The First Step to Battling Food Addiction: Awareness

Food obsession is an ugly thing. It’s an eating disorder. To fight this addiction, I feel like it has genuinely been a battle. 

Even though I have lost 175 pounds, in the height of my food addiction there have been times that I have not wanted to be in social situations where there is food. The thought of sitting down to a meal where there would be endless options and opportunities to over eat gave me anxiety. This anxiety was with good reason- there had been times I would go out to eat and not be able to control myself. To make matters worse, I would let this "failure" of over eating at one meal lead to binge eating that would go on for days. 

While I was losing weight, I would obsess over what I was eating and how much. I would spend most of my time thinking about and planning my next meal. I often missed out on feeling happiness or gratitude, because my obsession with food was so constant and consuming.

After I reached my goal weight, the binge eating started again. I thought I had it under control, but I didn't. I had gained 18 pounds before I realized I was going down a path I had been down too many times before- losing weight and gaining it all back. The idea of losing my progress and going back to being morbidly obese scared me enough to take action. I started researching food addiction and enrolled in a nutrition class with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. I have read all the books I can find about food addiction and binge eating, and I am still learning every day. 

My goal is to be at a point where I’m comfortable with food. I will eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, and be able to fully trust myself and my body. This is also my goal for everyone I work with. 

At this point I am back down to my lowest weight, 150 pounds. I am comfortable with my progress and I want to share what has helped me. 

How long will it take you to master this food addiction? I really can not answer that. It will depend on many factors, including how long you have battled food addiction, your determination to change, stress levels, genetics, emotional resilience, social resources, etc. It will always be a process where you are learning and growing. 

How do you know if you have a food addiction? First, ask yourself if you relate to the following:

Do you...

  • Have an obsession with food and often binge without awareness of what you are doing, until after it is done?
  • Lose weight, but gain it back?
  • Not feel in touch with your emotions or your body? You have a tendency to focus on negative situations longer then necessary. 
  • Not know difference between brain hunger and physical hunger?
  • Have no coping mechanisms to deal with emotional imbalance – instead of dealing with emotions, you stuff them down with food?
  • Feel unmindful – the mere idea of meditation causes anxiety.
  • Have low self-esteem, truly believe you are inadequate and that’s the way it will always be?
  • Frequently experience the cycle of shame? You feel shame after you binge, but at a gut level you feel you deserve this shame and thus don’t have the motivation to interrupt the cycle.

When the overwhelming desire to binge comes, I call it "crazy brain." That might be silly, but that is how it feels. It is normally in moments where I am doubting myself and my choices. I feel like a failure and the idea of making a healthy choice seems pointless. The desire to go to food is so strong, that it feels impossible to turn away and focus on something else. 

Here is a story of one time the "crazy brain" ignited. This was just a few months ago. I had a lot of stressful things happening in my life at the time, and I was already feeling sensitive. My family and I were in the car on a mini road trip to visit my husband's family. I was in the passenger seat, trying to read a book on my phone, when my kids started arguing (as kids do). It gave me an instant headache and my husband started yelling at them to stop. My husband's yelling (he's not normally a yeller), though a genuine attempt to diffuse the situation, just added to my headache. I felt like if I said anything, I would just make it worse. I felt powerless. "Crazy brain" reared it's ugly head and I grabbed the bag of snacks I had packed for the trip and started binging on a huge can of pumpkin flavored peanuts and Oreos because going to food seemed easier then dealing with the situation. 

These relatively minor triggers, like my story from the car, are the moments we need to become aware of. How would that drive have been different if was present in the moment, instead of hiding my stress in food? What if I was aware of how I was feeling, and chose a different approach? What if I had acknowledged the feeling of powerlessness, and stress, and changed my prospective?  I could have  made an effort to calm my family (who, honestly, are normally very chill and happy people) down and distract them with a game or story.

I can't change the past. I can not change the fact that peanuts and Oreos led to me continuing to shove food in my face like a garbage can that day. All I can do is forgive myself and be thankful that it brought me one step closer to being fully aware of my feelings, when the desire to binge rears it's ugly head. 

Here are some tips on how you can start building awareness of moments like these:

  • Become aware of how you got to where you are today: you have a food addicition.
  • Try to observe your brain as it obsesses about food. Good moments to notice this are when it switches from normal daily activities to food obsession and fantasizing. "Crazy brain"
  • Understand that your food triggers essentially cause your brain to “overheat” and you can’t differentiate physical hunger to brain hunger in that moment.
  • Your goal isn’t to change everything yet, as this will likely be incredibly overwhelming; your goal should be awareness – this is the first step.
  • Begin a mindfulness practice even if it still causes you high anxiety. Like any type of exercise, mindfulness is a practice – initially you may be very bad at it, but over time and with more practice you will improve.
  • Start to work through your past, through difficult emotions that may have caused your food obsession. Therapy might be helpful here, even if you’ve never considered it before.
  • Accept that you are human, which means you have many emotional needs and an inclination to make mistakes.
  • Start to practice healthy coping mechanisms so you are better able to self-soothe your emotions.
  • Become aware of your stress triggers and how you can modify your situation to feel less stress.
  • Eat mindfully whenever possible. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail – it’s about practice.

In the next post, I will talk more about healthy coping mechanisms and mindfulness. Remember this is a process that takes time and it is imperative to forgive yourself and love yourself along the journey. Treat yourself as you would your best friend, with understanding and grace. We will win this battle of food addiction! 

After our road trip, despite the fact that I was over eating the whole time, my family calmed down and we enjoyed a wonderful weekend together that included hiking and time with extended family. 

After our road trip, despite the fact that I was over eating the whole time, my family calmed down and we enjoyed a wonderful weekend together that included hiking and time with extended family. 

Please note: I am not a doctor and nothing I write or share is intended as medical advice. I am a coach sharing my journey and the information that has helped me and those I have worked with. If you have questions about your diet or mental health, please contact your physician.