Breaking up with junk food isn’t easy. Overeating is one of the reasons many people spend so much money on weight-loss products and gym memberships without seeing the body transformation they wish for.
For some, eating clean is much more complicated than coming up with the right meal plan or prepping their food in advance. There are actually those who are so hooked on food, they feel like that can’t say no. That’s why groups like Overeaters Anonymous exists, and it’s why we need to talk about health in a more nuanced way, giving less attention to fad diets.
I want to take a closer look at food addiction. I wanted to share a little research on this struggle that keeps people from reaching their health goals and share how to start taking steps towards freedom from food addiction so you can start living your life on your terms.
Facts About Food Addiction
Food addiction hasn’t been technically defined. You won’t find it in the DSM-V alongside other mental health disorders.
That being said, there is emerging research that indicates that there are certain eating behaviors that mimic a substance abuse disorder. Some of the most convincing evidence is summarized in a research review published in the journal Nutrients in 2018. They gathered years of research on food addiction and carefully examined it against the criteria that exist for evaluating substance abuse disorders. These criteria included consuming more than healthy or more than you planned, making risky choices like consuming foods even when you are observing adverse effects, and experiencing withdrawal when you’re not consuming the substance.
What their research determined was that there is a lot of convincing evidence that food addiction is a real problem because individuals who were over-consuming were exhibiting these “tell-tale” behaviors of addiction. They also determined that foods that have added sugar or sweeteners and are high in fat result in the most addictive behaviors.
Fighting Food Addiction
All of us build emotional relationships with food whether we know it or not. Often, we eat as a result of a stressful situation in life that triggers us to seek immediate alleviation or pleasure. For example, you have a bad day at work, and the first thing you do when you come home is pouring a glass of red wine. Maybe that’s not you, perhaps you experience anxiety and look for comfort with one of your favorite sugary snacks.
Certain foods elicit chemical responses in the body that possess the power to change our emotions and the way we feel. If you find temporary relief or refuge in food, this can become a vicious, unhealthy cycle. The good news is that there are ways to gain freedom from your food hang-ups, starting with knowing your triggers and changing your lifestyle and reaching out for help.
How To Find Food Freedom
Know your trigger foods. We know that certain foods are linked to addictive behaviors, specifically those that are high in sugar and fat. If you’re a food addict, you might not be able to eat those things in moderation, at least for now. Keep foods that are especially tempting out of your house.
Know your trigger situations. The foods we eat and the emotions we feel are definitely linked. If you pay close attention, you just might notice that you are more likely to overeat when you’re lonely, stressed out, or in social situations. Being mindful of this can help you gain some ground and you might benefit from a little accountability when you are put in these situations.
Start a new habit. Have you ever tried to break a habit but found yourself returning to it over and over again? Sometimes it is helpful to replace an old habit with a new one. If you mindlessly snack at night, find a new way to fill that time.
Try Whole30. One of the things I love about Whole30 is that it helps individuals pay close attention to their food habits and gain freedom from addictive behaviors. If you’re looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom Forever which not only details the program, it also provides insight into dealing with being hooked on junk food.
Get some outside help. For some, learning to avoid foods that trigger us and being mindful of difficult food situations is enough to move forward towards a healthier relationship with food. For others, outside help and accountability are needed. There are counselors and nutritionists who specialize in disordered eating and accountability groups like Overeaters Anonymous. I highly recommend both of these approaches to anyone who feels like food is controlling their life.