There are certain addictions that can go along with food and the way we eat. Most would not even give it a second thought when food becomes part of the addictive personality. Learning or understanding these types of food addictions can lead to better food planning which can also lead to better health and fitness.
Sometimes the habitual or ritualistic consumption of a food becomes an addiction – something we physically or psychologically need (or perceive we need) to get through the day. Take a client of mine who we’ll call Al. Al has to drink Mountain Dew every single morning, and I believe he drinks up to two liters during the course of a day. In my opinion, that level of consumption is an addiction. I am always talking to Al about the possible negative effects of drinking this unnaturally neon yellow liquid each day, but to no avail. This particular client has been working out with me for over two years; he is very fit, strong, and has low body fat. But that does not change the fact that he has an addiction to a high-calorie, low (zero) nutrient substance that may jeopardize (and certainly doesn’t help) his health. Other people may be addicted to coffee, diet soda, chips, fries, cake… anything that you feel you physically or psychologically need to make it through the day, but which, in terms of nutritional needs, your body does not require. So how do we handle these addictive associations with food or drink?
Here is a tip: As with other addictions, a stepwise weaning process is required. To continue with Al’s example, I instructed him not to completely stop consumption of the soft drink he loves and needs so much; in my opinion, going cold turkey is not the best idea. I instructed this client to subtract one quarter of what he was drinking at every sitting. So every time he went to fill a glass with Mountain Dew he should subtract a quarter of it. I then instructed him to wait until his mind and body got used to drinking one quarter less of the soft drink before subtracting a second one quarter of the amount. I use the same principles for clients who need 6 to 8 cups of coffee every day.
The rationale behind this system is that there is enough caffeine and/or sugar in those drinks which could cause a person physical symptoms such as headaches, shaking, or dizziness if they were to stop cold turkey. So when my clients have an addiction to a food or drink, I instruct them to wean themselves off of it in a manner the body and the mind can adapt to. Essentially, the body has to go through a withdrawal without the mind realizing that the particular soft drink or food is being taken away. During this time of weaning I make sure I give clients enormous amount of positive reinforcement and positive motivation. On some occasions I may also use a little stern verbiage or tough love as motivation, with the understanding of my clients that this is because I am involved in what they are doing. I make sure my clients understand I am a part of their journey; however, keeping everything in perspective, I cannot go to my client’s house and subtract the amount of soft drink or subtract the amount of coffee they are drinking each and every day. I cannot do the weaning process for them. They have to take responsibility for curbing their own food addictions. I can only encourage them and motivate them in the time I have with them.
For as long as humans have lived in groups, food has held a central role in the social and cultural interactions among us. Imagine any social gathering and food features prominently: birthdays (cake and ice cream); weddings (dinner, drinks, cake); cocktail parties (hors d’oeuvres and alcohol); Super Bowl parties (beer, nachos, wings, pizza); holiday parties (eggnog, cookies) and so on. I’m sure you could think of many more occasions and list your favorite foods associated with each. There is also the “mangia, mangia, mangia” mentality of many hostesses when you are traveling or visiting, insisting that you eat this, try this, have more of this, and then dessert! In these situations it can be socially awkward or downright rude to refuse. Changing your eating habits does not mean excluding yourself from social life. These events are important for our social and emotional well-being, and are the “highlights” of life, breaking from the normal routine.
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