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Why You Feel Out of Control Around Food

Do you ever feel addicted to food?  Or perhaps that there are certain types of food that you can’t have near you because you inhale it before you even know what you are doing?

If so, you are not alone!  Feeling out of control around certain food is one of the most common complaints that I hear in my practice.  It is also one of the first thing that goes away when I start working with someone.  Today I want to share with you how we do it!

First, I am going to work under the assumption that you aren’t physically hungry.  As we discussed in The Truth About Cravings, almost all cravings are rooted in actual hunger.  Now just because you feel like you shouldn’t be hungry, doesn’t mean that you aren’t hungry.  More often than not, cravings are rooted in not eating the right quantity or quality of food, so it is important to start there.

Still, there are times that you are not physically hungry, but you find it hard to stop eating.  Although we can be quick to blame willpower or feel addicted, the truth usually lies in a bit of food biology and psychology.

You Put Food Off Limits

Putting food in good/bad or healthy/unhealthy categories can feel very natural.  In fact, most of the popular diet trends are built on restricting certain food groups.  In theory, this can be a relief.  Black & white rules can feel freeing because you no longer must think about food.  However, in application, putting things off limits can make them seem very sexy…almost insatiable.  Your best intention of simplifying has now put the food on a pedestal.  Then if you do “indulge” you may feel so ashamed that you didn’t get to enjoy it or eat it all so quickly because you feel like you have to get it into you before you’re not allowed to have it again.

The fact is, food does not have value.  It is not good or bad.  Nor are you good or bad for eating certain food.  What it does have are properties, which makes it an effective solution in different situations.  For instance, some food is high in vitamins and minerals, which makes them great at boosting your immune system.  Some food is high in protein or fiber, which makes them a great solution for solving hunger.  Some food is sweet or savory, which makes them a great solution for giving pleasure.

The problem typically occurs when we use the wrong food as a solution. For instance, if you are hungry and try to solve it with a donut.  It may taste great but you still haven’t solved hunger so you are going to want to eat more and more and more.

Solution

Try thinking of food as different tools rather than good or bad.  Although it may seem silly at first, our vocabulary can have a powerful ripple effect on the way we behave around food.

The Food is Hyperpalatable

We talked about how ultra-processed food can have an impact on how much we eat in Is it All About the Macros.  Ultra-processed food is typically created to have a unique combination of salt, fat and sugar that makes it hyperpalatable.  This means that it lights up the reward center of the brain in such a way that we naturally want more.  This is typically combined with a certain mouthfeel (think a perfectly crunchy Pringle or a deliciously gooey cookie) as well as is very easily accessible (pre-cooked or packaged).  This combination increases the speed at which you eat not allowing your body to send along the normal satiety signals.  The result is you go from starving and excited to sick and regretful in a blink of an eye.

To be clear, the manufacturing of ultra-processed food does not make it more powerful than you.  You are always in charge and have all the skills you need to override even the most hyperpalatable food.  It does, mean that it will take more mental effort to slow yourself down.  This is why when we are depleted (end of the day, stressed at work, just got in a fight with our kids) we are more likely to succumb to this out of control feeling than first thing in the morning or when we are feeling great.

Solution

Moving more towards minimally processed foods is the ideal situation.  However, if that is unrealistic for you, there are still things you can do.

First, remember that when you are eating these foods it is important to be more aware.  Specifically, that means paying attention to your food and slowing down.  You don’t have to go to the extreme and chew each bite 100 times or sit in solitude at all meals but know that this isn’t the time to disconnect.  Be present and do your best to really taste the food that you are enjoying.

I also recommend putting a speed bump between you and the food that you feel out of control with.  What I mean by that is if you love ice cream, go out and get a cone rather than keeping a pint in the freezer.  Or moving away from the chip bowl at a BBQ rather than standing within arm’s length.

I wouldn’t recommend putting these things off limits, but cutting down on their accessibility will force you to decide if it is something that you really want or if you are doing it just because it is there.

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