Yes, food addiction is a thing, and though there are also emotional and spiritual aspects to it, this article is going to focus on the physiological aspect of addiction and strategies to overcome it.
S.O.S. stands for Sugar, Oil, and Salt – and we may also recognize it as the old-fashioned cry for help. That’s because these chemicals, while found naturally in balanced amounts in whole foods, have been extracted by modern manufacturing methods and injected into all manufactured foods. And being so high in calories and flavor, the brain rewards eating them with a dopamine (pleasure) release, which creates a pattern of addiction. This is the same mechanism as, say, a heroin addiction. These food chemicals are effectively drugs.
Or, as our instructor put it: Sugar + Salt + Fat = Crack.
The majority of people are unaware of this, though they are suffering the consequences anyway: currently 42% of 40 year olds are obese. That’s not just carrying around a few extra pounds – it’s significant, chronic overweight that’s leading to a decline into degenerative disease like diabetes, kidney disease, and heart failure. But how do we reverse it?
Most Americans are simply not educated in nutrition, addiction, or what it really is they are eating. They eat it because it tastes good, it’s cheap and easily available, it’s what they were brought up on, and it’s what everyone around them is eating.
So we are up against not only a physical addiction, but also a lack of education and a culture that’s flooded with junk food. Where do we start?
Food Addiction Strategies
Once we are aware of the problem, there are several steps we can take to overcome it.
Healthy Meal Practices
If you have been eating a diet of mostly SOS foods, healthy foods are going to taste bland when you first make the switch. That’s because the brain has trained you on SOS foods, and will not reward you for foods that don’t have these chemicals.
However, you can retrain your body to appreciate the flavors of healthy food in two ways:
- Gradually add more healthy foods into your diet. It will take 3 weeks to 4 months for your taste buds to adjust.
- Go on a water fast for 2-3 days. At the end of your fast, an apple will seem like the most fragrant, juicy, delicious thing you’ve ever experienced.
It’s important that you don’t starve yourself, however. Overcoming food addiction and obesity does not have to be about eating less food altogether – it’s about eating less of the wrong foods. You can actually eat plenty of foods and eat til you’re full – just as long as they are the right foods.
So make it your mantra that it’s okay to feel full, and then fill up on the right foods:
- Start with ½ – 1 cup of veggies before your meal. This could be a snack of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers while you are preparing your meal.
- Add an oil-free bean dip, like homemade hummus.
- Eat a small green salad with a vinaigrette dressing.
- Slurp up a cup of veggie soup.
- Graze on a few slices of fruit.
There. With those five things in your tummy, how much room are you going to have for pizza? Maybe you’ll have a slice or two instead of the whole thing. Plus, you’ll be getting a lot more nutrients from all the fruits and veggies – pizza has few or no nutrients.
Do this for all your meals – start with a a few courses of veggies first, and then there will be only a little room left for junk food. Fruits and vegetables have very few calories and are very filling, so it’s a myth that weight loss has to be about going hungry. Just eat less junk food and lots of real food.
Also, avoid liquid calories – they don’t fill you up. Interesting, diet soda seems to trigger only weight gain.
Learn How to Cook and Shop
Most if not all restaurants and social gatherings are laden with SOS foods. While these occasions may not be totally avoidable, they should be limited to one per week, or less if dealing with food addiction or heart disease.
Additionally, there are now an average of 50,000 food products in grocery stores, and most of them are full of SOS – especially salt, which is required for manufactured food to taste like food at all.
The simple reality is, your health is directly related to your food, so if you’re going to regain your health, you must gain control over your food – and that means making your food from scratch. Manufactured foods should be used ‘sometimes’ at most.
Most Americans rotate between 9-16 recipes for their meals – so find the recipes you like that can be made healthily (Pinterest can be great inspiration) and be strict about eating those foods only.
- Breakfast can be oatmeal (unless you have Celiac) with bananas and berries.
- Find fruit-based desserts you like instead of keeping ice cream in the house.
- Use frozen veggies if you’re not a planner, so produce doesn’t spoil before use.
- The secret to cooking is spice, not meat. Chili tastes like chili because of the chili powder and other spices, not because of animal foods. Look for vegetarian versions of your favorites and you will find that eating healthier is cheaper too.
- Make enough dinner to have it for lunch the next day too.
If you are dealing with food addiction, be aware of what you are up against. You are more likely to binge on junk food if you’ve been restricting yourself of food altogether, so make sure you have plenty of healthy foods in the house. Avoid triggering yourself and keep junk food out of the house – let your home be your sanctuary.
Also be aware that there is an “extinction ramp up” when quitting, where the first day is okay, but day 2 is worse than ever, as the brain goes into overdrive to get you to eat the junk food. But by three weeks, the new habit has formed and your choices will get much easier.
“Spontaneous recovery” is also something to be aware of – when you may be doing well for once, and then “just one” knocks you right back to square one.
Finally, take heart. Food addiction is an addiction like any other. For smokers who are trying to quit, on average it takes 7-8 times of quitting for 7 days before they finally give it up for good.
So no matter how many times you fall off, just keep getting back up one more time.