So how can you know for sure that your food preferences are influenced by addictive desire? Here are some clues, although not all of these necessarily apply to everyone:
· How compelling is it? It’s not uncommon for people to become compulsive, losing a sense of control, whenever they eat. This contributes to the speed of eating, and usually leaves them wanting more. Some people will feel compulsive no matter what they eat, but for others it will depend on what they’re eating; for example, eating pasta compared to a salad. If you’re thinking, “why would I want to eat a salad when I could have pasta?” – that’s what I’m talking about! Eating any food at all has the potential to awaken your addictive desire, but eating more addictive food will tend to do that more powerfully.
· Do you feel alarmed by the idea of eating less of these foods? Your attraction towards addictive foods is a function of a brain system that’s supposed to keep you alive. When you understand this, you can understand resistance to making changes: cutting down on these foods might seem to threaten your survival, and this is why forms of denial and justification get created, to keep the overeating in place. And this is why addictive overeating can seem to be a need, when of course it’s quite the reverse.
· Does it contain starchy carbohydrates? This is not to suggest you shouldn’t eat any at all, but sugar and wheat in particular have stronger rewarding effects in your brain, similar to that of an addictive drug. Which is why they’re in practically everything that’s manufactured. With each mouthful the effect could be subtle, but there’s an accumulated effect depending on amounts consumed.
Precisely because it’s a survival drive, the conditioning for addictive desire is created all too easily. In one study, volunteers are given a sugary snack at the same time every morning for five days. As you might expect, they had a desire for something sweet around that time for days afterwards.
The good news is that this conditioning can be reversed, even when it’s been very well established, and that’s what my work is all about.
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