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Food addiction is real.
Maybe it’s an American thing. Maybe it’s that our portions are supersized or that we have eating contests and challenges all over the place. We televise the world hot dog eating contest and watch them eat 5 dozen dogs and soak the buns in water to choke them down faster.
And we celebrate it.
My whole life I’ve been told, directly or otherwise, that guys who eat massive amounts of food should be celebrated.
I’m bringing this up because I’ve always considered myself to be a monstrous eater. It sets me apart and people know my reputation.
I famously ate a 20×20 at In-n-Out (20 patties, 20 layers of cheese) when I was 16. People I’d never met had heard of this kid who ate a 4 pound, 4,000 calorie burger in a single sitting. One of my church leaders (the man who was with me when I ate the burger) blew up a picture of my conquest into a monster poster and showed it to our congregation while teaching about overcoming challenges.
I thrived on this sort of attention.
My freshman year of college, I had a friend who’d grab me food from the dorm buffet just because he wanted to see if I could keep eating. And I usually could.
I celebrated the fact that I could eat a large pizza and an order of breadsticks in a single sitting. Buffets with groups of people was something I looked forward to because I wanted to see who would comment on the mammoth amount I could eat.
I embraced gluttonous eating because it drew attention to me. Now that I’m older and more concerned about my health, I realize it’s an addiction that’s nearly impossible for me to overcome.
What Being Addicted to Food Looks Like
I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m completely addicted to food. And not in the high school girly “ohmygosh, I loooooove ice cream!” sort of way.
Like counting down the time to lunch. Planning what I’m going to eat days or weeks ahead. Or getting excited about pizza days in advance.
And people always encouraged me to keep eating. They would say they were impressed, or want to talk about how much I could eat, or tell me because I’m 6’ 5” that it’s ok to eat 9 bajillion calories per day.
I’ve tried to be better, to overcome my brain being consistently absorbed and obsessed about food.
But if there’s a bag of chips in my house, I feel like someone’s whispering in the back of my head constantly, telling me how delicious those chips are. Our running joke is that Erin doesn’t buy barbecue chips because she knows I’ll eat a huge bag in two days… and be proud that I didn’t eat them in one sitting.
I’ve always felt that food has a grip on me, and it makes me mentally sick. It’s ridiculous to me that I can be such a slave to food. And it’s not an addiction that I can just avoid completely – I have to eat, right?
To me, it shows my weak willpower, not that I have this “amazing” talent to show off.
Is Eating Half a Donut a Victory or a Failure?
Now, I’m actually writing this post extremely frustrated with myself.
Recently a coworker celebrated her 10-year work anniversary, and she brought in donuts to celebrate. Finding myself on one of my patented “I’m going to eat super healthy” weeks (for the 739th time), I tried my best to stay away.
But, I literally thought about them for the next 4 hours. I couldn’t shake the idea that there were delicious donuts just on the other side of my office.
I thought I had defeated the craving until I walked past the donuts to grab my lunch. Finally I had forgotten about them, so it felt like some ninja attack that I wasn’t prepared for when I happened upon them. Before I knew it, I was munching on half a donut. I failed.
However, I also felt super-proud of myself for not eating 3 or 4. I fought the urge the rest of the day to circle back and grab a few more.
I know half a donut isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s the fact that I had made a promise to myself that week and didn’t have the willpower to keep it. If I had eaten one bite of a donut, that would’ve been failure.
You’re probably thinking I’m too obsessive or too stressed out about this, but it’s important to prove to myself that I can restrain if I need to. Usually a half donut would be a huge success, and I wouldn’t think about it anymore. It’s the idea that I physically can’t restrain myself from that half donut that scares me.
The idea that my first instinct when I saw the donuts was to grab one. It’s an automatic reflex. It scares me how easily I give in.
How Could Someone Like Me with a Food Addiction Eat a Real Food Diet?
You can imagine my inner conflict when Erin wanted to switch to real foods.
On one hand, I had this self-loathing inside of me, consistently angry with myself for not having more willpower – and looked at this as an opportunity to finally eat the way I needed to. I thought if Erin “forced” me to eat real foods, that maybe I could finally improve and rid this food addiction from my life.
And on the other hand, I was terrified of giving up one of my great passions – eating lots of tasty foods. My first thoughts were nightmares of green icky foods or weird stuff like tofu and soy burgers.
But I went along with it anyway because of my determined wife and our need to fix her infertility.
Now, fast forward to today.
I’m still not the skinniest person around, but I look better than I probably ever have. I can’t remember the last time I was sick, and we have a healthy baby at home.
And, I can feel my mindset shifting. I don’t feel like I have to eat the pizza or the cookies (the half donut incident notwithstanding). Definitely still struggle with this tremendously, but it’s not the ever-dominating presence anymore. I don’t feel like I’m powerless, like when I used to eat 8 pieces of pizza before I even knew what I was doing.
My knee-jerk reaction isn’t to grab the donut; it’s to consider if I even want it.
That’s exciting for me. I have more control, more power over my life. I feel like I can take that to other things, like watching less TV, exercising more, and basically substituting brain-melting activities for ones that genuinely produce lasting memories, like building a better relationship with my family.
What About You?
If you think that everything I’m talking about is the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, then you don’t really understand.
Of course I’m not implying that wanting to eat all the time equals depression or drug-addiction, but my food addiction has been a negative force on my life and my mindset for as long as I can remember.
I’ve been celebrated and congratulated for eating insane amounts of food. I can see how backwards that is now, and it’s been a sign of maturation that I can consciously give that up for eating healthier.
Truly, it requires a conscious effort. I have to remind myself not to “brag” about how much I can eat, and to not say things like “I bet I could eat that whole pizza”… and then do it.
Some of the attention my eating used to get has been replaced by people impressed by our real food diet, but it’s more than balanced out with criticism from people who don’t understand that cholesterol and saturated fats are good for you.
For example, I guarantee that bringing my own grass-fed beef and homemade buns to a barbecue would garner more critical looks than eating 6 burgers would.
How backwards is that?
I mean, I can’t tell you how many informal contests I’ve been a part of… like the time I ate 50 hot sauce packets, or when I ate 20 Del Taco tacos, or the time I beat the record at a taco stand in Mexico, or the time someone bet me to eat 2 “gut buster” sandwiches and they would pay for it, or the Fuddruckers Pound Challenge… just to scratch the surface.
All for the sake of notoriety and impressing friends.
You see, we tend to focus on the physical health benefits of eating real food – lose weight, avoid diabetes, no heart attacks, more energy, etc.
My point is to show you one of the mental aspects. I have more self-control and willpower than I did before I switched, and I can attest that it’s bled over to other parts of my life. I’m realizing what’s important, and I have more confidence now in myself.
And those are no small things.
If I Can, You Can
I also want to tell you to just go for it.
Sure, it’s hard.
But so is just about anything worth achieving in life. I believe in opposition to all things. There exists a yin to every yang, and a right opposed to wrong.
And the wrong way is almost always the easy way.
Think robbing a bank versus working hard and building a business. It’s easier to rob a bank than to work your butt off for years to build something worthwhile… but it’s right.
Eating is the same way. The easy way makes you fat and poisons your body. The hard way makes you feel great physically and mentally.
You want more willpower, self-control, confidence, and to rid yourself from food addiction, like I have?
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Stick with us and learn about what healthy eating really means, and reap the benefits. I’m curious to see if others feel the same way I do about food. If what I’ve described resonates with you, I’d really like to hear from you.