You start each day with a promise to yourself that you’ll eat properly; you prepare whatever you’ll need for a healthy lunch and snack at work, setting out with the best intentions Download The Car Detective. But the moment something goes wrong – an angry client, a system glitch, a tense meeting – all you can think of is: “Do I want a chocolate or a doughnut?” Food addiction is real, and it affects more people than you think.
How does food addiction work?
Highly palatable (tasty) foods trigger feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine. Once you experience pleasure associated with greater dopamine transmission in your brain’s reward pathway from eating certain foods, you may feel the need to eat again quite quickly. For some people, reward and pleasure centres of the brain are activated by food, especially highly palatable foods rich in:
There’s another problem for people addicted to food: reward signals from tasty foods can drown our signals of satisfaction and fullness – which means you keep eating, even though you’re not hungry anymore.
How Do I Know If I’m Addicted to Food?
Here are some questions that will help you to identify whether you may be addicted to food – see if any of these apply to you on a regular basis:
- When you start eating certain foods, you end up eating more than you planned
- You keep on eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry
- Are you eating to the point of feeling ill?
- When certain foods aren’t available, go out of your way to obtain them
- You eat certain foods in such large amount, or so often, that it has started getting in the way of your social, family or work life.
- You’ve avoiding social or work situations where certain foods are available because you’re scared of overeating.
- When you cut down on certain foods you experience anxiety or physical discomfort
- Eating food causes you to feel guilt, depression or self-loathing.
- Eating the same amount of food doesn’t give as much pleasure or comfort as it used to, and you have to eat more.
How Can I Break the Addiction?
Are 3 or more of those points a regular pattern in your life? You’ve already taken the first step towards breaking food addiction because, like any need-based behaviour, recognising the problem is the biggest step to fixing it. Talk to your doctor about how to tackle the situation in a healthy way, and here are some basic steps to help you on the road to being free:
Learn about food. Know the difference between what your body needs versus wanting addictive treats. Our brains are wired to seek out the delicious foods for a quick shot of energy from refined carbs, but long-lasting fuel from healthy fat is the way to go. You need to know that you’ll get as much satisfaction from half a ripe avocado as you would from a doughnut!
Manage your brain. If you kick off your day with sugared coffees and sticky pastries, you’re setting your appetite on fire. Don’t let your brain’s pleasure centres get hijacked by junk food. Find a healthy and satisfying breakfast option that looks and tastes good, but keeps you full. And find a way to avoid the “trap foods” for a while – give your brain time to get its rewards from healthier options. Here are some of the foods that increase dopamine naturally:
- Sesame seeds
- Peanut butter with apple slices
- Ripe bananas
Get moving. You don’t have to spend an hour on the gym circuit or run 10km – even a short brisk walk when you start to think about treats will help! Regular moderate exercise helps your body and your brain!
It’s more than just possible to break the cycle of food addiction – just take the first step.