There was a time in my life that was defined by food obsession – and not in like a cool, bougie foodie way.
No, it was marked by constant thoughts about food.
My day revolved around food. And if I wasn’t thinking about when I would be eating next, I was fantasizing about what I wanted to eat. I became obsessed with recipe books and cooking shows. I thought constantly about food – I even dreamed about eating different foods when sleeping for the night.
True – I was in the trenches of a terrible eating disorder at the time that took so much from my life. And it wasn’t really until I came out on the other side of it that I realized being obsessed with food robbed me from really living.
My limited mental capacity was so tapped out by my food obsession that I hardly thought about anything else.
I barely made it through college – in fact, I had to retake so many classes to finish my degree because I was struggling so much in my relationship with food and my body. My relationships with suffering, and social interactions were a train wreck. My whole life orbited around food, and I had no way of knowing how to get out of it.
When I met my husband, I remember feeling shocked by his seemingly “normal” relationship with food. I was blown away by the fact that he could eat food until he felt satiated and then move on to other things.
For me, on the other hand, food was an all-day, all-night ordeal. I found myself consumed with thoughts about all the foods I wanted to eat but couldn’t allow myself to have. And when I reached a breaking point, I’d go hog-wild in bottomless binging episodes, eating everything I restricted myself from having until I made myself sick.
It was a vicious cycle, and I knew there was no way I could be a functioning human being who could contribute to the world in a meaningful way without addressing my eating disorder behaviors and resulting food obsession.
Motherhood motivated me, as it does for so many of us – inviting us to change and heal as we’re entrusted with new life to nurture and grow.
I knew I didn’t want to drag my children into the same ferocious cycle I had lived in with food and my body. I didn’t want my issues to become their issues, and I wanted to do everything I could to prevent them from feeling like they were at constant war with their bodies.
So I set out to find healing in my relationship with food, desperate to break free from the obsession I had with food. I knew that as long as I was preoccupied with food, I wouldn’t have anything leftover to create the life I really wanted to live or to give to the people in my life who mattered most (current and future).
I wanted to go on a trip without worrying about what I could or couldn’t eat. I wanted to be present in conversations and not always be thinking about when and what I would be eating next. I wanted to channel my limited time, energy and money to more than just food. After all, we eat to live, right?
And while my journey has looked anything but linear, I’ve learned so much along the way. It was my healing journey with food and this intersection with motherhood that inspired the trajectory of my career, informing the work I’m blessed to do today.
How A Food Obsession Affects Your Motherhood
One thing that’s been clear to me is how mothers often suffer in silence.
Just because you become a mom doesn’t mean your eating disorder magically disappears.
In fact, there are so many turbulent changes about motherhood and minefields that are triggering eating disorders – resurrecting old behaviors, intensifying current ones or bringing about a whole new disordered relationship with food and body.
What I also know to be true is that eating disorder behaviors and an unhealthy obsession with food and weight can be even more painful as a mother.
It can feel isolating and lonely. It comes with intense shame and self-loathing. It prevents you from being fully present with your own children – especially when you feel like you can only think about food and your body, and nothing else.
If you’ve found yourself in this situation, I want you to know you’re not alone. You’re not a failure as a mother. You’re not undeserving of your children.
There is hope for healing, and it is possible to stop obsessing over food and weight as a mom to be present for your children, and to channel that energy back into the people and things that matter most for you. It’s not that you don’t have enough willpower to overcome your food obsession or that you don’t have enough self-control
After finding healing in my own relationship with food and resolving my food and weight obsession and working with other mothers to do the same, I want to share some insight and hope with you as well.
But first, let’s explore WHY you are so obsessed with food as a mom. Then we can uncover ways to stop obsessing over food and weight to enjoy your motherhood.
Why Am I So Obsessed With Food as a Mom
You’re not a crazy person and you haven’t lost your marbles.
There are legitimate reasons that are fueling your obsession with food – biological, mental and emotional. Addressing some of these underlying reasons can help you resolve your food obsession for good.
Trying to exercise more “self-control” without addressing the underlying issues that are fueling your food obsession is like trying to put a bandage on your wound that needs stitches and hoping it will heal. It’s not possible.
So what are some of the reasons that may be influencing your obsession with food as a mom?
Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors below:
Your body is hard-wired to keep you alive at all costs, and if you’re not getting enough food to eat (which is a basic need for survival), your body is going to drive you toward food and eating in a variety of ways. This usually manifests itself as intense food cravings, thinking about food, obsessing over food and more. Lack of adequate nutrition can result from many different scenarios. Most commonly (and the one I see most often with moms in particular) is due to dieting and undereating, disordered eating, or active eating disorders. The body doesn’t understand if starvation is happening intentionally or not – all it knows is that it’s not getting enough energy to sustain nutrient needs. In this case, certain biological factors are “activated” in an attempt to get more food into the body. For many moms, recurring periods of undereating as a result of dieting usually end up in restricting – binging cycles. Undereating can also be a result of that busy mom life, where you may be so busy caring for the needs of your children and family that you neglect to eat adequate and satisfying amounts of food. This can inadvertently lead to food obsession, even if you’re not intentionally trying to restrict your intake.
Lack of habituation to favorite foods:
For some moms, food obsession develops as a result of not having regular access to desired foods. This is common with sweets, packaged foods/snacks, or any other foods that have otherwise been deemed as “off-limits”. Some moms may not be restricting their overall intake, per say, but may be potentially restricting their access to foods they’d love to be eating. This may be due to fear of eating “out of control” or simply because so many foods have been demonized by diet culture or labeled as “unhealthy”. Unfortunately, where there is lack of permission to eat the foods you crave and love, there festers a preoccupation with the foods you want to eat. If you find yourself obsessing over certain foods in particular, it may be because you’ve put these foods strictly off-limits and haven’t allowed yourself to eat them. We’re naturally drawn to the very foods we feel like we can’t have.
Lack of routine with eating:
When there’s a lack of predictability around food and your eating times, this can create anxious feelings about food, which often leads to obsession around eating. If you don’t know when you’re going to eat next, this can make you preoccupied with food. Think about it like this: If you need to catch a train to get home but didn’t know what time the train would be arriving, this would be a source of so much uncertainty and anxiety. If the train was your only means of getting home but you didn’t know whether or not the train was coming in the next few minutes or in the next few days, you’d likely be lingering around the train station all day long. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else because you’d be hyperfocused on making sure you’re there for whenever your train did show up. On the other hand, if you had a predictable train schedule that you could count on, this would prevent a lot of unnecessary preoccupation around the process of catching your train ride home. You would be able to focus on doing other things around your scheduled train ride because there is built in reliability to a big part of your day. This is a similar analogy to the importance of having predictability in your day around food. Because eating and getting enough to eat is a big part of basic self-care, it’s instrumental to make it a reliable part of your day. When your body trusts food is coming in reliably, this helps prevent preoccupation around food from developing. On the other hand, when food doesn’t feel reliable and you’re not sure when you’re going to eat, this will ramp up an obsession with food and eating, especially if you’re not giving yourself permission to eat when food is available and/or when you’re experiencing hunger.
Being overstimulated, understimulated, overwhelmed, and stressed can all cause periods of emotional dysregulation. As a mother, it’s not uncommon to feel all of these things in the course of one day – even within one single hour. Motherhood is often filled with periods of monotony, boredom, overstimulation, and sensory overload. Feeling emotionally dysregulated can leave you grasping for anything within your reach that can provide more regulation. For so many moms, food fits the equation and is a tangible, quick source of pleasure, stimulation and regulation. You might find yourself reaching for food out of boredom, for comfort, as an escape, for a sense of control, or for need of sheer enjoyment. If food is your only source of regulation and means of emotional coping, this can create an obsession around food and a preoccupation with eating over the course of your day and motherhood journey.
Period of increased energy demands:
As mothers, we go through drastic changes within our own bodies, especially through the process of growing, birthing and feeding babies. With this said, our bodies often have seasons where our energy needs are quite higher than normal, surpassing our baseline and leaving us feeling hungry, even after eating an amount of food that would ordinarily feel satisfying. Examples of this are during pregnancy, after giving birth, feeling increased hunger while breastfeeding, and for many other reasons as well. While it’s normal for our bodies to experience periods of an increased appetite, this can be hard to respond to, especially if you are experiencing insatiable hunger. Many mothers may try to suppress periods of increased hunger rather than adequately respond to it, which leaves them undernourished, which now drives obsession around food and a preoccupation with eating and getting more food, even after eating.
How to Stop Obsessing Over Food and Weight to Enjoy Your Motherhood
Now that we’ve uncovered some of the potential causes that may be contributing to your obsession with food, let’s talk about how to stop obsessing over food and weight to enjoy your motherhood.
Here are a few things that can help you become less obsessed with food. What’s important to remember is that you may need to apply some or many of these suggestions depending on your personal circumstances.
Keep in mind that these things are not overnight fixes either. As much as you want to get rid of the food obsession, there may be some things that take longer to heal through, including chronic dieting and eating disorders.
With that being said, you don’t need to navigate through this alone.
These places can be a starting point for you, and if you find yourself struggling with implementing the things you know are necessary, this may indicate that professional support can be helpful. I’ll share some more resources for you below, but in the meantime, check out these tips that can help you decrease your obsession with food.
Feed yourself reliably:
The first step here to consider is how frequently you’re allowing yourself to eat during the day. Sometimes as a mom, it’s easy to live in survival mode and expect yourself to get through the entire day on coffee and the leftovers off your kids’ plates. I know this has become normalized , but this is not going to be enough to sustain you. When you’re chronically undereating, your body is going to drive you to food, and again, this often projects as a building obsession around food. A common pattern I see moms falling into is eating virtually nothing for the majority of their days and then binge eating at night after the kids go to bed. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, you’re not alone. You might wake up feeling guilty about the previous night binge, and so you vow to create a “clean slate” by not eating anything again during the day, thus perpetuating the cycle. If you’re ready to disrupt the cycle and end the food obsession, you need to make feeding yourself a priority. You probably make sure your kids are fed regularly and have consistent meals and snacks throughout the day; yet it can be hard to do the same for yourself. Feeding yourself regularly is the most valid form of self-care. If you know you need to eat more regularly but aren’t sure where to start, try using your kids’ feeding routine as an entry point. If you’re feeding your kids breakfast, use that as a time to eat something, too. Not only is this helpful to getting your body the nutrition you need to prevent binge episodes and food obsessive behaviors; but it’s also important modeling for your children as well. A general framework for eating reliably throughout the day is aiming to eat at least 2-3 food components about every 2-3 hours. This may seem like a lot, but in actuality, this is the frequency at which our body needs food to better meet our nutritional needs.
Eating foods you enjoy:
Whether it’s because you’re intentionally dieting for weight loss or struggling with disordered eating, you may be forcing yourself to eat foods you don’t really like. Take the time to take an inventory of the foods you reach for throughout the day. Are these foods that actually taste good to you? Are these foods satiating and satisfying? Do you enjoy the meals and snacks you’re eating? Sometimes, we eat things repeatedly because that’s become our norm. Sometimes, we eat based on convenience. Sometimes, trying to decide what to eat only adds to the decision fatigue we regularly experience throughout the day, so we choose the same foods for simplicity sake. Whatever your routine has been, take some inventory around your food choices. Are you avoiding certain foods because of fear of weight gain? Lack of satisfaction with food is one of the biggest reasons for food obsession later. So take the time to review what you regularly eat and ask yourself, “What can I add to this to make it more satisfying?” If you have toast with peanut butter for breakfast, maybe you can add some sliced fruit on top for more flavor and texture. If you’re eating a salad at lunch, maybe you can add some more toppings and a full-fat dressing for better flavor and texture. A big clue that you’re not eating foods you enjoy is the feeling of still wanting to eat more or to eat something else after you’ve already eaten. If you regularly experience this, this is a sign you need to revamp your meals and snacks to increase satisfaction and enjoyment.
Permission prevents preoccupation:
To piggyback on the last point, it’s important to also give yourself permission to regularly eat the foods you desire and crave. There’s truth to the saying that we want the things we can’t have – and the same thing applies to food. When something feels off limits to you, you’re only going to obsess over it and want it even more. This is a common reason why weight loss diets don’t work. They’re an exhaustive list of food rules with things you can and can’t eat. All the while, you’re dreaming about eating the very things you’re told you can’t have. If you find yourself obsessing over specific foods, like sweets or snack foods, like chips, this may be because you’re not allowing yourself to have them more regularly. When you give yourself permission to eat the foods you like and WANT To eat, this actually is a powerful antidote for preventing preoccupation around food. Many moms express fear around giving themselves permission to eat the foods they want. “I won’t know how to stop!”. The truth is that your body will relax when it trusts that there is regular access to the foods you want to eat. When you know you can always go back to eat more of the things you crave and certain foods don’t feel off-limits, you’re actually LESS likely to binge on them when you do get access to them.
Honor your hunger:
Anticipate higher energy needs (rather than trying to resist it. Hunger is often demonized and the rhetoric around hunger is how to control it rather than honor it. All the “wellness” and health advice out there these days is all about how to avoid your hunger, how to suppress it, how to trick your body into thinking it’s not really hungry for food when it actually is. All these things are working against your body and biological needs to EAT. Do you know what helps make hunger cues decrease? Eating! And eating real food that you actually enjoy. I know so many moms who have tried all the “tricks” in the book to suppress their hunger out of fear of responding to it, including drinking water, coffee, soda, chewing gum, only eating raw vegetables, and more. It’s like trying to fill up your gas tank in your car with water. No matter how much water you put in your gas tank, you can’t “trick” your car into thinking it actually has fuel to operate with. Eventually, your hunger will have its way, and when you can’t suppress your hunger any more, you might find yourself back into a binge cycle. Instead, practice recognizing your hunger and responding to it as early as possible. The more responsive you can be to your body, the more efficiently your body will work FOR YOU.
Attend to your emotional needs:
Emotional eating gets a bad rap, thanks to diet culture. When in reality, eating and using food as comfort can be a very practical way to care for yourself emotionally. Food is inherently comforting, and we can’t separate emotions from food. The only way this can potentially become problematic is when food is your only way of attending to your emotional needs. Oftentimes, being a mother involves some seriously stressful and hard seasons. And for so many mothers, food may feel like the only real thing in tangible reach that can provide momentary comfort and emotional regulation. However, food can only go so far in attending to the emotional and mental needs you may have. If you find yourself repeatedly reaching for food as a means of comfort and don’t have any other tools at your disposal to support you in coping with emotional challenges, this may be something worth looking into further. Developing other ways to care for your emotional needs can be life-giving, especially in seasons of motherhood where you are constantly pouring yourself out to your children and your family. Let me be clear by clarifying that I’m not talking about band-aid “self-care” solutions that the world promotes as ways to care for yourself in motherhood, like going out for a pedicure or taking a bubble bath. Don’t get me wrong, those things are nice and all. But those things are not going to meet the deep emotional needs you likely have and that may be at the root of recurring patterns of eating for emotional reasons. Having more therapeutic support, like a trusted counselor or support group, can help create safe places for you to discover what these things might look like and how to care for yourself now that you’re a mother. The coping mechanisms you utilized before you had kids are probably not as effective or are no longer available, which is why food can easily fill this space. It is possible to learn how to care for yourself. It’s also possible to eat in a manner that feel life-giving and nourishing to you. If you find yourself in an emotionally eating episode, please try to give yourself compassion and grace. Remind yourself that for now, this is the best way you know how to survive and take care of yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re doing the best with the information and resources you have available. Shaming yourself for eating will only suck you into a downward spiral that’s really hard to navigate. Continue to feed yourself regularly even if you have a binge eating episode to help yourself prevent the binge-restrict-shame cycle that can be so hard to get out of, and know you’re not alone as you navigate this.
How to Become Less Obsessed With Food
As you work toward healing your relationship with food and resolving how to become less obsessed with food, you might find you get stuck along the way.
Please don’t give up and don’t lose hope.
Remember, you don’t have to do this alone, and there are resources and professionals out there who can guide you through this.
If you’re a mother working on healing your relationship with food and your body or recovering from an eating disorder, be sure to check out our free support group, Lift the Shame. We have an amazing community that makes this a safe space to explore the food and body issues that often resurface or emerge during various stages of motherhood.
For 1:1 guidance on how to become less obsessed with food and weight as a mom to be more present for your children, you can apply for coaching here for personalized support on your journey.
As a mother who has lived through this myself and who understands the struggle involved with having a tumultuous relationship with food, I want you to know there is hope. It is possible to resolve your obsession with food so you can have the mental capacity and energy to focus on the things that matter most and to be more present for the amazing children you’re raising.
Learn more about Lift the Shame