost 30 pounds in the last 3 months. My relationship with food has become obsessive and anxiety filled. I understand what you mean. I don't obsess over the food I can't eat because obviously they won't get me a six pack but I obsess over the food that I'm supposed to eat. (But sometimes I can't stop thinking about a Whopper from Burger King, ymmv.)

The solution to my obsession has been to prepare all my meals in advance. If I do my cooking on the weekend and then portion my meals out into Tupperware containers, I am set for the week. I can pull them out without even thinking about it! The problem comes when I've worked all weekend or gone somewhere and have had no time to cook. Then on Monday morning when it's time to eat, I panic. Because I don't have a suitable protein or carb handy.

So my tip for you is to PLAN AHEAD. Get all the anxiety out the way early so that it's smooth saling when it's time to eat.
posted by bobber at 6:32 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What's around you? I'm assuming you've removed all the visual, auditory, and habitual cues (that open bag of snacks on your desk, that 'it's 8pm, time to get a bag of chips from the store' routine, etc.)

Fruit. Veggies. Put them everywhere. So what if a few go bad?
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:48 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I replaced that type of thought behavior with something else that I did enjoy thinking about - when I start with the food, I pause and note it and acknowledge that I'm doing it and then I go think about vacation destinations. And if I'm not up for that I think about staycation ideas around me.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:50 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I lost 17 lbs in about five months last year (from 127 to 110lbs) by reducing my portions and carbs, especially processed carbs. In the first month or two I thought about food constantly. To get around that I nibbled on fresh fruit all day long. For breakfast I had almonds, which are a nibbly kind of food in themselves, I’d really make them last. After lunch I’d have a few pieces of gum and then sip on decaf Diet Pepsi, and somehow the work day would go by.

Eventually I stopped fearing the possibility of hunger and didn’t need these things to keep my mouth occupied.

As someone said earlier, your brain adjusts to the new way you eat.

Good luck!
posted by Dragonness at 7:03 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, totally seconding eating only the absolute most worth-the-calories food you can get.
posted by Dragonness at 7:07 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I lost 130 pounds in 2010.

I obsess about food every day. Sadly, I have serious food issues, and I am trying to deal with them, but I will likely always have them.

But here is what I do to manage them:
1) Exercise - I run a lot, around 30 miles a week. This helps in 3 ways for me. First, my weight naturally fluctuates, based on water and hormones and daily schedules, but my fitness goals are pretty steady. So I can count on my exercise when I can't watch the scale. Second, running when I am too full really kind of hurts, so exercise helps me be mindful of my portion sizes and satiety level. When I am sated (not necessarily full) I stop eating. Third, it balances out some indulgences. If I eat out, or have dessert, either of which are around once a week, I know my exercise will help balance that out.

2) I eat a lot of fruits and veggies. Like 12-15 servings a day. My eating used to include a lot of processed carbs, fast food, and other crap that is typical in the American diet. I cut most of that out, save for the occasional indulgence. But I didn't want to be hungry. Being hungry makes me more likely to eat something unhealthy (sugary or fatty), but that food becomes like a Pavlovian reward. I last longer between rewards, but I always came back to them. So I figure if I am hungry, I'm doing something wrong. So this time, I started with fruits and vegetables. I rely on precut bags of broccoli and cauliflower for a lot of volume. With those bags, I get 4 cups (!) of veggies, plus a serving (2 Tbs) of ranch at lunch, for around 200 calories, and it helps keep me full all day. If I need a snack, I get one, but it is always fresh fruit or veggies. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are half to three-quarters of my plate covered with fruits and veggies. It's not the same full as a double cheeseburger, but it keeps me from being hungry. And after doing it for over a year, my appetite has adjusted, so the greasy cheeseburgers make me nauseous.

So that's what helps my food obsessions. Exercising, and not being hungry.

Good luck with your goals. Remember, it's not about the weight, it's about being healthy.

If there is anything I can do to help, just memail me.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:09 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the useful answers, people! I've best-answered a few, but honestly, everyone's answers have been helpful each in their own way.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:17 AM on January 19, 2011

I know the general food obsession you're talking about, but sometimes I find myself obsessing about something in particular (usually cheese). When that happens have a piece of cheese, my god! Or, you know, whatever it is.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:03 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This "mouth-hungry" feeling completely went away for me when I significantly lowered my carb intake.
I've been on a moderate low-carb diet since the beginning of 2010. It's really simple: No pasta, no bread, no rice, no potatoes, no sugar. I've lost a significant amount of weight and gone down several sizes, though I started the diet for other reasons (I was never overweight). I have had so many health benefits from this diet that I cannot imagine going back to eating refined carbs, ever. Especially not sugar. I feel so much better now!

The crucial thing, I think, is that I don't have any other restrictions. I do NOT restrict fat or calories, ever. On the contrary - I often end up with more food on my plate than I can eat (that would never have happened when I still ate carbs!). I'm firmly convinced that a diet that leaves you "mouth-hungry" will never work in the long term; and in my case, I know that being "mouth-hungry" is an indicator for having eaten too many carbs. "Obsessing" about the next meal, on the other hand, is an indicator that you're not getting enough nutrients. It's a classic symptom of starvation. Don't do that to your body.

If you're intested in scientific background, I'd recommend Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories".
posted by The Toad at 8:44 AM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I hit my goal weight by losing about 140 pounds 11 years ago. Eleven years, one wedding and one child later I'm still in the healthy BMI range (24.X at the moment), but I'm actually in the midst of a weight loss period to correct for holiday indulgences, etc. I anticipate being back in the 22.X BMI territory well before summer arrives.

To directly answer your question, I guess I would say that I avoid obsessing about food every day by only obsessing about it some days. I gained around 6 pounds over the extended holiday period, and I'm OK with that. I expected to gain weight then, and I expected to lose it now, which I'm doing.

So, I'll admit to obsessing about food some of the time, but I wouldn't say I obsess about it all the time I'm making a downward correction. For me, it's really just the first three or four days where I'm consciously fighting a battle with my food impulses. Once I'm over that hump, it starts getting easier, much easier. I like having that streak of "good" days, and as the streak gets longer my appreciation of the streak fights back against the food impulses and makes it easier and easier to keep eating right. I've called this momentum dieting.

Building that initial streak/momentum is the tough part for me. It's the only period in which I might say I obsess about food.

When I'm losing weight, I eat a sound but but pretty rigid diet. I like everything in it, but there's not much change between the days. I think that may help the maintain momentum once I've gone a few days, because I don't have to think much about what I'm going to eat. Thinking less about what I'm going to eat probably also reduces the likelihood of me obsessing about what I'm eating.
posted by NortonDC at 9:59 AM on January 19, 2011

1. I often substitute hot drinks for food. So instead of eating a snack, I'll have tea or coffee (hopefully without too much cream & sugar). Often it suffices for me to simply consume something, even if that something isn't particularly substantial.

2. I try to generally keep busy. This is not always easy to do, but as someone whose thoughts often turn to food out of boredom, I can say that having things to do has helped me avoid overeating. Generally I snack the most on weekends precisely because there's no work to be done.
posted by Maxa at 11:10 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I drink low-cal things that are flavorful. This is why I upgraded from tea to strong coffee (like Sumatra or similar), and from diet soda to Vanilla Coke Zero. I also put a little hot sauce or cayenne on lots of foods just so that I get more flavor, which seems to be what I crave more than anything.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:52 AM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: constantly planning meals or imagining how good something would taste even if I'm not hungry.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this. Food is your friend. Every living thing needs food. Food is also social, and cultural, and just generally a thing that makes us who we are. As long as you're not having to restrain yourself from going into McDonald's every fifteen minutes, you're probably OK.

A few things that might help keep you on the straight and narrow:

- Learn to cook. Like really cook, not just assemble and heat up. From scratch. Sometimes what I really want is to sort of "commune" with ingredients, not necessarily to stuff my face with finished dishes. This will also slow down your consumption. Just last night I was feeling snacky, but there was nothing in the house that I could just stuff my face with. And I didn't feel like cooking anything, as I'd had dinner and was feeling like I'd dirtied, washed, and put away every dish in the house twice already.

- Get interested in a less caloric thing that scratches that same itch. My dad lost and kept off over 100 lbs 15 or so years ago. It's not lost on me that, right around the time that he changed his eating habits, he also got into wine. Because he's a serious wine geek, he buys the good stuff and respects it accordingly. He can still geek out about noses and palates and all that, but it's a lot easier on his system than if he were using that same mental energy on pizza or dessert or whatever.
posted by Sara C. at 12:18 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I gotten more hungry/obsessive as I've plateaued at certain weights. Once my body adjusted to the new caloric intake the hunger got a lot more manageable. I slowly lost 40+ pounds and managed to keep off for a year but I'd like to reach a BMI of <2>
I buy chocolate to have on hand in emergencies but ask my wife to hide it and portion it out to me. It quiets my mind, just knowing that it's in the house if I need it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:20 PM on January 19, 2011

...that should have read "I'd like to reach a BMI of less than 22".
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:22 PM on January 19, 2011

Go to whatever fast food restaurant you crave.

Get whatever you crave and bring it home.

Put it on a plate...notice how it looks nasty already...maybe not.

MAKE IT NASTY. do something to it so you will not eat it. piss on it, wipe it all over your nasty sink. Anything that will keep its appearance, but still make it nasty. REALLY nasty. have it stink if you can. dip a fry in the toilet bowl, put it back in the box. something memorable and nasty.

Next, get some ryvita and cottage cheese. keep your nasty food in front of you while eating your healthy food.

Next time you crave whatever...think of this.

I'm off to eat some grape nuts and skim milk...which is way better than sitting-outside-for-6 hours-kfc.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can absolutely relate. Hell, I just got back from Whole Foods where I found myself not wanting to buy a single vegetable or fish, but I was mesmerized for about 30 seconds staring at the nuttellla... I want some chocolate, but anyway...

I've found a few things help:

Eating a high protein, low carb breakfast as soon as I wake up.
Drinking tons of water all day long.
Having a glass of wine in the evening instead of a sugary snack.
Eating before I get hungry.
Diet sodas help too, but there may be other drawbacks to those.

Hal_c_on that was intense.

I also finds that it's sometimes better to give into an intense craving than to let it build for days or weeks at which point I'm more likely to give in and take several days off, which is far worse that having a single candy bar.
posted by whoaali at 6:04 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've successfully lost around 35 kilograms (with blips, here and there) and kept it off for more than 12 years, despite being a dedicated foodie.

Here's my approach to coping with my love of food:

Don't have 'forbidden foods'. This just leads to obsessiveness. If you want chocolate, eat chocolate. The trick is to only buy a very small serve of really delicious chocolate. Quality, not quantity. Make it last. Eat it slowly. Relish every bite.

Cooking is your friend. Yes it's possible to get fat on home-cooked meals - but it's much easier on processed and takeaway food. If you want a burger, make a burger. If you want chips, make some oven-baked wedges. If you want cake, bake it from scratch. It's much more effort and energy. But more importantly, it's satisfying and keeps your mind occupied and provided you don't eat too many of the choc chips while you're baking, it's fun and makes you feel really connected to what you eat. It's the opposite of mindless eating.

I think you need to accept that a certain amount of your mental energy is always going to go towards food. Which is at it should be - food is central to survival, family life, socialising, pleasure, etc. I love planning my meals and deciding what to cook. I take great joy in cooking food, with good quality ingredients. I will never be one of those people who just doesn't care about food, and I'm fine with that.

Yes to protein protein protein. Want a snack? Have a boiled egg. Have some nuts. Much easier to feel full and satisfied on protein.

Finally, on exercise, if I'm exercising I am much less likely to eat crap because I don't want to undo my good work. And I'm much more likely to keep exercising if I have a goal - ie, do a pull-up by the end of 2010 (which I achieved, and then some). So setting goals for exercise and fitness actually helps me, more generally, with controlling mindless eating.
posted by jasperella at 6:13 PM on January 19, 2011

Assault your tastebuds. A ziplock baggy filled with jicama, cucumber and watermelon, a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of salt and Ancho chile powder. Your brain goes 'ooh sweet sour salty hot spicy crisp juicy' and it passes. If you have a super mega craving that will not stop, break out your emergency (like, kept away from your desk in the work freezer or something) baggy with 10 peanut M&Ms, then eat them slowly while sipping a Zero.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:56 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older If you can't dodge bullets... Yeah? Then what?   |   ... They shoulda gotten kilt in summer. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.