Food addiction is no different from drug, alcohol, sex or gambling addictions. There isn’t a magic stop button. Someone doesn’t just decide that they want to be out of control with food. It can start with one treat and end in a slippery slope of being addicted to a particular food or addicted to the volume of food you eat.
But what are the warning signs? Below I list some of the most common traits I’ve seen with clients over years.
- Labelling food as “good” and “bad”
- Eating in secret
- Restrictive dieting
- Body dissatisfaction
- Feeling guilty after eating
- Rewarding yourself with food
- Feeling stressed that only is relieved by eating.
The key to beating food addiction is to develop a healthy relationship with food and the ability to have freedom in the choices you make. Think paradise NOT prison! It is definitely a process to bounce back and feel confident and happy and not have any negative connotations with food (or your body) and is often best tackled when you have a support system around you.
Below I list my five top tips to beat food addiction.
1. Get a structured plan together
Plan. Plan. Plan. Yes, it may sound boring and a little clinical at times but if you follow a meal plan this can be an ideal way to get you back on track. Having a plan will help you with boundaries and calories etc. Set a plan in place from day one so if you do slip up you don’t deploy your old tactics of skipping a meal to make up for it and then simply carry on with the plan. This will build a positive routine.
2. Develop a healthy relationship with food
Understand that food is essential for life. That we all need to fuel our bodies. That nothing is a no-go zone. Develop a situation where you are being constantly consistent with nutritionally packed foods more frequently than calorie dense food. Understanding that eating an ice cream, having a chocolate bar or drinking a glass of wine is normal. Athletes do it, personal trainers do it. We are all normal and not super human. Build yourself a mentality that when you do have a treat there is zero guilt attached to it and that you have an ability to have a cut-off point and continue with your meal plan/routine.
3. Set boundaries
If you know what food triggers your addiction remove it from the environment you spend most of the time in. If it’s ice cream don’t buy it for 30 days. If your children like ice cream as a treat, give them something different. If you have a friend you always go out for a drink with maybe start to suggest a café for coffee. Change and a new environment is always healthy.
4. Creating habits and coping strategies
I once read an equation for a habit. Habit= cue+ routine+ reward.
If you come home every night at 6pm and go straight to the fridge for your daily dose of dairy milk or 3 tablespoons of hummus with crisps then learn to develop a new habit. Find a cue to build a new routine. For example, have a cue by the door like an iPod or baseball cap to trigger a routine that as soon as you walk in the door you will go out for a brisk 15-minute walk. Or have a bowl of pre-cut fruit waiting at the front of the fridge so when you open the fridge you are prepared to have something healthy that is not so calorie dense.
Understand, why is it that you turn to food? Is it that you feel you are in such a rut that you don’t know how to even start? Is your eating linked to your mood? What mechanisms or strategies can you use to help you deal with your emotions?
5. Professional advice
Beating a food addiction doesn’t happen overnight. You must first be patient. Understand what your vulnerability is and that you need to address it. Having a team around you I believe is crucial to recovering. Using professionals like therapists that specialise in eating disorders will help. Along with dietitians and personal trainers to help you with accountability and to also advise on strategies and sound advice for recovery.
Don’t give up on yourself. Celebrate all the small victories when you are doing well. Understand that there will be good and difficult days. Just know that any situation can turn around. I’ve seen huge changes with clients over the years. The first step ultimately is your own willingness and belief that you know you can change.
Please share this blog if you think it is of value to anyone you might know struggling with a food addiction.