What makes it so hard to lose weight, to not eat specific foods, to change our diet and stick with it?.
I have come to believe the answer to that question is addiction, and a point came in my low carb weight loss journey that I had to ask myself, do I have a food addiction?
I don’t think addiction, as it relates to weight gain and weight loss, is talked about nearly enough.
I’ve battled addiction with many substances during my life, including foods, and so far, I would say I’m winning. I want to share a little bit of my experience with addiction, and recovery, in the hope it helps another with their struggle.
Please remember, I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, or anything like that. I’m just a regular guy, that also happens to be a recovering drug addict. I’ve also lost over 140 lbs (so far) and dealt with food addiction along the way.
What Is An Addiction?
What do you think addiction is? Do you have a picture of what an addict looks like in your minds eye?
The dictionary defines addiction as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity”. I think that covers it in a nutshell. It is important to note that there are two types of addiction, physical and psychological.
Nicotine, caffeine, and heroin are examples of substances that form physical addictions. When the substance is removed, the body will react with physical symptoms of withdrawal. Usually, the user will feel some type of physical illness.
If there are no physical symptoms of withdrawal, the addiction is psychological. Food addictions are mostly psychological. So, going without something you are psychologically addicted to will not cause any physical harm, but it can, and often does, cause some mental torture.
How does Addiction Work/Happen?
Many classify addiction as a disease, and I agree! But, I prefer to write it this way … dis-ease. If we hyphenate the word it really makes more sense. I think dis-ease is one of the catalysts for addiction, both physical and psychological.
There are several theories regarding the why’s and how’s of addiction. I’m going to use my personal, and observational, experience to provide my theory.
I think we’re led into addiction by one of two motivators … we either want to move toward pleasure or we want to move away from pain. Hmmmm … since the absence of pain is actually pleasurable, maybe the key player of addiction is only one thing … pleasure.
Yep, I think the constant pursuit of pleasure leads us down the road towards addiction.
When we find intense pleasure through a substance or activity, it is because a neurotransmitter known as dopamine is released in our brain. One of the many tasks of dopamine is to make us feel good.
If something makes us feel good, we will naturally want to do that again. When we repeat a process continually, over and over again, and the reward is intense, like feeling really good, it will form a habit loop.
Once the habit loop is formed, a cue or trigger, can cause your brain to want to perform the habit. Since the habit is pleasurable, it leads to reinforcing the behavior … thus, the loop.
When we talk about habits and addictions, we have to consider the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
The conscious mind drives us toward creating a habit. We consciously choose to perform specific behaviors at the beginning of the habit process. But at some point, the subconscious takes charge, and I think this is the point that a habit becomes an addiction.
The subconscious is like a DVR. It plays back what has been recorded. We recorded a program of pleasure by repeating a specific behavior that released dopamine in our brain. It made us feel good. Now our subconscious is going to want to play back that program any time it gets a cue or trigger. The cues and triggers are like pressing the play button on your remote.
Here is the rub. We will repeat these behaviors over and over again, and usually, at some point, what actually brought us pleasure will begin to cause us pain. The very thing we were trying to avoid in the first place. How ironic right? This is where all addictions will lead. The only variable is how long it will take to get there.
Is Food Addiction Real?
Lot’s of people don’t believe that food addiction is a real thing, or that they are addicted to different foods. I personally didn’t think I had any food addictions … until I started a low carb diet, which naturally eliminated some of the foods I ate on a very regular basis.
If you don’t think you have a food addiction, try giving up bread, fast food, pizza, or soda, and wait to see if your mind starts playing with you by manipulating your thoughts so the addiction can get what it wants.
Food addiction will make itself known through cravings, intense nearly uncontrollable urges. These cravings usually start with a cue, something that triggers the craving.
My trigger was sitting down to watch TV after dinner. The cravings would start around 30 to 45 minutes after dinner. The cravings were always accompanied by the voice of addiction trying, and usually succeeding, to talk me into things I didn’t really want to to do.
The voice loves to tell me what would taste reeeeaaaal good right now.
I’m pretty sure the formation of a food addiction is driven by our taste buds. Of course, the addiction process is created by the habit loop, etc., but our taste buds, and the way things taste, seems to motivate the majority of our food choices to begin with.
We will eat more of something just because it tastes good. We will buy something just because it tastes good. We will eat a lot more than we should of something just because it tastes good. I believe taste is the catalyst of food addictions.
But … It’s Not All Our Fault!
I really have to mention this here … again! I’ve wrote about this before, and I’ll probably write about it again, because I think it’s so irresponsible, despicable, and morally wrong, and I can’t believe it’s allowed to continue. It has to change, and you need to be informed! So, here it goes.
BIG FOOD doesn’t care if their products bring you health, death, or something in between.
I’m talking about you Nestle, Kraft, Pepsico, Kelloggs, Mars, Coca Cola, and General Mills. These guys only care about selling you their products and making billions of dollars doing so.
They manufacture products with the intent of creating an addiction to their products so you’ll keep craving it, eating it, and buying more. They employ chemists and engineers to make their products as addictive as possible. They term it “finding the bliss point” of the product.
What is bliss? Perfect happiness, aka, PLEASURE!
On top of that, they use cleverly designed advertising to cue/trigger the addiction they created and force you into the playback loop I talked about in the previous section. It would be nice to think that we all have a choice in whether we wanted to eat their crap food, but for some of us, it’s not really a choice. The addiction is so bad we can’t fight the urge.
Somehow, these guys are allowed to continue pursuing their goal of catching us in their trap of deceit, addiction, and collusion.
The only reason I can imagine our governments let these corporations get away these tactics is … MONEY!
It’s really sad that campaign contributions are worth more than our health.
How Do I Know If I’m Addicted?
When I was in my active drug and alcohol addiction I didn’t consider myself an addict because I didn’t shoot up. To put this in context, you have to understand that I was using drugs on a daily basis and my thoughts were always focused on getting drugs, or using drugs, or finding ways and means to get and use more drugs.
But, I had formed an idea of what I thought an addict was, and I didn’t fit the description. I wasn’t waking up in the gutter. I wasn’t waking up with a needle hanging out of my arm. Boy was I wrong! Moral of the story … Addiction is a sneaky bastard.
I found the same type of thing with food addiction. I thought to be a food addict you had to be the kind of person that just continually ate, but again, I was very wrong. Food addiction is very possible, and we all probably have at least one food addiction.
Determining if you have an addiction is a personal process, meaning you have to decide if you’re addicted. Only you know. Nobody but you can decide if you have an addiction.
There are some pretty strong indicators that you might have a food addiction.
Here’s a list of clues that can indicate you may have an addiction, and at the least, a potential problem …
** Cravings that lead you to eat, even if you’re not hungry.
** Setting a limit before you start eating and then eating beyond that limit.
** Eating until you’re uncomfortably, gotta unbutton your pants, stuffed to the gills.
** Feeling guilty after you eat.
** Rationalizing to allow you to eat something you know you shouldn’t.
** Trying to quit eating a certain food and repeatedly failing.
** Hiding your eating from others.
** Feeling unable to control eating something even when you know you shouldn’t.
I can admit that I did every single thing in that list more than once. They all played a part in how I reached 385 pounds. I have no doubt I am addicted to some specific foods and types of foods … and I use “am” because you can recover from an addiction, put it into remission, but you’re never cured.
Can I Stop The Addiction?
The first step of recovery is to admit powerlessness over the substance, or activity, you are addicted to, it doesn’t matter if it’s drugs, sex, or food! Once you admit your powerless and can’t control it, and truly surrender to that fact, you gain the power to change. It’s not easy by any means, but it is possible and every one of us can do this.
Once I started eating low carb, most of the foods I was addicted to were no longer on the menu. The cookies, pies, chips, and PBJ sandwiches were no more. I could still eat tasty food, but not if it was high in carbs or sugars. This is when my food addiction, and my triggers to the addiction, really started becoming evident.
I had a lot of cravings. That voice of addiction would talk to me when I sat down to watch TV (this was one of those cues), especially during candy ads, cookie ads, and pizza ads (these were more cues or triggers). I dealt with the cravings by looking for recipes to low carb alternatives, then made some when the cravings got intolerable.
I’ve probably tried 20 different low carb pizza recipes and saved the ones I liked. I made low carb cookies, low carb crackers, low carb bread, basically a lot of low carb substitutes that helped me get through the cravings by giving my addiction a taste of what it wanted without giving it exactly what it wanted.
This kept me from going off track, feeling bad about myself, and just giving up, like I had done hundreds of times before. I was able to stay within my carb limit, and still have some treats. Although some people don’t recommend this, it worked for me. Maybe it will work for you too.
Eventually, as the duration of my abstinence from the addictive foods grew longer and longer, the cravings were less frequent and much less intense. I had read this would happen, and I was very happy when it finally did. I had experienced the same thing with drugs and alcohol too.
At this point, 16 months into the low carb lifestyle, I have almost no cravings, and when I do have a craving, it only lasts for seconds, not minutes. I simple remind myself that I choose not to eat that food.
Today, I believe I am in recovery from my food addictions. But I’m well aware that food addiction is one of the hardest type of addictions to break free from. Take a look at this for more info on the difficulties of food addictions.
Recap, Tips, And Takeaways
Addiction starts as a behavior that makes us feel good. The behavior makes us feel good because dopamine is release in the brain. When we repeat this behavior it creates a habit. When the habit becomes subconscious it forms an addiction.
Falling into the trap of addiction is easy. We don’t even realize it’s happening while it’s happening. We just think we’re enjoying life.
We’re just doing what makes us feel good, and then WHAM! We got an addiction, and before you know it, your doing things that should make you feel good, without really wanting to do them, and then feeling bad after you do them because you did them!
But recovery from any addiction is absolutely possible. We do have a choice!
If we really didn’t have a choice, all would be lost and nobody would ever recover from addiction. We DO have a choice and recovery is possible. But, it takes commitment and mindfulness to achieve that goal. The first step is always admitting to the problem.
Recovery requires commitment, resilience, and a “no matter what” attitude. If your goal is weight loss, and you know the foods you shouldn’t eat, commit to your goal and don’t eat those foods … no matter what.
Be prepared for the mental battles that are sure to come. Addiction is created by the reward of dopamine and your brain is going to try really hard to get that reward. Know what you’re going to do when the cravings hit.
Would you rather have short term pain or long term pain? Cravings are just short term pain, they will pass, and in the long term, you will reach your goal and break the addiction.
Short term pain equals long term gain. I’ll take a little pain now for a lifetime of happiness please!
But, when you give in to the cravings, and eat something you know you shouldn’t, you’re going to feed the cycle of addiction and keep getting more of what you already have. Short term gain equals long term pain.
Here are some tips to beat back the cravings and desires.
* Find an activity that will occupy your mind. When your conscious mind is active, the subconscious is quiet.
* Stay focused on your long term goal.
* Put off whatever the craving is telling you to eat for a day, an hour, a minute, or a second (whatever it takes!)
* Craving something sweet or chocolaty? Make your own low carb treats or have some dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa).
* Drink some water, maybe add a little lemon juice and/or salt.
* Go for a walk (do something to change your environment)
When I was new to recovery, I would repeat the Serenity prayer over and over until the desire to get loaded passed. It’s short and right on point when dealing with an addiction. Plus, it occupied my conscious mind. I’ve probably said this prayer close to a million times.
If you’ve never heard of it, here it is.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Those three little sentences saved my life … and they work for a variety of situations!
Addiction is nothing to be ashamed of, it can happen to anybody.
Nobody ever set out with the goal of becoming addicted to anything.
It happens while were not looking.
If you think you might have any type of addiction, recovery is possible.
Recovery isn’t easy, but the short term pain early in recovery is well worth the long term benefits.
Food addiction can be just as life threatening as drug or alcohol addiction.
If you can’t recover on your own, please seek help. There are recovery programs that are free of charge. You can find out more about food addiction and recovery here.
My recovery didn’t cost a dime, but my addiction nearly cost me everything!
If this helps just one person, I’ve fulfilled my mission.
I hope that person was you!
If I can help in any way, please leave me a comment!
What you do today is who you’ll be tomorrow. You are capable of great things!
If I can do this … so can you!