Is there really such a thing as food addiction? Is it possible to keep your trigger foods in your house and not overeat them? Read below to find out how to conquer your trigger foods and stop overeating (hint: it’s not what you think!).
Dieting teaches us that we can’t control ourselves around food. That we need external controls or rules around what and when we can and can not eat, or else will go off the rails. But in reality, it is actually dieting and restricting foods that cause overeating.
Whenever we restrict ourselves, keep foods off limits and out of the house, or look at certain foods as “good” or “bad”, we end up going overboard or have a hard time saying no whenever we do have access to those foods. Restriction and deprivation breed guilt, which eventually leads to overeating or binging. Whenever you limit the amount or type of food you eat, you’re setting yourself up to overeat in the future. This is why one of the main principles of Intuitive Eating is make peace with food.
The Guilt-Deprivation Seesaw
Let’s use a seesaw example. When you are dieting, guilt goes down – because you’re “on the wagon” – but deprivation goes way up because you are restricting what you are eating.
Eventually, it reaches a tipping point and you give in and eat the foods you had been not allowing yourself. Then deprivation goes down but guilt goes up.
Now you may be thinking “but I’m not even on a diet.” Take a step back and ask yourself: what are your food rules? Are you subconsciously restricting? Do you think of carbs as “bad”? Do you try to stop eating at a certain time? Do you keep certain foods out of your house? Even if you aren’t depriving yourself through traditional diets, the threat of future deprivation is implied when you feel guilty or shame about what you’re eating. And this guilt is going to lead to cravings and overeating. And eventually, you start dieting or restricting again. And the seesaw continues.
So how do you get off f’d up playground game? You have to give yourself unconditional permission to eat all of the foods. You have to create an abundance – which means stocking your house with foods you normally keep off-limits and eating foods that you don’t think you “should” have. You need to set up an environment where you can eat what you want, when you want. Once you allow all foods an even playing field, and get rid of the scarcity and deprivation, you are able to tune in to your body to see what you really want to eat.
So does that mean I can just eat whatever I want, whenever I want?
The question I typically get at this point is, “Wait – does Intuitive Eating really mean that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want?”. The answer is no, not exactly. With Intuitive Eating, you have permission to eat whatever you want, anytime you want. But that doesn’t mean you actually do that. Eating whatever, whenever without listening to your hunger and fullness cues would not be a very satisfying experience and could even cause physical discomfort like bloating, nausea, heartburn, gas, etc.
Hunger, fullness, satisfaction, how food makes us feel – those are all important, but Intuitive Eating also means using your brain and life experience. Once you work through the process of getting rid of the diet and restrictive voice, once you make peace with food, you can listen to your brain and make a decision on what to eat that is based on self-care and abundance, rather than deprivation and restriction.
But if I keep my trigger foods in my house, I’ll always overeat them!
Many people fear that by keeping off-limits trigger foods in their house, that they’ll always want to eat – and overeat – those foods. And yes, that may happen for a few weeks while your body gets used to the fact that the foods are there. But eventually, once the scarcity has gone away, you’re able to tune into your body and listen and actually decide if you want that food or not. And guess what? There will come a time when you don’t actually want [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE FOOD HERE].
One of the clearest examples for me came with chocolate. I never allowed myself to have it in my house – ice cream, chocolate bars, cookies, nothing. “I won’t be able to control myself!” I thought, “I’ll eat it all!” Then came the summer when my roommate’s boyfriend started stocking our freezer with ice cream every weekend. At first, I went overboard and ate a ton of ice cream. But eventually, after several weeks of having the sweets around, I started to forget that it was there. I knew – and trusted – that it wasn’t going anywhere, so I could actually ask myself “do I want ice cream tonight?” and more often than not, the answer was no.
This is explained in research by the science of habituation: the more you are exposed to a food, the less interested you become in it. Studies have also discounted the idea of food addiction and have found that eating forbidden foods actually decreases episodes of binge eating. If food addictions were real, then you would predict that eating those foods would increase binge eating – but in reality, the opposite happens.
How to Make Peace with Food
Making peace with food means allowing all foods into your eating world, so that a choice for chocolate becomes emotionally equal to a choice for a peach. When you know the food will be there and allowed, day after day, it doesn’t become so important to have it. Food loses its power over you. Here are five steps to take to begin to make peace with food and stop overeating.
Make a list of all the foods that are most appealing to you. This can be any type of food – which foods are your favorite? Which do you love eating?
Now go through and put a check mark by the foods you actually eat. Then circle the ones you have been restricting – whether consciously (like on a diet) or subconsciously (through food rules, keeping the food out of your house, etc).
Pick one of those “off-limits” foods that you circled and go buy it and keep it in the house. Give yourself permission to eat it whenever you want to.
When you do eat the food, eat it mindfully and intentionally. Check in with yourself while you’re eating: does it tastes as good as you imagined? If you find you really like it, give yourself permission to buy or order it again.
Make sure you keep enough of the food around to create a sense of abundance, so you know that it will be there when you want it. Continue to give yourself permission to eat it.
This process will not be easy and if you’ve been restricting foods for a while, it can be really scary. Start by picking an off-limits food that feels least anxiety-provoking to you. Remember, this process doesn’t just take a few days or weeks, but many weeks and possibly even months. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re overeating at first. Eventually, you’ll get to a place where your body will know and trust that you have access to that food and the overeating will get less and less frequent.
Are you struggling to make peace with food?
I work with clients virtually throughout the US, helping people who are frustrated with dieting change their relationship with food and say goodbye to diets once and for all. Learn more about my intuitive eating coaching programs to see how you can find balance and make peace with food – no diets required. You can also schedule a free discovery call with me to chat more about what you’re struggling with and how I can help you.