5 Jedi Mind Tricks to Beat Your Food Addiction and Stop Emotional Eating
Food is a Drug
Food is a drug. This is an undeniable fact.
You can become physiologically addicted, like cocaine.
The body shows withdrawal symptoms, like cocaine.
And the body shows a “high” in the brain after consuming food, like cocaine.
Eating when you’re emotional produces real, physiological relief like taking a Valium.
These are all facts.
So why are people still suggesting to use willpower and discipline to fight cravings and beat the addiction to food?
If we know that we wouldn’t ever give a drug addict the advice to “fight the craving” – why would we continue to give people who are addicted to food the same advice?
It’s simple: the people who suggest that you use discipline obviously have never suffered from this, and they don’t truly understand the underlying science. It’s cheap self help with no tested formula.
5 Jedi Mind Tricks
Your entire approach has to be different from just “fighting it.”
Drug addicts have to learn that hanging out with their old friends doesn’t work anymore. They need to change who they associate with – they do this because they know that once they see friends doing drugs or smoking cigarettes, chances are they’re going to want to, too.
You’re fighting a real addiction. You have no choice but to think “smart” about how to beat it.
What I offer here are ways to manage – not some miracle cures.
For many people truly addicted to food, there is no such thing as moderation.
And generally, these fall into three broad categories: behavioral shifts like changing your habits and routines.
Cognitive shifts, which involve your thinking about food.
And then nutritional shifts, which involve changing what kinds of foods you eat, and when.
These all truly revolve around training your mind in various ways to be more aware. Without awareness, it’s tough to change.
So here are the 5 Jedi mind tricks that actually work.
Mental Hack #1: Figure Out Your Eating Type… And Then Dominate It
In Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink, PhD, he cleverly put many of us into five main categories based on our eating habits.
Although the categories aren’t new, he put some clever names that help you remember which kind of eater you are.
He breaks people down into 5 common groups:
A. The meal stuffer. Meal stuffers eat primarily during mealtimes, but they stuff themselves and eat to excess. They often eat so quickly that they’re uncomfortably full after. These are the kids we often say have “good appetites.” They often go back for seconds.
B. Snack grazer. Snack grazers reach for food whenever it’s available. Convenience is usually the main reason – in other words, food is available and they just constantly reach for it as long as it’s there. Snacking is sometimes a nervous habit or something they do when bored. Sometimes they snack as an excuse to get up and walk around, or they just feel “bored” when watching tv or reading.
C. The party binger. Party bingers are usually professionals or people in corporate environments. Food is either a backdrop for business or fun, and it’s easy to lose track of how much they eat or drink. Lots of social events and business meetings means lots of food and eating out.
D. The restaurant indulger. Restaurant indulgers are people who frequently eat out a lot at restaurants. Sometimes these are just young college kids, other times they’re young professionals who work a lot and don’t want to/don’t have the time to cook. Thus, they eat out 3x a day.
E. Desktop/dashboard diner. Desktop diners speed eat while multitasking on the computer or driving. They usually do it to save time, but also do it just to avoid the hassle of getting a real lunch. They’re not busy, they’re just unmotivated. When you ask them why they don’t just cook their own food or go get a real meal, they say “Eh….”
So now you know your eating type. You know your own kryptonite. You know for example you’re a desktop diner. You know you are highly unlikely to actually eat a full meal while at work – and that you end up eating a few candy bars throughout the day from the vending machine, leaving you starving for dinner (even though you ate 1,000+ calories).
You know you are prone to not being prepared for lunch. And you know that you usually feel too “lazy” to go out for a meal and end up feasting on the vending machine. So what can you do?
You can consciously prepare lunch beforehand and bring it.
You can set a personal “rule” for yourself – make yourself go out to lunch with people at least twice a week.
Or you can set a rule where you don’t let yourself eat at your desk – to ensure that you formally have some kind of lunch.
Let’s say you’re a grazer.
You know you constantly reach for food throughout the day and rarely eat a full meal. You also know that if there’s a candy dish, you’re probably going to constantly have your hand it in throughout the day.
With that new awareness, you can do a couple things:
Set an alert on your iPhone to remind yourself every 3 hours to eat a meal.
Never, ever carry snacks with you – forcing yourself to eat meals regularly.
Avoid situations where you’ve got the opportunity to constantly have your hands in the cookie jar.
So, here’s mental hack #1: Learn your eating type (AKA your kryptonite) and then be prepared for those situations by having escape plans and strategically building your day around them.
Mental Hack #2: Emotional Learning
For many (most?) of us, emotional eating has become a habit of comfort – in other words, it’s a behavior induced by certain cues like situations, feelings, people, commercials, etc.
Most of us emotionally eat because of cues outside or inside of us.
For example: we’re at a company party. Food is there, so we eat it (availability – external cue).
Another example: It’s 2:30 at work, and you’re on the home stretch. You start getting low energy, and you’re looking for something to do – so you go upstairs to the cafe and grab a cookie (low energy – internal cue).
So the secret for many of us is to A. learn our cues, and then B. avoid them.
A technique I commonly recommend for figuring out your cues is what I call the Awesomesauce Index Card Method.
But to keep it simple, spend time for 1-2 weeks recording a few things:
What time of the day do I crave food?
What moods make me crave food? (Usually boredom and stress)
In what situations do I usually over eat?
With what people do I usually eat the wrong foods?
What places usually end up causing cravings? (E.g. do you pass by the bakery every day at 4:30 and have to stop to get something?)
#2 Swap The Routine
Another incredibly common origin of bad habits is boredom.
I once was working with a stay at home mom who had sugar cravings, and after doing the index card exercise for 1-2 weeks (see above), she realized that almost all of her sugar consumption happened when when was “bored” or wanting something to do.
While watching TV mindlessly, surfing the internet, or just hanging out around the house, she just wanted something to do – which ended up turning into a massive sugar consumption habit.
Fortunately for her, once she figured out the cue, she changed the routine.
So, let’s say you know that you eat food when you’re bored. You can do #1 (avoid being bored), or when you’re bored (and realize it), start doing something that gives you something to do.
For example: If, at work, 2:30 hits and you’re getting a bit bored and tired, and you know you usually go up to the cafe for a snack, find something to do that stimulates you. Maybe that means stopping over at a friend’s desk to chat for a while, or maybe that means just strategically placing your lunch break later in the day, or maybe that means saving your most interesting projects for around that time to keep your brain focused.
Strategy #2 all revolves around three things: the emotion you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it, and finding things that truly address the underlying cause (e.g. boredom).
Cognitive control revolves all around how you view food, and I divide it into two broad categories:
There’s often a lot of self-talk going on when we try to fight foods (or fight anything, really). And what usually ends up happening is that the more time we try to talk ourselves out of something, the stronger it becomes and the more it steals our attention.
Ever tried jumping off a high rock? The longer you wait and talk yourself up, the less chance you will actually jump.
One of the easiest things you can do in regard to your mind is change the mental chatter.
Rather than looking at cookies and ice cream and saying to yourself, “Oh man those look good,” tell yourself the truth, “I know I can’t just have one bite… I’m going to eat 20,” and even remind yourself of your goals, “tomorrow I’m going to feel like crap and totally regret this.”
Jon Grant, at the university of Minnesota, asks patients with a history of shoplifting to write out a shopping list before they go to the grocery store and just put two items on the list: handcuffs, to remind them of their previous history, and a bologna sandwich, to remind them of what they were eating in jail.
Basically this just jogs their memory and reminds them of the consequences of their behavior, and similar to saying “I’ll feel terrible after eating cookies,” it instills a sense of guilt beforehand. (Hat tip to The End of Overreating for this anecdote).
Setting rules for your food is another way to beat using willpower.
For example, you can make rules like “I don’t eat french fries,” or “I don’t snack.”
Rules actually aren’t using willpower – and they can quickly become habits which bypass willpower altogether.
It’s best just to pick 2 or 3 rules to stick to, that you can apply in a variety of situations. Better yet, check out hack #1, find your eating type, and set rules based on what type of eater you are.
My own favorite personal rules? I don’t eat french fries or any fried foods and don’t snack.
These quickly become a part of your identity, and when you say “I don’t eat french fries” it ends the conversation and doesn’t require any fighting whatsoever.
Mental Hack #4: Leveraging Social
Your social networks can fuel your food addiction and contribute to being overweight.
Now, although this wasn’t in reference to online social networks (where people may not see each other in reality), there is evidence that shows that you’re many times more likely to share the same interests as your friends.
This is just the long way of saying that people have a huge influence over your success or failure, and you’re likely to end up like the people around you in more than one way.
You can leverage the internet social spheres in your favor too. There are a couple innovative sites to help you integrate a positive social environment with your own personal goals.
Stickk in a nutshell: Stickk is another way to socially integrate betting with attaining your own goals.
It’s based on the whole “carrot and stick” theory of motivation – that to motivate people, you can offer them incentives ($$$), or punish them.
In Stickk, you set a goal, and then pick your stakes: if you fail to reach your goal, your money will automatically be sent to either a friend, a charity, or better yet – an anti-charity, aka a charity you hate.
The key is to pick a charity you hate so much that you’d rather die than see your money go there 😉
Dietbet in a nutshell: Dietbet is a way to socially challenge your friends to a health challenge. It’s basically like where you all throw money in the pot, and the people who get closest to their goals claim the cash. Pretty sweet right?
Social betting gone digital.
Beyond the online tools and resources to help you conquer emotional eating and food addiction, the point of mental hack #4 is to utilize people to leverage your success.
If you want to gain control over your eating, learn to utilize people in couple ways:
Build a support group or hang out in online forums where people have the same experience and goals
Embark on a challenge with a friend (or your entire family)
State a goal… publicly, and then have friends and family hold you to it (similar to the online programs I spoke of)
People, sometimes more than anything, influence your success or failure.
Mental Hack #5: Become Your Own Coach
Anyone with a chronic health problem has quickly learned that they need to become their own expert.
Beyond just learning everything on the subject, you need to understand your own vulnerabilities, and start experimenting.
It’s almost impossible to really come up with a perfect diet for every person, or a perfect system for every person – which is why experimentation is so important.
For example, if you know that certain foods make you over eat every time – you know you have a personal kryptonite and you should stay away from them.
So how specifically do you experiment and become your own expert?
Use something that I call “definitive documents.”
I’ve unfortunately had a number of various health problems in my life that were chronic and very difficult to solve by western doctors. Usually there were many pieces to the puzzle, and I was left experimenting on my own.
For many of you this will be the same case. Over the years, I found myself creating these word documents called “definitive documents” where I could document every piece of the puzzle I was trying to solve:
Sample “definitive document” when I had sleep issues
What do you write in them? Everything you know.
For emotional eaters and people that are addicted to food, keep track of the following things:
Events that trigger episodes; were you out with family? Were you at a business lunch? Were you eating lunch alone? Did you not have time for lunch?
What kinds of foods are your kryptonite that you end up craving more than others? What foods do you over-eat, every time you eat them?