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Dieting & Going Crazy with Food Thoughts?

“I’m sick of thinking about food!”

Has this thought ever flashed across the screen of your mind?

You’ve decided to pursue the goal of fat loss and better health, and now it feels like it’s consuming you! You sometimes wonder if it’s healthy to be thinking so much about this thing you’ve said is important to you. Are you crazy? Going out of your mind?

Research would say, no. In fact, it makes sense that you are thinking about the very thing that you’re focusing on. I’ve often said, where our attention goes, energy flows. Put another way, “what we focus on, grows.” We think about the things that are meaningful to us.

Thoughts are funny though-- the way in which we think will dictate our experience.

For those of you who said you can relate to the thought, “I’m sick of thinking about food!” what’s the felt sense it’s accompanied by? Exasperation? Frustration?

If I were to change the thought to “Wow, there’s so much to learn about food!”, now what is your experience? This is a different way of thinking. This way is infused with positivity. The person thinking this may have the same frequency of thoughts about food and intensity of thoughts about food. By shifting the way in which the food thoughts are perceived, however, the feeling about them also shifts.

This is an important difference. What we’re showing here is a variance in mindset. The first thought embodies a mindset of fatigue and disdain. The second thought embodies a mindset of positivity and appreciation.

Why does this matter? Let’s look at what you tend to do when you feel frustrated and tired. I’d venture a guess that this is the perfect set up for avoidance and procrastination. Food logging with this mindset? Forget it. But what’s your approach (be mindful of this word!) when you feel positive and grateful? I’ll speak for myself-- I take an approach stance! I move, I get curious, and I feel enthusiastic! In essence, I become more resourceful! I expand into my capacities rather than perceiving being crushed under a heavy load of catastrophe!

Barb Fredrickson, social psychologist out of UNC, has shown this with her research. When we experience positive emotions we are able to see the bigger picture. Our vision expands. Guess how positive emotions are created? By deliberately shifting our mindsets and perceptions, i.e. our thoughts: what we think and how we think them!

So thoughts are not inherently bad and neither is the fact that they can come at us with force or like little whispers. It’s not a bad thing either that you may notice patterns of thoughts. I bet if you actually took some time to get acquainted with your mind you’d find categories and themes of thoughts, and those categories would relate to what’s most prominent in regard to your goals, your responsibilities, and your roles.

We think about what’s most important to us. We think about what we deliberately focus on. And we have thoughts because we are triggered in some way by an environmental cue.

Because we aren’t going to stop thoughts, perhaps it would be relevant to ask what we are purposefully paying attention to. And we can look at this in 2 different ways: 1) when a thought pops up that snags us and we notice it, what do we do; and 2) when we want to have thoughts about something specific, what do we do?

Let’s look at an example. I have thoughts about food all day long. Do I get up and go get food every time I have a thought about it? No. If I ate every time a thought came up about food, I’d be over 200 pounds. Keep in mind that a thought can pop up in the form of words you see, a voice you hear, or an image. It’s whatever is going on in your mind.

So what do I do when I notice that thought?

Well, I have practiced relating to the thought with an air of nonchalance. “Ah, there is it again…” and back on task. I don’t look at it as a directive or something that needs my attention. And, the harder you try to get rid of a thought or try to not think about something, the more you'll think about it. You're focused on IT!

I also recognize that I have thoughts about food so much because a) I have to eat it to live; b) I’m concerned about being healthy, so I make decisions about what to eat and how to eat it all day; and c) I’m a nutrition coach, so I’m talking about and deliberately thinking about it daily. I choose to think about it with a mindset of interest and openness and non-attachment!

Let me put this into perspective: if we let every thought be a directive, here’s what my life would look like:

If I ate every time I had a thought about food, I'd be significantly overweight. If I didn't work every time I thought, "I don't want to do this" I'd never get anything done. If I didn't exercise every time I had a thought, "I want to sleep longer" I'd not be fit and lean. If I said something snarky to my boyfriend every time I thought, “you didn’t take the trash out again,” our foundation would suffer little cracks! If I didn't post a video for you every time I think, "I could do this later" I’d not create the valuable content that I know can help you!

Your practice for today is to assess how you respond to the thoughts you notice. First, what thoughts do you notice? Second, how do you respond to those thoughts?

Do you try to stop the thoughts? Or could you practice noting they're there and moving on?

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