“Food addiction” sounds like a contradiction in terms–after all, we’re all addicted to food in the sense that we need it to live. For some people, though, the craving for exactly the wrong types of food is so overwhelming that it’s almost drug-like.
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Eating foods high in sugar, fat, and salt triggers your brain to release off feel-good chemicals like dopamine your brain just like cocaine or heroin (although in smaller amounts). The rush causes some people to become addicted to the sensation. If you’re a food addict, you may find yourself eating potato chips long after you’re full or making extra trips to the store for chocolate even though you have other dessert options at home. You may even build up a tolerance for your food of choice, getting less pleasure from French fries than you used to unless you eat a whole plate of them. Luckily, there are ways to break the cycle of food addiction and cause your body to crave healthy foods instead.
1. Keep A Food Journal
If you’re not really comfortable with what you eat but aren’t sure whether or not you have a full-bore food addiction, try keeping a food journal. For a week, track what and how much you eat. You may be surprised by how much those little handfuls add up.
2. Moderation Vs. Cold Turkey
If you have a food addiction, you need to decide whether moderation or cold turkey is best for you. Unfortunately, the experts aren’t much help here; nonprofits like the Food Addiction Institute and Food Addiction Research and Education argue that a food addict eating cheese in moderation is as impossible as a junkie using cocaine responsibly, while Harvard Medical School points out that because it’s much harder to avoid sugar than heroin, addicts need to learn responsible eating habits. Your best bet may be to try both methods for six weeks–either cutting the trigger food entirely or setting aside five potato chips as your daily or weekly allowance–and see which works. If you don’t find the cravings subsiding after six weeks of cold turkey, or if you find that the moderate approach encourages you to eat “just one more bite” until you’ve finished the entire gallon of ice cream, give the other method a try.
3. Clear Out Your Cabinets
Whether you go cold turkey or eat in moderation, clear out your cabinets. get as much of the trigger food out of your house as you can. Having gallons of chocolate ice cream or big bags of chips is a recipe for disaster. If you want to go cold turkey, eliminate the food entirely; if you opt for moderation, keep only small amounts of it on hand so you need to go shopping in order to get more.
4. Eat Mindfully
If you opt for moderation, the practice of mindful eating–eating slowly and savoring every bite–can be a powerful tool in breaking food addiction. Instead of plowing through a two-liter soda bottle and barely tasting it, pour yourself a small glass and sip the soda. Hold each sip in your mouth as you mentally count to ten, reveling in the way the bubbles feel against your gums and the way it tastes slightly different on the front, middle, and back of your tongue. Then swallow and take another small sip. By the time you’re done, you’re more likely to feel satisfied because you’ve taken the time to fully enjoy your treat.
5. Learn Quick, Healthy Recipes
Processed foods can be a dangerous hindrance to breaking your food addiction. Loaded with extra fat, salt, and sweeteners, they can make you crave your trigger foods by filling your body with the exact substances you’re trying to avoid; that mouthful of instant potatoes au gratin might taste an awful lot like a chip to your jonesing taste buds. By making meals from scratch, you can control what you put into your body and avoid the cravings that processed foods provide. An added benefit for people opting for moderation: If you cut sugar from every other part of your diet by eliminating processed foods, it’ll make those occasional cookies taste even sweeter.