A five minute read -by Merri Deal
The debate about whether food addiction is actually a ‘thing’ is just that; a debate. Regardless of what you call overeating and binging, the behavior is the same. Eating large quantities of food when you are not physically hungry is not good for your mind or body.
Since addictions are controlled by completely abstaining from the offending substance, the treatment of food ‘addiction’ seems to be geared toward restricting certain types or amounts of food. Usually sugar, some fats, carbs, and salt are considered culprits and treated like poison. Calories or exchanges are painstakingly recorded.
The problem with this thinking is that food restriction, or even thoughts of food restriction, bring about intense cravings for food. This is because our body’s priority is staying alive and the ‘food addiction’ mechanism doesn’t really care if you are fat or thin, it just wants to keep you breathing and functioning. One of your body’s main needs is energy in the form of calories. When you continue to thwart it with restrictions and diets, you cause your body to go into to overdrive, or craving mode, which is a built-in system to ensure you eat. And of course it chooses sweet and fatty foods because they are easily accessible and calorie dense. You have to give your body credit, it is a very efficient machine.
This explains the ‘last supper’ mentality, where you eat massive amounts of food before going on a diet the next day. And before you start thinking that only people with food issues ever have this problem, consider Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras. An entire holiday, celebrated by millions, is devoted to eating and drinking whatever you want before fasting for Lent. I can picture people in the early church thinking about foods they wanted to give up for forty days. And then, on the last day before Lent, getting an urge to eat and drink what ever they wanted because they would be deprived for the next month and a half. (And you thought you were the only person that did this!) Its not just you. Anyone who tries to restrict food to the point of depriving your body will get cravings.
Craving and wanting more than you need is not abnormal. It’s a very normal reaction to erroneous thoughts and beliefs about food. You must examine yourself to see what these errors are for you. But some common mistakes are thinking that some foods are bad and you should not eat them, or that you need to control your portions because you cannot trust your body, or that you have to go on a diet tomorrow to control your weight.
Food ‘addiction’ doesn’t have to be fixed, it has to be honored. Unlike other substance addictions, when you stop trying to restrict or control your food intake, and start trusting your body, you will find that it takes less to satisfy you, not more.
You are probably assuming that if you let yourself eat whatever you want, you would never stop eating and eat yourself to death. But aren’t you already doing that? Only now, you do it between phases of calorie restriction or unpalatable food plan meals. You eat with thoughts of deprivation, guilt, and remorse over what you think you should not eat. You say to yourself, “I shouldn’t eat these donuts,” while gobbling them down faster than you can count. These thoughts of what you should and should not do work against you, especially when you are in the throes of a binge.
When you see a particularly scrumptious dessert, you think of it as decadent, or a guilty pleasure. You may eat it and think you are enjoying it, but in the back of your mind, you are saying, “Tomorrow I will only eat chicken and salad.” or “I will run tomorrow to work this off.” And of course, the next day, you don’t eat chicken and salad, or you don’t run, so you have set yourself up for failure once again. If you do run or eat chicken and salad the next day, you get a false sense of accomplishment and find yourself in this cycle of overeating and making up for it later.
How can we stop craving and start enjoying food? Stop dieting and stop thoughts of restricting food. Eating food -any food- is not bad, sinful, or disgusting. We don’t need to feel guilty for eating. Craving and wanting too much food happens to ‘normal’ eaters at times. Just because you feel like eating 10 chocolate cakes doesn’t mean you actually will. You should try to eat 10 chocolate cakes and see how far you get.
Start eating what you want, when you want. Tell yourself over and over and over that there is plenty of food. Tell yourself this a thousand times a day. You have free access to any foods you desire anytime, day or night. If you want the cake, eat the cake. You don’t have to eat dinner first. If you perceive you eat too much, notice how it made you feel physically and go on to the next thing. The key is to not feel guilty, no matter what you eat. Guilt hasn’t helped you in the past, why do you hang onto it and keep thinking it will help you now?
Once you delete the guilt and restrictive thoughts, your body will realize that you are not trying to thwart its efforts to keep you alive and it will stop craving. When you completely end the worry about food by allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, as much as you want, whenever you want -without guilt-, your body will automatically honor you by telling you when it is full and when you need to eat. It will even help you choose healthy foods that you used to force it to eat when you wanted ice cream.
When your body knows, for certain, that any food is available anytime, it doesn’t need to crave food. Hunger will become something you recognize as a friendly signal that it is time to nourish yourself. Your body will slip out of craving mode. Never again will you need to say, “I’m going on a diet next week, so I can eat whatever I want today.” Face it, right now, the only way you enjoy eating foods you consider ‘bad’, is when you have the thought, “I’ll eat better tomorrow,” in the back of your mind. You can change that.
As with any new challenge, you will struggle at first. Thoughts of guilt, shame, body size, and restriction of foods may have been your norm for many years. It may take some time to change your thinking, but it is realistic and possible. And you can stop bingeing immediately by just trying on these new thoughts. “I can eat whatever I want. Food is always available. I never have to restrict food again, not now, tomorrow, the next day, next week, next year or ever.”
If you listen, your body it will tell you what it needs and wants. But the only way to hear it is to delete the guilt and food restriction thoughts. They occupy the space in your brain that your body uses to tell you when to stop eating. If you leave this space clear for the message from your body, you don’t have to consciously follow restrictive food plans to control your eating anymore. You will naturally choose to eat a combination of what your body needs and what appeases your mind. This is called satisfaction. You cannot ‘will’ yourself to be satisfied, but you can allow yourself to be satisfied. When you feel this satisfaction, just a couple of times, you will never want to go back to worrying about food again.
After a lifelong struggle with food, I let my body tell me what to eat without worrying that it will be too much or too little. And no matter how much I eat or don’t eat, I eat again when I think I am hungry. I don’t always get it right, but I don’t beat myself up. I don’t try to resist ‘temptation’. I have the knowledge that my body will not let me starve or overeat, and that it will modify itself to a healthy state if I honor it. And that is very satisfying in itself.
For more info on actions to take to stop bingeing click here.
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