home
RSS
August 12th, 2011
07:40 AM ET

Why do I always think about food?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Jamie K.

I have a question/problem regarding overeating. Being a college student and food science major, I am constantly thinking about food. I currently play Ultimate Frisbee and occasionally play badminton and go running. I eat extremely healthy, but the problem is I constantly think of food. Therefore, I overeat, and I gained 16 pounds in less than two years. Is there any way to control my self-will? I would like to lose 10 pounds. I am 5 feet 3 and 120 pounds, but it's not like I can cut out unhealthy food in my diet. Eating less is difficult because I do not want to go into starvation mode. Quick advice please?

Expert answer

Hi Jamie. I'm very happy that you asked this question as it brings up several important topics.

Constantly thinking about food is a challenge that many Americans face these days, according to Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the author of "The End of Overeating."

In fact, Kessler notes that 20% of healthy weight and 50% of obese individuals score high on behaviors like loss of control over eating, lack of feeling satisfied by eating food, and preoccupation with food.

Much of this behavior, which he calls conditioned hyper-eating, is due to brain pathways that are established and reinforced by the regular consumption of highly appealing high-fat, high-sugar, salty foods.

Since this does not sound like the issue in your case since you eat extremely healthy, your overeating may be triggered by other cues such as eating environment, emotions like stress and social occasions.

Even though you don't choose unhealthy foods, you are probably consuming too much healthy food, which is leading to weight gain. The key is to identify your triggers and do your best to avoid them or manage them better.

For example, if you eat when you are stressed, try to choose foods that are very low-calorie density like air popped popcorn or vegetables and hummus to keep calories under control. If you eat too much with friends, make sure to have a high fiber or high protein snack before heading out so you aren't famished at social events.

You may also be dealing with a type of disordered eating syndrome. Most people think of eating disorders as either anorexia or bulimia (self-induced purging), but there is a less recognized clinical syndrome, disordered eating not otherwise specified, which may affect a significant portion of the population and seems to be especially prevalent in female college athletes.

According to Carolyn Coker Ross, M.D., MPH , a specialist in integrative medicine for eating disorders, addictions, obesity and mood disorders and author of "The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook," some people who are obsessed with food may actually suffer from disordered eating.

If you find that you are constantly thinking about food, whether you are overweight or not, and your weight and your food obsession are significantly affecting your life and even preventing you from doing things that you enjoy, Ross suggests seeing a therapist or eating disorders specialist for evaluation.

College is the best time to address disordered eating as earlier treatment leads to better outcomes long term. Most universities have a therapist with experience in the diagnosis and treatment of disordered eating on campus. You can also visit edreferral.com.

Finally, if you are not fueling your body correctly (e.g. you are restricting calories too much or cutting carbs in an attempt to control your weight), this could cause you to think about food more often than necessary due to hunger or low blood sugar levels, which trigger your body to seek out calories.

Gaining 16 pounds in two years, assuming that you are not binging, suggests an excess of just 76 calories per day intake (or that you are burning 76 fewer calories per day).

Keep a food journal and see if you can identify where these extra calories might be creeping in (or not being burned). I don't necessarily think it is a matter of self-will in your case - perhaps it is more of the "small changes add up" issue.

One last point, while BMI is not a very accurate measure of body fat, it does give an indication of weight/fat status. Your current BMI is 21.3, which is well within the normal range of 18.5-24.9.

I recommend having a body fat test done if you can to truly assess your ideal body weight and help you determine an appropriate weight goal. Check with the athletic department of your university to see if it offers body fat testing.

Follow Dr. Melina on Twitter.


soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Boeing Layoffs in Southern California

    Hi Jamie,

    Despite what advice Dr. Melina provided you, there is a 95% chance that you will not lose and keep that weight off. Dr. Melina has good intentions but it is pretty textbook and rarely leads to long term success. (Who in their right mind believes they can identify 76 extra calories? It's in the noise.) Look at your mom or dad or aunt – chances are you will end up with the same physique they have – regardless of how much exercise you do (exercise just makes you hungrier and you'll compensate for the calorie burn by eating more – but at least you'll be healthier.)

    August 12, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katherine

      I would take that a step further and say look at any family members who have lost weight and successfully kept it off. The more closely related, the better. What worked for them? Did they react better to cutting carbs or fats? Did they react better to exercise or dietary changes? Did they have specific allergies or food intolerances that contributed to their weight? Someone who shares your genes can sometimes give you better advice on what will work for your body than a doctor can.

      My other bit of advice would be to try bulk-cooking a few healthy snack foods eg single serves of soup and freezing them. This has stopped me ordering pizza quite a few times.

      August 12, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      Genetics is very important but not everything. I myself have lost over 60 pounds by eating 3, solid meals a day. It's all about sustainable, life-long behaviour. Both of my parents are obese, and I was as well, but for the past year, I have lost and maintained my weight with little to no effort on my part. I do not workout at all, just eat healthy and consistently. I am not a doctor, gym rat, nutritionalist or any other qualified being, I'm just someone who has made a change for the better and feel as though it is my duty to pay forward all I have learned on my weight loss journey. Please, take it slow, and do no be drastic is the changes in your life, excess weight is a collection of bad habits that one has adopted.

      August 12, 2011 at 18:14 | Report abuse |
    • farmerjeani

      Between the ages of 40 and 63, I gained 40 pounds. I didn't gain it all at once. I gained a couple of pounds a year. But by 63 the quality of my life was definitely affected. I looked at my total calories and said what can I cut out that won't make me feel deprived. In my case the culprit was milk. I drank a lot of milk. I thought it was healthy, women need calcium and I drank only non fat milk. Replacing one 16 ounce glass of non fat milk a day with water eliminated over 150 calories a day. I also cut back on fats and sugar but still have it when I want, just not every day and not so much. In 2 years i have lost 25 of the 40 pounds I gained. Still a ways to go, but I know I will get there because I chose to eliminate unneeded calories that I don't really miss. If this young woman looks at her diet carefully, she will also find excess calories that can be eliminated with out pain. I have never known anyone who 'dieted' and kept the weight off. My aunt lost almost two hundred pounds and lectured for weight watchers for years. But guess what? Its all back. Changing your eating habits permanently is the only way to lose weight for the long term and doing it by sensibly cutting your calories is the only smart way.

      August 12, 2011 at 22:51 | Report abuse |
  2. B

    Excuse me for saying this but it bothers me that this persons email was addressed on here. She is 5'3 and 120? There is nothing unhealthy about her weight or lifestyle. Way to encourage an eating disorder.

    August 12, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • G Wilkins

      I whole-heartedly agree!
      I'm 5' 2-1/2" and WISH I weighed 120lbs! I've never weighed more than 117 (and that was after trying *really* hard to put some weight on); lately I've been lingering a little under 110. I'm well-muscled and don't look "sickly-skinny", but I have no "padding" to keep the cold out. I chill easily and don't like being able to count my ribs in the mirror.

      August 12, 2011 at 09:46 | Report abuse |
    • TeeCee

      I completely agree with you, B. That's completely within the "healthy limits", which I still believe is too thin, but what do I know?

      August 12, 2011 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
    • riprap

      The problem is her obsessive thoughts of food even though he weight is within the normal range.
      I don't think she is being satiated and gaining 16 pounds in two years is a good indication. To many Americans suffer from lack of fat in their diet. This leads to weight gain and other problems.

      August 12, 2011 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      I think you're missing the point. She gained 16 lbs in the last 2 years. If she keeps this up, she'll be overweight in a few years. Clearly, she is being proactive about her health.

      August 13, 2011 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
  3. Reader

    I agree with B, 5'3 and 120 lb is healthy. If anything, the author should have applauded Jaime K for her active lifestyle and healthy weight and addressed what appears to be her body image/self esteem issues.

    August 12, 2011 at 09:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • riprap

      You ignore she has gained 16 pounds in two years and obsessively thinks of food.

      August 12, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse |
  4. robert gilliland

    Get tested for food sensitivities. I use Alcat and Cyrex.

    August 12, 2011 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Overeater

    You need Overeaters Anonymous. You are in need of a support group to help with the obsession of getting fat. OA works!

    August 12, 2011 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. compassionate

    Hi, theres also a direct link btwn college (espec freshman and soph year) and drinking.... if you are drinking on a regular basis then weight gain should be expected.....

    August 12, 2011 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. melina

    Dr. Melina's advice is good. Its a logical base for jamie to start with. She knows how much to eat, what to eat, and she is active. But she is a major in food science, a foodie, and probably a good cook. Finding a balance between her studies and reality I'd hard in her field because food is hardwired in our brains, and when you have this contradicting, "oh I want a delicious (fill in the blank) and this parallel pressure to stay thin in college. It can cause some serious problems. This comes from personal experience. I'm glad I decided NOT to become a pastry chef like I had always wanted or I would be surrounded by food cravings that surely would have thrown me into a depreciating cycle of weight loss and gain.
    I have struggled with E.D for over a decade, and am finally after years of trying to 'fix' my own problem, mostly free. Although the occasional desire to binge pops up. Ed is no joke. And it affects about half of jamie's age group. I remember thinking about food all the time and timing all my meals with my workouts and it was like every minute after one meal until the next was hell. I have found that the only way to break the food-thought-pattern is to find other things that you find equally as interesting that have nothing to do with food. Remember when you were a child and you could play all day and forget to eat. Its importan not to lose that curiousity of life otherwise you'll spend too much time waiting for the next meal opportunity. I advise Jamie to think real hard about what she wants to do with her food science major and be honest with herself. Is it perpetuating an unhealthy cycle/ preoccupation?
    Sincerely, Melina

    August 12, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Victor

      Can we all please stop using the term "foodie" it is one of the most annoying words to crawl into the English lexicon in recent years.

      August 12, 2011 at 13:05 | Report abuse |
  8. angelad

    While I understand her issues regarding food, diteting and excercising she should be encouraged to accept her weight. She was probably very skinny as a child and teenager and her body is now maturing and getting ready to have kids. If she tries to loose weight now she could end up with an eating disorder.... Health is more important than to be perfectly skinny (I know what I am talking about – I have been dieting for 31 years ;-))

    August 12, 2011 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kit

      I agree with you, as it sounds like this girl may not be overweight but just filling in to an adult woman's body instead of a skinny teenager. Unfortunately, if you're used to being the stereotypical skinny, it is very hard to accept having a curvy, womanly body. Society doesn't really help with that either and I think the pressure is particularly tough for teenage girls and young women. Though, really, does it ever truly go away? However, keeping a food journal is a helpful tool because it does give you insight into your eating habits. But, it is more than just writing down what you eat. It is also writing down how hungry you were before eating/how full after and how you feel each day. That is the best way to gain insight into actual overeating.

      August 12, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      I completely agree with both of you. I was the stereotypical skinny teenager and I too found myself obsessing about food and my weight as soon as I started to gain in my early twenties. It's unfortunate, but I started my first diet when I weighed just 120 pounds (I'm 5'6). I probably gained more weight from failed diets over the past ten years than I would have naturally if I had just accepted my new body and tried to live healthy. Ce la vie. I've recently decided to ditch dieting and just eat "normally" again. It's not easy but there are great resources out there to help retrain your brain to recognize hunger and cravings versus diet rules and restrictions.

      August 15, 2011 at 08:03 | Report abuse |
  9. Paul

    When you are hungry have a couple of smokes. Problem solved.

    August 12, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. phneutral

    Because we are animals and in our species history we have spent a lot more time looking for food to live. We are still wired that way.

    August 12, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Former Food Obsessed

    I too was extremely food obsessed and could not stop thinking about food. I could never consume enough and was eating constantly or trying to fight my hunger. As a result of a losing fight with my hunger, I weighed over 250 pounds. I felt doomed to a life of being fat. I tried all the nice suggestions everyone has mentioned above – journaling, trying to address my emotions, etc. All of that was BS!.

    I have celiac disease and cannot eat gluten. It took over 10 years to get this diagnosis because I was fat and everyone assumes a celiac is rail skinny.

    Once I fixed this food intolerance, I was able to effortlessly lose weight (over 50 pounds and counting) and best of all, I am no longer obsessed by food. I can eat when I am hungry and stop eating when I am full. I no longer think about food constantly and live my life normally.

    I was obsessed by food because I was not absorbing nutrients so my body was screaming for food as it "thought" I was starving. No amount of dieting, journaling, addressing my emotional eating, etc. would ever have cured this problem.

    I am not saying that you have celiac or gluten intolerance, but your body is telling you something by being hungry and food obsessed all the time. Perhaps you need more fat in your diet (it won't actually make you fat) and less simple carbohydrates (which have very little nutrients) or have some other food intolerance. I would highly highly recommend working with a naturopathic doctor or integrative medicine doctor as they can help you identify what you might be missing from your diet.

    Being obsessed with food is not normal. Your body is telling you something. Listen.

    August 12, 2011 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cestmoi

      Yes, it's saying eating is a distraction that keeps one from cheating on their disinterested lover

      August 13, 2011 at 02:10 | Report abuse |
  12. Diane

    The person did not specify their gender, and "Jamie" can be a boys name or a girls name. Males are still growing into their early twenties, so the weight gain could very well be him just finishing up puberty and adolescence. Even a girl who was a "late bloomer" might still be growing to her final adult size at 18-19.

    August 12, 2011 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. E

    Maybe she gained weight because she needed to get to a healthy weight, which she is at now.

    August 12, 2011 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Tim

    I'm a chef. I think about food constantly. I have to be cognizant about dietary restrictions be it religious, food intolerance...

    I came to one simple conclusion. Buy organic from farmers markets. Follow a Mediterranean diet.

    One can eat well and healthy all at once. From Spain all around the sea to Morroco, you will find luscious, inspiring, meals.

    oil, fish, lamb, garlic, redwine reductions, roasted veggies. Olive oil, wine, garlic, and love are what makes a good meal.

    I think about food A LOT. I love this never ending search for the super flavor power pill of the universe.

    Mangia.:)

    August 13, 2011 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. wilburf

    you are a food addict. stop eating. you will feel hungry. that is good and normal. a human must feel 'hunger' a lot. you will learn to love that feeling. you need about 3 handfuls of food a day. vitamins every few days, salad. the human needs almost nothing to survive.

    August 13, 2011 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. cestmoi

    Food, Glorious Food
    We're anxious to try it
    Three banquets a day
    Our favourite diet!

    August 13, 2011 at 02:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Steveo

    hmmm... plays ultimate frisbee and can't stop thinking about food, me thinks someone needs to lay off the ganj... don't need a doctor to diagnose that

    August 13, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      my thoughts exactly!

      August 13, 2011 at 23:40 | Report abuse |
  18. metabolicmemory

    There's a very good chance this person constantly thinks about food because experts keep telling her that food is the ENEMY, and that she shouldn't be eating it!

    If you eat the foods you love as part of a balanced healthy properly timed diet, you can certainly look forward to them, but there's no more stressing about them because you know you do not have to deprive yourself and you can have your favorite treats guilt free. Once you know it's okay to eat what you love while still losing weight and becoming more healthy, you relax and food becomes a pleasure rather than a nightmare.

    Just know that HUNGER IS HABIT, and all of your old thoughts about "I'm hungry, therefore I must eat" as well as what is "healthy" and what is "unhealthy" to eat can cause you great anxiety and stress. All of these nightmares can be changed through knowledge and practice of how your metabolism really works.

    Whatever this person does she MUST know this. Studies PROVE (search Weight-Loss Diets for the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity New England Journal of Medicine 2009 and the editorial analysis by Dr. Martjin Katan as one of many many examples), with a nearly 100% intermediate and long term failure rate, most of these conventional dieting concepts people are told must be followed to succeed with long term weight loss by "experts" (like the crazy and oppressive ideas being suggested by Dr. Kessler) are completely unnecessary and definitely do more harm than good..

    Bottom line: It's the insistence of experts telling people that they should restrict and deprive themselves of the foods they love that IS the cause of most weight gain and eating disorders - EET is proving this and will continue to prove this.

    Jon
    EET Fitness

    August 14, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Gina

    Try a low carb diet. Too many carbs will cause a person to be obsessed with food, its all because their insulin level is too high because of too many carbs. Most people try to starve themselves on popcorn and celery sticks if they want to lose weight. Thats such a bad idea. Eat good fats and lots of protein. There is a lot of good information on the internet on low carb and paleo and natural food websites. And a person has to find what will work for them specifically, there is not one simple answer for everybody. Don't ask doctors, they are way out of touch with what really works. If doctors were giving good advice, then people would not be in such a bad state of being overweight and food obsessed. Like the doctors in the article, their advice is not going to help.

    August 14, 2011 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Chris

    "...brain pathways that are established and reinforced by the regular consumption of highly appealing high-fat, high-sugar, salty foods."

    This completely ignores the single most important reason people over-eat. And that is the regular consumption of highly appealing food advertisements. The airwaves are saturated with commercials for everything from Red Lobster to Skittles. Want to stop thinking about food? Stop watching and listening to these shameless advertisers, and stop expecting your food to entertain you.

    August 14, 2011 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Shannon

    While I know what I'm about to say is a "fad" right now, I had the same problem with eating. I was active, eating healthy foods, and doing the right things but I couldn't stop the hunger feeling. Someone suggested cutting gluten out (which I thought was total bunk). On a whim (because I have some other health problems that my doctor couldn't fix but thought were also were related), I cut out the gluten and within a few weeks also stopped having the constant hunger.

    Now, this is definitely *not* true for everyone and I would say most people process gluten just fine. I'm not celiac, just intolerant (again, I didn't get into this to lose weight, I had a lot of physical symptoms I couldn't fix and they disappeared when I stopped eating gluten. Yes, they reappear when I introduce gluten back into my diet).

    It's something to consider at the very least.

    August 14, 2011 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Nicole

    Excuse me CNN, but the person asking this started out with a BMI of 18.4, which is actually underweight for an adult, and now has a BMI of 21.5, which is healthy. Why on earth are you talking about weight loss strategies? Why to you fail to mention eating disorders, which can cause obsessive thinking about food?

    It is quite possible that her weight gain was healthy for her. Are we so fat phobic in this country that we think a weight gain that brings you from the underweight category to the normal weight category is unhealthy?

    August 15, 2011 at 07:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. seo

    Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people think about worries that they just do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

    January 31, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. excellent site thanks lquhbqsgwv click here

    xacoregldnug

    April 23, 2013 at 02:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. cfjlfauikhbq

    kdgxpiquxbhp

    April 23, 2013 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.