How to Stop Thinking About Food All the Time

It’s normal to spend some time thinking about food, like planning what you’re going to eat for the upcoming week or standing in your kitchen in the morning thinking about what you’re in the mood for for breakfast. But it’s not normal to be constantly thinking about food. 

Thinking about food 24/7 may make you feel obsessed with food, takes up a huge chunk of your precious brain space, can prevent you from being truly present in your life and can be straight up stressful and exhausting. I know because I’ve been there. 

Let’s dive into why you’re constantly thinking about food and what you can do to stop thinking about food all the time so you can be truly present and live your life without food always on your mind. 

Why You’re Constantly Thinking About Food 

The two common reasons why runners think about food all the time is underfueling and restriction. 

Underfueling

Underfueling can be intentional or it can be unintentional. Underfueling can result from not eating enough calories and lack of key macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat and yes, we need all 3 every day). 

Skipping meals and going long periods of time (>4 hours) without eating are common causes of underfueling. 

What happens when you underfuel:

  • Your hunger hormones increase. This drives you to eat & can drive overeating.
  • Your sugar cravings increase. Underfueling causes low energy in the body. You crave simple carbs like sugar because your body can break down sugar quickly and can convert it to energy that your body so desperately needs.

Most people blame willpower but this has nothing to do with willpower, it’s your body’s biology.

Signs of underfueling to look out for:

  • Low energy
  • Missing/irregular periods in female athletes
  • Hitting the wall during runs 
  • Frequent injury/illness
  • Thinking about food 24/7 
  • Poor exercise recovery
An infographic showing signs of underfueling: low energy, missing period in female athletes, hitting the wall during runs, frequent injury/illness, thinking about food 24/7, poor exercise recovery

Can’t stop thinking about food at night? You’re likely underfueling during the day. Work on increasing your nutrition in the morning and in the afternoon hours so that you’re fueling your body well all throughout the day and have less food thoughts at night.

Restriction

Restriction is when we place limitations on our eating- when we restrict calories, foods and/or food groups. Restriction often leads to underfueling.

Restriction can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder and other related clinical disorders.

Restricting certain foods/ food groups may be the reason why you’re thinking about food all the time. The body and brain do not like restriction and restriction can actually send you into a never ending cycle called the restrict/binge cycle. 

An infographic showing the restriction/overeating cycle. You promise yourself you'll be good and restrict cookies. Then all you do is think about the cookies and start craving them. Then you give in and eat the cookies but you can't have one- you end up eating an entire sleeve of cookies. You feel horrible physically and feel guilty. You promise yourself you'll be good and restrict the cookies again.

When you restrict foods like cookies for example, it can cause you to think about cookies all the time and crave them. Then you eventually give in and eat the cookies. But you probably find that you can’t just eat 1 cookie at that point, you end up eating a whole sleeve of cookies. 

This leaves you feeling horrible physically (stomach ache, bloating, etc) and horrible mentality (stress, guilt, etc) which causes you to then vow to yourself to restrict the cookies again and the cycle continues. It’s the restriction that is causing your drive to eat the cookies.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, I recommend that you find a team of professionals that can help you best! Your health is #1 and I want you to get the help that you deserve.

How to stop thinking about food all the time 

1. Get rid of restriction and adopt an optimization mindset.

The only way to break out of the restriction/overeating cycle is to stop restricting. 

Shift your mindset away from restriction and focus on nutrition optimization. Restriction focuses on taking away foods, categorizes foods into “good foods” and “bad foods” and puts rules in place around food and eating. 

Optimization on the other hand, focusing on adding nutrients to meals & snacks. It’s a much healthier mindset and a better way to approach your nutrition, especially in the long run. 

An infographic showing a restrictive mindset vs an optimization mindset. A restrictive mindset: "I want chocolate but I can't have chocolate." An optimization mindset: "I want chocolate so I'm going to have a piece but I know that won't fill me up for a snack so I'm going to optimize my snack by having a banana and Greek yogurt with it.

2. Listen to your body and it’s cues

Honor your hunger, fullness and satisfaction. It’s completely normal to feel hungry- it’s not a bad thing. It’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s low in energy and it needs fuel aka food. Honor your body by honoring your hunger cues.

Ideally, we want to stop eating when we’re comfortably full. Once you truly let go of a restrictive mindset, it’s much easier to stop eating when you’re comfortably full and it becomes natural.

Make sure that what you’re eating is actually satisfying to you and hits the spot. It’s not practical for meals and snacks to be a 10/10 every time but you should enjoy what you’re eating- there’s no shame in enjoying your food!

Practicing mindful eating makes it easier to listen to your body and its cues. 

  • Eat without distraction. Put the phone down and turn the TV off. It’s hard to pay attention to your body when you’re distracted. 
  • Pay attention to how your body feels. Check in with yourself throughout the day.
  • Pause in the middle of meals and snacks. This will allow you to reevaluate your hunger, fullness and satisfaction.

If you’ve been dieting or restricting for years, listening and connecting to your body may be hard to do. But know that consistent meals & snacks will help you feel and notice these cues once again. It just may take some time so be patient. 

3. Adequately fuel your body & build balanced meals and snacks

“How do I know if I’m eating enough?” A question I get asked often! Pay attention to how your body feels. Below are some signs that you’re eating enough.

Signs that you are adequate fueling your body:

  • You overall feel energized throughout the day and during running
  • You get a monthly period if you’re a female athlete
  • Your training is overall progressing 
  • You don’t hit the wall during running
  • You are recovering well in-between workouts
  • You feel strong during workouts
An infographic showing signs of adequate fueling: feeling energized, getting a monthly period in female athletes, training is overall progressing, not hitting the wall during runs, recovering well in-between training, feeling strong in workouts.

The nutrients that you’re putting on your plate at meals and snacks can help you meet your nutrition needs, feel satisfied and feel full. Have you ever had popcorn for a snack and realized just how much popcorn it takes to truly fill you up? A LOT of popcorn. 

Want to know why? Because popcorn is not very well-balanced by itself and is missing key macronutrients like protein and fat. Adding a blend of macronutrients to your plate at meals and snacks will help you reach fullness and help you feel fuller longer. 

For meals, put grains/starches, protein, fat and color (fruits and veggies) on your plate. For snacks, aim for carbs and protein. Check out my Runner’s Meals and Runner’s Snacks frameworks to help you build balanced meals and snacks.

Need some breakfast ideas? Check out The Ultimate Guide to an Athlete Breakfast.

4. Find non-food coping mechanisms to cope with your emotions

Sometimes we use food to cope with our emotions- this is called emotional eating. Let me first say that food is fuel and nourishment but it’s also emotion and connection. Think about it- we celebrate Christmas with Christmas cookies and birthdays with cake! 

Food is emotional and that’s ok but food shouldn’t be the only way that you’re coping with your emotions. Think about what emotions drive you to eat. Stress? Anger? Sadness? Anxiety? Overwhelm? Boredom? 

The first step is to identify how you’re feeling and what emotions are driving your eating. Then think about ways to cope with each emotion that is not food-related. For example, “when I’m sad I can call a friend and talk about it.” 

You may find that your non-food coping mechanism may actually help you cope with your emotions much better than food ever will. Also, sometimes we need professional support from a therapist and there is absolutely no shame in that! Get the help that you need and deserve.

5. Get the help that you deserve.

Sometimes we need to seek help from professionals and there’s no shame in that. Work on finding a supportive team that can be there for you and help you work through your struggles.

Final thoughts

Thinking about food all the time is not normal and can be very exhausting. Two very common reasons why runners think about food all the time is underfueling and restriction. 

To help you stop thinking about food all the time, ditch a restrictive mindset and adopt an optimization mindset. Learn how to listen to your body and its cues and adequately fuel your body by building balanced meals and snacks.

What will also help is finding non-food coping mechanisms to help you cope with your emotions. And most importantly, seek profession help if you need it. Find a support team to work with that can help you through your struggles and along your journey.

If you’re looking to improve your mindset with food and your body, check out our Stop Restricting, Start Nourishing Program. Make mindset shifts so you can ditch the burden of restriction and ditch the food rules, fears, guilt and stress that goes with it.

Hi, I’m Emily!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, RRCA Run Coach & NASM Certified Personal Trainer. I am passionate about helping runners dial in their fueling, training and mindset so they can feel good, go the distance and smash their goals.