5 tips for overcoming food addiction

Not sure food addiction exists? Check out my article, "Is food addiction real?"

I like to eat. A lot. While I've managed to maintain a doctor-accepted weight, I'm not happy. My mind obsesses over food. (Are you going to finish those fries?) [inhales fries.] (Oh man, I shouldn't have eaten those fries...) (Can we get ice cream now?)

If you can relate to that inner dialogue, read on and join me in my journey—I'm learning and struggling alongside you. 

Let's get to the bottom of this. (Wait, are there more fries down there?)

1. Reflect and set goals.

What does your ideal relationship with food look like? Do you want to lose weight? Gain weight?

Identify your triggers:
  • When do you tend to overeat? After a long day of work? Or maybe while you're indulging in screen time (television, phone, etc.)?
  • How are you feeling when you make a food decision not in-line with your goals? Stressed? Lonely?
  • What foods do you have the least self-control over?
  • Do you get bored eating the same thing every day? 
Write your triggers down; it makes them more real to see them in black and white.

Chances are you've tried something to improve your relationship with food already. What works and doesn't work well for you?
  • Are you the type of person who needs a strong support system?
  • Or would a note of positive affirmation tucked in your pocket do the trick?
  • Do you enjoy keeping a journal? 
If you're unsure, experiment with a few accountability tricks. For me, mindfulness and positive affirmations work. "This is enough food. I feel satisfied. I don't feel uncomfortably full and I like that." Moreover, I need temptation completely out of the house. (I'm looking at you, Peanut Butter.)

My vision board keeps me motivated.

2. Make a plan.

The surest way to fail is to wing it.  You need consistency to see results, and you need to consistently follow your plan. What kind of plan? A meal plan. Once you've identified your triggers and goals, shape your plan around them. Here's what mine would look like:

Triggers: 

  • I overeat when I come home from work or when I'm reading on my phone. 
  • Waiting several hours between meals makes me more prone to overeating. 
  • I struggle with resisting my trigger foods.

The Plan: 

Prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week over the weekend. I pack up my breakfasts and lunches on Sunday and leave the dinner in a larger container to be portioned out later to conserve fridge space. While I normally have time to cook dinner after work, I don't want to—I like to eat something right away. With dinner already made, I don't have to fight the temptation to snack.

I stopped buying trigger foods and told my roommates to keep them away from me. And when I eat, I only focus on my food.

I have a light snack between meals (two per day). I exercise, so it's usually a protein shake mixed in water. Luckily I'm content eating the same thing every day as long as it's cooked and ready for me. If that's not you, mix up your meals mid-week. Do you what you need to do.

Regardless of what your plan looks like, a meal plan needs to be its foundation. I cannot stress that enough.

3. Portion food.

There are biological mechanisms that regulate how our stomach tells our brain we're full and they don't work perfectly for everyone. The hormone leptin, and nutrient receptors and stretch receptors lining the inside of our stomach send messages to the brain such as, "hey, I'm still hungry!" Or "if you eat one more bite, you're going to explode!" My stomach's satiety indicators aren't as sensitive as others. If my food isn't portioned, I'm going to overeat. Guaranteed.

I use people around me as a reference for normal eating habits. My fiancé can eat one bowl of noodles and be good. If I'm not paying attention, I could easily eat the entire 12-ounce box (and I have).

I plan my meals with calories and nutrition in mind and I track everything. I use the app MyFitnessPal to create recipes. It allows me to easily judge how much food is appropriate and if I should be adding anything to balance my diet. Since I'm working on losing a few pounds and I'm a 5'4" female, my calorie goal is set to 1200 per day. This is what my meal plan for the week looks like:

Breakfast: Vegetable scramble and a vanilla protein shake (73 and 145 calories, respectively)

Snack: Chocolate peanut butter protein shake (98 calories)

Lunch: Chickpea avocado salad (381 calories)

Snack: Chocolate peanut butter protein shake (98 calories)

Dinner: Spinach and sweet potato lasagna (305 calories)

Total: 1,100 calories

No, calories are not everything. But for someone prone to overeating, it helps me to track them like this. That way I know exactly how much I'm getting and I know it's enough.

4. Commit to your food plan. 

Once you've got a snazzy plan, it's easy enough to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. Making a plan is easy—executing a plan takes real effort.

Make a grocery list of the exact items you need for your meal prep and stick to it—I don't care what's on sale. If you hate cooking, enlist some help. Get a friend, roommate, or that guy who always jogs by your house at 7:35 AM to help. If you're a loner, crank up some crunchy jams (aka, music) and stir those veggies with flair.

The next beast you'll battle is FOMO (fear of missing out). There's always some "special" event—you name it, birthdays, networking, festivals—and it's easy for them to derail you. If you're feeling bold, bring your meal prep with you. If that makes you uncomfortable, do your very best with the options available to you. Do your research ahead of time. If it's a potluck, bring a healthy meal. If it's a restaurant, identify the healthiest option ahead of time. Prepare to give FOMO a proper smackdown.

Remember, special occasions are not about food. It's about spending time with people you care about, making connections, or experiencing something new. Food should not be the foundation of fun. 

5. Be patient and kind to yourself.

Naturally, we want to stick to our plan one-hundred percent of the time but sometimes we slip-up. No one is perfect. I'm not. You're not. And that's okay. Don't beat yourself up over something that's in the past—it can't be changed and dwelling on it will only make you more stressed out and more likely to fail. Take a deep breath and try again.

And maybe you'll find your plan sucks. That's okay, make a new one. Figuring out what works best for you is a worthwhile effort even if you're not seeing results right away. It's a process—don't expect to be perfect.

What does your plan look like? What do you struggle with the most?


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