Unfortunately, this is a very real condition, but one that you can conquer. Most of us eat a bit more than we should now and then, but I’m referring here to people who develop an addiction to food – addiction is not only about drugs and alcohol. Food addiction is commonly called compulsive overeating or binge eating, where a person eats more than is needed and finds it hard to stop. A food addict often feels guilty and gets depressed, even feeling self-disgust. How does this happen, how can you identify whether you have a food addiction, and what can be done about it?
Overeating can be a way to ‘bury your sorrows’, to deal with pain, abuse or loneliness, or seek ‘comfort’ in food. But there is another way you can become a food addict – by eating junk food. It’s highly addictive, nutrient poor (so your body wants more), and it becomes a learned behaviour. The more junk food you eat, the more you want to eat, and the worse you feel. The weight piles on and a vicious circle can ensue, leading sometimes to bulimia and even self-harming.
In this stressful world in which we live there’s never been a more important time to eat whole, real food and eliminate junk/processed food. If you’ve been eating processed food for a long time, you probably don’t even think about fresh food. If you regularly eat processed/prepared food from the supermarket or takeaway food which gets put into a microwave for convenience, you may be in this category. Foods which are typically addictive are pizza, chips, chocolate, fried chicken from vendors, burgers, fizzy drinks and any number of other processed and takeaway foods.
Why food makes you feel better
Unfortunately, food addicts need a ‘fix’ and only feel better when they eat that food they crave. Cravings are part of food addiction just like any addiction. Foods high in sugar, damaged fats and chemicals stimulate the brain’s ‘reward’ center, releasing ‘feel good’ hormones such as dopamine – a neurotransmitter which gives a sense of pleasure. In time, the brain becomes accustomed to dopamine, and more food is needed to release the same amount of dopamine, just as a drug addict needs higher doses as time goes on to create the same ‘high’. Sex, exercise and eating all trigger dopamine, they are all part of a normal life therefore they are designed to do this. However, overdoing anything always comes at a price.
The food industry know all about this, and getting you addicted to their food is now a ‘science’, sadly. Too much sugar is added say to chocolate, and this sweetness is then hidden by an infusion of salt and spices (even though you can’t taste them). In fact most supermarket/takeaway foods (including savoury foods) contain more sugar than a bar of chocolate. This sugar is hidden and goes by more than 50 names, but you are left wanting that food again and again as your addiction grows. This never happens with real, whole, fresh food!
Studies have been done which show withdrawal from junk food–especially sugary food–is as severe as withdrawal from alcohol and drugs in many cases, including shaking, anxiety and a change in body temperature. Sugar is the most addictive of all foods and here’s the biochemical reason why:
- Blood sugar increases forcing the pancreas to secrete insulin, which then breaks down and blood sugar levels plummet
- Lowered blood sugar levels send a signal to the brain – more sugar is needed
- The brain releases hormones causing a craving for sugar, leaving the person feeling weak and agitated until they get their “fix”
- A sugar addict will now binge-eat on sugary items to satisfy their craving
Are you a Food Addict?
If you have any of these signs, you could be a food addict, test yourself – DO YOU:
- Eat to deal with emotional problems/stress?
- Obsess over food most of the time?
- Continue to eat, even though you know you’re hurting your health?
- Eat to the point of nausea and even vomiting?
- Feel you have no self-control regarding food?
- Ever lie about what you eat or how much you eat?
- Ever wake up at night to eat?
- Hide food at home or at work?
- Continue to eat even though you are really full?
- Regularly regret you have eaten as much as you have?
- Feel angry or aggressive if you cannot get the food you crave?
If you answered yes to 3 or more of these, you may have an addiction and should seek help.
Food Addiction has Health Consequences
There are consequences both long and short term but you are worth rescuing from an addiction. The consequences are both physical and psychological and include:
- Damage to the gut
- Anxiety and depression
- Type II diabetes
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
Whatever the cause – whether social, genetic, junk food or any other cause, the bottom line is this: changing what goes into your mouth. Like alcohol and drugs, ‘cold turkey’ may be difficult so take it slowly – but set a goal, depending on how severe your situation is. Food is essential to survival so stopping food of course is out of the question – it’s not the same as smoking. New behaviours need to be learned. So here are a few ideas you might want to consider:
- Learn more about healthy food, and how it benefits the body and removes cravings. A good start is my book 63 Days to Optimum Health, which teaches you over a period of time to change bad eating habits into good ones.
- If you want to embrace a new way of eating, consider the low carbohydrate, higher healthy fat lifestyle – it is still the most successful of all eating plans for weight loss and excellent health. If you can’t get there quite yet, try the Paleo eating plan.
- Eliminate sugar from your diet – you can include Keto Sweet Zero which tastes identical to sugar but without the dangers. (And please do not eat fructose as a sweetener, it is a desperately dangerous alternative. So are artificial sweeteners)
- Avoid fruit for the first month – or have just ½ cup blueberries as your fruit for the day
- Don’t go on diet! Follow the eating plans recommended in points #1 & 2 above, but don’t actively diet. Just learn to eat WHOLE, real, fresh food as it occurs in nature
- Substitute. In the early days if you are an “all day eater” and it’s usually chocolate, then substitute fresh raw nuts for chocolate instead.
- Begin slowly reducing portion sizes – use a smaller plate.
- Only eat when you are hungry – if you must snack, make it healthy, whole food
- Try to only eat 3 meals a day – get to this point as soon as you can, without snacks
- Stop all fizzy drinks – get used to water, but tea and coffee are fine too
- Remove temptation – don’t buy it and it won’t be in the house to eat later. Purge your cupboards of tempting food and replace them with healthy food alternatives
- Always cook your own food from scratch
This will all take time, but start now – why wait for new year’s resolutions, start today for a better 2021 where you truly take control of your body if you have found you are struggling with food addiction.
One thing you will find helps with food addiction dramatically – L-Glutamine! It’s the most marvelous way to quell cravings and appetite!