We’ve all been there: you get to the grocery store, with only the best intentions, and somehow when you get to the checkout, you wonder how those chips and cheese dip made it into your basket. Or you go to the kitchen, with the clear idea of that you will be getting that apple and almond butter for your afternoon snack, and find yourself going for a few cookies instead. Food addiction is a very real phenomenon that affects almost everyone, whether we know it or not. But the good news is, like any addiction, we can overcome it and train ourselves and our brain how to make healthy, better food choices instead.
How does food addiction work?
If you’ve ever tried to kick a food habit, you know just how much of a challenge you’re facing. Sometimes it can feel demoralizing, thinking you’re weak-willed or glutinous, and although personal responsibility and empowerment do play a factor, the reality is that food addiction (like any addiction) is biochemical – your brain chemistry and hormones play the main role in your sugar, fat and carb cravings.
When we consume these sugary, fatty, or refined carby (and usually pretty palatable) foods, the pleasure centre in our brain releases dopamine, the feel good hormone. As outlined in Dr. Pam Peeke’s new bestseller, The Hunger Fix, research shows that as a result of consuming these ‘feel good’ foods, the pleasure centers light up in your brain and release the feel good hormones, having a very similar biochemical effect in the brain as cocaine and heroin. No wonder these food cravings can be hard to resist.
But, unlike drugs that we do not need to survive, we do require food to survive. So the patterns and choices made by a drug addict can be dropped cold turkey, where as we cannot just stop eating food altogether. This makes food addiction one of the most difficult addiction battles one can face. Yet, by managing our cravings in ways that line us up for success, we can manage addictive food behaviours, eventually kicking the cravings to the curb, for good.
How do we stop food addictions?
To break free from these addictive substances, we have to be rid of them by detoxing our bodies and brains. Yet, as mentioned above, this can be difficult since we do need to keep eating something – when we are treating a cocaine addict or an alcoholic, we don’t say ‘practice moderation’ and prescribe only one drink or line of cocaine per day. Literally resetting your metabolism is the sure way to eliminate these toxins, chemicals, and addictions from our bodies, ideally through a well designed Program like at Mountain Trek, in an environment that will set you up for success.
Don’t buy those sugary goodies to have in the house, do not let yourself drive by that fast food joint on the way home. If that means enlisting a supportive friend to go grocery shopping with to keep you focused on the list, or changing your drive route home, do it. Enlist the support of those you live with to please refrain from bringing these things into the house. Do not give yourself the opportunity to make the choice – eliminate it entirely.
It isn’t realistic to think that once we decide never to have processed sugar again, we won’t. There are birthday parties, coworkers who bring in baking, and the holidays. If we practice the Mountain Trek rule of thumb of 5 days on 2 days off in a week, this allows for the realistic flexibility of everyday life. If in those moments where we are choosing a sugary treat, carbs, etc., we take a moment, and ask; “is this what I really need right now?” Simply by backing up from the situation, and looking at it with fresh composure, rather than mindlessly opening that beer, will allow us to connect to our choices – sometimes the answer will be yes, I really do need this piece of birthday cake, and sometimes the answer will be no, I am actually good to have a few pieces of fruit from that platter instead, and either answer is fine. The point is to be present when making food decisions, so that we become accustomed to always being present when making food decisions.
Combatting a surge of chemicals and hormones is not an easy feat. En route to this new lifestyle change of cutting out food by quantity or quality, practice compassion towards yourself. It can be easy to go into a guilt-shame spiral if you step out of sync with your new found regimen, but by showing yourself grace and an attitude of non-judgement, it will be easy to continue on the path of success.
The more we are aware of the biochemical forces at play, the more we can stop judging ourselves and start practicing mindfulness, eliminating temptation, and detoxing, on the journey to better choices, and better health.