Welcome to Keto Sister. By now, if you have kept up with the posts on this website (if not, start with the Keto Basics series):
- you know how to eat a low carb diet.
- you know how to make delicious recipes.
- you know that eating a low carb diet can be good for you, especially if you have struggled with diabetes, insulin resistance or have other difficulties processing carb-rich foods. Even those who eat high carb diets can do so in a way that is healthy if they stick to whole food starches and avoid foods like Coke and Doritos and anything made by McDonald’s (does this count as food?)
- you know that yo-yo dieting is why diets fail, so eating enough and being consistent is the key to success.
Why, then, are so many people unable to stick to eating a low carb diet for very long? I have had many clients who start out strong on their protocols, who focus on eating meats, vegetables and fats (necessary for a low carb diet), make all the fancy meals and delicious keto recipes and desserts they find on the internet and on Pinterest (not necessary) and even buy all of the test strips and gadgets to make sure they are in ketosis (also not necessary). And they still can hit a brick wall when it comes to their success. Ultimately, success lies in the decision a person makes to follow a process and to adjust it as needed when the process stops working for you. Success with a low carb diet takes commitment.
Commitment is serious and after a couple weeks, the shiny newness of being able to eat bacon dipped in chocolate (low carb chocolate, of course) and smoked salmon stuffed with butter and guacamole seems to wear off. It becomes routine and we do not always have time to make fancy meals, low carb bread or keto cakes and ice cream. Everyone who sticks with a low carb diet eventually will just eat meat, vegetables and fat at least some of the time. Without the fancy, without the recipes, and especially without nuts and cheese if you give those foods up along with burger buns and french fries, a ketogenic diet eventually becomes a little boring. By boring, I mean it becomes routine. Repetitive. Common. Unexciting.
If seeing these words is already making you nervous, I will tell you this: when my hunger fell away and my diet became boring, it was the beginning of my greatest opportunity for fat loss. If you are at this point, finding your diet boring and also finding yourself struggling to stay committed, then your success will stop at this point until you resolve this issue one way or the other. It helps to start by admitting that you have an emotional relationship with food.
Me, a food addict?
According to Food Addicts Anonymous, food addiction is “the uncontrollable craving for excess food that follows the ingestion of refined carbohydrates, primarily sugar and flour substances that are quickly metabolized and turned into sugar in the bloodstream.” So, basically 95% of Americans are food addicts and do not realize it.
Beyond this, however, it is quite common for people to feel let down by their food when it stops being new and exciting and becomes routine. One of the reasons this occurs is because we are food addicts.
Physical symptoms of food addiction include:
- Thinking you cannot control your intake of food, especially junk food or high sugar foods.
- Trying multiple different diet or weight loss programs that have never worked permanently.
- Using laxatives, diuretics, purging or exercise as a means of ensuring weight loss after eating a lot of food.
Emotional symptoms of addiction can include:
- Feeling depressed, hopeless, sad or ashamed about your eating or your weight.
- Eating when you are upset.
- Using food as a reward for good behavior.
- Becoming irritable after eating wheat, flour or sugar.
Social symptoms of addiction can include:
- Eating in private so no one sees you.
- Avoiding social interactions because you don’t have the body you want.
- Stealing other people’s food.
- Being more interested in what’s on the menu than on seeing people at an event.
Spiritual (yes, spiritual) symptoms of addiction can include:
- Feeling that life would be fine if only you could change this one thing about yourself.
- Praying and asking your Higher Power to help you lose weight.
- Becoming upset that your prayers are not answered if you do not lose weight.
If any of these apply to you, you should know that you are not alone and that this does not have to be the end of your story. I used to have an uncontrollable desire to eat foods after eating refined carbohydrates. Since starting a low carb diet, I have allowed myself to have measured portions of my former trigger foods, such as ice cream, cake, cookies, and pizza. Turns out that once I got my diet dialed into the right portions for me, my cravings for those foods disappeared. I ate a few bites of regular ice cream and carrot cake and pizza just to see how I would react, and they were good. And the next day when I was hungry, I ate meat, vegetables and fat like nothing happened. Thanks to keto, my physical addiction to sugar is gone (though some people can never eat it again and that is okay, too).
How do you deal with emotional, social or spiritual addiction to food?
Eating food triggers the dopamine center in the brain. Johnson and Kenney (2010) found that obesity commonly occurs along with compulsive eating behavior when hyperpalatable foods are consumed. In other words, eating very tasty food triggers a response in the brain that is similar to the addictive response in the brain’s reward center. When you eat yummy, delicious food, you can become addicted to it. Hence, when you stop eating it and just eat real food, you can experience a let down similar to a drug addict stopping the use of cocaine. I do not mean to compare the physical symptoms of detoxifying from food and cocaine, but it is normal if food has played this role in your life to feel sad, let down or even straight up broken hearted when you stop eating it.
This is one of the reasons that people have taken to making gourmet, luxury, super tasty keto foods. They are replacing tasty carb-rich foods with tasty carb-free foods. The hyperpalatability of the foods, however, is what causes many people to continue to feel excited about food. The minute this person eats just the basics, it can trigger a feeling of “boredom” with plain old clean eating. (Just so you know, not everyone feels bored by clean eating. This was a shock to me.)
How do you move forward? Lessons on food boredom.
I used to make fantastic keto foods, but I do not go to a lot of trouble anymore. I figured out that food’s job in my body is just to provide fuel for my activities, and it became clear.
Food is not my God. It is not supposed to save me.
Food is not my lover. It is not supposed to soothe or excite me.
Food is not my teacher. It is not supposed to help me to understand.
Food is not my friend. It is not supposed to provide comfort or a listening ear when I am upset.
Food is not my hobby. It is not supposed to entertain me when I am bored.
Food is fuel. And that is all it is.
If you expect it to just be fuel, then you will not experience the highs and lows that many associate with eating junk or healthy food. Find salvation, love, lessons, support and entertainment from the people in your life. Find ways to engage in your community and with your loved ones. Let food have its rightful place so that when you eat meat, vegetables and fat, you feel satisfied and grateful. And if this is not enough to help you rebalance your relationship with food, then find someone who can help. Because if you expect food to be any of these things, it will always let you down.
I hope this post helps you or someone you know who is struggling with the role that food should play in their lives. If I can ever help you get past a physical addiction to food by entraining yourself with different eating patterns, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. Thanks for reading.
Food Addicts Anonymous (2017). http://www.foodaddictsanonymous.org/are-you-food-addict
Johnson PM, Kenny PJ (2010) Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nat Neurosci 13:635–641. 10.1038/nn.2519