Do you feel like you are constantly struggling with food? Are you overeating food, in particular overeating processed foods or eating when you’re not hungry? If so, know that you are not alone. Millions of people around the world struggle with food addiction and overeating. In this blog post, we will discuss some tips for overcoming these issues and taking control of your life.


Why are we addicted to processed foods

The first step to overcoming any addiction is to understand why you’re addicted in the first place. For many people, processed foods are addictive because they are loaded with sugar, processed fat, salt and chemicals. 

All the major addictive brain pathways are activated by different processed foods. These include the opiate, dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and endocannabinoid pathways. When many different substances are being used, the addiction is harder to put into remission. These pathways contain cells which are vulnerable to Pavlovian conditioning to crave. (Why Food Addiction Could Be Harder to Recover From Than Drug Addiction,

The combination of substances in fast food meals parallel addictive substances and activates addictive pathways.  Sugar activates the pathway L-dopa (dopamine), flour sets off serotonin, gluten sets off the opiate receptors, excessive salt and dairy activates the opiate pathways.  Processed fat activates the same pathways as cannabis, and caffeine wakes up dopamine.  (Ifland, Joan., Marcus, Marianne T., Preuss, Harry G. (2018) Processed Food Addictions:  Foundations, Assessment and Recovery.  Boca Raton, FL:CRC Press).

These ingredients trigger the pleasure centres in your brain and make you feel good in the short-term. However, over time, these same ingredients can lead to weight gain and health problems.



Abstinence from processed foods can be difficult, but it is worth it for the long-term benefits. By avoiding processed foods, you can help your body to stay healthy and avoid serious health risks. Instead, focus on eating whole foods that are fresh and unprocessed. These foods are not only better for your health, but they can also be more delicious and satisfying. With a little effort, you can make the switch to a healthier diet that will benefit your mind and body for years to come.


Identify your cues and triggers

The process of recovery from food addiction is not easy and it may take years long commitment to succeed. The brain has been found susceptible, as many people who struggle with this disorder can find themselves reacting negatively after exposure to processed food.

One way to help you avoid processed foods is to identify your cues and triggers. Only when you are fully aware of your triggers can you begin to take steps to overcome them. This might mean making a plan for what to do in situations where you are tempted to eat processed foods.

Cues and triggers are everywhere. They’re lurking in the background of your everyday life. Morning tea, coffee breaks, celebrations in the workplace, vending machines, social occasions with friends and family, are all potential cues and triggers for your cravings. And if you’re trying to abstain, they can be a real challenge to resist. For some people, it might be the smell of fresh-baked goods. For others, it might be seeing fast food restaurants on their commute home from work.

Whatever the event may be, how can you overcome the power of these cues and triggers? The first step is to become aware of them. Once you’re aware of the potential danger zones, you can start to plan ahead. If you know there’s a vending machine in your office, bring along some healthy snacks to tide you over until lunchtime. If you’re worried about being tempted by the sweets at a party, offer to bring a fruit platter or meat and veggie tray instead. Going to dinner at a restaurant, plan ahead as to what you will order and stick to the plan.

The key is to have a plan and be prepared. With a little forethought, you can outsmart those cravings and stay on track with your healthy eating goals.

Planning and Preparation

The first step is to clear all processed food from your pantry and fridge. This may seem daunting, but it’s necessary in order to get a good idea of what you have and what needs to be culled. If it’s processed and packaged, it needs to go. This also includes anything that’s been sitting in your cupboards for months (or years!) that you keep telling yourself you’ll eat “someday”. Out of sight, out of mind is the best practice here. If there are other foods that you know you won’t be able to resist, ask someone else in the house to store them elsewhere or consume them away from you.

The second step is to make a list of healthy meals and snacks that you actually enjoy eating. This may take some trial and error, but it’s important to find foods that you can stick with long-term. One small change that you can make is to start cooking more meals at home from scratch. This way, you’ll know exactly what’s going into your food and you can control the portions.

The third and final step is to create a meal plan for the week ahead. This doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Compile a list of the clean foods you will be eating and shop at the supermarket or greengrocer to make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.

With these three steps, you’ll be well on your way to ditching processed foods for good.

It can be tough when other people in the house are eating the foods that are on your no go list. If you can’t get them to stop eating the foods altogether, see if they can at least store them elsewhere or consume them away from you. That way, you won’t have to see or smell the foods that tempt you, and it’ll be easier to stay on track.

If you can’t avoid them altogether, try to have a plan for how you will deal with them. This might mean having a clean alternative already prepared.

Willpower isn’t the issue

The truth is most people who struggle with overeating processed foods don’t have a lack of willpower. The problem isn’t in you, it’s that our food system has incentivised shame and self-judgment instead of connection to your body, as well as the desire for genuine nourishment from what we put on our plate. Big food corporations and dieting companies make billions from preying upon those caught in the diet/binge cycle and are experts at placing the blame solely at the feet of the afflicted individual.

We have been conditioned to blame ourselves when we fail, which leads many people down a path of mindlessly following society’s “diet” and exercise expectations without considering any other options.

The key is to have a plan and be prepared. With a little forethought, you can outsmart those cravings and stay on track with your healthy eating goals. Planning and preparation are essential in overcoming processed foods. Willpower isn’t the issue, it’s being caught in the diet/binge cycle that companies profit from.

It seems like such an easy solution: just eat less or exercise more! But what do these extremes really accomplish? They only push us further away from peace within ourselves while our inner critic comes out even stronger. The inner critic is a tricky creature, and it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that we can just try harder or be more disciplined. But this only pushes our negative emotions deeper down inside where they stay hidden until someone or something triggers them again. Don’t fall for it, food manufacturers want you to blame yourself, they want you to feel bad and comfort yourself with more food, or to just exercise more to “work it off”.

If you’re looking for a way to control your overeating of processed foods, abstaining may be the answer. It’s not always easy, but it can be done. And when you do succeed, you’ll feel better and have more energy both physically and mentally.

The important thing to remember is that you can make changes, no matter how small, and see results. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on track and keep going. Every step in the right direction is important and will help to bring about change for future success.

Pauline Atchison (Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner)



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