What's that heavenly smell wafting down the street? Maybe it's pizza, or perhaps donuts or barbecue. Wouldn't you give your right arm for some of that divinely smoked meat? Wouldn't you pawn your wedding ring for just a slender slice of the pizza pie? When there's a hot pizza in front of you, it's hard to say no to one more slice, even after you're stuffed to the point of bursting at the seams. Believe it or not, if this sounds familiar, you may be a food addict.
The notion of food addiction is often met with incredulity. Most consider "addiction" to be a word only applicable to serious drugs like alcohol, nicotine and meth. But this perception of food as being harmless makes an addiction to it all the easier to deemphasize and, consequently, all the more dangerous.
- How addiction works. Food addicts respond to food much the way an alcoholic responds to beer. The taste, smell, sight and even anticipation of it release dopamine in the brain.
- The good news? Habit can determine what foods trigger the release of dopamine. Moderation of those "guilty pleasure" foods must be your goal. Kicking the addiction to these foods requires that you replace your old cravings with new, healthy ones.
- Possible signs of food addiction.
- You eat even when you're not hungry. The sight of others eating, the smell of favorite foods, the suggestions of eating from movies or books, or the habit of eating while you watch TV, proves impossible for you to resist.
- You know the food is bad for you, but you can't help eating it.
- Your eating habits lead to feelings of guilt.
- You obsess over your weight. Your awareness of the problem leads to the development of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
- You eat in secret when no one else is around. You feel discomfort eating around others who eat less than you.
- Stress and sadness lead you to consume certain foods. You look to them for comfort.
- Consult a primary care doctor. Common consequences of long-term food addiction are obesity, eating disorders and diabetes. You don't want to exacerbate any of these or other conditions during your recovery from the food addiction. Talk to your doctor as you plot your treatment course.
- Counselor or therapist. These professionals can definitely raise your chances of recovery as well. Part of your food addiction is psychological in nature. You have used food as a patch to cover up deeper emotional issues. You don't have to confront these deeper issues alone.
- Identify trigger foods. For some people, it's sugary foods. Others long for pasta and carb-laden snacks. You can find cheese-addicts, chocoholics, fat-cravers - "trigger foods" differ from person to person. Pinpointing your trigger foods is the first step to recovery (aside from admitting a problem, of course).
- Slowly reduce amount of trigger foods. Uber-aggressive diets and cold turkey methods usually fail spectacularly, leaving the food addict even more depressed and destructive in eating habits. To succeed, you must adopt a graduated approach. When you feel like you absolutely must have the trigger food, add a small helping of fruit or veggies before you indulge. Do this each time you eat the trigger food or foods, each time adding a little more of the healthy food and eating a little less of the trigger food. Eventually, you will not only associate the healthy food with the dopamine response of the trigger food, but you will ultimately remove the trigger food from your diet.
- Exercise. For a food addict (as with any addict), trigger foods bring a much-desired high, a rewarding feeling in the body. But you may not realize that exercise can usher in similar highs as well! This makes exercise doubly helpful for a food addict. Not only can it help keep your body fit and healthy, but it can also come to replace the high you miss from trigger foods. Joining a gym will help keep you motivated, as you will get to know others who share your goals.
- Your goal should be smaller, more frequent, balanced meals. Easier said than done, right? But with some effort, you can definitely succeed! As you reduce your trigger food consumption and replace the food highs with healthier highs (such as those from exercising), keep providing the nutrition your body needs by eating at least three balanced meals a day (or more, depending upon your exercise regimen). Your primary care doctor or a dietitian can provide sound dietary advice. If you belong to a gym, a trainer can also help you to determine how to replenish what you lost through exercise.
With a commitment to gradual, steady progress, you can liberate yourself from food addiction. Soon, the smell of fresh produce will carry the same allure to as unhealthy pizza once did!