Is food more powerful than your desire to lose weight?
Does food control your life?
Is it almost impossible for you to stop eating once you are full?
Being addicted to food is a strange idea. After all we can’t do without it, can we? So food addiction must be something different from just eating, or just eating a bit too much because that’s, well, that’s just normal.
- Eat faster than normal
- Eat well past the point of fullness
- Eat frequently when not physically hungry
- Eat alone or in secret
- Feel bad or guilty after overeating
- Feel that you must be different somehow
Then you may have a problem with food that is beyond what most people experience.
If this is you then recognise that losing weight is going to be much tougher for you than it is for others. However, you may like to know that you are not alone in this. There are 12 million people in the UK that suffer from a compulsive eating problem to some extent. Some scientists would like to point to the problem being a genetic disorder, but to my mind if one fifth of the population have the same thing then it’s not really a disorder – it’s normal.
So if it’s not genetic, what else could be causing it?
Genetic? Well sort of
Well it sort of is genetic, but not in a bad way. When you think about it these bodies we appear to inhabit were designed for a very different world from the one they live in now. They were designed as survival machines for life around 100,000 years ago when, if you wanted to eat, you had to go catch an antelope or dig up some roots, or spend all day picking tiny berries. Just finding something to eat used up a huge amount of calories and sometimes food was scarce.
That occasional scarcity of food was what allowed us to develop the ability to carry a surplus around with us in the form of fat deposits. Apart from anything else these helped to keep our bodies warm, and as I mentioned in my book How to Lose Weight Easily, fat burns less energy than muscle so the metabolic cost of carrying it is minimal.
The Sweet Stuff
Survival, back then, was all about the balance between calorie output and calorie input. Sugar is just dense calories; calories are energy; and energy is survival. So we developed a taste for sweet stuff. So much so that we would risk stings and death by climbing trees to raid hives for their honey.
Sweet also came in the form of fully ripened fruit.
There wasn’t a lot of sweet around in the world back then, so what there was, was highly prized and savoured when it was available. Because it was not readily available and life was very physical, a taste for sweet was never detrimental to our health and well-being.
Nowadays everything is sweet. Go to your kitchen cupboard and pick out half a dozen packaged foods. Check the nutrition label, or the ingredients list and I bet most of them will have sugar in some form. If it ends in ose it’s probably sugar e.g. Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), Glucose solids. There’s a whole load of other stuff that’s also sugar but you probably got bored reading that list, so I’m not going to inflict an even longer one on you.
Fats are another problem. Fats are compact calories just like sugar. When you mix fat and sugar together it’s heaven to a body that is, basically, an energy seeking device. The problem is the body has only one way of really letting you know that your calorie intake is less than your calorie expenditure and that’s hunger.
When you pay attention to your body’s messages and eat when you are hungry and stop when you feel full, then everything stays nicely balanced. But the body was never designed to work with sugar or fat in everything. The craving for sweet comes from sweet being in short supply – not available in your kitchen cupboard 24 hours a day. Consequently sweet bypasses the hunger control. Usually the warning for eating too much sugar is nausea or vomiting.
They deliberately trigger an addictive response
This sugar-fat thing is taken advantage of by food manufacturers and they carefully balance sugars, fats and chemical flavours to trigger the same brain receptors that are activated by substances like heroin or cocaine. And they do it quite deliberately to get you hooked and to trigger binge eating.
They do it so successfully that 12 million in the UK now have a serious problem and once they get a taste of sweetness, often mixed with fat, it bypasses conscious control and they just keep on eating.
What can you do?
There’s been a lot of research done around this problem, looking at ways to help people, so here are a few tips.
The first thing you need to do, assuming you’d really like things to change, is to stop beating yourself up when you fail to stick to limits you set yourself. 12 million others, in this country alone, are having the same problem. Manufacturers are working hard to ensure that you fail. So if you do fail, just acknowledge that you did your best, and that there is always next time. Failure is not the end of the world. It’s just a temporary setback on the road to being slimmer.
The next is the easiest, and this works with smokers too. Just don’t buy the unhealthy stuff. I know supermarkets are open 24 hours a day but quite often the effort of going out to buy something sweet and fatty is enough to let you off the hook. You may feel uncomfortable for a while but if you have a glass of water or cup of tea or coffee without sugar, then the urge will pass. Pretend that you have a bad habit that you want to get rid of. The way to remove habits is to engage in alternative behaviours and make it difficult to engage in the habit. Eat an apple, or a banana. I know it’s not what the craving is for, but part of the habit is wanting something sweet in your mouth. But fruit, although containing sugars, does not have them as freely available as in, say, a chocolate bar or biscuit. The body has to work harder to extract them and so fruit satisfies you for longer. Once you start to do that regularly you will find that the sweet things you used to enjoy are starting to taste a little too sweet and you don’t enjoy them as much.
One last tip for you. One of the triggers for compulsive eating is the taste in your mouth. You will find it is actually much easier not to start eating than to stop. This is a case where you can’t get away with just one. If you eat one you’ll eat the packet. It’s much easier to say no to the first than to the second, so don’t eat the first.
This is a complex problem and I’m not suggesting this article will solve it for you. But it will help you to make a start and enjoy a little success. If you would like some more help then check out my book How to Lose Weight Easily which has hints and tips on how to go about losing weight without dieting. Or for a more in depth look at how to take control of your mind-body check out Change Your Life with Self Hypnosis which includes a chapter on using self hypnosis to help you lose weight.