Fate has a funny way of helping us understand things. Many of us have loved someone with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. In my situation, I couldn’t fully comprehend at the time why they would let something like that destroy their life. Why couldn’t they just control it? It was an eye opening moment when I realized I was addicted to food, and always had been. The thing is, food is an acceptable addiction where drugs are not. In this article I’m going to delve a little deeper into dealing with food addiction and provide 3 tips that might help you overcome it (or at least keep it under reasonable control).
I’ve been on a journey to become my best self. I call it Mari 2.0 Fully Optimized. There is a lot that goes into creating Mari 2.0 but a critical component was figuring out the magic formula to get myself into a healthy weight range. I’m down 45 lbs. now and you can read more about that here.
Or you can watch the video below.
While on this journey I moved across the country to a place where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job. While this was an exciting move for me because it was someplace I wanted to live, after the dust settled, it resulted in a whole host of emotions. In the midst of my exercising and creating my best life, I also had a pretty major health scare. So, here I am, all alone, doing great on my weight loss journey, yet at 7 pm all I wanted was chips or ice cream. Hell, I’d eat the hell out of convenience store carrot cake!
Because Mari 2.0 was a personal experiment, I was documenting everything. I documented data points, what I ate, how I felt when I ate, results of every approach tried. I was a documenting machine! So, it made sense I would begin to document why I wanted chips and ice cream at 7 pm. when there was no logical reason for me to be hungry.
As I was documenting what made me “hungry,” I realized there was no way my body was hungry for chips. Chips have virtually no nutritional value. Intellectually I knew it was an emotional crutch and I just had to use willpower to get over it. But willpower only works for a little while. Believe me, I know, as I’ve been using it all my life. I was seeking a more permanent solution in dealing with food addiction because I wanted to live my best life and realized this was an important aspect of it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are dealing with food addiction, I encourage you to find a therapist to help you delve into your own emotions and come up with some coping strategies that work for you. Eating disorders are a real thing and this article should not be mistaken for medical advice. I am NOT a therapist, nutritionist, or doctor of any kind. This article is based on my personal experiences and struggles. Please see your physician (or therapist) if you feel you have any addiction that is negatively impacting your life.
I like to provide additional resources in case you’d like to do more research on this topic. Here are a couple to get you started:
Following are three tips that helped me and maybe they’ll be beneficial for you as well.
Tip #1: Journaling
I started dealing with my food addiction by just pausing whenever I had an unreasonable craving. I told myself to pause and try to identify what I was feeling. Physically, I discovered I could not discern between feelings of hunger and anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, or even happiness. Each feeling felt exactly the same to me physically. At 7 pm when I’m sitting alone in my apartment and begin to stress about getting a job or get sad because I miss my friends, it feels exactly the same as hunger. Why? Probably because I’ve spent a lifetime stuffing my emotions with food. This is where the journaling comes in.
Feel the Feelings
Whenever I got an unreasonable craving, I’d pause, get my notebook out, and write down how I was feeling at that moment. What was I thinking about? How did I feel and was it a realistic feeling in that moment? And then, and here’s the hardest part of all, I allowed myself to FEEL. I sat there and told myself, “It’s okay to be sad. Go ahead and cry. Be sad. It’s part of the human experience. You don’t need to be strong. Feel it. Embrace it. It’s a reasonable response given your situation.”
As a single mother and a woman in management, I had mastered the art of being strong. I knew how to keep it together, remain calm, and deal with crisis after crisis . . . all damn day. But I wasn’t great at feeling. Sure, I cried from time to time, probably because I had been stuffing for so long. I didn’t like the idea of being weak. And somehow feeling lonely felt about as weak as a person could get.
Allowing myself to feel the feelings and journaling about them was a game changer. I was able to admit (in the comfort of my own apartment) what I was feeling and explore those feelings without shame. It was scary as hell yet so cathartic!
Embrace Your Limitations
I never thought I struggled with anxiety. I thought other people did but not me. I discovered I do struggle with anxiety. I just managed it with food. That was a tough reality for me. I had spent a lifetime being strong, competent, capable, a bad ass. Uggghhh, weakness. I always had it. I just stuffed that shit down with chips and ice cream!
I have been journaling for most of my life and am always looking for a good journal to use. You can find some of my favorites on my Amazon Shop here.
Tip #2: Find a Reasonable Substitute
Once I was able to discern hunger from emotional stuffing, I then found a reasonable substitute for chips (or the junk food of choice). I practice intermittent fasting as part of my weight loss journey so my choices were limited. In the past, I had tried things like “Whenever I’m craving something, I’m going to do 10 sit-ups instead.” And that felt a bit like punishment so then I moved on to “I’m going to do something I love to do.” And I had limited short term success with both of those approaches.
I realized I needed the hand to mouth experience. It was an ingrained habit. Even though I was journaling and feeling my feelings, I had an intense desire to put something to my mouth. Because I was intermittent fasting, that item became decaffeinated herbal tea. In the beginning this became a nightly requirement but as time progressed, I found I didn’t need it as much.
Tip #3: Create an Environment Where You Can Be Successful
Here’s the thing, if you have an addiction, you will always be susceptible to falling off the wagon. I’m at a stage in my life where I live alone so I don’t need to worry about having food in the house to tempt me. I just don’t buy it. If there were a half gallon of chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream in my freezer, it wouldn’t survive more than 3 days. I understand everyone doesn’t have the luxury of only being able to worry about themselves. Honestly, though, your family probably needs healthier food options too.
Set yourself up for success by having all the tools at the ready to help you cope with your addiction. Have healthy options in your kitchen, buy multiple flavors of herbal tea (if you use that strategy), keep your journal at the ready so you can write about your feelings, find a few people that understand and can support you. We all have the family members who think we need to eat more or “just try one bite of this cake.” They don’t understand that asking us to eat just one bite is like expecting a drug addict to just take one hit.
Solicit a few people that really understand and are on a similar path. Have someone on speed dial that can help you out when tempted or attending family or holiday get togethers. The most difficult part about being addicted to food is it’s everywhere, easily accessible, and everyone expects you to indulge. Imagine if Aunt Sally had a get-together and you showed up to a buffet of cocaine on the living room table. They don’t understand that’s literally what a food spread is to a food addict.
You’ll need a strong support system and some amazing coping strategies to deal with this.
I didn’t list this a separate tip but I want to add it anyone. You are likely to fall off the wagon periodically – over-indulge or eat something you wish you hadn’t. Once it’s done, all you can do is start over the next day and try again. Don’t waste your time or energy feeling shame, guilt, or punishing yourself. It’s a minor setback and not a failure. Hopefully you learned from the experience and came up with a new strategy for success. I write a lot about overcoming failure and having a growth mindset. Save a few of the following articles and read them on those days you feel like you failed.
Dealing with food addiction can be a lifelong struggle. It feels as though I waited way too long to deal with my food addiction. I guess I had some learning and experiences to have before I could fully understand what was going on and deal with it in a meaningful way. Remember, it’s not only okay to feel all the feelings, it’s part of your human experience. Have the feelings, sit with them, and know that food is just delaying the inevitable and tomorrow you’ll not only still have the feelings, you’ll also have guilt for over-indulging. I’d love to hear if you have ideas for additional coping strategies.