I once read in order to develop a habit, success is the secret sauce. I believe this to be true with many bad habits we want to drop and new habits we want to create. This can work with food as well, but it depends on the intensity of the signal sent to our brain telling us to eat. If very strong, it will take more than just a few days of abstinence from the food substance itself. The body requires detoxification from the substance. Remember, the fact we are addicted to it means emotional dysregulation and the accompanying signal to ingest the substance is very strong. Think of a food that ‘you can’t just have one’. That food is a great example of being addictive for you. Even if it was a superfood such as kale, if we cannot say ‘no’ to kale, then there is a problem.
Let’s go back to the idea that success is the secret sauce. I will agree that success (let’s say kilograms lost) is extremely motivating, but when it comes to addiction, it is likely not enough to actually rid the craving; that is, the paired response between the sight, smell, or taste of the food with the psychological need to have the food. In order to break the sensory and psychological link, one needs to reset the taste buds to recognize this substance as a foe, not a friend. If you read the first post I wrote as part of the series on food addiction, you will understand why I feel so strongly about the disservice our government has bestowed upon us by allowing processed food lobbying to even exist.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
- Seek out trained professionals. Consulting with a health professional, such as a nutritionist, naturopath, or functional medicine practitioner might clarify some myths you have regarding the good food – bad food debate. I think this is an important step because there is too much information at our fingertips. It is only a Google search away and most ordinary folk cannot decipher between good sources of information and bad sources. For example, there are A LOT of unhealthy products out there that are marked ‘Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Heart Healthy, Vitamin enriched’, which is just a disguise to pull you into thinking it is a health food. Think about it… when was the last time you picked up a banana or a celery bunch at the store and it had a nutrient label on it? Exactly. Going label-less is preventative medicine. Remember, health and wellness is a multibillion-dollar industry, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.
- Consider reaching out to a therapist to assist in providing some empowering tools and recommendations to beat down the cravings. Addiction is not a small hill to climb and it is going to take a lot of tools and guidance. It has nothing to do with willpower, which many naive folks might think. You might also want to consider a therapist as a ‘sponsor’ or accountability partner in your journey. Think about it, we all know what to do, but to actually put words into action is a whole other ballgame. It involves a behavior or ‘habit’ change. A good psychotherapist trained in addiction will help you to validate that you have the power within to help yourself, but it is also perfectly okay having someone else help out as well. This makes a person naturally feel comforted and empowered at the same time. You will see you can set your own rules around food, what you will and will not eat, and feel very empowered by this perspective.
Here are some tools I like to use, and I have seen to be very effective:
Reframing Thoughts Surrounding Food
This is a powerful tool once you are able to do the reframe. How do you perceive food? Is food something you eat to break up your day? Or are you responding to your body signalling to you that you need nourishment? For example, your tummy is growling, or your head is pounding, or your blood pressure is dropping. Or is food something we should be scared of? Plants are good, but aren’t there antinutrients in plants too? Red meat drives up cholesterol, oh wait… no, fat is our friend? Right? Isn’t that the Keto thing I keep hearing about? Is dairy good or bad for us?
How about we develop a relationship with food that is believable to us and based on fact and not on what the latest health study suggests. We are so subjected to biased information, all of which are competing for our attention. People approach food as a religion in many ways, but we cannot be dogmatic or reductionist in our views. Can you see food as your friend? And there is no bad diet, but instead a lifestyle or diet that is right for you? How do you obtain such bliss? Taste the food and question how it makes you feel immediately, two hours after a meal, or the next day? Do you maintain a healthy weight when you eat this way? How do you feel emotionally when you eat this way? Bottom line, you need to develop healthy thoughts around food in a way that is believable to you. I think we all believe whole, unprocessed food is the best form of food we can ingest. I think we realize focusing your attention on the food in front of you, rather than your thoughts being elsewhere, is also extremely rewarding and powerful in ridding habits. If you love yourself and want to feel good, this is the place you need to start.
As a therapist practicing both out of Toronto and Winnipeg, I see many folks struggling with their relationship with food. I am more often able to reveal what is really driving the patterned behavior and how they can heal and have a better life. It’s not so much the food at fault, as it is the way you choose to react to food. Just like any stress in life, it is the way you choose to handle or perceive it that dictates the outcome.
By helping you to reframe your relationship with food, I hope to provide you with the ability to curb the addiction. As stated earlier, some of us need total abstinence in order to push ahead. I hope you can see that by viewing it under the lens of addiction, rather than an eating disorder, I am giving you the ability to become more aware and proactive in terms of your approach. Addiction has been around since the dawn of time, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, processed food is being manufactured to become more and more addictive to our palates – ‘bet you can’t just have one’. Are you feeling scared reading that?
No. You don’t need to be scared. Why? Because you have a choice. You have the choice every single morning how to create your day. And if you are consistent about your food choices, you will gain a new and better habit. A habit of thought (this is my choice) then becomes a habit of action (chose unprocessed food).
“It’s not so much the food at fault, as it is the way you choose to react to food.”
Break Free of the Victim’s Mindset
A victimization mindset such as, ‘ my mom always fed me this, I was teased about my body’ or… you get where I am going with this. Everyone can come up with some reason why the habit was formed. The victimization mindset will get you nowhere – fast. It is the antithesis of a growth mindset. You either need to choose to eat healthier or not. It is not complicated, nor does it need to be cultivated in some sort of childhood response to what your parents fed to you. You were a child then with very little control over what you were given. You are (likely?) not a child now.
In closing, I will leave you with one question to ponder. What do you think it would take in order for you to begin adopting a growth mindset and initiate healthier habits around food choices? Would it take a diagnosis such as, breast cancer, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, CVD, or type 2 diabetes? I am asking you because all of these aforementioned conditions are highly correlated with diet. This is not a ‘fear mongering’ statement. That is not my purpose. After studying functional medicine for the last two years, I can adamantly state I have seen research paper after research paper stating the same. How about genetic correlation? Yes, this does play a role in disease manifestation, but lifestyle choices determine whether or not these genes are expressed or suppressed.
So, I leave you with the question, ‘why wait for the diagnosis in order to change your food habits?’ And furthermore, what do you have to lose (besides weight circumference) by adopting these new food habits? Glowing skin? Better sleep? Less medications? Less time in doctor offices? Less time yelling at your kids and more time connecting with them? Improved memory and sleep? Emotional agility? Reduced social anxiety? Doesn’t sound overly risky to me when you think of it. So, if I can, I would like to suggest to begin eating like you have been diagnosed with a health condition, be it chronic or something more ‘common or accepting’ (why we see this as normal is in itself a societal problem) such as, rheumatoid arthritis, constipation, or memory loss. You don’t need to accept this. You have a choice to make change happen.