There’s typically a single rule inherent in most addiction treatment: don’t. For the alcoholic, it’s don’t drink. For the drug addict, it’s don’t use. For the compulsive gambler, it’s don’t gamble. There’s no negotiation. There’s often no degree of how much you should or should not engage in the addictive behavior or consume the addictive substance. The rule is you simply don’t do either under any circumstances — ever.
Food addiction is a bit trickier. You can’t apply the “don’t” rule to eating, after all. Not eating is not an option, of course. The food addict has to engage with their “drug” of choice at least three times a day. Although the person who’s addicted to food can remain abstinent from certain binge foods or those that trigger their addiction, long-term recovery usually requires more safeguards than abstinence from one or two foods. Food addicts have to manage their addiction, not abstain altogether.
Managing addiction is like trying to corral a room full of toddlers. It’s not easy. However, it can be done if some clear rules are put into place. Food addicts need food rules. Just like the “don’t” rule used in other addiction recovery is non-negotiable, so are food rules. Once addicts begin negotiating, they lose ground and the addiction predictably wins.
How to Set Healthy Food Rules
Food rules create a clear understanding of what foods are off-limits to the person dealing with food addiction as well as what types of eating behaviors are unacceptable. For instance, as a way to avoid fast food drive-through temptations and convenience store impulse buys, a food addict may live by a rule that eating in the car is prohibited. Likewise, as a way to avoid overeating, a food addict might adopt the rule that going back for second helpings is forbidden – one serving per meal.
Some people might regard food rules as too restrictive, but in fact, for the food addict such rules create freedom. For instance, as a way to cut out snacking and limit their exposure to food, the food addict might implement the rule that eating between meals just doesn’t happen. They eat three meals a day and nothing in between. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cupcake or a carrot. If it’s offered between meals, they don’t eat it – noo exceptions. Does that sound strict, scary or unfair?
To the food addict, that simple rule can actually offer tremendous relief. Not eating between meals gives the food addict a temporary reprieve from the addiction for several hours during the day. Because eating between meals is off-limits, the person doesn’t have to think about food between meals. He or she doesn’t have to engage in the obsessive mental acrobatics that occur when trying to make healthy food choices as addiction hijacks willpower. All the mental warfare needed to fight food addiction gets exhausting, so knowing that eating between lunch and dinner is forbidden provides the food addict freedom from the battle.
Food rules actually create brief ceasefires in the food addiction battle. They produce necessary boundaries that help manage food addiction.