An Overview: Learning How to Overcome Food Addiction
What's In This Article?
Learning how to overcome food addiction can be as challenging as working through other addictions such as to drugs like cocaine and heroin, but it’s also possible. Food addiction can be complex, and it often involves physical and mental health. When you struggle with untreated food addiction, you may find that it causes or triggers symptoms of other mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. It can also contribute to physical health conditions like obesity or Type 2 diabetes.
The following provides more information about food addiction and its symptoms, as well as tips to help you overcome food addiction and stop eating in healthy ways. In addition to learning how to overcome food addiction, there are also five books that focus on food addiction and can be great tools if this is something you struggle with.
What Is Food Addiction?
Learning how to overcome food addiction can first rely on having a better understanding of this disorder and how it affects you or perhaps someone you love. The idea that you can become addicted to food wasn’t one that was necessarily accepted by the medical community until fairly recently. Criteria for food addiction isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
Published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the DSM-5 is the primary guide used to diagnose psychiatric disorders. It provides consistency in the diagnostic process for clinicians and health care providers. It also helps provide consistency as to how mental disorders are treated.
Even though food addiction isn’t yet listed in the DSM-5, that doesn’t mean it’s not a real addiction. Many more health care providers are beginning to recognize it. Food addiction has many symptoms that are similar to both substance use disorders and other eating disorders like binge eating disorder. Dealing with a food addiction isn’t necessarily about a lack of willpower, and it tends to be far more complicated.
How Do You Become Addicted to Food?
Current research and experiments looking at both animals and humans show that for some people, the same reward centers in the brain triggered by addictive drugs like heroin are also activated by food.
In particular, these brain centers may be activated by junk foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. Junk foods are described as highly palatable.
These highly palatable processed foods can trigger a flood of dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical. When someone’s reward response is triggered by the release of dopamine, the brain can then signal someone they need to continue eating those feel-good foods.
Reward signals stemming from certain foods can overpower the other signals sent by the brain, such as fullness. With food addiction, because of these factors in the brain, a person will continue eating despite no longer being hungry.
Food addiction can also be described as compulsive overeating, which is categorized as a behavioral addiction. Other behavioral addictions can including shopping and gambling.
Symptoms of Food Addiction
The following are some of the symptoms you may want to stop if you’re looking at how to overcome food addiction:
- Loss of control over eating
- Eating well beyond the point of being full
- Eating when not hungry
- Spending excessive amounts of your daily routine and time eating, thinking about eating, or dealing with the emotional after-effects of eating
- Development of tolerance to food, meaning more and more is needed to find a sense of pleasure or emotional satisfaction one might need
- Continuing to eat despite harmful or negative effects such as weight gain or problems in relationships
- Trying to cut back as far as eating but being unsuccessful
- Feeling shame, guilt or embarrassment after eating
- Eating alone to keep it hidden
- Eating more than planned, particularly with certain foods
- Eating to the point of feeling sick
- If particular foods aren’t readily available, going out of one’s way to get them
What is Your Relationship with Food?
The following are some of the things you might ask yourself about your relationship with food:
- Do you eat certain foods so frequently or in such large amounts that you’re doing it instead of other activities. For example, do you forego spending time with family or loved ones to instead eat large amounts of food?
- You avoid certain situations, such as social situations, where there might be certain foods, and you fear that you’ll overeat.
- Your functionality is impaired at school, work or home because of eating and food.
- If you cut down on particular foods, do you have symptoms like anxiety or agitation?
- Does eating cause you depression, guilt, self-loathing or anxiety?
- You eat more and more to reduce your negative emotions or increase your sense of pleasure.
How to Overcome Food Addiction—Tips and Steps You Can Take on Your Own
When you’re searching for how to overcome food addiction, you should work on taking small steps and celebrating those victories as you work toward your bigger goals. The following are some tips on how to overcome food addiction.
Identify Your Trigger Foods
Most people who struggle with food addiction have specific foods that they crave the most and tend to binge on. It’s a good idea to write a list of these foods, and work on avoiding them altogether. Often, as is the case with substance abuse, if you have just a bit of a trigger food, it can cause you to binge. Avoiding triggers altogether is an important step in learning how to overcome food addiction.
Identify Fast Food Restaurants That Are Triggers
Along with having trigger foods, many people with food addictions also have certain restaurants and in particular fast food restaurants that are triggers. Note these restaurants and try to avoid them if possible.
Create a list of healthy food options they have if you’re not able to avoid them. This may help you avoid a relapse if you are in a hurry and need food.
Create Coping Mechanisms
Outline some ways you will cope with negative emotions that could lead you to relapse. Write these coping mechanisms down so that you can rely on them when necessary. Also, create coping mechanisms for other trigger situations and write them down as well.
For example, do you tend to binge on ice cream when you’re feeling sad or stressed? If so, outline specific ways you will deal with sadness or stress that will help you avoid binging.
Create a List of Reasons Why You Want to Overcome Your Addiction to Food
You should be able to easily remind yourself why you want to overcome food addiction. If you’re in the moment and you’re finding that you’re triggered to relapse, you can refer to these reasons to help you stay strong and avoid triggers.
While weight loss can be a good reason, there are probably others to include on your list as well. For example, maybe you want to live longer to be with your children.
Put your list of reasons to overcome food addiction in a place where you can easily reference it when needed.
Plan Your Meals
Meal planning can help you be more mindful about what you’re eating and can help you avoid triggers or reaching for fast food solutions when you’re hungry. When you’re planning meals, you can think more carefully about what you’re eating as well as why you’re eating it. Mindfulness towards food and eating can be an extremely important part of overcoming food addiction.
If you plan your meals, it can help you from getting hungry to the point that you reach for something you shouldn’t.
Learn More About Nutrition
Some people find that learning more about food and how our bodies use it for fuel can be helpful as they overcome food addiction. Learn about the nutrients we need, and also how our bodies and brains use them. For example, learn how having an avocado full of healthy fats can fuel you in a much different way than processed fast foods with a lot of sugar and fat.
Don’t Put Yourself on a Diet
A lot of people assume that breaking food addiction relies on being on a strict diet, and that’s not the case. That can actually sabotage your efforts. When you’re working on overcoming food addiction, especially in the early days, you do want to identify and avoid trigger foods, but if you try to limit yourself too much, you’re more likely to relapse.
Focus instead on reframing how you think about food, being mindful about your food and learning how to use food as fuel. Don’t think about restricting calories or jump right into it thinking you have to lose weight. That might come later, but give yourself time and be gentle with yourself as you learn how to overcome food addiction.
Help is available for food addiction. You could try an individual therapist who may work with you using techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you’re nervous about therapy or can’t fit it into your schedule, consider working with an online cognitive behavioral therapist.
In addition to therapy, there are 12-step programs focused on helping people learn how to overcome food addiction. These groups include:
- Overeaters Anonymous (OA)
- GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA)
- Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA)
- Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous (FA)
The 5 Best Books To Learn How to Overcome Food Addiction
The following are some great books that can help you learn how to overcome food addiction, along with information about each.
Never Binge Again: Reprogram Yourself To Think Like a Permanently Think Person—By Glenn Livingston, Ph.D.
This book, available on Amazon is an excellent resource for people who struggle with overeating, binge eating, and food addiction. Dr. Livingston was at one point a self-described “food-obsessed psychologist,” and he was also a consultant for major food manufacturers. He shares his tips and techniques for empowering the “fat thinking self.”
This book is a good option for someone who has continuously tried to diet with no long-lasting success or someone who is always obsessing over food and their weight. It’s good for emotional overeaters, and people who behave differently with food in public versus private settings.
Never Binge Again has excellent reader reviews, and readers often describe it as unorthodox and different from other books they’ve read on binging, overeating and food addiction.
Readers cite that one of the unique components of this book is the fact that the writer makes a distinction between oneself and the overweight and unhealthy person that lives within yourself.
Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free is from writer Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. This book is one of the most sold books on Amazon, with excellent reviews from thousands of readers.
The concept behind this book comes from Susan Peirce Thompsons’ Bright Line Eating Boot Camps. The principles included in the book stem from biology, psychology, and neuroscience.
A lot of what this book deals with is the brain’s role in blocking weight loss. The book helps people learn how to heal their brain and shift to a place where the brain is ready to lose weight and stop cravings.
What’s interesting is that this program is built on the concept that willpower isn’t something to rely on in this process, yet you can still be successful. The book includes a food plan that works for any specific dietary needs or preferences and is a way to break out of the cycle of obesity.
Breaking the Stronghold of Food: How We Conquered Food Addictions and Discovered a New Way of Living
From author Michael L. Brown Ph.D. and Nancy Brown who is a contributor, Breaking the Stronghold of Food is a combination of shared stories and spiritual insight. This book is not the same as some of the others on this list; however, because it’s not focused on any particular nutrition plan. It’s geared toward a Christian audience, and it encourages readers to examine their lifestyle and see how their unhealthy eating has a physiological component, but also a spiritual component.
The concept behind the book is that it’s important to use the tools that would be used to address other issues in one’s life such as the use of alcohol, to address food addictions. It’s more of a religious and lifestyle-driven approach to food addiction, and this might be appealing to some readers.
Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz is an amazing book for anyone grappling with any kind of addiction, or for people who want to understand addiction better. Unbroken Brain isn’t just about food addiction, but the principles and ideas explored in this book can apply to food addiction.
The author focuses on outdated ways of how we view addiction and working to change how we previously saw addiction. Unbroken brown shows addictions as learning disorders that can fall along a spectrum.
The Binge Code is a guide written by Alison C. Kerr that’s highly actionable with an approach based on specific steps. Alison Kerr also wrote The Bulimia Help Method, which was a best-seller. The book looks at the science behind out-of-control eating, and it helps readers put into place a plan of action that’s easy-to-follow.
The steps are based on focusing on your mind, your body and your emotions. Specific goals of the book include overcoming the cycle of food addiction and binging, but also overcoming weight fluctuations. The book aims to help readers live a better life overall.
According to reader reviews, this book helps to understand the root causes of binging as a means of breaking negative habits and patterns.
Summing How—How to Overcome Food Addiction
Learning how to overcome food addiction isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s certainly possible. If you want to overcome food addiction, it will probably rely on a combination of creating healthy coping mechanisms, gaining a greater understanding of food and your relationship with it, and possibly getting help from a therapist or joining a support group.
Gunnars, Kris BSc. “How To Overcome Food Addiction.” Healthline. January 22, 2019. Accessed March 2, 2019.
Schimel, Ruth Ph.D. “Expert Tips for Overcoming Food Addiction.” PsychCentral. July 8, 2018. Accessed March 2, 2019.
WebMD. “Food Addiction.” Accessed March 2, 2019.
Rodale, Maria. “6 Ways To Beat a Food Addiction.” HuffPost. December 6, 2017. Accessed March 2, 2019.
Larue, Kristina RD, CSSD, LDN. “5 Steps to Take Control of Food Addiction.” My Fitness Pal Blog. August 25, 2017. Accessed March 2, 2019.