Mental Health And Weight Loss: How To Cope With Food Addiction
The effects of certain foods on the brain are similar to the effects of alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and even heroin. The result is a real addiction to food that causes people to feel powerless over what they eat. Learning how to cope with food addiction can be incredibly challenging because it doesn’t fit within the traditional definition of an addiction.
Some experts believe that any substance used excessively or problematically meets the criteria for addiction. In contrast, others have developed tests specifically for evaluating whether or not someone has become addicted to something. Unfortunately, many mental health professionals are unaware of these tests because there hasn’t been enough research on food addiction until recently.
Although it’s essential for anyone who has difficulty controlling their food intake to take the tests used to diagnose an addiction, it’s crucial for people who suffer from eating disorders. There are also ways you can overcome food addiction:
Exercise for Emotion Regulation
Many studies show that exercise can help people manage their emotions better, partly because it releases endorphins that reduce stress. For some people, exercise can even help them control their food intake. Since you already have healthy eating habits, you should be more motivated to maintain your diet when you start exercising for the first time.
Even if you don’t love working out at first, physical activity will boost your self-esteem and motivate you to stay on track with your eating habits. If you’ve been wondering how to lose 50 pounds, exercising for emotion regulation is the way to go. Even just walking or running on a treadmill can improve your mood so that it’s easier to avoid cravings for unhealthy foods.
Develop a Healthy Relationship With Food
It’s not easy to overcome a food addiction when you have an eating disorder. However, the first step is to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body. Don’t give in to your cravings before eating something healthy. If you feel the urge to eat when you’re not hungry, distract yourself by going outside or doing something else that will make you forget about food for a while.
Don’t use food as a reward or punishment. You may think rewarding yourself with candy after exercising will motivate you to exercise more often. Still, it backfires because it can increase cravings for junk food and decrease motivation for physical activity. It’s OK to indulge once in a while, but try not to make it a habit, since this can trigger cravings that are hard to control around certain types of food.
Set Boundaries With Unsafe Foods
Keeping certain types of food in your home when you have an eating disorder can be dangerous because it makes you more likely to binge on them. The most often targeted are the high-calorie, high-fat foods linked with higher rates of obesity and chronic disease. It might be hard at first, but try avoiding these foods if they trigger bingeing or other disordered behaviors.
Explore Unsafe Substitutes
At first glance, it may seem counterproductive to allow yourself to eat a “bad” food as long as you limit how much of it you eat. However, this method works because it reduces cravings for unsafe food. To use this strategy effectively, think about what foods trigger cravings and then experiment to find safe substitutes for those foods.
When you do allow yourself unsafe food, plan and have a substitute ready. For example, suppose you’re going to a party where there will be cake, buy a blueberry lemon muffin with no added sugar before your trip instead of waiting until you arrive at the party. You’ll eat less cake if you have something else sweet on hand that won’t lead to more cravings later.
Don’t Waste Safe Foods
Many people who are trying to lose weight permit themselves to eat some unhealthy foods as long as they eat healthier alternatives. This strategy backfires because it can trigger food addiction and make it harder to stick with healthy eating habits over time. Moreover, restricting certain foods is never recommended for people with eating disorders because it can lead to binges. Instead of limiting certain types of food altogether, learn how to expand your diet with healthy but enjoyable alternatives.
Once you’ve expanded your diet, try not to return to the unhealthy foods you used to eat. For example, if you usually have fries with sandwiches, replace them with a side salad instead. Even if this healthier option “tastes bad” at first, eating something different will make it easier for you to stay away from fries in the future.
Think Strategically Before Bingeing
People lose control over their eating habits by having an all-or-nothing approach, where they either binge or restrict food intake completely. This raises the risk of developing an eating disorder and makes binges more likely when you do give in to temptation. Instead of thinking about food in black-and-white terms, think strategically before bingeing. For example, if you feel the urge to eat an entire bag of cookies after dinner, take a few out and put them away before giving in to your cravings.
If you usually have ice cream for dessert at restaurants, don’t order it on dates or when eating with friends. If you tend to eat unhealthy foods when you’re feeling stressed, make plans ahead of time with friends who will help distract you instead. Over time, your cravings should diminish if they don’t have an opportunity to escalate into full-blown binges.
Learn From Your Binges
One of the biggest mistakes people make after a binge is trying to ignore or suppress their emotions. This might seem like it will help you avoid negative feelings, but it’s more harmful in the long run because it worsens your cravings and leads to more binges. So instead of repressing your emotions, try to examine them so that you can learn how they affect your eating habits.
Remember that something is causing your urges, even if it’s not apparent at first. For example, many desires for unhealthy foods are triggered by emotion, stress, boredom, loneliness, etc. Identifying what sets off these cravings can help you develop strategies for dealing with them instead of giving into them.
There’s no magic cure for food addiction. But stick to a healthy lifestyle, exercise regularly, use distraction techniques when you have intense cravings, avoid using food as a reward or punishment and focus on other aspects of your life. Then, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming food addiction.