Are You Addicted to Food Or Addicted to Thoughts of Food?
Thoughts are often misinterpreted as cravings.
Imagine walking through the mall when you smell a mixture of sugar and cinnamon wafting from a nearby Cinnabon kiosk. Tantalized by the smell alone, you follow your nose and purchase the sweet dessert, even though you aren’t hungry.
Let’s break this down:
- You smell sugary food.
- According to The Institute of Culinary Education, “The use of scent can also trigger food memories, and a smell can trigger a food decision.”
- You interpret your sudden desire for Cinnabon as a craving.
- Moments later, you’re eating a dessert for which you’re not hungry.
This behavior can lead people to believe they are addicted to food. The idea that they would take an environmental cue such as smelling food and then “crave” it, leading them to think they have a problem they can’t quickly resolve.
Psychological cravings don’t start when you think of your favorite dessert. Instead, they begin when you interpret that thought as a craving. And you know what happens when the word “craving” pops up in your mind? You immediately start resisting it.
This resistance creates the self-deprivation sentiment. The more you feel deprived, the more you want what you’re resisting.
Now, the craving is real.
It isn’t just one’s sense of smell that triggers thoughts of food that you can misinterpret as craving. Other triggers include:
Emily Guarnotta, PsyD, writes, “People who experience cravings may feel like they have no control and may assume that the only way to make the craving go away is to use the substance.”
This perception leads people to eat, reinforcing the idea that eating cures their craving. In fact, it was the thought that eating would cure their craving that actually put an end to the craving–for a short time.
Psychology of Food Addiction
We’ve discussed how thoughts of food can lead to eating and how the perception that you are resisting a craving can lead to eating more than your body needs or you want to eat.
Now let’s talk about how you can rightly consider your thoughts about food and stop struggling against those thoughts. When we stop resisting and start paying attention to what our body is genuinely communicating to us, we can begin making choices in line with our intentions to live healthful lives.
Here are three ways you can provide your body with what it needs to stop focusing on food instead of making choices that align with your goal to invite your body to work for you.
Provide your body with protein.
Recent studies suggest that an elevated protein intake plays a crucial role in helping your body feel satisfied.
Satiety plays a significant role in how you interpret your thoughts about food. For example, if you leave a steakhouse after eating a large steak and a potato, then someone offers you a big piece of pie, you will probably say, “Oh! I’m too full for that.” Conversely, if you have a bowl of pasta, and someone offers you that same piece of pie, you might be more likely to accept.
Protein tends to have a more filling effect than carbohydrates. When your body feels satisfied, you are less motivated to eat.
2. Avoid getting extremely hungry.
Deprivation leads to overeating, just as the inhibition concerning chocolate in the study we cited above leads to disinhibition.
The scientific reason for this is that our bodies need to return to a state of homeostasis (the way things usually are; the status quo). When we starve our bodies, our bodies naturally signal hunger. Psychologically, once we begin to feed the hunger after a period of deprivation, we tend to overeat because we’ve bypassed our body’s hunger signals and gotten it into our heads that we have to eat as much as possible.
Simply eat when your body tells you you’re hungry.
3. Release your dieter’s mindset.
You have likely been on and off of diets several times if you’re here. You may have even told yourself or those close to you, “I’m addicted to food.” If this describes you, you’ve come to the right place.
Dieting doesn’t work because it forces you to focus on rules instead of listening to your body. The dieting mindset includes a series of “no”s, restrictions, and depriving yourself, leading to thoughts about food and, as we mentioned above, thoughts perceived as cravings.
When you release the dieter’s mindset, you are free to listen to your body.
That’s it. Freedom.
Your body and you go way back, and you know what it’s communicating with you. Diets stand between you and the pathway of communication you’ve established with your body since birth.
But, I’m Addicted to Food!
If you’re still of the mindset that you’re addicted to food and that there’s no hope for you, I’d like to leave you with this challenge:
Cravings usually last for 7-10 minutes.
The next time you encounter a smell, situation, sight, or something else that triggers the thought, “I have to eat that!” simply pause.
Clear your mind of the immediate reaction and notice:
Was it the smell of sugar that caught your attention to the extent that now you want to eat a Cinnabon? Are you hungry, or do you want sugar because you smelled it?
What is your body telling you?
Then, wait 10 minutes.
The minutes between stimulus and response will give you time to invite your body to tell you what it needs.
Each time you reinforce your body’s ability to speak up for itself and your ability to respond, you reward the feeling you get from leaning into, as opposed to away from, your body’s needs.
We understand that transitioning from the dieting mentality to understanding satiety, release, and freedom can be a challenge. Letting go of long-held beliefs or behaviors is easier with the help of a trusted coach who’s walked the path before you.
Please reach out if you have had the thought, “I’m addicted to food,” or if you want to dive deeper into how to treat food addiction or the psychology of food addiction.
Leslie Chen helps individuals overcome their addictions to food. Book a 1:1 clarity call here.