You know the food you’re eating is bad for you—you just can’t stop eating it. You have a food addiction and you’re not alone. Millions of people are suffering as well.
This is the area of health where most of us have our greatest challenge. We want to eat healthier, we want to be healthier, but when it comes to eating right, we just can’t seem to do it.
If We Know Better, Why Do We Still Eat Unhealthy Food?
What we eat has less to do with our intellect and more to do with the associations we have to food. An association is a link in your mind between an emotion and an experience, person, place, or thing.
An example of an association is a fear of dogs. A fear of dogs is often the result of a person having been attacked or frightened severely by a dog. That event creates an association in the person's mind, linking dogs with fear. Now every time this person sees a dog, even if it's a friendly one with a big smile on its face, he or she will experience fear.
Food is another area where we've created associations. Once upon a time, you ate a food—a cake, a piece of chocolate, ice cream—and you liked the way it tasted. At that moment you created an association in your mind linking this food to feeling good. And each time you ate this food, it continued to make you feel good, further strengthening the association.
The result is you have an association to food that is extremely strong. As strong, if not more so, than the person who has a fear of dogs. If I tell that person that the dog approaching is friendly it won't matter because associations generally override intellect and that person will still be afraid of the dog. If I tell you that a food is bad for you, it also won't matter because your associations will override your intellect and you will eat that food anyway.
This is why it's so hard for you to give up certain foods. Your intellect is telling you that a food is bad for you, but your emotions, which are actually your associations, are telling you this food will make you feel good. How can you give up something that makes you feel good? See the conflict?
How Do We Overcome a Food Addiction?
The first and most important step to overcoming a food addiction is motivation. You have to want to make the change. Your motivation can come from different sources, such as a doctor’s diagnosis of a health condition that will worsen unless you make a change to your weight.
How can you give up something that makes you feel good? See the conflict?
It can come from your family and your desire to be healthy enough to participate with your kids in activities and sports. Your motivation can also come from the fact that you want to be around to see your children graduate high school or college, or to see them have families of their own.
Or maybe your motivation comes from the fact that you deserve it. You deserve to feel good, you deserve to feel healthy, and you deserve to live a long and healthy life.
The second step to overcoming a food addiction is identifying your current associations to the food that you want to stop eating. Answer the following question: Why do I eat this food? Be honest. Does it make you feel good? Does it give you pleasure? Does it satisfy you? Does it relax you?
The third step is to create new powerful negative associations to the food that you want to stop eating. Remember, it’s very difficult to give up something that makes you feel good and gives you pleasure. Therefore, you need to change the way you feel about the food from a positive to a negative.
The fourth step is to create new positive associations to not eating the food. The goal is that every time you resist the urge to eat the unhealthy food, you will feel good and feel pleasure. And each time, thereafter, that you resist the urge, you will feel even more pleasure, thereby reinforcing the association as well as building your strength and confidence.
The fifth and final step to overcoming a food addiction is to anchor your new associations. Anchoring an association is a way of reinforcing it, or making the link in your mind stronger. An association is anchored when a strong emotion is involved, as in the case of the fear of dogs, or through repetition, as is often the case with food.
Keep in mind that you may have to do this process more than once. Overcoming a food addiction is not easy, but if you’re motivated and committed to doing it, it can be done.
Hedley Turk, a former personal trainer, has overcome his food addiction and today is the author of Why Intelligent People Are Overweight: A Guide to a Healthier Life. He received his Bachelor of Science from the State University of New York at Albany School of Business and currently lives in Great Neck, NY where he is passionate about helping others overcome their food addictions and lead healthier lives. For more information, please visit www.WhyAreWeOverweight.com.