Have You Lost Control Over Food?
Addictions can be crippling in all their forms; drugs, alcohol, and, yes, even food. Sometimes we lose control over our eating habits. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s avoidance or self-esteem issues – no matter the motive, it can quickly spiral out of control. But it’s important to understand that food addiction has nothing to do with willpower, or lack thereof. It’s all about the imbalance of dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine, released in the reward system of the brain, is actually vital for good health. The problem starts when the brain releases too much of it when we eat foods that flood the reward system of the brain with dopamine. When this happens, the brain reduces amount of dopamine receptors to protect itself and starts developing a tolerance to the addictive substance and you can’t get enough of it.
It stops being about the food and starts being about the dopamine signal taking over the biochemistry of the brain. In fact, studies show that sugar addiction has the same effect on the brain as cocaine.
“Research shows that sugar can be even more addicting than cocaine,” says Cassie Bjork, R.D., L.D., founder of “Healthy Simple Life.” “Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward center, which leads to compulsive behavior, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more.”
Food Triggers Related To Bad Eating Habits
Junk foods, foods rich in artificial sugars and simple carbohydrates – which are also made up of sugar molecules – are all quick sources of energy because they are rapidly digested into the bloodstream.
Here are some of the most addictive foods:
• Take-away pizza
• Cookies and doughnuts
• Potato chips and French fries
• Fruit juice
Other eating disorders may come in the form of bulimia, compulsive eating, binge eating, just to name a few. Food addiction, in all its forms, causes your self-confidence to drop, and you start body-shaming your own self. It can also lead to obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, cancer, and depression.
Here are some of the most common food addiction symptoms:
• You crave particular foods even after finishing a meal and feeling full.
• When you eat what you were craving, you eat to excess.
• You’re guilty after eating certain food but crave them again soon afterwards.
• You make up excuses before and after eating, to yourself and others.
• You set rules regarding some foods but are constantly breaking them.
• You can’t control your cravings, despite being aware of their harmful effects.
How to Manage Your Eating Habits
But how can we overcome food addiction? Unlike other types of addiction, you can’t abstain from food. What you can do, however, is stay away from the addictive types of food that cause the brain to release dopamine. Don’t indulge in any of the ‘trigger foods,’ but instead choose foods that are healthy and nutritious, and you’ll be able to get over your addiction and that hold that food has over you will lessen with time. It won’t be easy, but there’s no way around it; avoidance is the key.
Make a choice to do the following each day:
• Take out. Places where you can order take out that contain healthy food choices. This will come in handy when you’re hungry but don’t have time to cook.
• Plan ahead. Cravings can hit hard and leave you weak and vulnerable to those bad eating habits. Therefore, planning ahead prevents you from reaching for the nearest thing available. Planning ahead healthy meals and snacks will diminish your susceptibility to being influenced by food smells and ads. Take a couple of hours on the weekend to shop for what you need, then put fruit, veggies and nuts out on the counter, prepare everything in easy-to-go plastic containers and Ziploc bags
• Shop the perimeter. This is where the real food is, like the produce, dairy, meat, and fish sections. Junk and processed foods are found in the middle aisles.
• Trigger foods. Hang it up in a place where you’ll see it on a daily basis. It’ll take time, but you’ll soon realize that you’re better off without them.
• Healthy food choices. Even though you may not want to admit it, but there are healthy foods out there that you actually enjoy eating. And there are probably dozens of choices you haven’t even tried yet. Keep your options open and you’ll surprise yourself. Make sure you include tuna, salmon and nuts which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Also, whole wheat, proteins and fiber which keep you feeling full longer, so you get the nutritional benefits and you eat less throughout the day.
• Pros and cons. There are 2 sides to each coin; you just have to make a mental decision to pick the one that’s best for you. This may be easier said than done, but when you write down why avoiding junk food is good for and how it can be difficult may make all the difference in the world.
If, after a couple of months, you relapse or feel like you can’t control your eating habits alone, find a support group or a therapist to get you back on your feet. The point is to act now because food addiction isn’t something that goes away on its own. The sooner you take things into your own hands, the sooner you can start living a healthy, well-balanced life.