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?
The scary part is that 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 some people try. This article is all about food addiction and how to overcome it.
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 many people with food addiction find it hard to adhere to healthier diets. They may develop obesity for this reason.
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 of persons with a substance abuse disorder are the same neurotransmitters that affect 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.
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 food addiction:
- Frequent food cravings despite being full
- Eating big servings of the craved food much more than the intended serving (e.g., telling yourself to drink just one glass of soda but ending 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
- Making excuses why giving in to a food craving is a good idea. (using stress, monthly period, or food as a reward as an excuse to give in to their food craving)
- Repeatedly trying to quit food addiction but is unsuccessful in doing so
- Hiding from others when eating unhealthy foods or hiding 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.
Food addiction recovery will take a lot of willpower and sacrifice to overcome. It may take weeks or months, but you have to believe in yourself to overcome it. Everybody has different food cravings, and breaking a food addiction is going to be different for everyone. But here are some tips you can start with:
Start to change your lifestyle by writing a list and coming up with a plan. Get a notebook, journal, or notepad and write your lists there.
- List down your personal goals (how to overcome food addiction, weight loss goals, how you can avoid your junk food triggers, 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.
- Write down the fast food places you should avoid or healthy restaurants you can eat in within your area.
- Make a list of the healthy foods you can eat.
Every time you have 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 not to go on a restricted diet for at least 1–3 months if you’re on the journey of recovery from food addiction. Overcoming food addictions is already hard enough. Adding diet restrictions and hunger will make the recovery process even harder.
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. 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. Alcohol causes poor judgment in many people, so this can destroy your recovery.
Also, avoid soda because it has addictive substances and high sugar content. Don’t make it a part of your everyday life to consume sugar because this can trigger addiction in your brain.
Mindful eating means being conscious of everything that you eat. It means being mindful of how much sugar or calories is in the food. Being mindful makes you conscious to think twice before eating anything.
For example, did you know that one donut contains about 190–300 calories? This is equivalent to the number of calories you’ll lose on a 20-minute jog on the treadmill.
A donut also provides empty calories. It barely contains vitamins or nutrition. Be mindful of what you eat because all of your food choices either affect your body negatively or positively.
If you want to overcome food addiction, your goal is to avoid eating unhealthy meals and cravings for addictive foods. So if you can’t eat high-sugar, high-fat, or highly addictive food, it makes sense that you should start eating healthy. This doesn’t mean, though, 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 or anything high-sugar or high-fat, 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. Why? When you’re experiencing 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 will you feel good exercising, but you could also lose weight. After you’ve overcome your food addiction, set a personal goal of how much weight you want to lose.
It’s nice to know that you’re not alone in your battle against food addiction. Reach out to family and friends to help you get through with it. 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 watching 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.
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 the symptoms. It can also help if you seek support from a mental health professional when you experience these withdrawal symptoms.
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 that are experiencing food addiction. It’s easier to talk to people who make us feel comfortable and can relate to what we experience.
Food addiction is a problem that does not go away on its own. You need to treat it by starting within yourself because if you don’t, it may worsen over time. Consider seeking support from a mental health professional.
You don’t have to fight this journey alone. Help is always available if you look for it.
You can book an appointment for online mental health counseling at Kentucky Counseling Center. Our experts can help you overcome your food addiction and teach you how to replace it with healthier habits.