How I learned to live with food addiction

How I learned to live with food addiction

12th February 2018 0 By David Walker

According to the old adage, you can’t out-train a bad diet. So, despite seeking help to get myself fit after the disastrous attempt at going for a walk around the block, I also needed to change my eating habits.

There was just one problem: I was addicted to food.

What is food addiction?

Food addiction can be summed up as, “being addicted to junk food in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs”.

This may sound dramatic but food addiction involves the same parts of the brain, the same neurotransmitters, and many of the symptoms are identical to those experienced by drug and alcohol addicts.

Common symptoms of food addiction include:

  • Cravings – even when you feel full.
  • Eating more than you intended to.
  • Eating beyond the point of feeling full until you’re “stuffed”.
  • Feeling guilty after eating particular foods.
  • Justifying to yourself your poor food choices and making excuses to make you feel better.
  • Repeatedly trying to give up certain foods or setting rules like “cheat meals”.
  • Regularly hiding your consumption of unhealthy foods from other people.
  • Feeling unable to resist certain foods, despite knowing that they’re not good for you and that you will gain weight.

Most people will relate to one or two of these. If 4-5 sound like you then you may have some issues with food and if you can relate to 6 or more, then you are most likely a food addict.

See all those donuts at the top of the page? Would you like one? I want them all!

Where’s your willpower?

I remember reading that list for the first time and not being surprised that every single one of those characteristics applied to me.

If you ticked off 1 or 2 then you’re perhaps thinking that I’m just making excuses for my greed. Maybe you’re asking, “where’s your willpower?”. But it’s not as simple as that.

Addictions, in whatever form, are a chemical reaction and having all the willpower in the world won’t change that.

I had to learn to manage my addiction, to remove as much temptation as possible and completely change my relationship with food.

And the differences between then and now are quite stark.

MEAL PLANNINGAbsolutely no plan, I ate what I liked and what I craved.All meals are planned in advance every week.
SHOPPINGEvery day after work with no list.One main shopping trip at the weekend with a list. One or two top up trips throughout the week but only if absolutely necessary.
FOOD PREPARATIONI'd look for things that were as easy as possible to prepare. Takeaways, fast food and convenience foods were my go-to choices.I cook my evening meal from scratch (usually in batches) and often make soup for lunches. Fresh ingredients are now my first choice.
CALORIESI didn't count calories at all. I'd perhaps read the label out of interest but I wasn't tracking nutrition in any way.I track my calorie intake every day to ensure I don't exceed my target.
TREATSDaily, without restriction.I haven't cut them out of my diet completely. I might have a bar of chocolate at work in the afternoon or take a trip to McDonalds at the weekend - but the calories are always tracked and my plan for that day is adjusted to keep me within my calorie limit.

Wow, when you see it written in black and white it seems so obvious where the problems were: they were everywhere!

The biggest changes for me were planning my meals, writing a shopping list and cooking food from scratch. That has made such a difference.

It’s allowed me to discover a completely new aspect of food and made me realise that there can be just as much enjoyment in the preparation as the consumption.

I’ve experimented with flavour combinations and taken inspiration from foods that I already loved to eat before putting my own spin on them to make sure they were healthy but tasty.

I want to eat real food, not diet food.

I’m cured!

So it’s all good then. I plan my meals and – coupled with exercise – I’m continuing to lose weight on a weekly basis. Job done!

If only.

My routine now is brilliant at keeping me away from temptation but it doesn’t take much for me to relapse into my old habits.

I managed to curb my takeaway habit by deleting the Just Eat app from my phone and I try not to take loose change to work to stop me buying junk from the vending machine.

But there are still some habits that I can’t shake and no amount of willpower will stop me from succumbing. I’ve even had to make changes to other parts of my lifestyle and routine to avoid relapses.

The most ridiculous of these involves putting petrol in the car and I now try to fill up where there’s a Pay at Pump option so that I don’t have to go into the shop. Why?  Because for years, after filling up the car, I’d buy a Mars and a Snickers.

They’re usually on a 2 for £1 offer (or 2 for £1.50 if you get the larger Duo varieties) and even now, 9 times out of 10, if I’m in a petrol station I’ll buy those chocolate bars and eat them as soon as I get back to the car.

I know it sounds daft especially because I have to drive an extra couple of miles to get to a petrol station where you can pay at the pump – but it’s just one way that I cope with my addiction.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to say that I don’t have a food addiction. It could take years and I also have to accept that it may never happen. In the meantime, if you see me at the petrol station, do me a favour and keep me away from the chocolate bars.


Some of the scientific references and food addiction symptoms included in this blog post were adapted from this article.