Do you struggle with loss of control around food? Do you want to learn more about how to overcome food addiction?
You are not alone. Many people struggle with loss of control around food and are plagued with thoughts of food at all hours of the day.
Food becomes the most important thing in their life.
If this sounds like you, it is a good time to learn more about what food addiction is, how to know if you have it, and how to overcome it for good.
Though this article is a wonderful first step to solving your problems, it’s also important to take additional, more personalized steps to your recovery.
I go into further details about this at the end of the article.
For now, let’s get into what food addiction is, if you have it, and how to overcome food addiction.
What is food addiction?
So, to begin, what even is food addiction?
Well, firstly it’s important to note that food addiction is not an official diagnosis.
But, we can look deeper into the definition of addiction and certain characteristics that define an addiction to determine if your relationship with food may be considered an addiction.
It’s also important to note that food is something we all depend on to live and thrive. Therefore it’s hard to mark “food” as addicting.
But, when it comes to your relationship with food, we can all agree that we can have a healthy or unhealthy relationship.
Ok, so onto the definition.
The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as, in summary, a condition defined by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. People with addictions are constantly thinking about the substance to the point where it takes over their life.
Looking at this definition, you can see how people could be addicted to food.
If someone continues to use food in a way that is harmful (such as binge eating, overeating to the point of discomfort or GI issues) and is constantly thinking about food, it could be considered addiction.
Now let’s look at the criteria listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
- Impaired control: consuming substance in greater amounts over longer periods than intended, having persistent attempts to decrease use, spending much time acquiring, using or recovering from a substance, craving or having a strong urge to use it
- Social impairment: being unable to fulfill obligations at work, school or home, continuing use despite causing social or interpersonal problems, giving up or reducing activities due to use
- Risky use: continuing using substance in dangerous situations or despite physical or psychological problems that are made worse
- Pharmacological criteria: needing a higher dose to achieve desired effect, experiencing negative symptoms when substance is not consumed
So, looking at these criteria, some of these could apply to food addiction.
Compulsive overeating was actually considered to be added as a non-substance related disorder in the DSM-5, but was ultimately denied due to lack of evidence.
In the end, food as an addiction is considered controversial considering the fact that food is essential to survive.
But, constant overeating does share some characteristics of addictions, especially when it comes to overconsumption of foods with added sweeteners and refined grains.
How to know if you have food addiction
It’s difficult to tell if you have food addiction since it doesn’t have a solid definition.
But, we can absolutely assess if you have a healthy relationship with food or not.
While a healthy relationship with food is going to look different for everyone, this is what a healthy relationship with food is going to typically look like:
- You rarely think about food, except when you are hungry, eating, cooking, planning meals or recipes, or have a special food occasion coming up.
- You eat based on when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.
- You feel comfortable having sweets or “junk” food in the house because you aren’t scared of overeating.
- You feel no anxiety at social functions that have sweets or “junk” food available for the guests.
- You do not track calories or eat to achieve a certain body type.
- You gladly accept food gifts.
On the other hand, this is what a unhealthy relationship with food may look like:
- You are always thinking about food, even just after you ate.
- You eat based on a schedule or plan you have set for yourself.
- You don’t feel comfortable having sweets or “junk” food in the house in fear of overeating.
- You feel anxious at social gatherings that have sweets or “junk” food available for the guests.
- You track calories to obtain a certain body type and feel guilty when you are “off track”.
- You feel uncomfortable accepting food gifts in fear of overeating.
So, looking at both of these lists, which do you feel like you fall under? Do you worry about food all the time? Or is eating just a small part of your day?
It basically comes down to this. If thoughts of food consume your whole day and affect your work or personal life, you may have food addictions or an unhealthy relationship with food.
But, luckily, with time and patience, this can absolutely be fixed.
Think back to when you were a child. You didn’t think about food much. You evaluated food based on taste and texture, not calories and carbs. You stopped when you were full and asked for food when you were hungry.
This part of you is still there!
You just need to be retrained to think about food in this neutral way. So, how do we achieve this?
How to overcome food addiction
To overcome food addiction, you need to fix your relationship with food.
I know, this is easier said than done.
But, luckily there are so many people out there who have had similar issues and have fixed it through intuitive eating.
What is intuitive eating you ask?
Well, intuitive eating is a way of eating that is natural for us. It’s the way you ate when you were a child.
Intuitive eating involves 10 principles, which are explained in detail in this book:
- Rejecting the diet mentality. This means stopping your desire to lose weight through fad diets and quick fixes.
- Honor your hunger. Eat when you are hungry!
- Make peace with food. Stop labeling foods as good or bad, instead view them in a neutral way.
- Challenge the food police. Challenge people who say you can’t eat a certain food or have eaten too much. Challenge these inner thoughts as well.
- Feel your fullness. Take your time eating, feel your hunger cues, pay attention to them! Your body knows when to stop eating, not your brain!
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Food is meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy it.
- Cope with your emotions without using food. Get to the core of your emotions instead of using food to mask them.
- Respect your body. You were born with a unique body, accept it and love it. Stop trying to change it.
- Exercise, feel the difference. Exercise in a way that is enjoyable and makes you feel good.
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition. Once you are ready, start adding in those nutritious foods that improve your health.
I highly recommend reading this whole book (affiliate link) to get a better idea on how to progress through these steps.
Though these principles may be completely opposite from everything you have heard about “eating healthy”, they are so important in creating a healthy relationship with food.
In fact, intuitive eaters tend to have lower BMIs (though this isn’t the absolute best indicator of health), better psychological health, and likely better physical health markers.
In the end, constant restriction and dieting is likely what has led to an unhealthy relationship with food and food addiction.
Intuitive eating helps reverse the restriction and lead to a healthier relationship with food.
By practicing the intuitive eating principles, you will notice that you will stop thinking about food all the time, binge eating or overeating episodes will be reduced, and you will feel less anxiety around “bad” foods in general.
So, if you want to know how to overcome food addiction, intuitive eating is the way!
Additional steps to take
So, you’ve looked into intuitive eating, and maybe have even read the book.
What additional steps can you take to learn how to overcome food addiction?
Well, sometimes you just need some additional one on one attention to get to a place where you want to go.
I suggest seeing a Registered Dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating. You can find one near you using this link.
It can be nice to have someone to talk through your issues and roadblocks with. This extra help can be just what you need to learn how to overcome your food addiction.
Interested in learning more? Here are a few of my own articles that you may find helpful in your food freedom journey:
If you struggle with constantly thinking about food throughout the day, check out this article: Thinking About Food All The Time? Try This
Many people struggle with feeling guilty after eating. These strategies can help you overcome this: How To Stop Feeling Guilty After Eating
If you are obsessed with food, check out this article to learn how to overcome this: How To Stop Being Obsessed With Food
And finally, here is my personal story on how I overcame binge eating: My Journey With Binge Eating and Disordered Eating
Remember, learning how to overcome food addiction is a journey and takes time and patience. But, in the end, it will absolutely be worth it!