The aim of the Grand Unified Theory of Weight Loss was to bring together the many factors that are influencing your behaviours and results around your body. This covers various areas which may greatly differ with their approach and methodology. One area that may be of issue is food addiction. The definition of this varies, but generally refers to an inability to stop eating a specific food or unable to stop yourself from overconsuming highly palatable foods.
There are many approaches to addiction depending on the substances and behaviour involved. The most famous of which is probably Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and their ’12 Steps’ rehab plan. Food addiction is significantly different to other typical addictive behaviours however because you cannot aim to eliminate the ‘bad’ behaviour forever. With alcohol, smoking, gambling and drugs you can never do them ever again and your life will carry on just fine.
Food addiction is different because you will always have to eat. I have found the food based programmes copied from the formulas used for alcohol, smoking etc to be fairly lacking. They are often just a specific diet plan hidden under the banner of an addiction programme. The result is often someone is doing fairly well then feel a wrath of guilt because they made a tiny error like they ate a chocolate bar.
For me, I have found some of the best advice for food addictions came from approaches for sex addiction. These are the two most relatable areas. Your sex drive comes from within and is also affected by many factors as with hunger. Likewise, how you handle your sexual urges may vary greatly between people just like with eating patterns and food choices. Finally, the approach to the problem is about how to manage it long term within your life. These approaches look to define what is supportive or non supportive to your overall life and how to identify moments when you are beginning to go in the wrong direction and prevent it escalating.
We all display some elements of food addiction. For this reason, any conversation around it (or any eating disorder) needs to be viewed along a spectrum rather than a more binary approach of addict or non addict. (They now also do the same with drinking – it is not called ‘Alcohol Dependency’).
It is difficult to separate what is a bad habit or a genuine symptom of food addiction. For example, many people have banned so many foods that they view their inability to keep all these foods out of their diet as an addiction. Other people’s inability to stick to their plan is because their normal foods are devoid of taste, or it is their best and only method to counter stress. All food related behaviours are usually worsened (or caused by) eating too little food for your body.
True addiction involves a remodelling of the dopamine system, in this case, where you use food as your main stimulant for it. Food addiction may not be correlated to your body weight, being overweight does not mean you are a food addict and likewise, many people at a healthy weight show many signs of food addiction.
What Does This Mean For You?
Too many people feel despondent around food, that they are out of control and there is no hope going forwards. This is NOT the case! The reality is that you can fairly easily address your eating patterns. So if your food behaviours gets you down then there is no need to beat yourself up, feel guilty or give up hope.
To build a good behaviour you just need to use many of the same processes you already used (without knowing) to develop your ‘bad’ behaviours. However, very few people ever focus on this. Usually it is just one element amongst a general fitness drive with a hope it will sort itself out along the way. True food addiction usually needs a slightly more centered approach.
Addressing it involves a combination of clarifying your current vs ideal framework around eating, looking at triggers, behaviour cycles and underlying causes such as stress and the dopamine system. It is not that hard to do and anyone can do it. However, I have found that this is quite a tough area to resolve on your own and will often need to use some external avenue, if not a coach, then a structured plan of some sort to make a breakthrough. The goal for me when working with any client is to not only to help them get their external fitness or body based goals but also to regain control around food and to feel happy around eating. This should be your aim also!
Photo – Some of the books I found helpful around the areas of general addiction and more specifically food addiction –
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