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!

-Steve

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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