We all know how delicious junk foods, ice cream, or processed foods are. They are called comfort foods for a reason, and you can easily get addicted to them. But did you know that these comfort food have certain effects on the brain that make it hard for other people to avoid them? Or let just say that eating can be addicting in general.
Do you know the scary part? Food addiction is similar to substance abuse disorders or drug addiction. It is real, and it’s a hard habit to break, no matter how hard other people try. For some people, like individuals diagnosed with eating disorders, when stress is felt, relapse happens. This causes the person to start having bad eating habits again. Food addiction, is one of the bad eating habits people have.
In this article, you’ll learn what food addiction is and how to overcome it.
What Is Food Addiction?
Food addiction is defined as unhealthy habits or addiction to junk foods (for example, ice cream, foods high in fat, chips, or sugary drinks). Evidence shows it is similar to other eating disorders like compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder. This explains why other people with food addiction find it hard to adhere to healthier diets. As a result, they may develop obesity.
The Science Behind Food Addiction
Food addiction, as mentioned earlier, is thought to be similar to drug addiction. What is the science behind this? It was found that the neurotransmitters in the brain affected in persons with a substance abuse disorder are the same neurotransmitters affected in people with food addiction.
Processed foods have negative effects on the reward centers of the brain. These effects are the responsibility of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. Food addiction is a combination of lacking the willpower to control oneself to eat junk foods and the dopamine process in the brain.
Symptoms of Food Addiction
There are no blood tests or laboratory exams that can diagnose the existence of food addiction. Like other addiction disorders, the diagnosis of food addiction is based on the person’s behaviors. Here are the symptoms of addiction:
- Frequent craving of foods despite being full.
- Eating big servings of craved food much more than the intended serving. (For example, you told yourself just to drink one glass of soda, but you ended up drinking the whole bottle in one sitting)
- Eating certain foods up to the point that you are excessively full or about to throw up.
- Feeling guilty after overeating but excessively eats again
- Makes excuses why giving in with a food craving is a good idea. (For example, using stress, monthly period, or to reward themselves as an excuse to give in to their food craving)
- Repeatedly tries to quit food addiction but is unsuccessful in doing so.
- Hides from others when eating unhealthy foods or hides certain foods from their partner or family.
- Finding it hard to control themselves from eating unhealthy foods despite knowing the negative consequences caused by food addiction (e.g., weight gain, obesity, heart disease)
Can you relate to at least four signs above? You should start to worry about having a food addiction. But if you have six signs or above, go seek professional help because it’s most likely food addiction.
Tips in Overcoming Food Addiction
For food addiction recovery, it will take a lot of willpower and sacrifice to overcome it. It may take weeks or months, but you have to believe in yourself to overcome this. Everybody has different food cravings, and breaking food addiction is going to be different for everybody. But here are some tips you can start with:
Make a List
Start to change your lifestyle by starting a list and coming up with a plan. Get a notebook or make a list on the notepad of your phone, and create this list:
- Create a list of your personal goals (For example, how to overcome food addiction, weight loss goals, how you can avoid what can trigger you from eating junk foods, how to boost your self-esteem, if you need treatment, or become just overall healthy)
- Create a list of the unhealthy foods, addictive foods, or meals you should avoid.
- Create a list of the fast food places you should avoid or healthy restaurants you can eat in within your area.
- Create a list of the healthy foods you can eat.
Every time you’re having a craving or want to eat, look at these lists. Look at the foods or fast food chains you must avoid and the choices of healthy foods you can eat. Make it a habit to check your list every day so you will be reminded of your goals.
It is important to remember that if you’re in the journey of recovery from food addiction, not to go on a restricted diet for at least 1-3 months. Because you know why? Overcoming food addictions is already hard enough. Adding diet restrictions and hunger will make the recovery process even harder.
Avoid Alcoholic Drinks and Caffeine
As much as you can, avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeinated beverages (coffee, hot chocolate, or soda). Evidence shows that drinking alcoholic or caffeinated beverages triggers poor eating choices.
Coffee can cause the body to crave sugary drinks or sweet foods. In addition, too much caffeine can cause anxiety, and an anxious person may end up resorting to binge eating comfort foods to feel better.
Drinking alcohol may also cause you to become hungry. For sure you have experienced this. After a night of drinking or bar-hopping with friends, eating whatever you see on the fridge, even junk food seems like a good idea. Because alcohol causes poor judgment in many people, so this can break your recovery.
Also, avoid soda because it has addictive substances and has high sugar contents. Don’t make it a part of your every day life to consume sugar because this can trigger addiction to your brain.
Mindful eating means being conscious of everything that you eat. It means being mindful of how much sugar or calories is in that food. Remember: a moment in your lips is forever on your hips. Being mindful makes you conscious to think twice before eating anything.
For example, did you know that one donut contains about 190-300 calories? Which is equivalent to a 20-minute jog on the treadmill. Imagine the calories you’re putting in your body. And this is an empty calorie. It doesn’t contain any vitamin or nutrition at all. If you’re eating, be mindful of eating nutritious foods and how they can affect your body.
Start Eating Healthy
If you want to overcome food addiction, your goal is to avoid cravings for addictive foods and avoid unhealthy meals. So if you can’t eat high-sugar, high-fat, or highly addictive food, it makes sense that you should start eating healthy.
But this doesn’t mean that you have to buy everything in the supermarket that contains low-sugar or fat-free foods because, in reality, they have sweeteners that have far more negative effects.
Start eating healthy by resorting to something fresher, like fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, and maybe something organic. Once your body gets used to not eating junk food, high-sugar, or high-fat foods, you will see that you won’t be having those unhealthy food cravings anymore. Also, don’t forget to drink lots of water.
As soon as you’ve decided to start eating healthy, pair it with exercising regularly. Because you know why? When you’re experiencing the pain when exercising, it will make you realize how much effort you’ve put into burning the calories of that one donut that you ate.
So the next time you get tempted to eat that donut, just remember how difficult it is to exercise. Not only that you’ll feel good exercising, but you could lose weight too. After you’ve overcome your food addiction, set a personal goal of how much weight you want to lose.
Overcome Food Addiction With A Friend or Family
It’s nice to know that you’re not alone during your treatment. So if you can reach out to family and friends to help you get through with it, then do so. If you ask your family to do this with you, you can all agree not to buy junk food in your house anymore.
It also helps if you reach out to your friends so the next time you hang out and have lunch, you’d pick a healthy restaurant rather than a fast-food chain. It’s also nice to have a friend watch out for what you eat. It may be annoying, but you know it’s for your own good.
You can also share recipes for healthy meals and cook healthy foods for one another. Going on a diet is much easier if you have a support system helping you overcome food addiction. You can even exercise together.
Prepare Your Body With The Withdrawal Symptoms
So you know, changing lifestyle and stopping eating junk foods may cause withdrawal symptoms. You should prepare yourself for this. Symptoms of food addiction withdrawal are anxiety, feeling down, mood swings, and anti-social behavior.
By being aware that you may experience this, you can take control of yourself and recognize these behaviors. It can also help if you seek support from a mental health professional when you experience these withdrawal symptoms.
Consider Seeking Professional Help
Like any other form of addiction, seeking treatment from a mental health professional can be helpful in the long run. You can also join support groups who are experiencing food addiction. It’s easier to talk to people who makes us feel comfortable and can relate to what you experience.
The Key Take Away
The bad news is, food addiction is a problem that does not go away on its own. You need to treat it by starting within yourself. Because if not, it may worsen over time. Consider seeking support from a mental health professional.
You can book an appointment for online mental health counseling at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC). Remember that you don’t have to fight this journey alone. There’s always help.