“Hunger levels are fine. I’m noticing I am not really thinking about food a whole lot which is insane because I used to ONLY think about food.”
I read this statement from a Team LoCoFit client last week and was smiling from ear to ear. Why? This might seem like such a small win, but it’s an influential win. Food focus is exhausting and crippling and doesn’t just effect a client’s relationship with food; it also effects how they interact in social situations and the self-confidence they possess.
What is food focus?
Food focus will be defined here as a preoccupation with food, quite like the name implies. But this goes beyond a standard “I’m hungry and I’m thinking about food” response and dives deeper into the realm of control and obsession to the point of negative consequences. Negative consequences that start with a lack of flexibility with your diet, that lead to not being able to eat food you haven’t prepared, that eventually leads to you avoiding all social situations where food is involved.
This has sadly been the reality for so many people, including myself.
How does food focus develop?
So where does this food focus develop? Clients can rarely name one single event that singlehandedly changed their relationship with food. Rather, it’s a history of negative situations or remarks that have a compounding effect. Just like no one wakes up one day with a full blown eating disorder, no one wakes up with crippling food focus.
A client might have had disordered eating patterns or even be suffering from an eating disorder.
A client may have familial trauma as it relates to food; from reinforcing remarks to be a certain size, or encouraging dieting at a young age, or even watching their relatives diet unsuccessfully for years.
A client might have unchecked control issues or other obsessive tendencies that have manifested into food issues, too. Food is used as a control mechanism by many.
A client might have worked with an overly rigid coach who did not put their health or best interests first and actually conditioned the food focus.
Regardless of how it developed, doing the work to free yourself from the restraints of food focus will be hard work; particularly the longer you’ve been effected by it.
Working through food focus
First things first, you have to realize that food focus is a something that needs to be addressed. I can tell a client till their blue in the face that they’re exhibiting disordered patterns but until they are ready to dig deep and do the work to fix it, they’ll find every excuse why they shouldn’t act on it.
This doesn’t come from a place of judgement, as I’ve been in this situation more times than I can count (especially as it relates to my relationship with food) but as an honest assessment of the mental space you need to be in to make this change.
The next step is to figure out where the system breaks down and where you struggle with food focus. Is it your body image? Is it the desire for control? Is it your outlet for other life stressors? Getting to the root of where you struggles actually stem from is the best, and only, place to start. Otherwise you’re simply covering up a deeper issue that will bite you in the ass later, and likely worse.
After you’ve figured out where you break down and what is reinforcing the food focus, you can start slowly correcting those habits and behaviors. Psychologists use a technique known as exposure therapy where you slowly introduce the anxiety/fear producing stimulus. I do something similar with coaching and food focus by slowly adding in (or subtracting) negative habits that continue the food focus.
Every clients process will look different but doing this work is crucial, regardless of long it takes. When you think of your future self, most people don’t envision themselves having a miserable relationship with food and their body image but you certainly will if you don’t actively work on your food focus.