Time Spent Thinking About Food

March 15th, 2012 by Sara Upson

How often do you talk about food and weight with others?  Or even more, how much time do you spend thinking about food and weight in a given day?  Did you know that food and weight are some of the most frequently discussed topics?  And, according to one clinical finding the amount of time you spend thinking about food, and weight directly correlates to your personal relationship with food.   This study recently came to mind when my husband and I were out to eat at two local establishments.

On this particular day we managed to go out for breakfast and dinner.  We were eating breakfast when three women came in and sat down at the table next us.  I thought it was so sad when one of the women said to another, “look at you, good job for getting fruit” (and only fruit instead of their primary option- bagels).  I couldn’t help but wonder, why good job for only getting fruit?   What if that woman really wanted a bagel and felt she couldn’t get one because she would be judged or feel guilty about it? What if she wanted one and felt extremely unsatisfied from just getting fruit?  When you break it down fruit and bagels are both carbohydrate.  The bagel with a topping will also provide some fat, which will help keep you full longer and provide satisfaction.  The fruit will provide some fiber, but it will not keep you sustained for long.    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a dietitian- I think fruit is important and part of balanced eating.  However, for a balanced meal that provides satiety you really need more than just fruit.  In fact, I would venture to guess that the woman with the fruit was hungry again in about an hour or less.  Eating that little in the morning likely set her to be over hungry later in the day.  Balanced eating earlier in the day can help prevent overeating later in the day.  The fruit part of the conversation was really just one piece of the puzzle because then for their whole meal they proceeded to talk only about food and weight.  I wonder if they even enjoyed what they ate.

Later that day, when my husband and I were out to dinner the table next to us consisted of a group of about eight people.   There were four women at the table who talked about food and weight for the entire conversation!  There was so much misinformation discussed related to food and weight that I was horrified.  I realize that this is a very popular conversation topic.  However, when you connect the time spent talking and thinking about food and weight with your personal relationship with food; it brings up a surprising correlation.  Clinical findings from Reiff and Reiff found that individuals with a normal or healthy relationship with food thought about food 10-20% of the time.  Individuals who were dieting or with disordered eating reported thinking about food 20-65% of the time while those with bulimia reported thinking a bout food 70-90% of the time.  Individuals with anorexia reported thinking about food 90-110% of the time.  You may wonder how someone can think about food more than 100% of the time.  Individuals with anorexia reported they were also dreaming about food.

If you find yourself frequently thinking about food or weight, try to tune in with your body to see what’s happening.  Are you frequently hungry?  Do frequently ignore your body when you’re hungry? Do you frequently eat past the point of fullness?  Do you allow yourself to choose foods that are satisfying?  Are you concerned about your weight and appearance to the point that it interferes with your day?   Are you frequently on a diet or trying to lose weight?  There are many different factors that can impact your relationship with food and sometimes the food component is just the very tip of the ice burg.

Talking about and thinking about food and weight has become an accepted part of our culture.  What does that mean about our society’s relationship with food?  I can’t help but wonder what happened to a normal dinner conversation and about the example that we’re setting for children.   In any eating disorder treatment program meal conversation topics are modeled to represent normal table conversation.  Inappropriate topics, such as those focused on food and weight, are redirected and not allowed.  I’m hearing more and more people focus on food and weight, and I am shocked at how this is considered normal, celebrated, and encouraged.

I think as a culture we’ve become so focused on weight that we’ve completely forget about health and the fact that health and weight are not synonymous.  In addition, being healthy does not mean that you necessarily have a healthy relationship with food.  A healthy relationship with food is one that includes balance, variety, and moderation while giving you the freedom, flexibility, and satisfaction with your food choices.  It honors your hunger and fullness cues so that you can eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full (satisfied) without additional anxiety, stress, or attention focused on food or your body.  It is normal to think about food some, but excessive thoughts could indicate a problem.  How much time do you spend thinking about food and weight?

Directions for calculating the amount of time you spend thinking about food and weight:

  1. What is the average number of hours you sleep per night? ____
  2. What is the average number of hours you are awake each day? ____
  3. What is the average amount of time you spend:
    1. Thinking about Food ____ (includes shopping for food, preparing food for self and others, eating food, reading cookbooks or other food or diet related books, bingeing, purging, thinking about your last meal.)
    2. Suppressing, feeling, or thinking about hunger ____ (includes thinking about or feeling any degree of hunger, using strategies to decrease or distract yourself from hunger such as drinking non- or low calorie beverages, eating foods high in bulk while low in calories, chewing gum, smoking cigarettes, craving carbohydrates and protein.)
    3. Thinking and feeling about body and weight ____ (includes looking in the mirror; weighing yourself, thinking about methods or raising, lowering, or stabilizing your weight, including exercise; comparing your weight to that of others, discussing weight or dieting methods with others, thinking about or being concerned with the weight of others; trying on clothes to see if you have lost or gained weight.)
  4. Add the time from question 3 a, b, and c.  Divide this amount by the time you entered into question number 2 and multiply by 100 to determine the percent of time you spend thinking about food.


Reiff, D. and Reiff, K .  Time Spent Thinking About Food, Healthy Weight Journal.  1998: p. 84.

Reiff, D. and Reiff, K.  Eating Disorders: Nutrition Therapy in the Recovery Process.  Aspen Publishers, 1992: 53, 297.

One Response to “Time Spent Thinking About Food”

January 17, 2018 at 8:53 pm, Wisdom From Curious George on Dieting & Deprivation – MySignatureNutrition said:

[…] less food (self imposed or not) creates deprivation. Deprivation causes you to think about food more. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be actual deprivation- it could be perceived deprivation– […]


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