Does the thought of a life without cake, ice cream, or donuts make you feel gray, lifeless, and like all the joy would be gone?
Then this is for you.
I wrote last week about the pros + cons of an ‘everything in moderation’ approach to eating, and while I think it is an excellent goal and something so many of us can benefit from, I do not believe that:
- Moderation is possible for all foods;
- Possible for all people;
- Or even the best way of doing things, depending on your situation.
First and foremost is the issue of food addiction (which is really flour + sugar addiction). If you are or suspect you are addicted to food and want to overcome food addiction, here’s how + why quitting certain foods might be just what you need.
I’ve changed my mind
The ultimate goal of my work is to help women free themselves from restricted diets, fighting for control, spending energy getting nowhere and into feeling calm, free, and in control with food.
I used to think that all women could achieve this balance and go on to eat anything and everything as long as they’d resolved emotional food issues, learned to practice consistent self-care, and could consciously listen to their bodies.
I still believe all women can achieve this, but if you’re struggling to overcome food addiction or are particularly sensitive to the effects of some foods, then the truth is: moderation of that particular food may never work for you.
Now I work with women to first get really clear on what their relationship to food is, and then develop strategies to get them calm, free, and in control. And these days, some of those strategies might be cutting out certain foods.
And it works.
But, let me end this section by saying: This is not for everyone. Intuitive eating is fantastic, and learning to listen to your body and your hunger signals is absolutely critical to any long-term approach to health and food.
But, let’s say ‘everything in moderation’ isn’t a good fit for you. What should you do?
Let’s start with ‘why’
Before we work with what to do, it’s important to have a bit of an understanding about ‘why’ intuitive eating may not work for you.
I’m not going to get super deep here, so stay with me.
The first major culprit is a hormone called ‘leptin’. Leptin is a natural chemical inside your body that sends signals that you’re full, you don’t want to eat any more, and that you have enough energy from food to be active.
The more you eat, the more leptin is released, and the fuller you feel. Sounds good.
However, if you’ve ever had the experience where you just never feel full no matter what you eat, or eat a big meal and feel hungry only half an hour later, then you’ll know it doesn’t always work like that.
The problem is that if you’ve been eating a lot of processed carbs over a long period of time (like many of us have), then you’ll have a lot of insulin consistently circulating in your system. And high insulin levels make it hard (or impossible) for your body to feel the effects of leptin – so you don’t feel full.
Obviously, this makes the intuitive eating advice to “listen to your body and stop eating when you’re full” utterly impossible. No matter how hard you listen, all you’ll hear is your body screaming “I’m still hungry!”. It’s going to be incredibly hard to overcome food addiction with this process.
Dopamine is another natural chemical produced in your brain. It’s a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for making things feel good and creating a drive to do certain behaviors again. It’s known as one of the key ‘reward’ systems – when you do something that is good for you and your survival, dopamine is what makes it feel nice and what makes you want to continue doing it.
This is 100% necessary for survival, but many modern food products hijack this reward system. Very sweet or highly process foods are way stronger than anything you’d find in nature, and the foods make your brain release a ton more dopamine that it normally would.
In the beginning, this makes you feel amazingly good. But, pretty quickly, your brain has to shut down some of the receptors that receive dopamine because it’s just too much. This starts to make you less and less sensitive to dopamine, so it gets harder to feel good.
And as a consequence, you have to eat more and more to get the same feel-good high.
And that’s food addiction. If you try to eat your addiction foods in moderation, all you’ll hear is your brain screaming “Eat that again! Your happiness depends on it”.
How to overcome food addiction
To overcome food addiction and heal your leptin and dopamine systems, you’ve got to balance your blood sugar and reset your dopamine sensitivity.
These systems take 3-6 weeks to rebalance, on average. But, if you keep eating the damaging foods, as with an ‘everything in moderation’ approach, it’ll never heal because you will not be able to moderate your intake.
The answer: quit sugar and flour for 6 weeks.
It’s not a popular answer. It’s not an easy answer.
But living with unwanted weight and eating habits you despise is far, far worse.
How to quit sugar + flour
Step 1: Get familiar with the culprits: ALL flours + ALL sweeteners
You need to know what you’re doing if you’re going to do it properly. If you’re trying to break food addiction, then all sugars, sweeteners, and sugar alcohols are out, as are all flours including coconut, almond, tapioca, and rice. You’ll have to read ingredient labels and be extremely vigilant to begin with. Check out this list of 56 different names that sugar can be listed under on an ingredient label.
Step 2: Set hard lines
This approach is the exact opposite of ‘everything in moderation’. For it to work, you can’t “wing it” or allow exceptions during your experiment. With absolutely no gray areas, it can actually be a huge relief because there aren’t any ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ decisions to make, then answer is simply “No, I’m not doing that right now”.
Step 3: Planning
Meal planning is integral to success here. Don’t get caught unprepared. Seriously, if you truly want to heal, set yourself up for success by making a meal plan for every meal and then sticking to it. If you need help, I’ve got an in-depth meal planning course here.
Step 4: Self-talk (experiment + choice)
Research shows that the way your talk about your choices, even inside your own head, can make them easier or harder to stick to. If you frame your no-sugar-no-flour experiment as something you’re ‘choosing’ to do, then you’re much more likely to succeed. For example, you say to yourself “I’m not eating flour right now so I can heal my food addiction”, instead of “I can’t eat flour right now”.
Warning: Don’t do anything else (like exercise, holidays, other habit changes)
This isn’t an easy thing to do. It is definitely possible, and it gets easier and easier as time goes on, but it is a massive challenge. It is 100% worth it, but once again, plan for your own success. Make sure you pick a time that’s relatively free from other commitments, weddings, vacations, big holidays, or life changes. Also, don’t get overly ambitious and totally overhaul your life. It’s often way too much to ask of your familiarity-loving brain!
And finally, I alway recommend cutting exercise down to an enjoyable minimum while you’re quitting sugar and flour. Exercise is mentally and physically stressful. It also drains your willpower – and you’re going to need every last bit of it to get you through that first couple of weeks.
It’s worth it
So, does the thought of a life without cake, ice cream, or donuts make you feel gray, lifeless, and like all the joy would be gone?
I promise life on the other side is amazing.
And even if you decide to go back to your addiction (which as an adult, it 100% your right), at least you’ll have made an empowered choice to live life on your terms.