A common complaint people voice, is the feeling they’re addicted to food. You know the scenario, you’re trying to lose weight and improve your health but you feel like you can’t control yourself around food. Every waking hour is consumed with thoughts about the next meal.
You may not be as crazy as you think. It has long been known that food affects the body and its hormones, as well as genes quite significantly. Food can also affect your mood and eating behaviours.
When we eat food that is pleasurable we can feel addicted to food. As is turns out humans find food contain high levels of fat, sugar and salt pleasurable, which doesn’t help your waistline. Even though we live in a modern world our evolutionary genes haven’t yet caught up. Our old human genes are primed to seek foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt so we can adequately nourish ourselves for survival. Foods that contain either of these 3 powerful macronutrients trigger the limbic centre in the brain.
The Limbic centre is often called the old emotional brain. It’s the part of the brain that is associated with pleasure and reward. Eating foods that are high is fat, sugar and salt are pleasurable or else we wouldn’t eat them!
Whenever we eat foods that we love, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is a feel- good chemical. It’s this system that is also activated when you use illicit drugs like cocaine. You also feel pleasure when you eat these types of food because they’re enjoyable, have a good mouth feel and are relaxing to eat. Both of these mechanism is what makes eating and food additive.
Recently, it has been shown that in the brains of obese people the limbic portion of the brain is activated at merely the sight or smell of food, more so than in normal weight individuals. They actually have stronger hunger signals, crave food more intensely and produce more salvia in reaction to food.
Now you can see why obese individuals have such a tough job losing weight and keeping it off. This also helps explain why dieting is so hard. Removing food you love can make you feel sad, less motivated and deprived. This is re-enforced by ancient genes that are telling you to hurry up and eat for survival.
Food addiction wouldn’t be nearly as bad, if we didn’t have so much food available all the time, like we currently do. You can’t even travel 1km with out finding a fast food outlet, café or supermarket. Food is literrally everywhere. You can’t even watch TV without being reminded by ads to eat junk food.
Even through the odds are against us, there are individuals and groups who lose extreme amounts of weight and keep it off. We see this all the time. Let me remind you of the Jerad the Subway guy, the reality TV hit The biggest loser and countless weight watchers participants
That’s just a few examples, I bet you could even rattle off a few names of people you personally know who have lost weight and kept it off.
The secret to weight loss and keeping it off forever
If it’s the brain that got you into this mess, it’s the brain that has to get you out! Research has shown there are common factors when it comes to those who keep weight off, these as just a few:
- Tracking: This means tracking body weight, tracking food intake or physical activity. This acts as an accountability tool.
- Strong social support networks: Have people close to you to provide comfort and encouragement when you need it the most
- The exercise regularly: Exercise helps to regulate appetite, hormones and energy burnt.
- Their diet is consistent through out weekend and weekdays. This means no “cheat meals“!
Concur your food addiction
Practice controlled restraint: Like any other addict substance, there has to be a period of controlled abstinence. You have to practice not giving into cravings immediately. Acknowledging the feeling of having a craving and then using distraction methods to get your mind off food.
To start doing this, begin with delaying your reaction to food cravings or desires. The aim is to lengthen the duration of time in which you respond to cravings every time they hit. This will eventually weaken the cravings and your food addiction, hopefully so that eventually you can hold out and not give in at all.
Use a behavioural substitution method: This means that when you experience a craving get busy and distract your mind. You can not physically think about two things at once, take for example multitasking, even though people like to think they can, it’s impossible. Do something that is brain taxing so you forget about food and get engrossed in your activity till the craving passes.
Remove the stimulus: Are you getting cravings because a certain situation triggers it off? Often, with smokers a stressful situation triggers of the urge to light up. This could be a similar situation with your food addition. Find out what trips you up. It might be reading glossy magazines that have images of skinny models that makes you feel in adequate. It might be the travel route to work. Do you have to walk past the cafe on the way into the office? Whatever it is, do your best on finding a way to managing these triggers.
Address reoccurring mental schemas: Mental schemas are recurring thought processes you run without thinking. What are your schemas saying? Do you call yourself a fat, lazy slob? You may not realise but these thoughts dictate our state of mind and mood throughout the day. If I was continuously being called fat and lazy, I’d give up and eat cake too! Start to pay attention to your thoughts and pick them apart. How truthful are the negative thoughts when you think about them logically. Facing your inner demons will help you uplift your mood and self esteem so you feel motivated to do something that makes you feel healthier.
Balance eating: Dieting and imbalanced eating will cause you to eventually binge on the foods you love. If you’re addicted to salted chips, sugar or chocolate, I have no doubt that the first chance you have to overindulge after follow a stringent diet plan, you will. The trick is not to diet. I know, I know, how are your supposed to lose weight without being on a diet?
Very simply the world diet is just the word “die” with a T at the end. There is a difference between making better food choices and still enjoying food in a controlled manner, than drinking meal replacement shakes all day. A healthy eating plan with a variety of foods you enjoy in a portion controlled manner is the key. If you need help doing this see book in for an appointment.
Do you still think you have a food addiction after reading this post? Tell me about it..