Do you ever laugh about your love of Chinese takeaways or soda as an “addiction”?
Sometimes, the fight to constantly eat healwhathy and keep on top of your weight seems impossible. For some, it actually is.
It may feel that despite your motivation to eat healthily you find yourself time and time again drawn to unhealthy foods.
You don’t have to be fat or obese to have a food addiction.
Indeed, you could be one of those people that eats an unhealthy diet but doesn’t put on any weight, or someone that eats poorly but keeps their calorie intake down so that it doesn’t show.
Food addiction is a mental issue and you can’t always tell who has it just by looking at someone.
If you’re consuming highly addictive foods that contain MSG or high fructose corn syrup, this could apply to you.
If you’re consuming these, there could be more at stake than just weight gain.
There are over 2500 scientific citations that the Food Addiction Institute has acknowledged on the chemical dependency on food, and they make the case that food addiction should be a recognized substance use disorder.
Read on to find out what exactly food addiction is, the foods that cause it and the 8 ways to combat it.
What is Food Addiction?
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Food Addiction?
- 2 How to Spot if You Might Have a Food Addiction ?
- 3 Foods That Can Make You Addicted
- 4 The 8 Ways to Kick That Food Addiction
- 5 1. Weigh it up
- 6 2. Preparation is key
- 7 3. Start the day right
- 8 4. Train your brain
- 9 5. Get Active
- 10 6. Get plenty of sleep
- 11 7. Be your own rewarder
- 12 8. Get Help
It is also similar to other eating disorders which cause an individual to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, such as a binge eating or compulsive overeating disorder or bulimia.
These eating disorders are mental disorders.
Caused by processed junk food, food addiction is normally as a result of the effect on neurotransmitters and the “reward centres” of the brain.
Dopamine is a chemical which lets one nerve cell send signals to another.
Whilst dopamine is responsible for a variety of tasks in the brain such as motor control and regulating the release of other hormones, one role it has is related to our behavior when motivated by rewards.
When we receive a reward for good behavior, dopamine is released.
Where this comes into food addiction is shown by the increase in the neurotransmitter’s activity in the brain when a number of addictive drugs are used.
Increased levels of dopamine causes a “feel good” effect which gives a feeling of euphoria.
When this “feel good” rush ends, our brain tells us that we want more of it and we become addicted, chasing the same feeling that we got the first time.
We build up a tolerance to it when the brain, in an effort to maintain equilibrium, removes dopamine receptors to balance out the amount of dopamine in the brain.
At this stage, you’ll need to eat more junk food than the time before to achieve the same effect.
If you go without your junk food you may experience cravings and when these aren’t satisfied, you may become unhappy, anxious, agitated or more short-tempered.
This is withdrawal, of a similar kind that happens to a drug abuser. Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal are the tell-tale signs of an addiction.
While the consequences of food addiction are far less severe than other types of addiction, the psychological aspects are just as frightening and excessive consumption of harmful and unhealthy foods still impact your health in a big way.
Eating addictive foods can lead to cardiovascular and heart diseases, cancer, obesity and type-2 diabetes.
How to Spot if You Might Have a Food Addiction ?
You have tried to stop eating certain foods, or have set yourself cheat meals, but have failed to stick to it.
You know that eating processed junk food is bad for your health, and yet you do it anyway.
You hide the fact that you consume these foods from others (maybe you gorge on potato chips on the way home from work or eat lots of junk on your lunch break).
You get cravings for something after you have finished a meal and feel full.
When you give in to cravings after eating a meal you get to the point where you feel overly full and uncomfortable.
You feel guilty and self-loathing, yet continue eating and sometimes justify the fact that you are eating it.
When you try to cut down you feel anxious, depressed, agitated or short-tempered.
You eat as a coping mechanism for negative emotions.
Foods That Can Make You Addicted
The top foods that can contribute to food addiction tend to be the highly processed, typical junk foods and foods high in sugar and wheat. Anything that contains high amounts of MSG (monosodium glutamate), HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) or artificial sweeteners have also been linked to an out of control and unhealthy relationship with food.
High fructose corn syrup is a cheaper alternative for food companies to make food taste sweeter, as it has been scientifically engineered to convert the glucose in corn syrups to fructose. Fructose has been found to be of a higher sweetness than glucose, honey and sucralose.
The team of researchers found that the rats that consumed the high fructose corn syrup experienced a weight gain that was 48% more than the control group that ate a normal diet.
This weight gained by the rats was stored as visceral fat around the abdomen which is particularly harmful and difficult to shift.
The researchers found that when high fructose corn syrup was ingested, the participants reported greater desire for more food and grew hungry more quickly.
They concluded that fructose activated the regions of the brain responsible for reward processing, more so than glucose.
Artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, can also lead to behaviours that mimic an addiction. A published in the journal Neuroscience in 2005 found that sucralose-dependent rats had a delayed satiation response and drank more sucralose than the control group.
They we also found to have released more dopamine.
The 8 Ways to Kick That Food Addiction
1. Weigh it up
Make a list of pros and cons.
On the left side of a piece of paper jot down everything that comes to mind that you can achieve if you didn’t eat so many unhealthy foods (perhaps your motivation is to lose weight, save money, or have the energy to play with your kids or be active with your friends).
On the right side, think of some negatives to this journey (maybe you’ll have to give up your favourite cake). Compare the two columns and you’ll soon see that there are so many more pros to this journey, and they are a lot more significant to your life than the cons.
You could even put up your list of pros and cons wherever you feel tempted the most, like up on the fridge, so that you’re encouraged to make the right choices.
2. Preparation is key
Get to know your enemy and write a list of trigger foods or the go-to foods you seek when you are in need of comfort.
Find recipes for them online or in cookbooks which make them healthier by using natural and whole foods. Take some time to research or walk around the area where you normally get your fast food from and see if there is a place nearby that makes healthier alternatives.
We know there will be times when you want the convenience and ease of fast food, so to help with staying on track, finding a new healthy fast food place is imperative. Next make a new shopping list with all the good things you want to eat throughout the week.
This involves looking at the ingredient list of your favourite foods, not just their nutritional value. Make sure that nowhere on your list do you have diet sodas, or 0 calorie, 0 sugar foods and drinks.
Finally set a date for your journey, and stick with it! Mondays are always a great place to start, you can prepare a whole week’s worth of food on the Sunday and then you’re ready to go!
3. Start the day right
The beginning of your day often lays the basis for the rest of the day. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day too, with in journals such as Obesity Research showing that it makes weight loss maintainers more successful, so there is no excuse not to eat a nutritious breakfast that balances out your blood sugars.
Having something high in protein like eggs or nut butters can be a great way to keep you full and satiated for longer, leading to better food decisions throughout the day and more easily maintained weight loss. Having a sugary breakfast leads to that 3PM slump we all love to hate.
Making healthy swaps, like green tea instead of flavoured coffees, is an easy way to work towards your goals.
4. Train your brain
This involves thinking about food differently. Consume smaller portions by using smaller plates by tricking your brain into thinking you have a full plate and that it will satisfy you.
Learn when you are hungry and when you are full. Eat only when you are hungry and pace yourself so that you stop eating when you need to.
Learn to comfort your emotions in other ways, not by using food as a coping mechanism to deal with sadness, anger or simply boredom. Meditation can be a great way to face your feelings and stop them overwhelming you. It is important that you don’t diet.
Controlling your food addiction is a big enough step in itself; you can worry about sticking to a diet further down the line.
5. Get Active
Feeling healthy is a great motivator and exercise also releases endorphins which can make you feel good the way that dopamine can.
Exercise increases the amount of calcium in your blood which can help maintain normal dopamine functions in the brain. You do not have to exercise a lot, just regular, moderate exercise will do. Walking is a great place to start if you have a low level of fitness.
Exercise can be therapeutic too, you might find that you will be calmer and less likely to suffer a relapse back into your old eating habits. You’ll be able to control those emotions, too.
6. Get plenty of sleep
Dopamine can give us the feeling of being alert or awake.
To get this feeling from more natural ways, you’ve got to get that 8 hours sleep a night. With less sugar and junk food running through your system, you should feel yourself getting to sleep quickly and more easily than ever.
Getting a good dose of sleep also makes you feel ready to take on the day ahead and you’ll be more likely to make good choices for your health if you feel energized.
7. Be your own rewarder
We’ve talked about how dopamine has an effect on the “reward centres” of the brain and how this makes you want to carry on bad (or good) behaviors to get the good feeling from something that triggers dopamine again and again, no matter how harmful it is to our health.
How can you replicate this effect in a healthier way?
By setting yourself goals, be they big or small, and giving yourself little rewards. After every week of making the right, healthy choices, reward yourself. Reward yourself with things that will keep you going – like a new blender, new running trainers, or more luxurious healthy foods.
Achieving each new goal you’ve set yourself will give you pleasure, and your brain will in turn reward you with dopamine.
Soon, you’ll be feeling so good about you’re new health choices and its benefits on your life.
8. Get Help
If it is proving too tough to break your habits, you may need to seek the support of a healthcare professional or of groups like Food Addicts Anonymous.
Food addiction is an addiction like any other and it can sometimes be just as hard to beat it as with alcohol or drug addiction.
If you’re at all worried about your health and the food that you’re eating and yet feel unable to stop it, hopefully these 8 easy ways to start you on the journey to become a better you can help.
This list is not exhaustive, nor is food “addiction” scientifically proven and widely accepted. Before embarking on your process of personal development, consult a medical professional who will go through with you the best methods to achieve your goals.
Which foods fuel your addiction? What things do you do that help keep it under control? Comment below.