How to Beat Food Addiction (In 3 Steps)

When it comes to diet and weight loss, failure can often be caused by just one repeated misdemeanour. You may be able to get through most of the day eating healthily, only to let yourself down with an afternoon donut run or an evening chocolate binge. If that sounds familiar, this article is for you.

Below I have outlined the three-step process I followed to relieve myself of my own chocolate bingeing habit. Although I still eat and enjoy chocolate these days, I do so now in relative moderation yet enjoy it just as much.

Note: Food addiction can be a very serious issue that is often fuelled by serious underlying psychological issues. I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be qualified to help people dealing with serious cases of food addiction, nor is it my intention to do so in this article. This article is for people who recognise that they eat too much of a particular food (or group of foods) and want to do something about it. It is not for people who feel that they are completely out of control with their eating. If you are part of the latter group, I recommend that you speak to your doctor.

1. Environment

Food cravings are typically at their strongest in certain environments.

For example, my cravings for Maltesers (my confectionary of choice) are always at their strongest when I’m home alone. On the other hand, my cravings for Maltesers in other environments are typically far weaker – I might go for a relatively ‘normal’ 135g bag and share a few with whoever I’m with, as opposed to working through an entire 360g box myself. That’s about 650 calories rather than 1,800 calories – an enormous difference.

If you can identify the specific environmental circumstances that fuel your addiction, you can seek to reduce the time you spend in such environments. In doing so, the effects of your addiction will be drastically reduced.

2. Timing

Addictions wax and wane – their strength is not constant. You will find your addiction to be far stronger at certain times than at others.

The timing of my addiction is particularly well-defined. Unlike many people, I don’t really have a craving for confectionary through the day, but if I don’t have something sweet after dinner, I will feel like I’ve missed out.

I can nail my addiction’s ‘peak’ down to the approximate hours of 8–9pm – after I’ve finished my dinner and a couple of hours before bedtime. That is when I crave Maltesers the most. My body expects something sweet (because that’s the habit I have taught it) and it specifically craves Maltesers (because I happen to find them particularly tasty).

The fight against your addiction is not a 24–hour affair. At the very least you will not be suffering from the effects of addiction while asleep. Furthermore, there are likely to be sizeable chunks of the day in which your addiction isn’t an issue. For example, I can get all the way up to 8pm without even thinking about Maltesers.

My overriding point is this: you only need to neutralise your addiction within what is likely to be a relatively small timeframe (or timeframes). Once you have identified the timeframe(s) in which your addiction is at your strongest, I recommend that you employ my ‘sensory overload‘ technique for overcoming hunger pangs. It can work just as well to quash your addiction.

3. Events and Circumstances

It is a well-known cliché that a teenage girl’s breakup with her boyfriend must lead to dramatic ice cream consumption. While this is not in itself a sign of food addiction, someone who is addicted to food can find their addiction fuelled by particular events and circumstances.

After all, there’s a reason ‘comfort food’ exists – it comforts us in times of need. If you’ve had a bad day, would you rather eat your favourite meal and a generous serving of dessert, or a salad? (If you answered “salad”, you’re in the wrong place my friend.)

Addictions are often most difficult to resist at such times. However, as with timing, you must appreciate that such cravings are only temporary. You’ll feel better in a few hours, in the morning or even after a relaxing bath.

As such, when you are feeling under particular stress due to an event or circumstance, consider the alternative ‘treatments’ to feeding your addiction. What else could you do? Go do it. You may find your addiction tempered by the healing effects of a long walk or a good chat with your best friend. You can also employ the aforementioned ‘sensory overload’ technique to sate your appetite and control your cravings.

Remove the Stimuli, Control the Craving

The underlying theme that runs through the above three factors is stimuli – i.e. something that provokes craving. If you can control or remove the stimuli, you can control the craving.

Overcoming a food addiction is not a matter of ‘manning up’ and going cold turkey – it’s about identifying the stimuli that provoke your addiction and taking control of the situation in such a way that blunts your cravings. If you can do that, you’ll find that you can still enjoy your favourite foods as much as you ever did, but in moderation.

The enjoyment you get out of food is purely psychological. If you reduce your cravings you can enjoy your favorite foods in lesser amounts just as much as you ever did.