“Food noise” or thinking about food constantly is not helpful to anyone’s mental health and wellbeing.
When we become obsessed with any one line of thought (in this case, food), we can become consumed by it and it’s very hard to think about anything else. This can be very distressing.
Some people taking the diabetes drug Ozempic for weight loss have reported a sudden silencing of food noise and cravings. But there are other ways to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to our internal food monologue.
One track thinking
Thinking about food constantly is a common feature of an eating disorder. Indeed one of the main criteria for diagnosis of eating disorders is a preoccupation with the weight, shape and size of one’s body. A person may use control, or lack of control, of food to bring their body in line with how they perceive it should look.
A person with anorexia nervosa severely restricts their food intake to the point where their body is starving. As a result of this deprivation, their brain constantly thinks about food.
People with binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa are also consumed by thoughts of food including when they’ll eat, what they’ll eat, obtaining food and where they’ll eat it.
But it’s not just those with eating disorders who can be obsessed with food. If we are dieting, undereating, restricting our intake of food or overeating, we can be consumed by thoughts about food.
An easy fix?
As a clinical psychologist, I have treated many clients and helped people with eating disorders who can not stop thinking about food. They have often tried medications and drugs to try and stop ruminating over food, usually to no avail.
Or they are prescribed medications to reduce appetite, in the case of binge eating and obesity. These might work and help the person lose large amounts of weight, only for them to put it all back on again when they stop taking the drug.
Ozempic (and similar drug Wegovy) use the ingredient semaglutide drug to induce feelings of being full or satisfied. Side effects of semaglutide can include nausea, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
So, it’s important to work on developing a healthy relationship with food and your body. Often a combination of psychological therapy and seeing an accredited dietitian is needed.
Working out what’s driving it
With clients, I start by working on what’s driving the food obsession. Is it due to eating too little? Not eating regularly enough? Having strict rules and what you can and can’t eat?
It’s important to establish regular and adequate eating so your body and brain are well-fuelled and you can make sensible decisions around the food you consume.
Our biology ensures that when we are hungry we will think about obtaining food for survival. It can make us anxious or “hangry” and it can be hard to concentrate or focus on anything else but food. Then when we eat, our brain stops sending messages to eat and we can focus again.
The RAVES model of eating is used for people with eating disorders to help them be in tune with their body, respond to its needs and establish healthy behaviours. It’s about helping a person understand where their food rules have come from, debunk myths around eating and dieting, and challenge unhelpful ways of thinking about food.
Many people with and without eating disorders have food rules around what they can and can’t eat, when and how much and this just sets us up to be obsessed with food. Once you allow yourself to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full and have the foods you enjoy, you free your brain to think about things other than food and eating.
A healthy food mindset
A person who has a healthy relationship with food listens to their body’s needs. They don’t have food rules around what they can and can’t eat and they feel comfortable in their body.
They can reject media and advertising around dieting and idealised bodies and they are respectful of their body. When I work with clients we work on listening to your body, respecting its needs and treating it well. This is called having a positive body image and is an important part of treatment for people with body image and eating issues.
It is often a person’s perception of their body that influences their eating. Learning to accept your physical self as well as treating the body well, with good nutrition, builds a positive body image.
If you are concerned about your relationship with food or your body, seeing your GP for a referral to a psychologist or dietitian is advised. The Butterfly Foundation is also a great source of support for information on eating disorders.