Food is something we all need to survive, it nourishes us, fuels us and contributes to our health and well-being. In an ideal world, we would all eat a varied, balanced diet that fulfils us both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, however, food is a complicated topic.
Some of us can develop unhealthy relationships with food, using it in unhelpful ways and, in some cases, forming a behavioural addiction. Foods that are highly palatable (i.e. those rich in fat, sugar or salt) trigger a chemical reaction in the brain, inducing a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction.
For those with an unhealthy relationship with food, this reaction can become addictive. While ‘food addiction’ is not considered an eating disorder, having this sort of relationship with food can lead to physical and psychological difficulties. Here we’ll explore the idea of food addiction in more depth and how hypnotherapy can help you create a healthier, happier relationship with food.
There is a lot of debate in the nutrition industry as to whether or not food addiction is real. Brain imaging and other studies have shown comparable results in those with ‘food addictions’ to those with drug addictions. However, unlike drug addiction food addiction is not a chemical dependency, it’s a behavioural addiction.
For this reason, people are not addicted to food per se, but more the act of eating and the feeling they get after eating. This appears to be enhanced by highly palatable foods, as they cause feel-good chemicals in the brain to be released, like dopamine.
Those who develop this behavioural addiction may find themselves preoccupied with thoughts of food and eating. They may also experience feelings of shame after eating. Thanks to our diet culture fuelled society and unrealistic beauty ideals, eating certain food often comes with a side of guilt, making it very difficult for people to develop healthy and neutral attitudes towards food.
As with most addictions, there is rarely one single cause but instead a combination of factors. These factors may be biological, psychological or social. Biological factors include hormonal imbalances, a difference in brain structure, side-effects of certain medications or even having a family member who struggles with addiction.
Psychological factors may include experiencing trauma or abuse, a difficulty coping with negative emotions, low self-esteem or dealing with grief and loss. Often food is used as a comforting measure or coping tool when we’re struggling psychologically. If this is at the root of your addiction, it’s important to address it if you want to change your relationship with food.
This can take some hard work and may feel difficult at times, but you dont have to do it alone
Other mental health conditions can also lead to unhealthy eating behaviours. Such conditions include depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Be sure to speak to your doctor or a counsellor if you are worried about a mental health condition, sometimes the treatment of this can, in turn, help to improve your relationship with food.
Social factors that can contribute to food addiction can include family problems, pressure from peers or society, feeling isolated and stressful life events. Not having a support structure in place can make it difficult to overcome eating difficulties. Try reaching out and talking about how you feel, either with friends and family or in a support group.
If a food addiction is left untreated it can have a big impact on both your physical and mental health. Continuing to eat large quantities of foods high in sugar and salt can lead to physical complications such as heart disease, digestive problems, sleep disorders, headaches, increased risk of stroke and general lethargy.
Psychologically, this kind of relationship with food can affect your self-esteem leading to conditions such as depression and anxiety. You may go on to develop disordered eating and even struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Recognising that you have a problem with eating is the first step to getting support. Here are some questions to consider if you think you may have an unhealthy relationship with food.
· Find you eat more than planned when it comes to certain foods?
· Continue eating certain foods even if you’re not hungry?
· Eat until you feel unwell?
· Worry about cutting down or not eating certain foods?
· Worry when certain foods are unavailable or go out of your way to get them?
· Find eating gets in the way of other activities, such as time with family or hobbies?
· Avoid social situations where food is present for fear of overeating?
· Find it difficult to function at work/school because of food/eating?
· Feel low, anxious or guilty after eating?
· Need to eat increasingly more to reduce negative emotions or increase pleasure?
If something has become a big enough problem to affect your daily life, seeing professional support is always advised. Keep reading to find out how hypnotherapy may be able to support you.
The nature of food addiction and the many complicated factors contributing to it means that willpower alone is often not enough. Understanding what could be causing your behaviour and recognising unhealthy coping mechanisms is often needed before work can be done to change your behaviour.
Hypnotherapy is very helpful when it comes to changing habits. Your hypnotherapist will help you into a deeply relaxed state where your subconscious is more susceptible to suggestion.
Your hypnotherapist may work with you to uncover the underlying cause of your addiction before offering suggestions to your subconscious to help you change habits and behaviours.
Hypnotherapy is a great tool to assist you in this process, as when we are deeply relaxed our subconscious mind is much more open to new suggestions. So with a little bit of work on your part, a qualified hypnotherapist will be able to guide you through the process, often resulting in a far easier change than willpower alone.
The relaxing nature of hypnotherapy can also help you become more self-aware and mindful around food. Learning to recognise hunger cues and when you are full up is important and something many of us struggle with.
Your hypnotherapist should not recommend you go on a diet or offer nutritional advice (unless they have nutrition training), instead, they should work with you on mindset, getting to the root of the problem and helping you to make lasting change.