By: Christine Hill
Everyone likes food. Everyone looks forward to a treat now and then especially with . Everyone regrets indulging too much now and then.
But for some of us, it goes beyond that.
How can you tell if your relationship with food is perfectly normal and healthy… or if it’s become a food addiction or disorder?
Food Addiction Works the Same as Other Addictions
Many people are skeptical of the existence of food addictions. After all, everyone needs to eat in order to survive. All of us are affected by the foods that we eat, and all of us crave unhealthy foods now and then. Food addictions can often be misinterpreted as a lack of willpower, or an obsession with self-image. However, food addiction has the same power to induce health problems, unhealthy behavior, and inability to function as any other addiction.
Think about it: unhealthy eating can lead to depression, obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. It can put strain on our relationships with others, impair our ability to work, and affect our self-image. The neurobiology of food addiction is the same as other addictions: we seek to trigger the reward center of our brain, but we gradually acquire an immunity to the stimulus This leads us to seek out more of the substance in order to achieve the same reward, until the cyclical behavior reaches a point where it’s interrupting our lives.
Food addiction isn’t just about how much food you eat. It’s about the way you use food in your life and how much mental space is preoccupied by thoughts of food. Consider this rule: an addiction is a self-destructive behavior that persists despite evidence of its harm.
Ask Yourself Some Questions:
- Have you felt the need to control your eating, but been unable to stick to any resolutions?
- Do you feel ashamed of your eating habits, and often eat in private?
- Do you continue to overeat, despite an awareness of its harmful effects (long term and immediate) in your life?
- Do you turn to food to deal with emotional issues, like loneliness, shame, stress, and depression?
- Do you think about food all the time? This might be looking forward to eating something, trying NOT to think about eating something, or obsessing or berating yourself for something you already ate.
Our Modern World Makes Food Addiction a Special Challenge
Food addiction is more prevalent in our modern society than any other time. We live in a world full of foods that have been modified to make you crave them more. Foods that were never supposed to be sweet are packed with sugar for the sole sake of triggering that reward system of our brain. We’re surrounded by messages that tell us to indulge, and if you try to stop thinking about food, a few minutes of watching tv or scrolling through Pinterest will very quickly send your brain back into its patterns of dwelling on food.
Some Tips for Getting Control
An important thing to know about food addiction is that, just like other addictions, it’s more than a matter of self-control and improving willpower. It’s a dependence on a substance. Just like other addictions, there may be a pattern of relapse and recession. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re helpless! Allow yourself to truly think of it as an addiction, and you free yourself to consider more helpful ways to cope and overcome.
1: Note your trigger foods
Food addictions can be scary and overwhelming because an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach isn’t an option. However, you can completely stay away from the harmful foods that trigger problems. For most people, food addiction is almost completely based in those foods that activate our brain’s reward system quickly: starchy, sugary, and fatty foods.
Take note of which foods you crave when you’re feeling lousy, which foods you overeat without meaning to, and which foods make you feel terrible and guilty after you eat them. Cut them out of your life completely. Avoid situations where the temptation will slap you in the face.
2: Note your trigger behaviors
An important part of overcoming an addiction is controlling the behaviors that lead to using. Do you use food to comfort yourself? Do you use it to numb or escape? Do you use it when you’re bored, or when you’re dealing with stress or depression? Do you use it to punish yourself? What causes you to reach out to food? How can you direct yourself to more healthy pursuits when you’re feeling that way?
3: Shift from self-punishment to self-care
The ironic thing about a food addiction is that we transform something that should be nourishing and sustaining to our bodies and we use it to harm our bodies instead. Food should not be a reward, an indulgence, a trap, or a punishment. It should be something that fuels the rest of your life and enables you to do other activities that you love.
Think about food in terms of nutrition. Proper food can help you strengthen your resistance to temptation. Cutting harmful foods out of your diet and focusing instead on healthy fuel will cleanse your palate, and allow your tastebuds and the pleasure center of your brain to reset. This can retrain your cravings and allow you to taste the good things in good foods again.
4: Enlist Help
Help can come from many different sources. You might need to reach out to your loved ones, let them know about your struggle, and express the changes that you’re trying to make so that they can help you. You might need to talk with a professional counselor to decode the underlying reasons for your unhealthy behavior with food. There are also help groups available, so that you can share your story and gain strength from others in your own situation.