Research shows that certain foods cause people to lose control over their ability to stop eating. Here’s what science offers as far as solutions for food addiction.
Eating nutrient-dense foods, snack-proofing your environment, detoxing, understanding your emotions and being mindful are all researched and proven ways for you to gain control over food and allow for weight loss.
Here is a closer look at these 5 solutions and how you can make them work to break the food addiction that keeps you overweight.
5 Ways To Break Free From Food Addiction
1. Go for foods high in nutrients and volume.
The most intuitive way to lose weight is to reduce portion size and eat less. However, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, this approach does not work for stopping food addiction.
Cutting back on the amount of food we eat reduces the volume of food in the stomach and the number of nutrients in the digestive tract. These factors turn on hunger and craving signals in the brain.
Instead, a diet should be focused on the nutrient-rich foods that are naturally low in calories and naturally high in nutrients. Foods like vegetables, beans, and fruits are perfectly designed to eliminate cravings for sugar, fat, and salt.
2. Snack-proof your environment.
Research suggests that we reach for whatever foods are most visible.
Therefore, Cornell food psychologist, Brian Wansink, suggests making high-calorie snack foods less visible and low-calorie foods more visible. As he puts it, it’s easier to change your eating environment than your mind when it comes to snacking.
One suggestion from his book, Slim by Design:
If there’s an in-home food that’s your Kryptonite, the best thing you can do is to make it as inconvenient and unattractive as warm Pepsi. Even wrapping up a tempting food in aluminum foil can do that. An ice cream container mummified in aluminum foil and freezer burned looks a lot less tantalizing and eye-catching than when it radiates Chunky Monkey goodness.
As for low-calories foods, he suggests placing fruit on the kitchen counter and chopped, ready-to-eat veggies on the top shelf of the refrigerator.
3. Detox the easy way.
Many people report feeling worse when they start a diet. The reason? Withdrawal.
Many studies, like this one, found a link between processed foods and food addiction:
We advance the hypothesis that a possible explanation for overeating is that processed foods with high concentrations of sugar and other refined sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, fat, salt, and caffeine are addictive substances. Therefore, many people lose control over their ability to regulate their consumption of such foods.
The study, published in the journal, Medical Hypothesis, found that the way in which refined foods were consumed met the criteria for substance use disorders, much like nicotine or drugs (Ifland, et.al., 2009).
This ties into research that looks into withdrawal symptoms associated with the body getting rid of toxins (detoxing) when refined foods are limited.
Dr. Fuhrman states:
Delaying a meal brings about symptoms most people call “hunger”. These symptoms include abdominal cramping, weakness, and feeling ill – the same as during drug withdrawal.
The temporary fix for the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms is to eat more food, much like the fix for withdrawal from cigarettes is to have another cigarette. Of course, eating more comes with the undesired side-effect of weight gain.
The only true solution is to flip your diet to nutrient-dense foods. Fuhrman continues:
Enhancing the micronutrient quality of the diet leads to changes in the experience of hunger and a reduction in uncomfortable symptoms associated with hunger despite a lower caloric intake (Fuhrman, 2010).
But take note, you will feel worse before you feel better if you try to change your diet overnight. To lessen the withdrawal symptoms and detox from food addiction with ease, gradually increase healthy foods while decreasing junk foods over a one week period. Use the 7 Day Junk Foods to Super Foods Challenge as a guide.
4. Understand your emotions.
We often use junk food to cover up uncomfortable feelings. Why? Because it makes us feel good.
Research published in, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care found that food abuse shares the same neurobiological pathways as drug abuse (Blumenthal, 2010).
When you eat refined and processed foods, your brain responds by releasing an unnaturally high amount of dopamine; this creates a good feeling.
However, if the behavior is repeated too often, you build up a tolerance to dopamine making it harder to achieve a good feeling. Once this occurs more junk food is needed to produce the same feeling causing you to become a chronic overeater.
The solution? Relax.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that relaxation training was effective in reducing emotional eating episodes that lead to food addiction.
Participants were guided through 12 relaxation training sessions using traditional techniques to imagine a calmer state (imagination condition).
At the end of the three-month follow-up, the participants reported fewer emotional eating episodes, felt more in control around food and lost weight (Manzoni, et.al., 2009).
But there was a really cool aspect to this study. For some participants, the relaxation sessions were enhanced by virtual reality and portable mp3 players. The virtual reality condition proved even more effective than the imagination condition in the reduction of emotional eating.
Could the future of weight control be as simple as placing virtual reality goggles over your eyes?
5. Be Mindful.
A study, published in the journal Environment and Behavior, found that we make about 221 food-related decisions each day. Yet, we are consciously aware of only a fraction of these decisions (Wansink, 2007).
This mindless eating adds enough empty calories to sabotage any diet. So, how can you become more mindful and present?
Here are three pieces of advice from Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
1. Focus on your food. Don’t eat in front of the TV or computer.
2. Leave only veggie dishes on the dinner table. All other dishes should stay in the kitchen. This way you overeat veggies (a good thing), not high-calorie items.
3. Eating alone is not so bad. Eat with one other person and you’ll eat 35% more. Eat with a group of seven and you’ll eat 96% more.
Breaking free from food addiction is possible with better food choices, a little snack-proofing, some detoxing, understanding your emotions, and being mindful.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.