6 Ways to Beat a Food Addiction

by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition

It’s an all-too-common scenario: You wake up in the morning swearing today’s the day when you’ll eat clean, nourish yourself with a healthy breakfast at home, and pass up the glistening bakery goodies that tempt you every day. You make it to work without incident and then stress hits—any kind of stress, from a new project deadline to a caustic remark from your boss. A little while later, you find yourself with pastries in hand, wolfing down sugary anesthetics and wanting more. When you finally pop out of your food trance, and the reality of what you’ve done begins to settle in, the ensuing feelings of shame and guilt stoke your stress levels more and you’re already plotting your next food fix. You wonder: Why do I keep caving to these cravings? Where’s my discipline and willpower?

This is your brain addicted to food.

That’s right. Addicted. You might tell yourself, I’m not addicted to food. I just love a good sweet now and then. Well, I’m here to tell you that food addiction is real; it affects more people than you know, and manufacturers actually design food products so that they are as addicting as possible. Yes, that perfect combination of salty, sweet, and savory was created to make sure you keep reaching for more. That’s why I wrote The Hunger Fix, because I want to change the game that is rigged against you.

Here are 6 ways to beat food addiction:

1) Take the test. First, you need to find out if your relationship with food is a healthy one. Take my Food Addiction Quiz. This is a special assessment developed by Yale University researchers to evaluate your relationship with food. Experts believe that the majority of people who are overweight or obese have some level of food addiction. However, anyone of any age and size can have this issue.

2) Know your staples from your treats. Our brains are rigged to seek out the delicious reward of natural carbs like berries from a bush or veggies from the ground. We savor healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, and fish and lean meats. Our brains drive us to forage around to find these foods so that we have quick energy (from carbs) and long-lasting fuel (from fat). These natural whole foods have sustained us since the dawn of time. Our brains were acclimated to the taste of these rewards. Every now and again, we’d savor a treat that contained more natural sugar (grapes) or fat (dairy or meat). This mix of staples and treats became our natural balance of healthy nutrients.  Flash-forward, and now we have manufacturers creating “hyperpalatable” foods—full of sugar, fat, and salt. And because they are ubiquitous, cheap, and easily accessible, fewer people cook. Grab and go is now the way to go.

3) Rein in your reward center. When hyperpalatables compete with natural foods, your brain’s reward center, which secretes the pleasure chemical dopamine, gets hijacked. Insulin levels go up and push you to want more and more. Suddenly, that bowl of fresh berries can’t compete with the über rewards of a Pop-Tart or a chocolate-coated breakfast bar. An occasional treat, such as a birthday dessert, also leads to a dopamine rush, but then your brain settles down to more normal levels of dopamine. But when you can get your hands on hyperpalatable foods 24/7 and you start the day with that sugary/fatty/salty pastry and grande sugary coffee drink, you end up with an endless appetite for more.

4) Recognize the “False Fix.” After constant exposure and consumption of these hyperpalatables, which I refer to as “False Fixes” in The Hunger Fix, your brain actually changes. The brain cannot tolerate this level of hyperstimulation. As a result, it decreases the number of dopamine receptors so that you no longer feel it as overstimulation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that by doing this, your typical serving of food is no longer as rewarding. You find yourself not feeling as pleased and satisfied. You know the end result. Not satisfied, you end up with second and third and fourth portions, packing on weight along the way.

But wait, there’s more: At the same time your reward center is being hijacked, the brain’s CEO, the prefrontal cortex (tap your forehead and that’s where the PFC is located), is becoming damaged and impaired. The PFC can no longer help you rein in impulses or stay focused and vigilant. That’s why, when someone is in full-on addictive mode, moderation is a moot point. Revolutionary and groundbreaking new studies funded by the National Institutes of Health funded have shown that the brain scans of food addicts show the same changes and damage as those of a cocaine user. And, for your information, research also shows that table sugar (sucrose) is more addictive than cocaine.

All right, what’s the solution? Science-based detox and recovery from the foods and beverages that you know are causing you to lose control and overeat.

5) Know your enemy. Make a list all of your False Fix foods that you know will lead you to feel out of control and overeat. As you prepare to detox, look around you and inventory the persons, places, and things that enable your food addiction. This isn’t just about switching up False Fix foods for Healthy Fixes. It’s also about examining your entire lifestyle so you can make new, healthier choices to support your recovery. You’re not going to change everything overnight, so you’ll start with small but powerful steps to ensure sustainable, long-term success.

6) Remember these words: MIND, MOUTH, MUSCLE. That will help you organize how you’ll detox and recover.

  • MIND: Reclaim your brain. A strong PFC is absolutely required to repair and reclaim your reward center. And you can repair your PFC with transcendental meditation and mindfulness. The key is to practice them daily to stimulate new brain cell formation and to repair damage. When you meditate you cause actual brain changes to help repair and strengthen brain cells.
  • MOUTH: Get high…naturally. Achieve a natural “high” from whole foods that increase dopamine production naturally. Specific foods—watermelon, spinach, avocados, tofu, and sesame seeds, to name a few—perform magic and reestablish normal reward responses for natural foods. Also, use powerful protein and fiber combinations—carrots and hummus, peanut or almond butter and apple slices, for instance—that satisfy and stop the urge to splurge on sugary/fatty/salty foods.
  • MUSCLE: Every step you take during the day stimulates brain growth, including your PFC, which translates to a bigger, stronger, more focused brain. And one of the mottos of The Hunger Fix is BIG BRAIN, SMALL WAIST. You’ll make smarter decisions and shed extra weight if your brain is healthy. Research has also shown that regular physical activity will also keep you calmer and decrease the chance of relapse. All you need is regular moderate exercise to make this work. Walking is the easiest way to go for most people. Doing it outdoors and stepping up the pace when you can enhances the entire experience and results. I’m not talking marathons here, folks. Just getting up and moving.

The bottom line is that food addiction is real—it’s been acknowledged by world-class scientists—and we need to start taking it seriously. And, more important, we have the ability to reverse the damage and reclaim our healthy, natural relationship with food.

For more, check out my book, The Hunger Fix.

Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. A triathlete and mountaineer, she is known as “the doc who walks the talk,” living what she’s learned as an expert in health, fitness, and nutrition. Dr. Peeke is featured as one of America’s leading women physicians in the National Institutes of Health Changing Face of Medicine exhibit at the National Library of Medicine. Her current research at the University of Maryland centers on the connection between meditation and overeating. She is the author of many best-selling books, including Fight Fat after Forty. Her new book is the New York Times best-seller The Hunger Fix.


Related Posts:

, ,

7 Responses to 6 Ways to Beat a Food Addiction

  1. Suzanne October 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. I have a few food addictions that I really must overcome.

  2. Helena October 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I am a recovering sugarholic – the hardest thing I have ever done is to overcome the cravings and the constant feeling of wanting those sweet things. I am not fully there yet. I still want a desert after dinner, a goodie bag when watching a movie, etc…

    It is a hard process and going to a grocery store is painful sometimes with all the temptations. My forte in the kitchen is not cooking but baking… an art I have to put on hold until I can control the urge to lick the bowl or have way too many taste samples.

    It is true that doing it “in moderation” will never work. Starving your body from sugar of all kinds, even non-calorie sweeteners is a must if you are going to succeed, at least for me. The Candida diet is something I have to come back to at multiple times in my recovery, even milk and rice can spike my addiction right back sometimes.

    It is a constant battle that I will walk away from as the winner…

  3. Susan October 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    I also want to offer up how much Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also referred to as “tapping,” has helped me kiss my sugar addiction good-bye. This truly is an addiction and nothing is better than getting this monkey off your back.

  4. www.Makebeatsfast.Com March 6, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Having a stand-alone beat maker, will allow you to add the verse, the hook and the
    percussion parts that can all be produced from one
    interface thus providing a mix-down for your final mastering.
    You have to lay down a melody which most Hip Hop beat makers will often
    have trouble doing.

  5. Keyword5 May 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Hi there, You have done an incredible job. I will definitely digg it and individually suggest to my friends. I am confident they’ll be benefited from this website.

  6. book of ra casinos July 3, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    If some one desires expert view about blogging after that i propose him/her to pay a visit this webpage, Keep up the fastidious job.

  7. Apple Watch sweepstakes December 5, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    I blog oftedn and I seriously appreciate your information.
    Thee artricle has really peked myy interest. I am going to book mark your
    site and keep checking for new details bout once a week.
    I opted in for your RSS feed too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *