Overcoming Food Addiction: Fat, Sugar, Salt & Alcohol

Picture of hamburger with fries and guacamole.

What is the common denominator among all addictive foods? They are notably high in fat, salt, and sugar. These ingredients trigger a release of dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical. Managing food addiction is similar to dealing with any other addiction, be it smoking, drinking, or drugs. The right mix of fat, salt, or sugar stimulates the dopamine receptors in the same way, leading to an increased desire for more. Food companies are well aware of this effect and deliberately design their products to be addictive, catering to these cravings (this phenomenon has been captured in popular books like In Defense of Food, Fast Food Nation, and Food Inc.) But what leads to food addiction in the first place?

What Are The Root Causes of Food Addiction? 

It’s not just about the biological pull of foods loaded with fat, salt, and sugar. Emotions can play a role in food addiction too. Stress, sadness, and boredom can often drive you to find comfort in eating, using food as a way of dealing with tough feelings, or boosting your mood. This is what we call emotional eating

Constantly thinking about your next meal and when you’ll eat it? Frequently feeling anxious, upset, guilty, or depressed about what you eat? Here are some additional signs of food addiction to watch for:

  • Indulging in specific foods despite feeling full
  • Eating more food than initially planned
  • Experiencing anxiety when unable to access a particular food
  • Going out of your way or changing plans just to obtain a specific food

If you’re aware of your food addiction, why not just stop eating the food you’re addicted to? If only it were that easy! What often happens is food withdrawal symptoms that can ramp up your cravings and make your addiction even worse. You might feel symptoms like headaches, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and mood swings. To soothe these tough food withdrawal symptoms, you might find yourself turning back to the addictive foods that you’re trying to avoid in the first place. This can fool your brain into thinking it’s found an easy fix, making you crave those foods even more. The tricky part? You start eating these foods not just because they’re tasty, but to prevent withdrawals. Before you know it, you might even start feeling like you need these foods to get through your day. 

Morgan Spurling’s movie, Supersize Me shows emotional eating and food withdrawal symptoms firsthand with an onset of worsening depression the more he ate McDonald’s, which was relieved only by eating more. This shows just how challenging it is to change addictive eating habits, especially without a conscious effort to break the cycle.

3 Ways to Help Combat Food Addiction

Is it feasible to overcome food withdrawal symptoms and entirely cut out the foods you’re addicted to on your own? It’s admittedly a tough approach at first, but if you are determined, you can do it. Once you stop eating carbs and sweets, You will find that your cravings start to drop off significantly after just a few days. If you’re doubtful about this method and feel you need some serious food addiction help, here are some effective strategies you can try to make it an easier transition.

1. Find Substitutions

Handle your addiction by finding alternatives for the treats you’re craving. For instance, milk chocolate is a danger for me, so my go-to substitute is dark chocolate. It’s lower in salt and fat and perfectly satisfies my cravings. Protein chips or parmesan crisps can replace salty cravings. These are just a couple of examples.

When you get the urge to snack, try taking five minutes to drink a glass of water. If this small action leaves you feeling satisfied, give yourself a pat on the back. Then treat yourself to something nice, but healthy, later on. When I am following intermittent fasting and I am getting close to my eating time but don’t want to break my fast early, sugar-free gum works for me with a big glass of cold water. 

2. The 3-Bite Rule

If you stick to the three-bite rule, you can enjoy three bites of anything—as long as it doesn’t tempt you to eat more. This works great if you’re the type who likes to sample but not necessarily eat an entire dessert. With your first bite, your taste receptors are almost satisfied, if not by the second. By the third bite, it could practically be broccoli. Just remember, this rule only applies to foods that aren’t your addiction triggers.

3. Create Distractions

To overcome a food addiction, try distracting yourself. Go for a run or a walk, play with your dog, drink a big glass of water, or switch to a different room. Often, it’s just about waiting out the craving until it passes. These simple distractions can be powerful tools for regaining control over your cravings.

The Connection Between Alcohol and Food Addiction

Alcohol often gets intertwined with food addictions. Why? Because it has a knack for lowering inhibitions, leading to less-than-ideal food choices like high-fat, high-salt, and high-sugar options. Alcohol also impairs judgment and self-control, making it harder to resist the allure of addictive foods. And as we all know, some people turn to alcohol to cope with negative emotions, much like emotional eating. This creates a cycle where alcohol becomes a way to numb emotions, followed by indulging in addictive foods for comfort.

Being mindful of the impact of alcohol is crucial for achieving weight loss success. That’s because alcohol can be a triple challenge for your weight loss goals. First, it’s calorie-packed by itself. Second, it often leads to consuming extra calories from food while you’re drinking. Last, it can disrupt your sleep patterns, which can result in increased snacking, heightened hunger, or a sluggish metabolism. This makes you even more vulnerable the next day to giving in to your cravings.

3 Strategies to Reduce Your Alcohol Intake for Weight Loss 

1. Use Smaller Glasses

Opt for smaller glasses when you pour yourself a drink. If you have a large glass with just 4 oz of wine in it, you’re more inclined to refill it because it seems empty with all that extra space at the top. By using glasses with less extra room, you’re more likely to simply enjoy your drink without feeling the need to top it off unnecessarily.

illustration of wine glasses showing how to fill for weight loss

2. Alternate Alcoholic Beverages with Coffee or Water

Having just one or two drinks can help cut down on calories and tone down the impact of alcohol that makes you overindulge in other foods. But what you do after is equally crucial. Follow each beverage with a cup of coffee or water. Alternating alcoholic beverages with these helps maintain hydration, as thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, potentially leading to unnecessary snacking or overeating. This habit can also lead to wiser food choices. When you’re not under the influence of alcohol, you’re more inclined to make wise decisions about your food intake and less likely to indulge in late-night snacking.

3. Opt for Spirits

Choosing spirits over wine or beer is a smart move when doing low-carb plans since spirits usually have zero to five grams of carbs. They’re also lower in calories and don’t have any sugar. When mixing your drinks, pick healthy beverages like club soda, diet tonic, or seltzer water. And while light beer and dry wines are fine choices, make sure to steer clear of sweet wines and dessert wines.

Enjoy Your Favorite Foods While Achieving Weight Loss!

Balancing and controlling your consumption of fat, sugar, salt, and alcohol is crucial. But achieving your weight loss goals doesn’t mean eliminating these treats altogether. Rather, finding a middle ground that allows you to savor your favorite foods while making mindful decisions is key to conquering food addiction and securing lasting weight loss success. 

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