How to conquer your food addiction for good
Now that you know what food addiction looks like, and the foods most likely to send you on an unstoppable eating spree, it’s time to figure out how to beat your addiction for good. While this might seem impossible, there are a number of steps you can take to make it happen.
Ask yourself: Are you really hungry?
The moment you lay eyes on that ginormous ice cream sundae, you know you just have to have it. You didn’t even realize how hungry you were until now! Except … you might not even be hungry at all. Most likely, you’re experiencing a craving — not a need for nourishment.
There’s a difference between appetite and hunger. Appetite is psychological — all in your head. Hunger is physical — all in your stomach (sort of). When you’re hungry, your body sends you signals. Your stomach growls; in more extreme cases, you might start to feel dizzy as your blood sugar starts to drop. This is your brain telling you, “It’s time to eat!”
While appetite can also have physical signs — such as your mouth watering when you stare down that ice cream sundae — your brain is only tricking you into thinking you’re hungry. In reality, all it’s saying is, “Wow. I bet if we eat that, we’re going to feel AWESOME!”
Before you reach for any type of food, ask yourself: am I hungry — or does this just look good? If you’re hungry, start thinking about a healthy meal or snack. If you’re just craving ice cream, but you’re still full from dinner, just walk away.
Don’t feed your cravings
The worst possible thing you can do, when you’re craving something to eat, is to eat it. Remember: that’s exactly what your brain wants you to do. So if you’re sitting at the dinner table and you’ve already had two servings of steak and mashed potatoes, every part of your being is going to want you to eat more mashed potatoes. Don’t do it.
Instead of giving in to temptation and reaching for that serving spoon, distract yourself. If there are others at the table with you, engage in conversation. Get up, clear your plate, and start doing the dishes. If you don’t respond to your craving, it will go away. And the more you engage in this behavior — saying no to your brain’s not-so-subtle nudges — the easier it will become.
Know your triggers
Many people reach for food when they’re stressed or overwhelmed. Feeling out of control, your brain recognizes that you need something to feel “better.” You’ve unintentionally trained it to convince you food is the only thing that will calm you down. The best way to train your brain not to crave food in “emergency situations” is to be aware what these situations are. Only then can you recognize and learn to manage those moments when your desire for food most often overpowers you.
If you are able to recognize that being alone in your apartment is a trigger for you, for example, you can then train yourself to become hyperaware when these moments arrive. You might take extra steps to make sure your snacks and meals are all planned out, or you can recruit a friend to be your accountability buddy in case the urge to overeat arrises.
Foods themselves might also trigger you to overeat. Do your best to identify the foods that most often cause a binge. If you can’t eat one Oreo without eating the entire package immediately thereafter, maybe it’s time to keep Oreos out of the house.
Adopt healthier stress management techniques
Prone to eating when stressed? Many people are. And many people end up turning to food in response to this intense emotion because they have no idea how to deal with it. Stress is a normal part of your biology. It’s there so you can outrun a lion, if you ever need to. Too much of it, though, can cause fatigue, make you cranky, and prompt you to look for things to relieve your anxiety … such as food.
Learning to manage your stress can help you reduce binging and help you get your eating behaviors under control. The most important thing is to figure out what type of stress management works for you. Some people exercise, do yoga, or meditate. Others might listen to music, write in a journal, or put together a puzzle. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress management, so try a combination of different techniques until you figure out what (healthfully) calms you down.
Ask a professional for help
There’s no shame in admitting you can’t conquer your addiction alone. You shouldn’t have to try. If you eat because you’re feeling lonely or emotional, having someone to talk to — someone who will actually make time to listen — can help you work through those feelings.
In addition to seeing a psychologist, making an appointment with a dietitian can help you get a better handle on your eating habits. They’re trained to look at your current eating patterns and help you make adjustments so you can become less dependent on eating too much junk food — or too much food in general.
Neither of these parties are here to judge you. But if you don’t feel comfortable meeting one-on-one to discuss your relationship with food, consider joining a support group. These are often free, and include people who are dealing with similar issues to yours when it comes to eating. They might understand what you’re going through, and can support you as you do your best to make positive changes in your life, starting with the way you look at and interact with food.
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