Six Keys to Kicking Food Addiction

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 foods—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 “Just don’t eat it, then!” more often than the drug addict might hear “Just stop!”. Somehow, we understand that drugs exert a pull. But we may feel baffled by anyone’s inability to “eat just one”. 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 points—consider them a map of the big picture when a struggle with addictive foods is at stake:

1. Food Trigger Identification – 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 eat—what, when, how much, and how you’re feeling—highlights trouble spots quickly. Then you can see a little more clearly where your work lies.

2. The Sugar Decision – 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. It’s not a simple either/or, though. Some people can learn to cut down or to resist, others simply can’t. There’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. You’ll most likely have to confront this “sugar decision”, and find what makes sense for you, if you struggle with overeating.

3. Learning to Cope with Emotions – Besides all that compelling brain activity, addictions “take” 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 learning—or relearning—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 – One reason 12-step groups help so many is that they’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 it’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 – You won’t find specific foods and exercises that will help every single addict all the time. However, improving the quality of one’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 – 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 you’re not busy tearing yourself down (and saying “why bother”), 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 you’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 you’re covering will stay within your view.

Terese Weinstein Katz, Ph.D.

Dr. Katz is a clinical psychologist, eating disorders specialist, diet coach, and author. Her workbook Eat Sanely: Get Off the Diet Roller Coaster for Good is available in paperback and ebook format. Her work aims to help as many people as possible eat more sanely in our food-crazy world. Visit her at

18 thoughts on “Six Keys to Kicking Food Addiction

  • January 24, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    I know I’m addicted to sugar. When I cut out all sugar and carbs I get a terrible headache.

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  • November 24, 2015 at 5:19 am

    Good job! the best article for today’s younger who are very fond of junk food that leads them from many health problems,the six keys help them very much .such nice article always be informative and blessing.Here we have also a best drink for all the viewer that is full of nutrient and delicious flavors. thanks

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  • August 14, 2015 at 11:12 am
    Permalink Having any addiction is a serious problem. Many people just can’t beat an addiction all by themselves and trying to help them always pushes them away. Food addictions are quite something else. I picked up a lot of weight because of my wife. She was overweight for a long time. I saw that the more I tried to help her stop with her binging, the more I pushed her away. She would also get me my favorite junk food as part of her manipulation to get me to let her eat all the junk she wanted. I ended up gaining weight too. So unlike alcohol or drugs, food is a silent creeper. Too many people are overweight these days. Too many people are just falling dead because of being overweight. There should be many rehab facilities for overweight people like there is for other addictions. Nice post!

  • April 15, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Hi Dr. Katz! In my experience, the best way to stop food addiction is to tell myself every single day that I don’t want to live and look unhealthy anymore. The first thing I do in the morning is look at myself in the mirror and stare hard on my post partum bulges. Then I tell myself that I need to stop eating much because I want to look healthier. And then it happened. I started having less cravings and lesser appetite. Of course, I still eat and I eat only healthy stuff (veggies and fruits). And now, I convinced myself to workout to have my muscles toned. The way I convinced myself really did some magic. I already lost more than 6 kg!

    • April 17, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Jocelyn,
      You are so strong and strong-minded too! Koodos to you, girl!
      One thing that helped me to keep my appetite in control (i have a huge appetite) is working out early in the morning. This way during the day if I come across a glazed doughnut or a slice or FREE pizza in the office…. my inner voice says: “Common, you just worked your butt off this morning, don’t tell me you are going to eat these food.” :)

  • March 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    overcoming from an addiction is really hard job….but if anyone maintain this six keys, then I think he/she will overcome….nice post and keep it up

  • February 15, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Addiction meaning that you addict with something..and I think that we can’t move away the addicted so easily.. best with progress step by step..maybe once in a week or twice..

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