One of the best parts about mindful eating is that it can free you up from fixating on food. Instead, you can direct the energy you used to spend on that food obsession to other areas of your life.
This doesn’t mean you should never think about food. You still want to pay attention to your food choices and how you feel after eating. And of course you want to enjoy what you eat!
Then how can you tell if you’re too food focused? When does it cross the line into more of an obsession?
Here are 5 ways you can tell, inspired by observations of my new – and very food-focused – cat.
You get more excited about eating than anything else
I know I’ve been writing a lot about the cats this year, and I was going to stop, but then I got Fezzik. He’s the most food-focused cat I’ve had so far.
He’s not as obsessed with dry food, but with treats, or wet cat food, he gets so excited. He stands up on his back legs and practically hugs my leg in his enthusiasm to get at the food.
If you find yourself in a similar level of excitement over food, on a regular basis, you might be a bit too food focused. Eating is a great pleasure, but ideally it shouldn’t be the only one.
I should add that Fezzik does also greatly enjoy napping and playing, but he’ll happily give those up if it means eating his favorite foods.
I also find it interesting that Pangea, my other cat, could care less about treats. She likes her wet food, but she doesn’t seem to obsess about it.
You regularly go into the kitchen looking for food
Have you ever invented reasons to go into the kitchen, perhaps to look at a calendar or get a drink, but really you’re going to look for food?
This is something I used to do more often, and it’s something I notice with Fezzik. Even when I go into the kitchen for non-food reasons, he follows me hopefully to see if he might get lucky.
For yourself, you might go into the kitchen because you’re feeling bored or stressed. And then you might come out with something you didn’t intend to get – chips, cookies, ice cream, pretzels, etc.
Using food to fill other needs is another good indication of excessive food focus.
You spend your time waiting until you can eat again
Speaking of boredom, you might find that you spend your time waiting for snacks or meals. Not necessarily because you’re hungry, but because eating gives you something to do. It might break up the monotony of your day.
This can also happen if you’re being too restrictive and don’t let yourself eat what you actually want or enjoy. In those cases, even though you might technically have enough calories to get you through, you’re still not satisfied. You can’t wait to eat again in the hopes that this time, it will satisfy that yearning.
You think about food almost all the time
Along those lines, you might find that food occupies your thoughts all the time.
I can’t say that this is true of my cat, since I don’t know what he’s thinking. And sometimes he’s certainly active enough that it doesn’t seem like he’s thinking about food.
But I do remember being in this place for myself in younger years. The more food I denied myself, the more I thought about it, as if imagining it could somehow make up for not eating it.
Except that tended to backfire. The more I thought about it, the more rebellious and restricted I felt, until I’d get to the breaking point and overeat. Then I’d start the cycle all over again.
This can be exhausting, and it’s also not very fun. You feel like food controls your life, instead of giving you the energy to do what you want with your life.
You sneak other people’s food
And when you’re in this place of being obsessed with food, you might even break down and eat other people’s food.
This is a bit problematic with the cats. Fezzik eats all his food at once, but Pangea prefers to have her wet cat food a little at a time. (They both have free access to dry food.)
But if she leaves some of hers, after Fezzik has scarfed his down, he’s apt to wander over to her dish to see if there’s anything left. Although she’s starting to learn to eat it more quickly.
Eating someone else’s food is something I’ve done, too. I used to raid my mom’s chocolate chip stash when I was a teenager.
I also remember how I used to play poker with friends in high school, and we’d just keep points instead of betting money. But you could trade in your points for candy. Somehow I ended up keeping the bag of candy, and I think I ate almost all of it.
Moving away from food obsession
If any of this sounds familiar, you might be asking, how can you change things?
The first step, as with most things, is awareness. Notice if you fixate on food like this.
Then think about where you want to spend your energy. Do you want it to only or mostly be on food? Or would you rather have more of a balance?
If you’re looking for a balance, brainstorm activities that you enjoy. Maybe it’s playing with your pet, doing things with your kids, spending time in nature, singing, drawing, reading, etc.
If nothing immediately comes to mind, consider some of the things you used to like doing as a kid. It may be that you’ll enjoy exploring those outlets again.
Once you have your list, see if you can find ways of incorporating more of that into your life. You don’t have to spend huge amounts of time on it, especially at first. But try at least 10 minutes here or there in your week.
Also see if you can explore why food is so important to you. What need is it filling? Is there something else you can do to fill those needs?
Start to experiment and see where you end up. Remember, it’s not about giving up food, or giving up enjoying it. The goal is simply to find a good balance with that and other things you enjoy.
Have you had your own experiences with food fixation, or moving away from it? I’d love to hear about it!
And in my case, I’ll continue trying to pace Fezzik’s eating, and balance my own eating with fun activities like playing with the kitties.