How to Fight Your Food Addiction And Win.

I recently finished reading The End of Overeating by David Kessler, and it opened my eyes to a side of food that I didn’t know existed.

Although there were a few things in the book that I didn’t completely agree with (namely how fats were vilified along with sugar and sodium in ‘bad’ foods without explaining that some fats can be good), it was loaded with fantastic information and advice on how to break the mental chains that food can have over people.  It was certainly a great read.

Now, rather than just recap the book and present its information in a clear, concise manner, I’m going to recap it in the only way I know how: by nerding the sh** out of it and relating it to a universally nerd-loved concept:

The Matrix.

Yes, I know I’ve written extensively about the Matrix before, but I couldn’t help but draw all sorts of parallels to the movie once again while reading this book.  Allow me to explain:

  • People that are addicted to food have been put into a “prison for the mind,” just like people trapped in the Matrix, and are unaware its existence. Food decisions are often made without thought, stomachs are full and yet more snacks are consumed, and unhealthy meals become more and more appealing and rewarding with each passing day.
  • Most people (a huge portion of the American population anyway) are unaware of this ‘prison’ and continue to eat whatever they want, whenever they want.  Unfortunately ignorance isn’t bliss here, as it usually results in decreased quality of life and an early exit.
  • Agents exist to keep us within that prison. Agent Smith and his cohorts kept order in the Matrix, making sure people remained docile and in their prisons.  In our world, these agents are restaurant food and consumer product creators, who painstakingly test different combination of unhealthy ingredients to stimulate our senses to make us more addicted to their products.
  • You are Neo. You’re reading Nerd Fitness, which means you’re aware the Matrix (a food addiction) exists, and you want to get out.  Once you break free, with a little help from a dude named Morpheus, you can become the One, fight the Agents, and help inspire others to break free as well.
  • I am Morpheus.  Not only do I know Kung Fu (okay not really, but that would be awesome), but I’m here to open your eyes, set your mind free, and help you break out.  What you do after that is up to you.

Agents Suck

In the Matrix, Agent Smith and his agent buddies were part of a computer program designed to keep humans trapped while their bodies were harvested for energy; these Agents kept the peace by making sure nobody could break free.

In the real world, Agents exist, and they exist to keep us fat, addicted and complacent. They are scientists, marketers, product-testers, chefs, and entire companies who dedicate their existence to making unhealthy food that is more appetizing and addicting than ever before.  They spend countless hours testing out different ratios of sugar to fat to sodium to find the highest balance of ‘addiction,’ applying different layers of food on top of each other to create new sensations that envelope your senses and make you feel amazing…for about 20 minutes.

Not cool.

Here’s how it works: when you reward yourself with sugary candy, a high-calorie sodium-filled meal, or super-processed junk food, your body feels a little bit happy for a while.  However, after that happiness wears off (which happens quickly), your body returns to normal but craves that happy feeling again.  Each time you eat that particular type of food again, your body gets more and more trained to eat poorly to chase that happy feeling.  Yeah, it sounds like I’m talking about a drug addiction, but for some a food addiction isn’t too different.  Like crystal meth, these foods are designed to suck you in and not let go.

Now, don’t start blaming the agents for your predicament; they’re merely programs doing what they’re told.

As Matt points out in the comments: We can’t fault the [agents] for trying to make tasty foods; they are in business to make money.  When the public votes with their wallets and makes a dent in the bottom lines of the companies, then they will change what they offer.

If you look at a bowl of M&M’s and suddenly can’t think of anything else, then you know what I’m talking about.  It’s why you can eat an appetizer from Chili’s or Cheesecake Factory (which is often more calories than a normal meal should be), and then still eat an entire meal (which is way oversized): these meals have been scientifically-engineered to appeal to your emotions and reward your stomach.

Fortunately, that was the old you, the one who was trapped.

It’s time to take responsibility for your actions, learn from, take a deep breath, and break free.

Free Your Mind

Morpheus – Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: ‘Cause I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.

We are creatures of habit, which means overeating and eating unhealthy foods are no longer choices made, but rather habits that exist within our mind from repetition over a long period of time. This is why you might instinctively reach for a pint of ice cream after work every day despite not being hungry – the initial reward of “oooooh ice cream makes me happy” kept you coming back until it became part of who you are.   Now, it might seem like you no longer have a choice in the matter, that you can’t function without that ice cream after work.

This is untrue.

You’re not a hopeless/helpless victim – no matter how strong the emotional pull of food may be, you ALWAYS have a choice.

That choice to say no and resist might only last half a second before your stomach takes over, but it does exist.  You are 100% in control of your life and your destiny.  Every choice you make, every day, has a chance to bring you closer to your goals or farther away from them.

That choice is 100% yours to make.

Now, just as you’ve conditioned your body to crave these foods automatically, you can eventually reverse the process and condition your body to resist bad food and eat properly automatically too.  It will not be easy and will require an incredible amount of willpower, but it absolutely can be done.

Just as Neo couldn’t ‘fly’ until he learned to believe in himself, you will not be able to break free of your bad food habits until you learn to believe in yourself and your own willpower. You’re not going on a diet, you’re making permanent, fundamental changes to your eating habits.

Train Your Mind

Thanks to some cool downloads, Neo learned Kung Fu, flying, and a bunch of other unique skills to successfully kick ass while in the Matrix. Now that you recognize the Matrix for what it is (a prison), it’s time for you to start learning some cool skills too.  Unfortunately, it will take more than a few minutes, and they’re not as cool as learning Kung Fu, but they’ll certainly help you live longer.

1) Be aware of the Matrix. Start to recognize the situations that cause you to overeat, where they come from, how you felt before you started eating, and so on.  Once you are aware of these scenarios and stimuli, it will be easier for you to start the next steps to fight back.

2) Change your habits NOW. If you drive home every day past a Burger King and you can’t help but stop for a Whopper Jr. with cheese, it’s time to pick a different way home.  If you come home from work and immediately plop down on the couch while eating a bag of chips, instead come home and IMMEDIATELY go for a brisk walk outside.  This is how you will start to break the rules and get out of the Matrix – NEW HEALTHY HABITS.

3) Re-condition your brain to recognize how much food is the “right amount.” Restaurants these days all give us meals that are twice the size they should be.   You probably eat more calories per day than you realize too.  Write down what you eat, check out how many calories are in the meals you’re used to eating and start training your brain to recognize how much food is right, and how much is too much.

Just because it’s in front of you doesn’t mean you need to eat it.

4) Focus your brain on the long term result, not the immediate pleasure. Yeah, eating a family-size bag of peanut M&Ms might make you feel good for half an hour, but you know deep down inside that long-term, this is a terrible idea.  Instead of focusing on the immediate pleasure of those M&Ms, concentrate on how good you will feel later on that day from having not eaten them, or how you’ll feel when people start to ask “Hey, have you lost weight?”

I used to love fast food. Now, the thought of a greasy, overprocessed, low-quality cheeseburger made and frozen in a factory four months ago sounds absolutely disgusting to me.  Create strong negative feelings towards these bad foods while embracing positive thoughts of NOT eating the bad foods, and those ‘chains’ that are holding you down will start to come loose.

5) Set rules that you WILL not break, removing emotion from the equation. Our brains and stomachs are tricky s.o.b.’s, and once you bring emotion into the equation, all bets are off.  Before your head and heart get involved, set rules before going to a restaurant or heading to work for the day.

  • I don’t eat French fries. Not even one.
  • I don’t drink soda. Nope.
  • I don’t eat candy. I know eating one will lead to many more.
  • I don’t eat while driving, only when sitting at a table.
  • I don’t eat at my desk while working, only for lunch in the break room.

When these rules are ingrained in your head, then your decision to avoid those foods will be easier because there’s no saying “oh just this one” because we know how quickly one fry, M&M, or potato skin can turn into the whole box/bag/plate. Set rules that cannot be broken under any circumstances.  Once you’ve gotten your behavior under control you can start introducing some of these foods back into your meals in moderation, but not until you’re out of the Matrix.

6) Have support from those around you. Neo had Trinity, Morpheus, Tank, Apoc, and Switch to help him on his journey to One-dom.  Who do you have helping you out on your quest to break free?  If you live with friends, let them know that you need help – ask them not to bring home crappy foods or suggest unhealthy restaurants when going out.  If you’re married with kids, work with your spouse to prepare good foods and set new habits with healthy cooking and healthy meals.

Fight Back and Break Free

Now that you have downloaded the proper mental skills above, it’s time to fight back.

Here’s how you’ll win:

  1. Step up. No more excuses, no more “woe is me,” no more “I can’t do this.”  You have a choice, you have control, you have a chance to turn your life around.  Start believing in yourself today.  And then get it done.
  2. Replace chaos with order. Restaurants, vending machines, and fast food places make their money off of your impulse buys, making up your mind for you.  That’s bull****.  Plan out your meals, read restaurant menus before going out to dinner and DO NOT DEVIATE FROM YOUR PLAN.
  3. Eat high protein, high fiber meals. According to the book, studies have shown that protein is the most satiating macronutrient, as it empties the stomach at 4 calories per minute.  Compare this with simple sugar, which empty the stomach at 10 calories per minute, which means you’ll get hungry much quicker.  Fiber-filled foods tend to be satisfying as well, because they’re assimilated by the body more slowly.  Lean meats, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts.  Jump on it.
  4. When you fall down, get back up. Fighting these agents and trying to break out of the Matrix isn’t going to be easy, and you’ll definitely have some fights that you can’t win (on a long road trip and only fast food places are open, cousin’s wedding, Labor Day BBQ, etc.).  Remember, this is NOT a character flaw, but a biological challenge.  Who cares if you slipped up?  Dust yourself off, get back up, and keep at it.
  5. Train consistently. Exercising is a fantastic way to help you keep your weight off.  Not just because of the calories burned, but the constant “I’m getting healthy” mindset it instills.  You won’t stop to eat a dozen donuts if you just went to the gym, because you know you would quickly undo all of that hard work.
  6. Fight back. This is a battle you can win, but only one if you are dedicated to the cause.  Don’t let the Matrix keep you, don’t let the Agents win.  With this article, I am showing you the door.  You are the one who has to walk through it.

So what do you think: Can you really be addicted to food? Have you broken free before?  Are you struggling with it now?  Have any advice for your fellow freedom fighters?

Share your stories and thoughts in the comments!


PS – Join the Nerd Fitness 28-Day Challenge on the NF Message boards! Whoever “wins” will get a free NF t-shirt when I get around to printing one.  Check out the boards for more details.


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85 thoughts on “How to Fight Your Food Addiction And Win.

  1. Not that I did’nt appreciate your effort, but you can’t help people who are truly addicted to certain types of food if you yourself don’t believe that type of addiction truly exists. For example, if you were to advise heroin addicts using the same advise given in your post ( I.e. breaking out of the” martrix”, as if the reality of addiction is all in our heads, or go for a jog, as if your going to develope amnesia about your severe cravings when finished, or drive a different way home, as if there won’t be another “supplier” around the corner. I suggest doing a little more homework on the subject, this time in a medical journal.

  2. I have to agree…I have been struggling with food addiction and an eating disorder for about 7 years now…and I have tried exercising to forget about cravings, but that hasn’t helped at all because usually when I start working out I notice I binge a lot more. And what if it isn’t just a specific place or food that haunts you? If there is a place that provides food, I don’t care what its name is. I will get two burgers, or a quart of ice cream from the grocery store, or both and more from multiple places and eat it in less than an hour. I thought that being on my own and being in more control of what I buy/bring into the house would help; I tried the buying and preparing a week’s worth of (healthy) food – veggies, fruit, lean meat…and it’s gone in two days and I’m still driving 15 minutes away from where I live to get Starbucks or ice cream or whatever is open. I give up things I really want because I blow money on food and can’t afford anything else. I have been reading Nerd Fitness for two years now and have tried really hard to apply a lot of tactics suggested…but I still have this addiction and so far nothing has been able to help me defeat it. I have tried asking for help in the NF community; honestly, this is the only place I have trusted enough to help me. But so far no one has been able to help me; I mean, no one has answered so I assume no one can. So when I visit this particular page multiple times to see if there is anything that I missed and realize, no, I pretty much got everything, I just can’t seem to apply it. I really do want to change; I do not want to be doomed to being trapped by this disorder for the rest of my life. I have been given the tools, I know I am the only one who can change me, but sometimes when all you do is fail, that’s not the most comforting news.

  3. I may not have “the answer” to one of today’s most pervasive & worsening medical crisis in the history of America, but I can tell you this: if you choose to give up & give in to your food issues, then you choose greater hardships down the road of life concerning your health and mental well being. We have only one life to live, it is our God-given duty to preserve our health as best as we know how today and fight to the very end to save this precious gift He has blessed us all with. You deserve to have happiness and health just as much as anyone else. We are all equal in God’s eyes. Defend yourself against those who judge as if they are better. Ignore the advise of the ignorant. Continue educating yourself, because knowledge is power.

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  5. I really have a problem. I blow all my money on food and after I eat it I feel depressed and worthless. I regret buying the food immediately and I always tell myself this is the last time then I do it again. It’s gotten to point that I don’t have the money for my bills or to eat when I’m truly hungry cause I blow it all over eating once I get my pay check.

  6. if you are like me when you are under hard and I mean hard problems where you think there is no help or you don’t depend on others to help or they are not able to help you, you turn inward, or you are dehydrated and don’t know it have you ever noticed your hungry after your workout, or you pea a lot from 250-500 cc of urine your body tells you to go eat because it needs water it has no other way of telling you, only other way you know you need water Is that your lips are dry, by than your passed your water lost. keep in mind about a water bottle if you keep using water, how will the bottle refill it self with just a swallow and you pea more than your taking end, the body gets water by tricking you to think your hungry and makes you grave food

  7. your worried about something and when you have to make money decision and you don’t have all that you need to help you, you eat to help calm your mind, its not that your hungry, it calms you because your nerves are at a high, how I know you feel it in your lower back and it travels up ward you know even spending the can be used on the bill but you do it to say aleast I can spend it on want I want, because food is a pleasure reward and not what is hurting you :0)

  8. I know this post is old, but I needed to read it. I am addicted to food and I am severely obese right now. I’m tired of it, tired of being fat, and tired of being weak when it comes to food. Thank you for writing this in a way that I could relate to. I am going to work on my weight and my food addiction this year, but I know it’s going to be a long hard road.

  9. This is exactly what I needed now. I’ve lost over 100lbs in the past four years and I have every intention of keeping it off- I still have about 30lbs to go, toning up and what not but my food intake is the hardest part of it all- hands down. Food addiction is a very real thing and it’s difficult to be in this roundabout but this article was very empowering and reminded me of the strength that is within each os us. Very cool nerd fitness! 🙂

  10. #6 is my weakness. I have no support – my husband can (& does) eat whatever he wants, with no care. I have honestly two friends and neither are around for support. The few co-workers who were fitness oriented, left. Even the few online places I use, the support & friendship is gone. With no one around to lean on or ask for support, it wears you down.

  11. And of course, most of you are going to reply, stop placing blame. Did I say I blamed anyone? Nope, but nothing stands alone forever. When you are constantly alone with nothing and no-one who even remotely wants to “see things” your way – IE: eat better, come to the gym, let’s go for a walk, it will wear you down. Yes, I’m supposed to do this for myself, but they (the na-sayers) and the lack of those like minded, will wear you down.

  12. This is one of the best sites I’ve seen with real usable information. It’s took getting a breast mass to make me change my eating habits (7 yrs ago) which I literally did overnight and that lump went away in 3 months, but like everything…when you are back to normal you start to eat crap again. Anyway I have been battling sugar addiction and have come leaps and bounds but I still struggle and find myself binging on occasion. This website had some great recommendations to help keep me on the straight and narrow. thanks.

  13. Great stuff Steve. Although I have not yet fully begun the battle, I have had mental wins here and there not only with hard rules for myself (not eating past 8 or only having good breakfast and dinner, etc) but particularly a prize based concept. Where my wife will tell me she will buy me an ipad, a nice luxury watch, and a nice fitted sweet looking suit if I get a hold of myself. Again thanks for the article, I will try to win this food game.


  14. This has to be the most helpful advice I have found on the internet about food addiction. Everyone is hung up on “science doesn’t know what the cause is or have any useful tips or treatments”. Of course it doesn’t, this is internal stuff. And medication ain’t gonna help.
    Thank you for sharing a genuinely sensible answer to this problem.

  15. This may sound strange, but have you tried sex? Like a lot of sex? I found I actually lose the weight when I date people because I’m too busy to eat and really my emotional eating is very much based on wanting that intimacy with another person. In my last relationship I lost 15lbs in 3 months by changing absolutely nothing except the amount of sex I was having. This, in turn, lead to a decrease in my overall food intake (I still ate unhealthy sometimes, just less food) because I was busy getting busy. Sex for me feels like a cure all, it’s all the things: 1) Healthy alternative to food, 2) Exercise, 3) Stimulates oxytocin/dopamine/norepinephrine in the brain even more than food 🙂

    Show your lady that she is more than just food to you. Show her that she is beautiful and that you desire even without food. My guess is that she feels insecure about something and giving you food is her way of compensating for that.

    Perhaps this comes to you too late, but can’t hinder, right?

  16. Question about #5, The Rules:
    I’d love to make a hard-rule to myself like ‘no soda ever’, but I’m also 23 and want to have drinks with friends without having them straight. I’m wondering what you have to say about giving yourself the ‘never ever’ rule, while still knowing you will at, like you mention later, a BBQ, wedding, road trip, etc.?

  17. I have extremely bad eating habits and almost no daily exercise. I live with 5 children, my husband is overseas. I have “wanted” to get healthier for about 10 years now. I just can’t seem to do it. I have tried dieting didn’t work, tried gym memberships didn’t work, shaming myself didn’t work, etc. I just really need a great support system. I don’t have many friends and family mean well but when asking them for help they suggest pills or surgery. I don’t want a cover up, I want to fix this. I guess what I’m saying is, I am extremely influential, very stubborn, and introverted. It’s hard for me, and because of this, I have become depressed. I know what I need to do, but I just need the support and accountability of someone on my side.

  18. I was skeptical upon finding this article but as a recovering food and sugar addict I think you got the important ones…and I’m a sucker for a good Matrix illustration.

    Rules…these are black and white. They are not to be broken and there are no cheat days. Non addicts will never understand this and will encourage us to let loose once in a while. It’s exactly the same as an alcoholic who must not take that first drink. Exactly. I cannot touch sugar, soda, fast food or any binge foods without getting sucked back in to the matrix with no escape plan.

    A Network. Isolation keeps us in our prison of the mind. Finding other food addicts is critical to success. We food addicts must live unique lifestyles and only other recovering addicts get it. Search compulsive overeating.

    Blue Pill time.

  19. This isn’t really food addiction. This is bad eating habits, and the two are not analogous.

  20. Thanks I going to pass to my daughter I hope she try to change her fast food addicton,

  21. People that have this problem don’t understand the upset for there family and friends with there health and tirdness and always in bad form and they have problems with there relationships as no one can cope with them , I hope this will help many people , thanks again

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  23. Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been looking for help and there are so many haters out there adding to the shame. You’ve made me feel like I can believe in myself and finally win the battle.

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