By Tamzyn Murphy RD, MSc (Dist.)
Food addiction is real. Cravings and ‘food addiction’ appear to be present in around 15 – 20 % of overweight and obese individuals [1, 2]. But not all foods are created equal when it comes to triggering addictive eating. Food addiction or addictive food behaviours are specifically linked to foods high sugar or both fat and sugar (particularly processed foods)  – think chocolates, ice cream, cookies/biscuits and crisps. These foods are excluded from a low carbohydrate high healthy fat diet (LCHF) diet, but generally included in limited quantities in conventional diets. Therefore, in individuals prone to food addiction, LCHF eating may improve adherence and success compared to conventional diets.
Are you a food addict?
Take the Yale Food Addiction Test to find out. You can download the test and the scoring system here. If you’re a food addict don’t lose hope, read on to find out some ways to combat your addictive eating and get control of your weight and health.
Action plan to overcome addictive eating
If addictive eating and cravings are something you struggle with, you need to have a plan in place to succeed. So, write your plan down and follow through. Here are a few tips that may help you:
- Adopt a LCHF or ketogenic whole/real food diet, low in processed food. This will set your physiology up for success. The next steps with help your psychology overcome your addictive eating behaviours.
- List the pros and cons of continuing to indulge in your addictive eating practices and decide whether it’s worth the effort to change. If you decide that it is then…
- List your addictive foods of choice and decide to eliminate them completely from your diet (just as an alcoholic must abstain from alcohol). It helps to get them out of your home completely.
- List your trigger situations, people, events, or psychological states, so that you’re conscious of them when the craving strikes. And write down ways to avoid them if possible.
- Write down the feelings associated with the cravings. Do you get a rumbly tummy, raised heart rate or panicky feeling when the craving strikes? Recognising these signs, also help you increase your consciousness about what you’re going through as you’re going through it, so as to have more control over it.
- Preparing a shocking thought that can interfere with the thoughts of the gratifying experience of indulging the craving can help. This thought needs to be consciously imagined at the time of the craving. For example, this could involve imagining the taste, texture, and feeling of eating ice-cream (if that’s your addictive food of choice). Then imagining your dog vomited in it and an equally vivid image of how the experience of eating that would be. This shock-tactic re-programming often works to retrain the brain from thinking of the addictive food as the solution to the stimulus that initiated the craving in the first place.
- List alternative activities or course(s) of action you will take when the craving strikes (e.g. going for a walk or a gym session, playing with your kids, writing in your journal or doing some other hobby that gives you a sense of happiness, and/or phoning a friend).
- Look for support and accountability. It can help to have a spouse or friend on call for when the craving strikes. They can help talk you through it and support you out of it.
If these tips and resources are not enough you may need to join a program or group to help with this specifically, such as overeaters anonymous (OEA) or Food Addicts Anonymous, or get the help of a psychologist with experience in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
- Criscitelli, K. and N.M. Avena, 5 Sugar and Fat Addiction. Processed Food Addiction: Foundations, Assessment, and Recovery, 2017.
- Eichen, D.M., et al., Exploration of “food addiction” in overweight and obese treatment-seeking adults. Appetite, 2013. 67: p. 22-24.
- Yale Food Addiction Scale. FastLab: Food and addiction science treatment lab. Department of Psychology. University of Michigan. 2019
- Overeaters anonymous (OEA)
- Food Addicts Anonymous