Some of us feel like we’re addicted to food.
We might feel addicted only to certain foods, like sugary treats or salty, fatty, snacks.
We might feel addicted to food in general, without necessarily feeling pulled to any specific type or kind.
Most often, we feel this way after we lose control.
We’ll eat not only beyond satisfaction, but past comfort.
We’ll eat foods that we know make us feel physically bad.
We get cravings, as though we “need” these foods.
We give in.
We feel stuffed.
We feel sick.
We feel regret.
We genuinely want to stop but we just can’t.
We feel addicted.
Sometimes this is due to the quality of the food, but sometimes this is simply a matter of quantity.
Why do we do this?
Perhaps more importantly, how can we put an end to this pattern?
The intent of this post is not to explore whether certain foods do or do not satisfy all the requirements for being called “addictive”.
In the end, that’s not what matters.
Ultimately, what matters is what you can do if you’re repeatedly losing control around food and want to stop.
This matters far more than what label we do or do not attach to what you’re experiencing.
First, you might assess whether you feel as though lose control with only specific foods, or with food in general.
If you think that it’s food in general, then you might want to look at ways to dial in your food choices to minimize the chances of uncontrolled eating.
Some foods are more conducive to cravings and overeating than others, so building a foundation of eating habits built on nutrient-dense, highly satiating foods might go a long way towards normalizing hunger signals.
Here are a few general tips to get started:
- Drink plenty of water and other non-caloric drinks like green tea or coffee, depending on how they’re affecting your sleep, mood, and energy levels.
- Get some form of high-quality protein like chicken, shrimp, wild fish, pastured beef or lamb, or venison with every meal.
- Eat tons of colorful non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomato, and (my personal favorite) brussels sprouts
- Make sure you’re eating enough healthy, natural fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and the fat that comes along with your protein.
- Fuel up with minimally processed carbs like fruit, berries, tubers, and root vegetables, as appropriate for your needs and goals.
Once you’ve laid a foundation of consistent eating habits, you might take a look at how you approach those foods you find to be problematic.
Some of us find that we restrict ourselves from these foods only to later go off the rails and eat them uncontrollably.
If this describes your situation, then you might consider more of a “moderation” approach.
Try easing off on the restriction a bit and enjoying the foods you find to be problematic more regularly in small quantities appropriate for your goals.
Some of us, on the other hand, find that we can’t eat “just one”, and are easily triggered to overeat by certain foods.
Similarly, some of us have found that certain foods make us feel physically bad, even in small quantities, and the only reason we eat them is for immediate pleasure.
If one of these better describes your situation, then you might consider more of an “abstinence” approach, in which you just say “no” to certain foods, even in small amounts.
Abstinence runs counter to the “everything in moderation” advice that’s traditionally advocated, but at a certain point you’ve got to take a step back and ask yourself “how’s that working for you?”
If you fall into this category, “abstinence” doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.
It doesn’t mean you’re weak.
It doesn’t mean you’re broken.
It just means that moderation isn’t a fit for you – at least with certain foods, or at least not right now.
Neither moderation nor abstinence is a “one size fits all” solution, and you’ll want to figure out which approach works best for you.
Now, let’s say that you’ve given both of these approaches a shot, and you still just can’t seem to get a grip on your eating habits.
Or perhaps you’ve found that you have figured out a way to put an end to your behavior, but you still feel like you’re white-knuckling your way through life without deviating from your eating habits.
There’s a good chance your issues are much deeper and more complex than simply “sugar tastes good”.
That is, deeper emotional or mental issues might be manifesting themselves through your eating habits.
Choosing to moderate or abstain from problematic foods doesn’t do anything to address these underlying issues.
To get to the root of why you lose control around food, you might need to do some introspection.
Take a look at what’s usually happening in the moments leading up to when you lose control of your eating habits.
Where are you?
What are you usually doing?
Who are you with?
What are you feeling?
What are you thinking?
What’s going through your head?
What need is your addiction to food satisfying?
What role beyond satisfaction of physical hunger is this eating habit playing?
Like other addictive or abusive behaviors, you might find that you’ve been using food as a coping mechanism for – or distraction from – something completely unrelated to food whatsoever.
Is it a source of entertainment?
Is it a means for comfort?
Is it a form of companionship?
Is it a distraction from stress?
If you’re able to identify which need other than sustenance food is satisfying, seek out ways to satisfy that need without food.
Do you need to work on getting better sleep?
Do you need to work on managing stress?
Do you need to cultivate more meaningful relationships?
Do you need to seek out ways to live more purposeful life?
Yes, avoiding food that you find uncontrollably palatable is a challenge, but this – digging deep to figure out why you’re struggling – is where the real work begins.
Finally, if you just aren’t able to get any traction and continue to lose control around food in a way that’s negatively impacting your life, you might seek out help.
You might be a little hesitant to seek out professional help for something as seemingly benign as food.
After all, food addiction isn’t as well acknowledged as other addictions and doesn’t come along with the same social stigma.
Additionally, the immediate effects of food addiction aren’t as potentially damaging as other addictions.
However, in the long run, our eating habits can be just as detrimental to our physical health, and in the short term can be just as detrimental to our relationships with ourselves and with others.
If your eating habits are a reflection of underlying mental or emotional issues, you might really benefit from talking to somebody about it.
Destructive behavior – whether related to food or otherwise – is complex, and getting to the root of it is never easy.
The steps discussed above may or may not work for you.
Just don’t give up on yourself.
Don’t resign to a life of food being a source of guilt, embarrassment, or shame.
Put in the work.
It will not be easy.
It will be worth it.
You are worth it.
You’ve got this.