Be careful with the idea of "food addiction" because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you start believing that any food has the power to "make" you eat it.
The words you use when thinking and talking can have major effects on how you actually behave. Sometimes ideas like "cravings" or "addictions" take power away from you and place it in the food (something in the food makes you want it) or in some mysterious physiological process (that your body really "needs" a particular food, like sweets).
This is rarely true. Scientists have found that our brains DO react to foods at the chemical level in ways that resemble our responses to drugs (eating makes us feel good and certain foods, like sweets and other carbs, affect brain chemicals to improve mood). But this is NOT the same thing as a true, physiological craving or chemical dependency.
Most of the time, what you really want is pleasure and comfort—not a particular food itself. A common scenario is that a stressor has upset the chemical balance in your brain, and it wants you to do something that will produce other chemical reactions to restore balance. This can make you very susceptible to emotional eating and to the appeal of "comfort" foods. This isn't because these foods are addictive. They are nothing more than effective ways to alter brain chemistry, which you've learned very easily and early in life, creating very powerful habits.
You know that emotional eating works—for a few minutes. But then it has the opposite effect. You get more depressed and feel worse. Eating foods high in fast-acting carbs (simple sugars) is not the only way to restore balance and feel good. The trick is finding other ways to soothe yourself in the moment, instead of reaching for something to eat. In fact, anything that calms you, makes you feel good, and helps you relax will give your brain exactly what it needs. A little bit of exercise, a walk outside, a massage, or some soothing music or inspirational reading will cause the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain.
The other part of the equation is to develop a good collection of stress management, problem solving, and relaxation practices you can use to keep your brain chemistry in balance. These techniques should help you stay cool, calm and collected all or most of the time, so that your brain chemistry doesn’t get out of balance so easily in the first place .
The bottom line is that "food addiction" is usually just a habit. Like all habits, it can be unlearned and replaced with something else. You just have to start by believing that you CAN do this.
Written by Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology expert
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