Food Addiction Through Another Lens: 5 Steps to Addressing Food Addiction

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Google the words “Food Addiction” and in less than half a second you get over 33 million results. It’s pretty clear that lots of people are talking and others are listening.

This topic interests me in a big way because I lead a discussion around food addiction here at Green Mountain.  But there is a compelling difference between the message we send and the focus we encourage here, compared to the insidious theme that runs through the articles contained in my half second Google search.

The Research Around Food Addiction

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

5 steps to address food addiction

Infographic Icons made by Freepik, Yannick from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

The articles concentrate mostly on our genetic predisposition that may lead to chemical imbalances in the brain that resemble addiction.

It started with research done at Brookhaven National Laboratory a few years back that showed that “obese” individuals had fewer dopamine receptors in their brains than those considered “ideal” or “normal” body weight.

Now we know that eating food does cause dopamine to be produced – that’s part of the reason eating feels pleasurable. We need eating to be pleasurable to keep us doing it; food is basic to life.

But put the Brookhaven research together with that fact and you can see how researchers came up with the idea that larger-bodied people are driven to eat more in order to get the same amount of pleasure from food.

Hence the article upon article that focuses on how food addiction is simply (and likely hopelessly) a genetic hardwire issue in the brain.

And which miss a fundamental issue that may impact the number and sensitivity of D2 receptors in the brains of larger people: it’s called the restrict-overeat/binge cycle, which comes about through dieting.

Couple all that with multiple lines of research that suggest some of us are born with the “addiction gene” (more like a whole set of genes actually) and we’re left with a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t way of thinking that really gets us nowhere.

Here’s where we’re missing the point

What Do You Need to Hear Right Now? From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion

When we create this hyper-focus around the things that seem impossible to change (like the stuff we’re just born with) and ignore the things that we have lots of power and choice over (like not dieting), we don’t get anywhere.  Most all of these Google search articles that we are hoping to help guide us and move us forward ignore half the picture.

What’s the other side of the coin?  The part of the equation that nobody seems to be focusing on?  We get to choose our environment.  Our environment is a result of how we care for ourselves so rather than investing more focus on what you can’t shift…work on creating a shift on the things you can.

There is no one solution

A little more back story for you here, or more like comedic relief.  Just for fun I Googled  ‘natural dopamine boosters’.  What’s the first thing I came across?  Eat ripe bananas.  Yup, that’s right folks, bananas are finally the answer. Am I the only one that finds this suggestion ridiculous?  Does one realize the amount of ripe bananas that they would need to consume to even begin to nudge the needle on dopamine production?

Let me just say this…there’s another way and it won’t ruin your enjoyment of bananas forever. It’s called self-care, and here at Green Mountain we recommend that you frontload on this stuff.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but slowly, over time, shifting your environment by focusing on self-care can begin to help balance whatever genetic predisposition you may have been given.  And it might, over time, begin to shift your mental function, too.

It’s like this: focus a little on the physiological and in due time it will impact the psychological.  Or in everyday terms, it’s a mind-body approach.

5  Steps to Addressing Feelings of Food Addiction

Here’s a few suggestion on things to consider shifting rather than trying to use abstinence to manage your feelings of food addiction:

1 Laugh

It feels good all over to laugh.  Our heads and our bodies really like it.  So YouTube a funny video and laugh out loud at it.

2 Assess Your Sleep

Did you know that the average person sleeps for about 26 years of their life?  That’s a lot so take a good look at this time.  Do you need a new pillow?  Do you need to make your room cooler?  How can you improve this environment to help you sleep better?  Remember, we don’t waste time sleeping; our bodies and minds are very productive during sleep, so honor that.

3 Move

Got 5 minutes?  Okay, then how about 3 minutes?  Do what you can, when you can.  Try to work against gravity during the day.  That’s all.  Stand up at your desk by placing your keyboard under a pile of books.  Walk to your colleague’s office rather than sending an email.

4 Restructure How You Eat

Don’t just assume that it’s about addiction.  Over-hunger almost always leads us to overeating (that restrict-overeating/binge cycle again).  It’s primitive stuff so look at how you eat throughout the day to avoid setting yourself up for a binge.

5 Get social

Human beings like other human beings.  Shoot, we love them.  So consider making some time to engage in your community.  If you are introverted, try a play or comedy night where you can be with others, but at a level of engagement that is more comfortable for you.

Remember, there is no one answer (like eating a ripe banana to end the cycle), but recognize that you  can manage your quality of self-care and in that begin to reclaim your power within the feelings of food addiction.  The key is to work on creating a life that supports you


4 responses to “Food Addiction Through Another Lens: 5 Steps to Addressing Food Addiction”

  1. cate woolner says:

    While dopamine is released when we eat, as you say, fortunately our brains have plasticity and we can modify how the brain responds by modifying behavior. Not that eating shouldn’t be pleasurable. Just that we can modify the behaviors that reinforce disordered eating and thus modify the neurological response.

  2. carol malone says:

    June, you write the same way you speak and I’m smiling just from reading this! I learned so much in my week with you, still find myself leaving the house hungry at times, just from my old “diet mentality” habit. But now I try to remember to take nuts, seeds, and dried fruit along to defuse the starvation-binge habit.

  3. Harriet Krivit says:

    Carol mentions “diet mentality”.(thank you)..and I keep seeing the “d” word in so many Green Mt. articles and posts. And, “diet leading to a binge reaction” etc. So, what is “diet” anyway? I think of it as prescribed eating for a multitude of reasons. Certainly many people have a prescribed diet for physical conditions like diabetes etc. But, most often it seems to refer to cutting out or limiting sweets, desserts etc. or amounts of any food. And I so agree it’s counterproductive, as for many years I have included ALL foods when eating which helped me keep at a comfortable body/size/weight. However, for me never to diet would mean eating as much as I FEEL like whenever I feel like it. I know those moments when I have an inner message of pressure and push to reach for food (and I can be in any and every mood and situation…fulfilled or unfulfilled). Subconscious is what it says…I’ve come to a point whereI am accepting my disorder as a disability, for me a subconscious addictive behavior…not some surface habit that I can reason away. I’ve said this before…eating food ALL food puts me in a special and irresistible place, which becomes ever clear to me when it’s ended or over and I’m not “there”. Why do folks insist on cures, when managing an eating disorder is a huge achievement and a success in itself?

  4. janegirl says:

    Its a great blog, I must say. I battled food addiction for such a long time. I even went for counseling in Edgewood Health Network, . It helped me to have a good start. Now I am able to control my temptations, however it’s an everyday battle. I liked all your tips and I can use it too. Thanks for sharing!

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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