How to Overcome Food Addiction Through Mindful Eating

Written By

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Updated:

Fact Checked

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Food addiction is a real and serious issue that affects many people. It involves compulsive overeating of unhealthy foods like sugar, salt, and fat despite negative consequences. Food addiction shares similarities with other addictions like changes in brain chemistry, intense cravings, and loss of control over consumption.

A large-scale research analysis in 2021 of over 196,000 people showed up to 1 in 5 (thats 20%) met criteria for addictive-like eating patterns. Those especially vulnerable were women over 35 with elevated body weight measurements.

Overcoming food addiction is challenging but possible with commitment and a strategic plan. 

Understand the psychology behind food addiction 

The first step is recognizing that food addiction is not a personal failing, but a legitimate medical issue driven by complex biological, psychological, and social factors. Understanding what drives your addiction can help you approach recovery compassionately.

Some key drivers of food addiction include:

  • Genetics – Some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction which applies to food as well.
  • Brain chemistry – Eating trigger foods causes dopamine and opioid release which reinforces compulsive eating.
  • Emotional eating – Using food to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness, and other emotions.
  • Environmental cues – Places, people, and situations that trigger cravings and overeating.

Knowing your personal triggers and motivations provides insight into how to overcome this.

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Symptoms of food addiction

Several signs point to problematic eating habits that resemble addiction. Strong urges for particular food items that are hard to control could indicate issue. Continuing habits despite awareness of downsides implies loss of control.

Needing more and more for fulfillment over time hints the body adapts, as with other dependencies. Stopping “cold turkey” brings up withdrawal-like effects. Preoccupying thoughts circling back constantly about food and eating take over mental energy.

Physically, weight fluctuations, low energy, stomach problems, and blood sugar instability may accompany these patterns. Interpersonally, pulling away from others, relationship friction, neglecting duties, and shame may emerge too.

Noticing these cognitive, emotional, physical, and social signals helps identify and conquer this challenge.

Identifying eating disorder

Certain unhealthy eating patterns and distorted self-image associations point to complex conditions. Fixating on thinness, severely limiting nourishment, binge and purge cycles, compulsive over-exercise, and body distortion are possible red flags.

Ramifications may include malnourishment, bone loss, cardiovascular harm, and even mortality in some cases. Mental health aspects like mood issues, shame, and seclusion may also arise.

Timely expert care – medical, nutritional, therapeutic, communal – works best, as early identification and intervention aids full recovery.

Returning to balanced eating and positive self-regard takes commitment but is achievable. Loving support and lifestyle adaptions can mend unhealthy relationships with food and body that may develop.

Start with dietary changes

Eliminating trigger foods from your diet is crucial for managing food addiction. Common trigger foods include:

  • Sugar – sweets, desserts, sodas, candy
  • Salt – chips, pretzels, fast food
  • Fat – fried food, bacon, cheese, pizza
  • Refined carbs – white bread, pasta, crackers

Avoid keeping these foods at home and don’t go to places that serve them. Focus your diet on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, beans, and legumes. Make sure to eat balanced regular meals so you don’t get overly hungry.

Dietary changes alone are often not enough to fully overcome addiction. But removing triggers and substituting healthier options can significantly reduce cravings.

Seeking support

The help of professionals can greatly improve your chances of overcoming food addiction. Some options to consider include:

  • Therapy – An addictions counselor or therapist can guide you through the psychology of your addiction and teach coping strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used.
  • Medication – Certain medications like naltrexone and bupropion may help reduce food cravings. Discuss options with a doctor.
  • Nutritionist – Work with a nutritionist to develop a healthy eating plan tailored to your needs and preferences. This provides structure and accountability.
  • Support groups – 12-step programs like Overeaters Anonymous provide community and shared wisdom from others battling food addiction.

“We see that, for a lot of people, they’ll get a type II diabetes diagnosis, they’ll have a heart attack, they’ll have gastric bypass surgery to try and deal with health conditions and severe obesity, and arguably the majority of people are unable to make sustainable changes in their intake of these highly processed foods. For many people, the craving, the pull, the desire for these highly processed foods is too great. And even though they know it’s actually literally killing them, they are unable to change their behavioral patterns.”

— DR. ASHLEY GEARHARDT, AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

Having a team to provide treatment tailored to your needs makes recovery achievable. Don’t hesitate to get professional support.

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💡 Note: While BetterHelp doesn’t accept insurance or prescribe medication, if you have insurance or require medication, we recommend connecting with a local therapist on Talkspace.com (currently offering $80 off).


Identify and address root causes

For long-term recovery, addressing the root psychological, emotional or social factors that may be driving food addiction is essential.

Here are some common root causes to reflect on:

  • Depression/Anxiety – Do you use food to cope with difficult emotions? Therapy can help develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Trauma – Past trauma sometimes drives addictive behaviors. Seek help from a trauma-informed therapist.
  • Poor self-image – Using food to fill a void or numb feelings of low self-worth requires healing your self-perception.
  • Stress – If stress eating is a factor, build relaxation into each day and confide in supportive loved ones.
  • Social isolation – Loneliness can trigger addictive behaviors. Make efforts to increase positive social connections without involving food.

Getting to the root allows you to heal it, rather than relying on surface-level quick fixes. Be brave and do the personal work.

Make lifestyle changes

Beyond changing your diet, other lifestyle adjustments can support overcoming food addiction:

  • Exercise – Aerobic exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression which commonly drive addictive eating. Aim for 30-60 minutes daily.
  • Sleep – Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, critical for regulating appetite hormones like ghrelin and leptin.
  • Mindfulness – Practices like meditation build awareness of triggers/cravings and teach healthier responses. Apps like Headspace can help.
  • Hobbies – Idle time enables mindless eating. Discover hobbies that engage you like art, music, sports, etc.
  • Simplify meals – In early recovery, keep meals simple instead of elaborate food preparation/presentation which can trigger obsession.

Making these lifestyle changes builds healthy new habits and provides outlets separate from food.

Change your environment

Since environmental cues can trigger addictive eating, adjust your surroundings:

  • Avoid going to restaurants/cafes/bars that sell your trigger foods regularly.
  • Reduce time spent at home alone if you tend to overeat there. Go to libraries, museums, and other public spaces instead.
  • Ask friends/family not to offer you trigger foods. Explain you are in recovery. Most will be supportive.
  • Keep trigger foods out of your home, car, office, etc. This reduces impulse consumption.
  • Put healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, and veggies in sight instead of junk food.
  • Post motivational reminders (quotes, vision boards) about your recovery goals.

Physical spaces have immense influence over behaviors. Design your environment for success.

Take away: Practice self-care and self-forgiveness to overcome food addiction

Recovery from any addiction requires tenderness, patience and compassion towards yourself. Important self-care practices include:

  • Take relaxing bubble baths, try gentle yoga, get massages – whatever nurtures you.
  • Prioritize adequate sleep, disconnecting from screens an hour before bed.
  • Talk kindly to yourself as you would a loved one. Don’t insult yourself if you slip up.
  • Engage your spiritual side through nature walks, prayer, meditation.
  • Spend time with positive supportive friends who uplift you.
  • Celebrate small wins like staying sober for 24 hours. Every step forward matters.

Healing happens when you’re gentle with yourself. You deserve support and understanding.

Overcoming food addiction is very challenging, but absolutely achievable by applying these strategies consistently. Setbacks and slip-ups may happen. Refocus on your goals after – tomorrow is a new day. With commitment to self-care and seeking help when needed, you can break free from food addiction and live a healthier, happier life.


References

  1. Current Status of Evidence for a New Diagnosis: Food Addiction-A Literature Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8784968/
  2. What Is the Evidence for “Food Addiction?” A Systematic Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946262/
  3. Speaking of Psychology: Can you be addicted to food? With Ashley Gearhardt, PhD https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/food-addiction
  4. Prevalence of food addiction determined by the Yale Food Addiction Scale and associated factors: A systematic review with meta-analysis https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/erv.2878
Food Addiction: Craving the Truth About Food | Andrew Becker | TEDxUWGreenBay

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About the author

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Mindful living for a happier, healthier you. I’m a writer and mental health advocate in Warsaw, Poland, with five years working as a therapist. I hold a psychology degree from the University of Warsaw. I specialize in writing about mental health, using my experiences and academic background to educate and inspire others. In my free time, I volunteer at a Disability Learning Center and go for nature walks. My writing aims to break down mental health stigma and help others feel understood. Social

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