Are you salty or sweet? Are you more corn chip than jelly bean?
Or is your food addiction more insidious? Would you even know how many cups of coffee you drink a day or how many slices of white bread? Let’s not even mention wine or beer.
Food addiction is powerful because certain foods, particularly highly processed foods, have a way of telling us we need them forever. We can’t ever imagine life without them which makes the rut those foods have dug for us even deeper.
I have a client who used to drink 15 cups of coffee a day - with two sugars in each cup. Another used to munch through a packet of Tim Tams while waiting in her car for her kids at the school pick up each day. She was dedicating all of her energy to looking after her children and that was both her justification and her cop out. When I asked her if she wanted her kids to follow those same diet patterns, eating one Tim Tam after another, a light went off. She realised she wasn’t really looking after them so well after all if they were modelling their own food choices on her, as typically happens in families.
Aside from the chemicals in processed food that have made some scientists compare it to having as much addictive power as nicotine, it’s actually training your brain and your gut to want more.
ADDICTED OR OVERWHELMED?
The only thing you’re really addicted to is that your gut flora is overgrown with opportunistic gut bacteria that loves to be fed. In fact, it thrives on it.
The fat bugs tell your brain to eat sugar and they don’t go down without a fight. It’s a tough battle for a few days but the body’s better bacteria can always win this fight. And it’s won much more quickly than you may realise.
Emotions also have to open the door to let the better side win.
It’s so easy to respond to advertising around 'comfort' food that, in effect, makes so many parts of your body extremely uncomfortable. A popular current chocolate advertising campaign equates a block of chocolate with reward, with feeling better, with emotional rescue. It’s always been presented as a type of treat but now it carries even more weight and is subliminally presented as a type of medicine.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TREATS
I think a treat is getting out in the fresh air, having your nails done, making time to prepare yourself a beautiful healthy meal, having a massage. It’s really not about filling up on sugar. It’s about a mind set.
A Harvard research paper from 2012 refers to laboratory studies finding animals allowed to binge on sugar develop the same sorts of changes in their brain that they do when addicted to drugs such as opiates.
Another found that as people gain a significant amount of weight, it’s harder to get the good-mood hormone dopamine floating through our bodies making us motivated to get going and feel happier. So this puts us in a terrible cycle of seeking more 'feel good' foods, mistakenly believing they’ll make us feel better emotionally when it’s actually making everything worse. The more you need, the more you’re likely to gain weight and the worse you’ll feel.
There’s significant concern among health experts that food addiction is linked to the obesity and overweight crisis. The mass-produced food industry creates these foods (you’ll know they’re not real foods by the length of ingredients listed on the label) that are so hyperpalatable that they’re designed to be eaten over and over again.
WILL I ALWAYS LOVE 'BAD' FOODS?
Can you ever change your taste buds and your cravings? Can you find a way to reject these supposedly delicious foods?
The answer is Yes! The first step is to start eating real food, not processed food filled with artificial flavours and chemicals that is designed to fool you into wanting more.
You probably already know that sugar does nothing to keep hunger at bay. It actually increases appetite because it sets the bad bugs in your gut into action and they start wiping out the good bugs.
Even though food addiction is a relatively modern term – there’s even a food addiction index now – it’s technically not an addiction. It’s metabolic function that is making you crave certain foods. When you fix that, you’ll generally see that hunger stabilises and doesn’t ever become so ravenous that you grab anything in site.
As you level out your insulin levels by eating a diet balanced with protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates, equilibrium is restored. Those highs and lows disappear and so do the cravings.
LEARNING TO SAY NO IS ABOUT LISTENING TO YOUR GUT
Many people over the years have tried to inflict milk chocolate onto me, especially at parties and special occasions but my oldest friends gave up a long time ago. I don’t have the mindset that it’s a treat because I know it’s not good for me in any way.
If we create these ideas around food that are harmful though, it means we also have the power to flip them around and change them into something positive. We can appreciate beautifully coloured vegetables and fine protein as the greatest gift we can give to our immune system, our metabolic function and our overall health.
But more than anything, it means we’re in control of what we put into our mouths, not the chemicals, not the processed food manufacturers, the advertising agencies and not the gremlin bacteria that sends messages to our brain for more reinforcements.
It’s very empowering to take your health into your own hands and the benefits are far-reaching into so many areas of your life. If you can even start to manage diet, it’s incredible how many satellites are then launched for your entire wellbeing – improved self-esteem, decisiveness, better choices.
A life without addictions is a life of freedom, self-determination and, most importantly, a much better chance at good health.