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breaking the chains of food addiction


“Food addiction is a disease which causes loss of control over the ability to stop eating certain foods. Scientifically, food addiction is a cluster of chemical dependencies on specific foods or food in general; after the ingestion of high palatable foods such as sugar, excess fat and/or salt the brains of some people develop a physical craving for these foods. Over time, the progressive eating of these foods distorts their thinking and leads to negative consequences which they do not want but cannot stop.”  From the website of the Food Addiction Institute.

“Are you a food addict?  Due to those uncontrollable cravings, a food addict’s quality of life deteriorates when he or she eats sugar, flour or wheat. It can deteriorate physically, emotionally, socially and/or spiritually.”  From the website of Food Addicts Anonymous

“All of those symptoms are being caused by the meth you are using.  Meth causes your brain to waste and destroy dopamine, leaving you with very low levels. This is directly responsible for the lack of motivation, the craving sweets and eating the house down, and the depression.  It will never get any easier than right now to quit.  Every time you use meth, you destroy more dopamine, making those side effects you hate so much, worse.  If they seem bad now…. they will be worse the more you use.”  One meth addict to another, who was asking via a message board if she could quit on her own (from the “anti-meth site” KCI.org)As you might realize, the addict giving the advice was recovered / recovering.  Swap the word “meth” for any of the foods you are addicted to and re-read the quote.

According to Prevention Magazine, the “Top Ten” most addictive foods are in ascending order, bread, donuts, pasta, cake, chips, cookies, chocolate, French fries, candy, and at the top of the pile, ice cream.   And just like the fact that with drugs or alcohol it takes more and more and more to get that same “high,” so it is with addictive foods. 

The other day I addressed the fact that there are many people (professionals and non-professionals alike) who believe that FOOD ADDICTIONS / SUGAR ADDICTIONS are a myth.  In light of the research and abundance of books on the topic (not to mention organizations like those in the quotes above), trying to intellectually defend that position is nigh impossible.  Because food addiction has been likened to addictions to hard drugs (HERE), causing virtually identical responses in the brain, we need to stop treating it with kid gloves.  It’s not your “little problem,” it’s an addiction.  And unfortunately, addictions have this nasty little habit of ruining your life, as well as the lives of those around you.

Much of the debate on Food Addictions hinges on whether addictions are diseases or choices.   Although I am a personal responsibility kind of guy, my opinion (based on a fair amount of research) is that they are both.   Although every day we make choices concerning what foods we eat, we live in a society that provides a constant barrage of external cues which are scientifically designed to trigger the desire to consume foods we know we shouldn’t. 

There’s the grocery store itself that’s purposefully designed to make you buy on impulse.  There’s the food ads on TV, in magazines, and on the internet, for every decadent form of processed (highly palatable) junk imaginable.  And then there’s the way we were raised.  Unfortunately, the way today’s children are being raised as far as their diets are concerned, is frequently hamstringing them for life before they can even make it through elementary school (HERE).

The truth is that addictions are harsh.  In many ways, food addictions are no different than other addictions.  They’ll destroy your life.  There are any number of organizations and groups out there whose goal is to help you beat Food Addictions.  A few of you will probably have to go that route.  My goal today as a “HEALTHY” SUGAR ADDICT is to tell you what works so that you can do it on your own. 


“People can’t manage their behavior and their eating because their taste buds and their biology have all been hijacked by processed, hyper-palatable, high glucose, high sugar foods that drive their hormones and neurotransmitters to make them eat more.  We’re consuming pharmacological doses of sugar and flour never before seen in the history of the human race. We’re consuming on average 146 pounds of flour and 152 pounds of sugar every year. That is a lot.”  Dr. Mark Hyman from Nichole Lyn Pesce’s piece in the New York Daily News titled Ten Day Detox Diet Author Tells How to End Sugar Addiction and Clean Up Your Diet
Despite the abundance of evidence to the affirmative, your doctor is not likely to be of help with your addiction.  For many of you, this means you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.  Phillip Werdell of the ACORN Food Addiction Institute writes that, “there is nothing taught about food addiction in most medical or nursing schools, graduate schools for dietitians or social workers or in the advanced training of most therapists. Even the required reading list for the certification exam put out by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals does not contain a text on food dependency. There is no reference to food addiction in the Merck Manual of Medical Information, the world’s most widely used medical reference, nor in the American Psychiatric Association’s Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria for mental health. In the last few years there has been new scientific research that establishes that food should be listed as a substance use disorder.

Despite the dearth of “textbooks” on the subject, there are not only hundreds of books, but hundreds of studies in peer-reviewed journals, and probably thousands of internet articles.  The truth is, there are any number of specific things you can do to help break addictions to sugar and processed foods.  This post is not really about those specific things (drinking more WATER, going PALEO, EXERCISING intelligently, etc, etc, etc).  Today I am giving you some of the basics of mentally kicking a Food Addiction, which I believe can be broken down into three parts, getting your mind right, kicking the habit, and creating healthy new habits.


  • BEING HONEST WITH YOURSELF:  There are any number of free online self tests, including the Yale Food Addiction Scale that can help you determine whether or not you are a sugar of food addict (HERE is an example).  However, for most of you, if you would even contemplate taking one of these tests, you’re probably addicted to at least some degree.  If you can’t come face-to-face with your addiction and admit it, you really do have a problem.  When I think of this concept, I think of a dear friend who got hooked on pain pills after a serious injury.  That person is now clean, but the challenge was getting them not only to see their problem, but to then admit they had a problem.  Food Addictions really aren’t any different (HERE).

  • HAVING A PLAN AND WRITING IT DOWN:   For many of of you, the first part of this will mean you have to educate yourself.  My website is a wonderful place to start, but it’s certainly not the only place.  In researching this post I found dozens upon dozens of fantastic articles about breaking Food Addictions (and some not so much).  Create this plan on your computer so that you can add to or change it as you learn and figure out what works for you.

  • HAVING A PARTNER / HAVING A SUPPORT NETWORK:  Here’s the brutal truth.  For many of you, the people closest to you are the ones who will be the most likely to sabotage what you are doing.  Don’t let these people affect you.  Start by finding an accountability partner who will hold your fingers to the fire.  Many of you will need some sort of support group as well.  If there are none in your area, find an online group to join (Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous are two of the larger groups).   After having a heart-to-heart with “Susie” late last year, you would barely recognize her today.  She’s lost nearly 50 lbs since the first of the year, and got off almost all her medications in the process.  She told her family when she started not to criticize of make fun of her because, “I’m looking for any excuse to quit.”  They have supported her unequivocally.  That’s the kind of support group you need.

  • GETTING AND KEEPING MOTIVATED:  Figure out who or what motivates you, and make sure to watch them on YouTube.  I included an example of this at the bottom of the post.  DO NOT reward yourself with food — particularly addictive foods.

  • ROLLING UP YOUR SLEEVES AND GETTING TO WORK:  Listen folks; I have any number of links on this topic on my site, not to mention things like WEIGHT LOSS.  Who cares about any of the other points if you don’t get in gear and make it happen.  There is not one thing about doing this that is easy — at least at first (watch the video at the bottom).  You’ll tell yourself you can’t do it, and look for any excuse to quit.  Don’t give in because you can do this.  I can assure you that in a short amount of time (1-2 weeks) it will start getting easier.  The longer you stick with it, the easier it gets. 

  • REALIZING THAT FOOD IS AS ADDICTIVE AS HARD DRUGS:  Hopefully I have already beat this horse to death, but if you don’t grasp the fact that SUGAR will light certain parts of your brain up (particularly the NUCLEUS ACUMBENS) like a Christmas tree on FUNCTIONAL BRAIN SCANS, you are underestimating the power of your addiction.  Underestimating your enemy is good indication you’re going to fail.

  • NOT LETTING YOURSELF BECOME A DOLLAR SIGN:  Both the Food Industry and BIG PHARMA (they are often the same) see you as a walking, breathing dollar sign (HERE).  Why do you think that there is virtually no dietary or lifestyle “coaching” or advice taking place in the average doctor visit (HERE and HERE are examples)?  If you fail to understand this, you become an unwitting pawn in the money-making schemes of corporate America — and destroy your health in the process.

  • OTHERS:  The truth is, there are dozens of others that I simply don’t have time to discuss right now.  Make them part of your plan.  Continue studying and be cautious about letting your guard down. Also stay away from “wonder” products that sound too good to be true.


The truth is, once your mind is right, and you’ve made the decisions about what you are going to do in certain situations beforehand, the rest is easy.  Oh; sorry — you already know that this is not completely true.  You do need to have your mind made up about what you are going to do and how you are going to do it (complete with a written plan) before you start.  However, as I already mentioned, it’s going to be rough going for awhile.  If you’ve ever been around someone who is going through withdrawals as they come off alcohol or hard drugs (physical symptoms and pain, as well as emotional stress and intense cravings), you need to realize that on some level, this could be (probably will be) your experience.  Hang on, embrace it as part of the healing process, and get through it.  Use your support group and don’t quit.  Like I said, it really does get easier fairly quickly. 

And to all of you ‘experts’ out there who decry terms like “willpower,” telling people that personal responsibility, discipline, and mental toughness are not part of the equation; I have one word for you…..  Bullship!    For many of you, breaking an addiction is going to be like going to war — and fighting it one battle at a time.  The fight will eventually (sooner rather than later) become easy.  But don’t kid yourself and don’t let others kid you.  It is a war.  A war you are ultimately fighting against yourself.  Yes, there are any number of JEDI MIND TRICKS you can use to help you succeed.  But if you go into this endeavor thinking it’s going to be a cake walk because you read Doctor such and such’s book, the majority of you will be in for a rude awakening. 


Getting rid of old habits is not good enough.  You have to create new habits and ingrain them in your being before you as much as even think about “CHEATING“.  I have any number of posts on this topic, but truthfully, if you study the links in THIS POST, you’ll find most of what you need.  One more time: I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  If you will stick with this thing, it will get easier (again; watch the video below).  If you can get through the first couple of weeks, you’ll be amazed at how much less that ice cream and brownie sundae is calling your name.  And who knows; you may actually get to the point where you actually like things like BEETS and BROCCOLI


On a final note; you and you alone are going to have to figure out how addicted you really are.  To do this, you’ll have to face your demons.   Although I read about lots of people online whose experience is that as long as they can have a little bit of those foods they are addicted to, they are fine, that is not my personal experience.  Nor is it the experience of most of my patients.  In patients with pathological cravings and addictions, it is almost always necessary to totally cut yourself off from the offensive food(s).  It’s sort of like an alcoholic. 

What do we know about alcoholics?  We know that in the vast majority of cases, the old cliche is true: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic”.  Case in point is Mary Foushi of ACORN Food Dependency Recovery Services.  Her website describes her as, “a food addict with over 23 years of stable recovery and maintaining a 200-pound weight loss for over 22 years.”   Not only should the magnitude of what she has been able to accomplish blow your mind, she still refers to herself as a “food addict” (albeit a recovered one).   I have no idea what Mrs. Foushi’s personal or professional views are on this subject, but rest assured; for many in a boat they would consider to be similar to hers, one taste of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (insert whatever food applicable here), would be the equivalent of the “dry” alcoholic taking their next first drink. 

The truth is, I’m a huge fan of “Cold Turkey”.  Yes, I enjoy eating it, but I also happen to believe that it’s the best way to kick addictions.  I find that for myself and many, if not most of my patients, avoiding the foods you have an addictive bent toward is the best policy.  When I’m off sugar / sweets / refined carbs, I don’t crave them, nor do I miss them.  But if I get just a little bit, I want a little bit more.  And a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more.  Having ‘just a taste’ is based on the “everything-in-moderation” idea that the processed food industry has been promoting for years.  The problem is that for us addicts, moderation is largely a pipe-dream.  That tiny ember-like craving will almost instantly become a raging inferno of craving, complete with the excuses you’ll soon be making for giving in.  And then you get to start the whole process over again.  As a person providing advice, hope, and an example to tens of thousands of CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS each month, it’s not the way I choose to live. 

Just the other day, my last patient of the day was a woman who, over the course of the past 15 months, has kicked her addictions and lost 100 lbs in the process (she also conquered NON-CELIAC GLUTEN SENSITIVITY in the process).  I promise that you could do just what she did.  But it all starts with getting your mind right.  The following video is one that I found on YouTube.  Although I am not a big fan of Weight Watchers, this video of Tracey Pinder’s experience with Food Addiction is both amazing and motivational (listen as she says, I had to get strong”).  By the way, she lost 160lbs and conquered her addictions in the process.


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