By now the verdict is clear: science confirms what binge eaters have long known. Some foods spark cravings that rival those of any drug. We now know that many eaters experience brain changes with certain foodsâ€”usually sugar or other simple starches. Once these changes kick in, stopping feels impossible. Food binges may not cause as much damage at first as daily drinking or drugging. They open doors to diabetes, cardiac, and other problems, though. And they trap people in cycles of struggle and shame just as other drugs do.
While all this is true, the overeater may still hear â€œJust donâ€™t eat it, then!â€ more often than the drug addict might hear â€œJust stop!â€. Somehow, we understand that drugs exert a pull. But we may feel baffled by anyoneâ€™s inability to â€œeat just oneâ€. These days, understanding and support has increased for the binger, though, and that opens up greater possibilities for change. The pathways to change almost always include most or all of these key six pointsâ€”consider them a map of the big picture when a struggle with addictive foods is at stake:
1. Food Trigger Identification â€“ sometimes the culprits are obvious. You might already know that Ben and Jerry call your name every night. Trigger foods sometimes escape notice, though. And often, many more than one calls out. So a food log may start the process of breaking addictive food habits. Whether or not you want to track your food long-term or not, writing down everything you eatâ€”what, when, how much, and how youâ€™re feelingâ€”highlights trouble spots quickly. Then you can see a little more clearly where your work lies.
2. The Sugar Decision â€“ While various foods can trigger urges, sugar almost always tops the list. For many bingers, eliminating sugar, hard as that is, completely stops the binges. Itâ€™s not a simple either/or, though. Some people can learn to cut down or to resist, others simply canâ€™t. Thereâ€™s a good amount of physiological and psychological variation here. Food, after all, does differ from, say, alcohol or other drugs, which almost always call for complete abstinence once problems begin. Youâ€™ll most likely have to confront this â€œsugar decisionâ€, and find what makes sense for you, if you struggle with overeating.
3. Learning to Cope with Emotions â€“ Besides all that compelling brain activity, addictions â€œtakeâ€ because they make dealing with emotions easier. This holds for sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, boredom, and even joy. We tend to underestimate how hard it really is to ride the tides of our feelings. They come, they go, they change and return. They threaten to overwhelm, or at least cause discomfort. Lasting freedom from any addiction calls for learningâ€”or relearningâ€”how to ride these tides without the help of our substance. The food log can help identify what tends to spur binges. Knowing where your challenges lie, whether in anger management or sitting with loneliness, will help you finally separate from your troubling, but sometimes soothing, habits.
4. Allowing Support from Others â€“ One reason 12-step groups help so many is that theyâ€™ve always understood the power of people to support one another with difficult changes. These days, the support of others has proven to boost healthful eating, and weight loss itself. Whether itâ€™s a supportive friend or spouse, a therapy group, or a web-wide circle of like-minded others, social support firms the path to freedom.
5. Healthy Lifestyle Development â€“ You wonâ€™t find specific foods and exercises that will help every single addict all the time. However, improving the quality of oneâ€™s diet overall, and making sure to exercise, helps a lot, for both physical and emotional reasons. Even small changes in these directions can make a very helpful difference.
6. Being Kind to Yourself â€“ Life grows more peaceful and sane without addiction. And health improves with better eating. However, stopping addictive habits is very hard–and important not to underestimate. Ups and downs on the road almost always occur. An attitude of self-forgiveness and reflection not only makes the process easier, but improves the likelihood of success. When youâ€™re not busy tearing yourself down (and saying â€œwhy botherâ€), you have more energy for solving problems, picking yourself up, and keeping on going.
This last point, recognizing just how hard and bumpy the road can be, can help avert a tendency to give up once youâ€™ve messed up. Take the six points on the map, write or illustrate them in your own words, in the same log you use to record your food. This way, the bigger picture of the terrain youâ€™re covering will stay within your view.