Overcoming Food Addiction
Are you a food addict? If so, you experience extreme cravings for a few specific foods, overeat and build up your tolerance, and have difficulties quitting even as the health risks pile up. When you do stop, you might also go through symptoms of withdrawal — irritability, mood swings or lack of energy.
If all of that sounds surprisingly similar to other forms of substance dependence and addiction, you’re right.
In one study, researchers found that when people with a food addiction were shown a chocolate milkshake, it activated the same parts of the brain associated with more traditional forms of substance abuse, such as alcohol or drug use.
While food addiction is most commonly associated with obesity, it affects more people than you might realize. In one of the very first attempts to see how prevalent food addiction is, research published in the Frontiers in Psychiatry journal found that as much as ten percent of underweight and normal weight people are food addicts.
Liberate yourself and return to a place of balanced, healthy eating with a toolbox of strategies and methods that can free you from the grips of food addiction.
What Exactly is Food Addiction?
The very first-time “food addiction” was classified back in 1956, psychologists referred to it as overeating “hyperpalatable” foods. Stripped of the scientific jargon, it basically means those foods that are extremely delicious and addictive. That typically means they’re rich in calories and high in additives, salt or sugar.
According to the Yale Food Addiction Scale, the standard signs and symptoms of food abduction may include one or more of the following:
- You binge eat often, and for longer than you planned.
- You want to quit, you know you should stop, and you likely have tried quitting unsuccessfully in the past.
- You spend a lot of your day thinking about food, getting food and recovering from your binge eating.
- You often devote a disproportionate amount of your week focused on food, which tends to displace other activities, like going out with friends.
- You can’t stop overeating, even as the health risks — feeling ill, adding on the pounds, experiencing high blood pressure or diabetes, etc. — pile up around you.
- You start to build up a tolerance to your chosen food, needing more and more of it to feel satisfied.
- You go through withdrawal when you try to cut back or eliminate your binge eating.
4 Strategies on How to Beat Food Addiction
If any of the above sound uncomfortably familiar, today is the day to bring your awareness to your addiction and harness your inner strength to tackle it once and for all.
Identify Your Triggers
Many people who have a food addiction first turn to food to help relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions. Psychologists have found that addictive foods tend to be comforting, and the pleasure from a salty snack or a sugary treat can help you cope with life’s difficulties and struggles.
Trigger-based food addiction may affect you if you ever catch yourself thinking, “I’m going to eat this ice cream because today was hard and I deserve it!”
Unfortunately, most people binge without checking in on their thoughts. To bring your awareness to the situation, try and keep a mindfulness journal.
Jot down when you had a craving and what was happening within you and around you. What emotions were you feeling? What thoughts were you thinking? What had just happened before your craving?
Most food addicts will quickly notice a pattern. Perhaps they get a snack craving while sitting in stressful traffic on the way home from work. Or maybe they binge eat at lunch every Monday–every Monday morning they have a meeting with a surly boss.
These patterns can help you identify when you’re about to be triggered, and give you the time to redirect your food craving.
Redirect and Distract
If you’ve been struggling with food addiction for a while, you might think indulging in those cravings is your only recourse. But now that you’re mindful of your triggers, you can practice more healthy coping mechanisms.
For example, if you eat when you’re stressed or anxious, go for a walk with your dog or a jog around the park. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that physical exercise can be just as effective against anxiety and depression as prescription medications.
You might even want to pre-empt your trigger. For example, if you know that your Monday meeting with your boss triggers you, or that sitting in endless traffic at the end of the day prompts a food craving, engage in your healthy coping habit beforehand.
Other strategies to try include deep breathing, meditation and listening to calming music.
Set Boundaries With Your Temptations
What’s your kryptonite? Your Achilles’ heel? Perhaps it’s cookies, or ice cream, or potato chips. Whatever it is, set boundaries between you and your temptations. The first step is by eliminating these temptations from your home, office, car or anywhere else you tend to store them for easy access.
Simply making it more difficult to indulge in your temptation can give your mind the few seconds or minutes it needs to take a breath, pause, and engage in your healthy coping habit.
Get Professional and Social Support
When it comes to many forms of addictions, such as drug addictions, social support is key to improving your success rate. The same is true with food addictions. Be open, honest and frank with a close loved one or friend.
Share with them your triggers, what you struggle with, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Ask them to hold you accountable and to check in on you with encouragement. Having someone in your corner makes all the difference when you’re trying to score a win against addiction.
When trying to self-treat any form of addiction, it’s also important to consult a medical professional. The American Psychological Association can refer you to a local psychologist who can help you tackle the underlying causes of addiction that are specific to your unique life story.