For many people, healing from food addiction demands a total lifestyle change, and this will be a lifelong challenge. It takes time for our brain chemistry to become rebalanced through healthy nutrition and self-care. We have found that the suggestions below are important steps in the healing process. Consistency, repetition and support create healthy changes that strengthen our bodies and behaviors over time.

1. Eliminate processed foods, sweeteners, flour, wheat, gluten grains and any other foods that trigger you to overeat. Replace these addictive foods with nourishing alternatives such as good quality protein, fats and complex carbohydrates. Fresh whole foods that have been part of the human diet for centuries are good for your body and will help balance your brain chemistry.  Eat plenty of colorful vegetables with every meal. This video can help you learn how to shop for whole foods.

2. Allow time to experience withdrawal symptoms from addictive foods. Getting off sugar and processed foods will be uncomfortable for 2-5 days before the physical cravings subside. Plan to get support during this time, expect to be irritable, and build in time for your body to get lots of rest.

3. Cut out coffee. Caffeine can cause cravings for sweets and fuel food addiction. To avoid headaches and irritability, gradually reduce your coffee consumption by cutting your intake in half every week until you have eliminated coffee completely. Replace that morning cup of false energy with a cup of hot tea or hot water and lemon that will gently cleanse your body and give you a healthy start every day.

4. Get rid of junk food. Clean out your kitchen cabinets by throwing out all boxed, bagged and canned foods that contain: added sweeteners (including high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners), starches, flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and natural flavorings, preservatives, food coloring, hydrogenated and highly refined cooking oils. There should be no more than five ingredients on the label of any food product.

5. Eat three balanced meals each day. It’s important to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with balanced portions of good quality carbohydrate, protein and fat at each meal. Never skip meals and try to eat every 4-5 hours throughout the day. Eating on time will help you avoid blood sugar fluctuations and keep you from getting hungry. Eliminate snacking unless smaller meals are a planned part of your program.

6. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is the number one nutritional deficiency in North America. Our bodies often mistake hunger for thirst, and not drinking enough water can lead to overeating. Start your day by drinking two large glasses of water, and drink plenty of water between meals. Slowly work your way up to drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water each day (for example, 140 pounds: 70 ounces of water), but not more than one gallon. Water supports every function in the body and is necessary for optimal health and wellness.

7. Whenever possible, try to focus on mindful eating. This means sitting at the table when you eat and focusing on what you’re eating instead of watching television, working on the computer, or multi-tasking. Take the time to eat slowly, and chew your food properly while enjoying your meal without distractions.  The Center for Mindful Eating will support you as you slow down and begin to give yourself time for relaxed eating.

8. Prepare yourself for grocery shopping, and fill your kitchen with fresh, whole “real“ foods. Take a shopping list to the grocery store or your local farmers market. Buy the highest quality food you can afford with a focus on local, seasonal and organic sources. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you will normally find fresh whole real foods. Avoid the middle aisles, which are typically filled with processed foods.

9. Be aware of fat-free and low-fat foods. When food manufacturers took the fat out of their products, they replaced it with sweeteners and artificial ingredients to compensate for the missing flavor. But a healthy balance of fats is necessary to heal the unbalanced brain chemistry of food addiction. Fats nourish and strengthen every cell in our bodies, balance hormones, enhance mineral absorption, support good cholesterol, and help gallbladder and liver function. Some fats are anti-inflammatory, and they can even help us to heal faster. Avoid hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated and trans fats along with genetically modified, refined industrial liquid oils such as soy, corn, cottonseed and canola. Replace these with extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil and the essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds and fish—especially the Omega 3s found in fish and flaxseed oil. Eat the good-quality saturated fats found in unrefined coconut oil and organic pasture butter.

10. Take time to plan and cook healthy meals. It’s helpful to organize your meals ahead of time and develop a daily food plan. Learn how to cook simple, quick and easy meals and how to use spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, ginger and fennel.  Cook with garlic, onions, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley and rosemary.  Or have someone help you prepare foods in advance that allow you to eat healthily when your schedule is busy.  Be careful when eating in restaurants, since they often use food additives with chemicals, sweeteners and flours.

11. Make time to exercise every day. Find a type of exercise you enjoy, whether it’s walking, dancing, yoga, swimming or bicycling. Integrating 30-40 minutes of stretching and exercise into each day will help diminish your food cravings. Movement releases endorphins that will improve your mood and help you sleep better. Daily exercise supports every function in the body and is necessary for optimal health.

12. Get eight hours of sleep each night, and find enough down time for yourself during the day. Giving yourself time to de-stress is key to your success. Stress fuels food addiction, and so will a lack of sleep. When we’re tired, we are more likely to reach for sugar and junk food for a temporary boost of energy. This feeds the cycle of addiction. Create an evening wind-down routine and turn off all electronic devices one hour before bedtime, especially screen devices such as televisions and computers. Sleeping in a quiet, dark room with no lights—including no light from televisions, computers or electronic clocks—will help your body move into complete relaxation.

13. Start your morning slowly, and give yourself personal time each day.  Enter into your day peacefully with no radio, television, computer or conversation. Make time for a morning meditation, drink a glass of water to hydrate, do a few stretches, and take at least 20 minutes to sit quietly. During your day, find pleasure in non-food activities such as connecting with others, taking a walk in nature, or gardening. Begin to explore your creativity or hobbies. Listen to music and dance more often, treat yourself to a massage, or simply schedule more time for you.

14. Create a support system. Enlist the people you admire and trust to support your healthy lifestyle. Find people who share a desire for healthy eating or exercise; establish a support group and accountability with friends who will provide daily encouragement. Hire professionals who understand food addiction and can help you with your self-care program. These professionals may include nutritionists, therapists, personal trainers and life coaches.

15. Give up on perfectionism. When you go off your program, learn from the experience—and then get right back on track.  Don’t give up or get stuck in self-criticism. We all have slip-ups. The longer you can stay with your program, the more you’ll learn about yourself—making it easier to create lifestyle changes that will support your new healthful habits.

How do I heal from food addiction?