Picture this. It’s 8:48 pm. You had dinner almost 2 hours ago. You are relaxing with your family, about ready to call it a night. The kids head to bed, you get up and are ready to go upstairs. But then…
You suddenly have a desire, or, craving, per se. Sea salt caramel gelato sounds great. Or maybe a few cookies. Cereal sounds SO amazing right now. Honestly, anything will do!!! You swiftly glide towards the fridge, open it, and mentally ravage the inventory before making your decisions. There is seemingly an ubiquitous and unseen force that moves you to the silverware drawer, and before you know it, you are 4 scoops deep into the ice cream.
What follows? Guilt and shame are common. Anger about the inability to control your urges. Sadness that tonight you let that finicky, self-sabotaging part of your brain win. You tell yourself, “that’s it, this will NOT happen again.” You stick to it for a couple days until…
Friday night comes along. No need to get back into the details, the narrative goes the same as before. Why, though, do these types of behaviors keep coming back? Is it an issue of motivation? Or the environment? Does it come down to self-control? That answer is not so simple, but, we know that food addiction may be part of it.
Food has the ability to activate dopamine in the brain, which is the “feel-good chemical.” The continued release of dopamine caused by an external substance is what we as humans consider to be addiction. Certain foods, notably sugar and refined carbohydrates, have been shown to release more dopamine in the brains of rats than other foods (1), and the results have been replicated in humans (2). These foods also make us want to eat more (and more, and more) carbohydrates to satisfy the insulin that is released into our bloodstream. This cycle of food addiction has short and long term effects on our health as individuals as well as a societal whole.
On a macro level, consider that overeating is linked to obesity and other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Obesity rates in the United States continue to rise, and as of 2018, 42.7 percent of Americans were obese (3). There is a massive toll being taken on our health care system to address these chronic issues. Diabetes alone contributes $327 billion in medical bills and lost productivity annually, and obesity another $147 billion (4). While the astounding numbers and negative societal impact we are seeing is one side of this coin, the true terror lies within the suffering of individuals who experience these diseases..
We have become wildly disconnected from our truth and realities. Research about the gut-brain connection shows that there is a connection between gut-brain health and understanding satiation (5). The frequent consumption of sugary and fatty foods inhibits chemical messengers going from the gut to the brain signaling that we are full, and it cycles back causing us to eat more sugary and fatty foods. There is also merit to salt addiction having similar effects within our physiology (6), stacking the deck against us even more as salt is so prevalent in the American diet. All of this leads to the afore mentioned chronic diseases, and it goes to show that we must make changes to create a healthier culture and society for all.
So, what are we to do? There are a handful of strategies, from food choices to mindset switches and types of movement, that can help us recover and get back in alignment with what our body truly needs. Though these things are much easier to say than to actually do, they are possible, and with persistence you can make the changes you desire. I speak from my experience and share how I personally was able to overcome food addiction.
Mindful eating: This concept is something that has grown exponentially over recent years, and for good reason. Mindful eating comes down to taking your time and really feeling into what it is your body needs in the moment. It takes into account what your body is truly hungry for, what is available to you, and being aware of the impacts the choices you make in pertinence to food will have on your immediate and long term future. There is research showing that mindful eating not only helps folks lose weight, but it also enhances our ability to choose delayed gratification when it comes to other aspects of life, including financial choices (7). Here are some basic tips on how you can begin practicing mindful eating.
Understand WHAT you’re truly hungry for. Our culture has promoted the idea that being hungry is not healthy, that we must have snacks on hand no matter what, and that if we get hungry we may lose control and end up bingeing. There may be some truth to making sure we are fed properly, but so often we get caught up in eating just to eat, rather than focusing on what we truly need. A massive breakthrough I have made with mindful eating is tapping into what my body truly desires. DO I want something astringent? Something sweet? Or am I desiring bitter or sour foods? You will know you have realized this aspect of mindful eating when you choose to wait for what your body truly needs, rather than eating for the sake of simply eating.
Slow down and be present with your food. This is something that all of us, including myself, can benefit from when it comes to nourishment. So often we find ourselves squeezing a meal in, eating on the run, and wolfing things down so we can get back to work. This behavior is troublesome in two ways. First, eating is arguably our most intimate interaction with planet earth. We are taking the gifts she blesses us with and consuming them as energy, which ultimately makes up who we are. When we mindlessly consume, we forget about all the work put in by our planet, farmers, distributors, and others who made it possible for us to have that food on our plate. The second part of this comes down to nervous system function. If we are in a sympathetic state, gas pedal down, our body is not in a space to properly intake food. Digestion is slowed and our energy is going towards other functions. Taking the time to slow down and move into a more parasympathetic state before and while eating will help with digestive function, create a more meaningful experience, and ultimately help us gain control over food addiction.
Substitutes: We are seeing more options when it comes to food substitutes than ever before. From plant-based sausage patties to gluten free pasta, to dairy free cheese and mocktails without alcohol, we live in a time where you can find almost anything to suit personal and dietary needs without sacrificing the experience. Below are a few substitutions I have implemented to help me optimize my eating behaviors.
Spiraled Yellow Squash with Tofu and a Homemade Tomato Sauce.
Veggie Spiralizer: When my girlfriend and I used this thing for the first time, I told her it was, “life changing.” That was a mere month ago, and my life has honestly changed since we have adopted its use 4+ times per week. Remember earlier in this blog when we talked about refined carbs and the effects they have on insulin. I love pasta, so being able to substitute pasta and rice noodles for zucchini, summer squash, and sweet potatoes has been AMAZING! More veggies, less simple carbs, more even blood sugar and control of insulin, all with amazing flavor. This tool provides us with a rare win-win-win-win scenario. Check out my Ginger and Soy Stir Fry (link coming soon) for an example of how using veggie noodles can be delectable and great for you.
Whole Food Snack Replacements: This is something that we ALL can benefit from. I am going to paint another picture to make this point hit home. You are hungry and stop at a gas station. There are hundreds of options when it comes to candy bars, protein bars, chips, munchies, donuts… you get the picture. What whole food options are there? I can bet there will be apples and bananas, and if you’re lucky some citrus fruit like oranges or limes. There most likely will be hard-boiled eggs in the cooler, cheese sticks and meat sticks as well. Then there is the real hidden treasure of the gas station snack area, mixed nuts. With so many options, what will you choose? Going back to mindful eating and recognizing what will serve your goals, simplicity is bliss here. Instead of sifting through all the junk and trying to make a decision of which one is the least unhealthy and that you won’t completely binge on (we encourage positives over double-negatives in coaching), grab a piece of fruit and some form of protein, and be on your way. (Author’s Note: Protein bars are a MASSIVE gray area, so CLICK HERE (Link coming soon) to see best world recommendations when it comes to consuming protein bars).
One of my favorite activities is mountain biking on local trails.
Simple Movement: One of the best ways I have found to break away from food addiction is to get your mindset off of food completely. My favorite way to do this is to get moving. Whether it’s a brisk walk, a bike ride, rollerblading (or skating in the winter…). Even a quick 9-holes of golf will suffice if you choose to walk. When we exercise and move, our bodies diminishes cravings and our focus shifts to the activity we are engaged in. Also, movement will help maintain and boost our metabolism and may motivate us to make healthier choices in the kitchen later. As always with movement, choose something you love, as we will enjoy the process and move more if we choose things that bring us happiness.
Focus on what is working: I mentioned earlier that in coaching we focus on positives over negatives in any amount. I like to use the garden analogy to put this in perspective. So often, ESPECIALLY when it comes to food, we are focused on trying to remove the bad things, or weeds when it comes to our garden. The point of a garden is NOT to have a plot of land with no weeds and just dirt. Gardens are meant to flourish with flowers and food and plants that enhance our lives and bring us joy. But in order to reap the benefits, we must give full attention to the things we plant. We must make sure they have fertile soil, ample sunshine, and the right amount of water. Think of each of the new healthy habits you develop as plants in your garden. Going for daily walks, practicing meditation, and cooking nutritious meals for yourself is all part of growing those plants and reaping the benefits when they become daily habits.
Nervous System Support: We know that the nervous system controls everything inside AND outside our body. It is the communication line between all parts of the body, all the while communicating with the outside world by processing and deciphering constant stimuli. Breaking out of the cycle of food addiction can be complemented by actively working on changes to your nervous system. Whether it’s coaching with me to see breakthroughs, doing things differently (like trying different foods or journaling about it), and/or chiropractic care, doing things to support our nervous system can ultimately help us conquer detrimental behaviors like food addiction.
Coming back to the Inspire philosophy of health and wellbeing, we are at our best when all parts of our being are congruent and at full function. Everything we perceive, all of our behaviors, and all outcomes in our health and life are directly related to our thoughts (mindset), our fuel (meals), and how active we are (movement). The interconnectedness of our physical bodies, the external world, and how we navigate the space between can always be enhanced through belief, will power, and mindfulness in the moment. When all systems are running at 100%, we can truly be in tune with what our bodies need. And when we serve ourselves properly, we are able to serve others in the same regard.