While for many people healthy eating habits come as naturally as breathing, it's not so easy to stay on the track for those who've battled with food addictions or eating disorders. Food addiction is a growing health problem that many struggles with, knowingly or not, and even more of us wish we could maintain a healthy diet, even just for a month.
In many cases, the setbacks are related to your emotions and state of mind. Yes, battling with bad eating habits is largely dependent on the way you think! This also means that you can change your eating habits and stay on the right track if you get rid of the destructive thoughts and introduce better overall lifestyle thoughts and habits.
But how exactly can you make sure you don't fall back to the clutches of fast food, sweets and other treats that you sometimes so badly long for? Here are a few ideas to get you started and help you find the inner strength to fight back in the battle with food demons!
1. Understand what harm your old habits could cause to your body
Once you actually dig deeper into what your favorite fast food items or treats contain, you'll probably wish you never did that to your body.
Did you know that, for example, pop-tarts, peanut butter cups, and McDonald's fries contain a substance called TBHQ which might have carcinogenic effects to your body? Or that potato chips are engineered to make you crave them more, hence increasing the company's profits?
Many food manufacturers use various substances (like E-substances as they are called in Europe) to artificially improve the food's taste and shelf-life but as you can bet, most of these substances shouldn't be anywhere near a human body. What's more, some substances, starting with the infamous monosodium glutamate can make food as addictive as cocaine! Even if extra chemicals are not used, the food item might be strategically created to have the “perfect” sugar-fat-sodium content, just to make you hooked.
The question is: do you really want to harm your body by consuming food items that might damage you extensively and without exaggeration, even fatally? And even more, do you want to be the victim who falls in the trap that the food industry has so carefully laid out for you?
Clearly, the answer to both of these questions is no. By opting for a healthy diet that consists of fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and grains, you are not only treating your body with love and avoiding potentially harmful results, but you're also not subject to someone's corporate greed and manipulation. Next time before grabbing a bag of chips, think of it this way: do you really want to fulfill the desires of a company that has done everything in their power to deceive the consumers, just to fill their pockets with more cash?
2. Understand why you have cravings
We all get food cravings from time to time, but it's important to understand why these cravings happen. Sometimes, the key might be nutrition or vitamin deficiency, sometimes it might be due to stress or hormone imbalance.
When cravings are not derived from deficiency, the issue might be low serotonin which makes us feel sadder. Many of us have eaten sweets or fast food when feeling down and while sometimes, a tub of ice-cream might help to perk up the mood temporarily, it's not a permanent fix. In the case of a low serotonin level, one of the helpful solutions is opting for a better diet – a diet that includes more serotonin.
And guess what food items are not part of that mood-boosting diet? Sweets, salty and fatty foods, fast food. Instead, eggs, milk, cheese, salmon and many other healthy foods should be consumed.
When you're feeling sad or depressed, junk food won't help to fix that. In fact, it might even make things worse since after consuming those food items, you'll likely feel as if you cheated yourself since you allowed yourself to fall off the track. That might start a vicious circle of food addiction and even deeper depression.
The key to keeping your diet healthy is understanding your cravings and acknowledging them. When you find yourself thinking I'm really craving for a cheeseburger right now, ask yourself: why? Is it because your body wants more protein or something else? Or is it because you're feeling down and fast food usually helps you to feel happier?
In both cases, you can solve the craving by opting for a healthier alternative – for example, eating a home-made burger that's made from scratch by using fresh meat.
It's essential to acknowledge the craving though, not to just have it bottled up. When you have cravings, it's important to deal with them right there and then – to avoid the craving from overtaking your thoughts and pushing you off the ledge towards surrendering to that craving. Acknowledge it, analyze it and take healthy action.
3. Eating healthy doesn't mean cutting off certain food groups
Many diets that might seem ideal at the beginning might actually increase the troublesome relationship with food because they might cut out entire food groups or cut down the amount of a certain nutrient very extensively.
However, this is not a sustainable solution. Your body knows what it needs and it needs all of the nutrients to function perfectly. Take carbs, for example. Carbs were somewhat banished from the diet world for a while but actually, they play a crucial role in your organism, providing you with energy and heat. The same goes for fats and even sugars.
The key to maintaining healthy eating habits is to include all nutrients in your diet in a balanced way. That means limiting processed foods, eating more fresh produce and keeping your portions moderate. Cutting off some nutrients will almost certainly backlash since your body will start craving for it desperately, driving you towards the quickest solution which often happens to be fast food or some other unhealthy choices.
4. Don't make any food your enemy
You've probably heard how it's okay to allow a little treat once in a while.
And here's what – that's completely true! To get rid of food addiction and keep up with a healthy diet you need to establish a healthy relationship with food. That means that no food should be made an enemy. The enemy is the addiction, not the food itself.
While (most often at the beginning) following a healthy diet, your brain will try to guide you back to the old habits. However, you can “fool” your brain by allowing yourself something “good” – like a little bit of chocolate, a piece of cake or something else.
This way you're sending a signal “yes, I'm still eating these things, it's not like this is the end of eating treats forever” and your body will gradually start craving these things less since you're establishing new eating habits at the same time.
When you try to cut yourself off from all “bad” food items right off the bat, it's likely you'll feel depressed and hopeless since it feels like the end for all fun. A piece of cake or a couple of chips from time to time won't hurt you, but what will hurt you is if you eat cake or chips every single day. The goal is to develop new, healthier habits that will be part of your lifestyle, but a few treats every once in a while – like a couple of times per month – will help you enjoy the new habits and won't make you feel as if you need to cut yourself out from everything.
5. Understand that changes don't happen overnight (but that also isn't an excuse to keep up the bad habits)
It's easy to beat yourself up after “cheating” on your diet, especially if you are a perfectionist and set yourself harsh standards. However, you need to understand that changes really don't happen overnight.
If you've had a bad relationship with food your entire life, it's no secret that it's very tough to instantly turn your eating habits around and start eating clean on the spot for the rest of your life. Establishing habits takes time, effort and perseverance, especially within the first weeks. The key to keeping yourself on the line is to keep in mind the other 4 tips above.
At the same time, you shouldn't use this as an excuse to continue with the old habits. It's easy to tell yourself how it's just tough at the beginning, changes don't happen so quickly to justify the bad diet and still grab for unhealthy food. The understanding must come from the heart – you need to believe in it, as cliche as it might sound.
To take things on the next level, you might also find support groups helpful as you can share your thoughts with others who're struggling with the same issue and whenever you're feeling down and think about cheating on your diet, you will find help from the group. Organizations like Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous and Food Addicts Anonymous are always welcoming you with open arms.
Recovering from food addiction and changing your eating habits is no walk in the park, but whenever you feel like going off the track, keep these things in mind. Recovery starts from a single step. Treat your body as a temple by giving it the best possible nutrition – because you truly deserve it.