How to Stop Using Food Like a Drug

How to Stop Using Food Like a Drug FinalYou might be hard-pressed to find many people who never take advantage of the “elixir” effects food can have on us. For instance, I’d venture that the majority of us start our day with a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea. Some of us wind down after a long week with a glass of wine or a taste of our favorite bourbon. Even a small dose of sugar during times of excessive stress can lower cortisol (hence why some of us reach for an extra indulgence when things get rough). As long as we’re talking occasional or modest gratification, we can take advantage of these benefits without worry. But for some people, food becomes an ongoing coping mechanism or an unhealthy dependency to get them through their day. Where’s the line between normal indulgence and chronic “abuse” of food? And what do we do when we find ourselves sliding into risky territory?

The body is designed for us to enjoy eating. Lab animals that don’t produce dopamine die because they literally won’t eat without the internal motivation-reward boost. We’re naturally drawn to the scents and textures of food, along with the associations they offer. I sometimes think about certain meals as actual memories because they opened new territory of culinary delight.

Yet, other than a cup of coffee each day, I’m careful about how I use food. A few years ago I even kicked my nightly wine habit because I thought I might feel better without it. It wasn’t until I found a healthy workaround that I reintroduced it. I wanted to make sure I was getting the benefits, without the downsides.

And there’s the rub. When is an indulgence working against us, not for us? 

Even if we glean some benefit from something (e.g., an energy boost from coffee or a drop in cortisol from a piece of chocolate), do we also experience a downside? And does our habit keep us from addressing the real lifestyle or emotional roots that are causing our discomfort? Are we relying on caffeine because we refuse to take responsibility for our poor sleep habits? Are we using sugar or any other kind of food to distract ourselves from circumstances we feel afraid or powerless to deal with?

In other words, are we using food as a stand-in for better lifestyle choices and/or honest psychological inventory?

Let me add one caveat before we dig in. The biology and psychology of full blown food addiction is beyond the scope of what I’m covering here. While some of these strategies may be similar to or part of a food addiction recovery plan, the picture is more complex at that level, and I’d refer anyone who thinks they’re beyond reining in their own behaviors to food addiction professionals.

Today I’m aiming for the “gray” area between normal eating and ongoing misuse/“abuse” of food, where I think many of us can find ourselves at one point or another.

That said, here are some tips.

Stop feeding the physiological cycle

It’s impossible to talk about using food as a drug without looking at the genuine neurological and hormonal impacts it has on the body. The fact is, certain foods affect us more like drugs than others.

With actual drug use, we’re not operating with innate satiation signaling. But with food, our bodies have a built-in system for telling us when to eat, how much to eat and when to stop.

In our paleolithic ancestors’ time, it worked great. Today, we’ve become our own saboteurs. We’ve known for years that sugary and processed foods (those that strategically combine sugar, salt and certain fats into a triple crown disaster) are intentionally designed to override our inherent satiation signals and hyper-trip our reward systems.

Unfortunately, our own body composition can work against us—leading us deeper into a cul-de-sac of poor eating choices and behaviors. Leptin is one key hormonal player in our satiety signaling. When we’re obese, we lose leptin sensitivity, and we’re drawn to eat despite being functionally full. This is where we get into trouble and the gate is open to food dependence—a phenomenon that looks strikingly similar to chemical drug dependence in neurological scans.

The physiology here could easily be its own post, and I’ve written about these issues in the past. Suffice it here to say that it’s time to kick sugar/high carb (same deal) and processed foods to the curb. You’ll be forever waging an uphill battle with these food products. Food chemists have you by the tail. Get the monkey off your back by going cold turkey or by gradually replacing these choices with healthier ones that won’t hijack your physiology. Regular readers, you know the drill. But for any newbies, take heed.

Assess your habits honestly

Coffee at 6:00, 8:00, 10:00, 1:00 and 3:00? Sweetened almond milk ice cream after dinner? Paleo-branded treat on your morning break? A superfluous energy drink after a regular intensity workout? Snacking after dinner?

Routine influences our desires. If we’ve done something again and again, we come to expect it. That little insistent voice inside us feels darn well entitled. It’s like establishing Wednesday night as movie night for the kids for six months, and then telling them this Wednesday is too nice to stick with the routine. Not that it isn’t worth shifting the schedule, but good luck handling the initial rebellion.

Acknowledge the crummy ruts for what they are, and come up with something new (and healthier) to put in their place.

Identify your psychological triggers

Identify what you’re feeling when you start raiding the cupboards or the candy machine. What’s really lacking when you pop the top off a soda? What are you trying to avoid when you’re reaching for that bag of chips?

Research shows that emotional awareness impacts our food choices. So when you start to fixate on the thought of a food or a lot of food, pay attention to what’s going on in your body, mind and environment. Observe and note for as long as you can. Get the whole 360º on that sensation. Write it down if you have to. Next time do the same thing. Keep doing it until you begin to catch that feeling before the craving hits. Then work on redirecting.

Ask where you’re stuck in life

You may find patterns in those psychological triggers. Maybe they’re the ones you’d anticipate, or maybe they surprise you. Who, what, and where tend to be associated with these triggers? This doesn’t mean you can blame your unhealthy behaviors around food on someone or something else. But it begs the question: if you’re using food to self-medicate, what exactly are you trying to medicate?

Sometimes our poor lifestyle choices are a half-conscious response to stressful or otherwise unfavorable life circumstances. The Primal strategies in these cases remain the same, but a bigger set of overarching choices come into play. We should ask the questions that feel too big to ask.

Make food substitutions (or not)

Sure, you can swap a sugar-laden “chocolate” bar for 80% dark chocolate squares, real cocoa nibs or a chocolate protein shake with a little extra pure cocoa powder mixed in. You can create Primal versions of just about every favorite comfort food you can come up with.


For some people, even eating anything close to the original can send them over the edge and balloon cravings rather than satiate them. These are foods where moderation has no meaning.

Be honest about all those good intentions that never stuck with a particular food or group of foods. Lose the guilt or the nagging voice that says you “should” be able to control how much of X food you eat. What’s the point? Admit that it isn’t good for you as an individual and move on. Case closed.

Call food advertisers’ bluffs

In Grok’s day, food was food. Beyond those involved in communal ritual or those that were simply harder to come by, food didn’t come with layers of marketing hype.

I like (real) chocolate as much as the next person, but let’s be honest. If you’d never seen an ad for chocolate of any kind and never heard a cultural reference about its “powers,” would it have the same appeal? What about chips and soda? And foods from certain mostly fast food restaurants? The list could go on here. What stories do we start to believe about certain foods that only make them seem more enticing?

Stop subjecting yourself to commercials and other advertising that encourage you to think a food offers anything other than calories and nutrients (or not). And when they do come along, call them on their bluff. Contrary to what the ad made it seem like, eating a square of Dove chocolate didn’t send me into an unbridled state of euphoria.

Use routine to your advantage

Some people find it helpful to eat the same thing each day for a meal or two. Research shows habituation through exposure to less food variety can encourage people to eat less. Switch it up when you get entirely bored. But over time, your body will anticipate the taste of what it comes to expect. Make the routine healthy to make it work for you.

Eat mindfully

Eating for a “hit” of some kind means we come at food for an immediate feel-good outcome. Mindfulness reminds us the real action (and enjoyment) is in the process. How we eat can very well influence what we eat.

Consciously choose what you will eat, and bring your attention fully to the food—its preparation, its presentation and your enjoyment of it. For many people, it can feel like a ritual. Mindful eating puts us in a different relationship to what we’re eating and to the act of eating itself.

If you feel drawn to foods you know you’re trying to kick, use mindfulness to get curious about what is pulling you toward making that choice. What emotions are coming into play? Research tells us that our eating plans are dictated by rational thought, but our actual eating behaviors are driven by emotion.

Stay with the instinct and the feelings tied to it, but observe it rather than identify with it. Over time, this will help you detach from your instinct and offer some emotional room to make a better choice.

Pursue other means of feeling good

When’s the last time you did something that elicited real euphoria? How long has it been since your last vacation or weekend road trip, your last massage, your last afternoon with your best friend? Do you take substantive breaks in your day to sit in the sun or walk in the moonlight? How often do you listen (or make) live music or dance or have sex or make a fool of yourself just for the fun of it? Would you be good company for Grok, or do you bore yourself these days?

When we routinely keep ourselves on too short a leash—forgoing the thrill of unplanned/planned adventures, taking for granted or never leaving meaningful time for our closest relationships, neglecting to practice hobbies, visit the places or read the books we love—we’ll settle for that cheap substitute of a food craving.

So whether you’re looking to stop abusing clearly unhealthy foods, or even primal-approved indulgences, I hope these tips can help.

That’s it for today, everyone. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, since I know most of us have some experience with it. How do you manage the healthy use of food?

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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48 thoughts on “How to Stop Using Food Like a Drug”

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  1. I would say my biggest weakness is chocolate (actually just published a blog post about this a few days ago). As long as I am satisfying that craving with a few squares of 90% Lindt, or some raw cacao blended into my am coffee with coconut oil and collagen, I’m great.
    Where I run into trouble is when it is less portion controlled, like opening a bag of chocolate chips.
    Two things are very helpful for me….mindfulness and greens. I try to sit at the table and think about what I am eating, rather than digging into the bag of chocolate chips. I also find that the more greens (especially pretty bitter ones) that I consume the fewer chocolate cravings I have. I really don’t want other sweets…just chocolate! Oh, and getting enough sleep helps too!

    1. I had a similar issue. At first 85% chocolate seemed bitter to me and half a square would satisfy me. Then I started loving it found myself mowing through my stash. I recently bought 100% nibs. These are unbearably bitter at first but now it’s chocolate to me. Everything else is unbearably sweet.

      1. Do you ever contemplate whether that aversion to bitterness was your body communicating an intolerance or something along those lines? Or was it purely caused by your body being accustomed to added sugar?

        1. Never really thought about it. I guess to me sugar has a reward stimulus where as bitter is an acquired taste. Perhaps I trained myself to tolerate bitter foods

    2. I have a weakness for chocolate too. It’s really the only sweet I eat. Haven’t tried the raw cacao in the coffee but I’m right there with you on the Lindt squares. At least after eating the dark stuff for so long I’ve lost all desire to eat milk chocolate.

  2. GREAT article, Mark. I’ve definitely been in this boat, many times. I notice that mindfulness (the subtle kind you describe, not necessarily the full on meditation) has helped me redirect my behavior when I’m reaching for bad foods on autopilot. Often I’ll notice, “Hey, I’m not hungry, just bored or anxious.” Then I’ll do a little physical activity, like a walk, and I’ll notice the craving is gone. It’s pretty amazing. I wonder how many times in my lifetime I could have substituted a simple activity for a useless snack, since it’s clear that hunger wasn’t the real motivation.

    1. This is how I feel too. I’ve recently noticed over the last few weeks that if I am just sitting around in my house being unproductive that I’ll think I am or “feel” hungry. It only happens when I am bored or unproductive! I began taking my dogs on a walk when this happens and noticed the feeling went away and I was really just bored or feeling confined to four walls. I’ve often noticed too that when I am craving sweets that I am probably actually hungry! And so when I eat, the craving goes away. Otherwise I’ll focus on if I am actually hungry or just think I am and go from there.

      It feels like when I am confined to the inside of somewhere is when this imaginary “hunger” occurs. It doesn’t happen if I am outside or even driving. I’ve learned to recognize it and often describe it to my fiancee as “my head wants it, I’m not actually hungry.”

  3. Boredom is a big one for me. If I find that I’m twiddling my thumbs at home, I’ll notice I drift off to the kitchen. I guess I should be doing something more constructive than eating food my body doesn’t need. 😛 Next time, I’ll be sure to have a couple activities in mind as clear alternatives.

  4. Stress, stress, and more stress. The point you made about sugar and cortisol hit the nail on the head for me. That drop in cortisol probably accounts for a huge portion of my past bad eating habits. Obviously, putting sugar in my mouth all the time wasn’t a healthy (or even sufficient) replacement for the lifestyle changes I needed to make. Glad I found Primal!

    1. Chewing gum has been shown to drop cortisol too, popping in some sugar free gum has stopped a full blown sugar binge for me.

  5. Yes it’s a great topic for many of us healthy eaters who are trying to improve a little, because this slant on it gets lost in the info geared towards dealing with serious food issues. Thank you, Mark!

  6. I love the idea of simply observing your emotions connected with a craving without the feeling obligation to act.

    When I made the transition away from a carb-laden diet nearly 25 yrs ago I found that eating healthy foods I *really* enjoyed took most of the sting away from the “foods” I was losing (today I see the latter as pretty much poisons).

    That being said having a controlled cheat meal or even cheat day every now and then can also dampen overly high cravings for the bad stuff.

    1. Absolutely love this! I feel the same way. I also switched my perspective of the industrially produced “food” as a treat to something that was just unappealing in every way and a “treat” as something I made with real, rich ingredients that made me feel good.
      My ‘cheats’ tend to be high carb but still paleo–but I’ve had a number of people tell me that when they have a ‘cheat’ with flour, sugar, or industrial ingredients it never tastes as good as they remembered and they’re happy to go back to eating what is now normal for them.

      1. Definitely! Eating a 10 pack of Reese’s Cups (a typical afternoon snack when I was 25!) not only tastes manufactured but makes you feel like crap, physically and emotionally. Because of that my cheats have tended towards less and less frequent and towards more healthy (e.g. a little high protein pasta with the bulk of the meal being veggies and meat).

  7. I wrestle with this a lot. To the point where I started a forum post about it a week or two ago.
    I have become a lot more mindful about what I eat and how I prepare it while struggling to be mindful about how much of it I eat. The food’s just too freakin’ good! My wife, my one-year old, and I try to have dinner together every night, but it can be tough to squeeze that in before bedtime – both mine and my son’s 🙂 I was trying to make sure to put down my fork between every bite, and that helped, but it was a hard habit for me to keep. The process of preparing the food is meditative for me. So much so that the eating of it isn’t as precious as it should be, and I can tend to just gorge until it’s gone.
    I also find fasting really helpful – particularly on weekends because once I snack on some leftover pork shoulder, get into some macadamia nuts, or saute some twice cooked potatoes, it is hard for me to stop. One huge meal on a weekend afternoon around 5, and then a cup of bone broth and a teeth brush seems to be the best method for me to control my weekend cravings.
    I love this article, and I would love to get a handle on how to best enjoy food while not having my mind on the seconds (and thirds) waiting in the skillet on the stove.

  8. Emotional awareness and routine have been the big saviors for me. I am a huge routine person, which means bad routine and good. The only way I’m able to change routines is to be emotional aware and go cold turkey. That withdrawal where you’re getting thoughts of how to sneak sugar back in subtlet, literally bargaining with yourself s the worst. So I literally sit and talk to my stomach. It’s a whole other brain after all and the most primal one we’ve got. But man do I have to be aware. It’s getting easier though. It always gets easier, and now I’ve replaced a bad routine with a good one and there you have it. Timely article Mark.

  9. Great post! Love the advice to be honest with yourself. Being curious and non-judgmental about observing and recognizing my issues with food has been one of the greatest tools to change my behavior. Some of us have a complicated relationship with food that is both psychological and physiological. I’ve been having success freeing myself from lifelong food drama using many of the tools Mark has listed. Being of unsound mind when it comes to food, I’ve also had to add portion control, and that has been vital for me. Be honest with yourself, and do what works for you. The reward of not being controlled by food is pretty sweet.

  10. I’m just a couple weeks into going full primal. The biggest issue I have is breaking the routine of eating 6 “small meals” per day. I’m hoping that soon my body will break free from the routine I had put myself in for what seems like forever. I could probably benefit from eating more fat, but it seems like when those designated times that I had programmed my body to understand as meal time, I get hungry. Today I made a conscious effort to truly examine if I was hungry or if I was like Pavlov’s dog that just heard the bell. I did better today than I did yesterday and hopefully I’ll keep trending that way.

    1. You’ll get better with time. I recently stopped eating an energy bar before I surf in the morning. I get up at 4am, stretch, drink some green, then go surf for a couple hours and then finish up with planks, spinner bike of pull ups. Then I eat breakfast.

      I was starting to wonder if I really needed a snack before my routine or was it habit from back in the day when I wasn’t such an efficient fat burner. So I stopped. Guess what, it was habit. I didn’t miss it at all, my energy levels are exactly the same, and I’m not any more or less hungry after exercising.

      So by-by pre workout snack.

    2. I wouldn’t worry too much about it while you’re learning the primal ropes. Especially if you’re coming from a heavily processed diet, frequent meals and snacks can help diffuse some of the initial carb cravings and low-carb flu (at least they did for me).

      As your body adapts to the new, real, foods, your hunger and appetite will diminish, and then you can start re-tooling your habits.

      Welcome to the primal tribe!

  11. I certainly border on food addiction when I have very stressful emotional upheavals like grief. Other times, I am ok and only eat minimal amounts.

    I have noticed that boredom, stress and some negative thinking are all great setups for gorging on sugar. It’s times like that when I have to catch my thinking before it goes too far. If I don’t catch that thinking then I feel the only thing that will make me feel better is to eat sugar. And it is an instant reward. Sadly, though, it leads to poor sleep, feeling hungover the next day and more cravings.

    The junk food has to go. I am starting to limit my sugar consumption with only fruit (in moderation). Cold turkey from sugar is just too much of a leap.
    Been struggling to kick my sugar habits for years. I make progress then regress. But always moving forward.

  12. Such an important post, Mark. The majority of my work involves helping clients with exactly this area of work and change.

    Love how you address the physiological aspects…as well as the importance of mindful, honest investigation of self and patterns—including triggers, underlying roots, and what we’re REALLY needing when we reach for sugar, carbs or something else.

    One question I have people ask themselves, with an abundance of honest, curious self-compassion is:

    Is your desire for and indulgence in a food connecting or disconnecting? As in, connecting or disconnecting with true needs and fullest expression of self…and with true, authentic, intimate relationship with others.

    If it’s disconnecting and part of a harmful cycle, that’s an addictive pattern needing attention and care.

  13. For me the whole secret is getting off sugar (and to some extent flour). It is so terribly addictive I can’t “endulge responsibly”. Cutting it out takes weeks or months and many fits and re-starts. But once I’ve done it, I can be objective and dispassionate about all food choices. It’s a cycle that starts at Thanksgiving with “a little nibble of pie” and doesn’t end until April when I’ve finally gotten back on the Primal wagon. Sugar is kind of all or nothing for me. I consider it poison.

  14. I’m pretty disciplined about food consumption … where I fall down is the very important health aspect regarding sleep … schedule is not regular and duration not consistent.

    I wonder if you total all the great articles Mark has written how many books that would translate to?!

  15. Great Post! This is one topic that pertinent to anyone with food issues. Something like 95% of people who have ever felt hungry and have access to a refrigerator. I have never been a gum chewer. Sugar and teeth don’t mix and artificial sweeteners never did it for me. Then I discovered Spry gum at my dentist’s office. This is sweetened with Xylitol which was touted as being good for your teeth? It’s not primal, but the compound does occur naturally. I did some investigative research and found that it is not low calorie, about 2/3s that of table sugar. However as a non-fermentable alcohol sugar it is metabolized like soluble fiber and slowly converted to glycogen, SCFA, etc. in the large gut. It also has two positive effects on oral health. First is liberates Calcium ions to replace the ones lost to acidic foods and dental caries. Apparently, xylitol also binds to the food source receptors and basically starves off cavity causing bacteria that cannot metabolize it. Any dental professionals care to elaborate, confirm or debunk?

    To make a long story short, I keep two jars in my refrigerator, one peppermint and one cinnamon. When I have that uncontrollable urge to snack, I grab two pieces of gum and clean my teeth. It addresses both the sweet tooth and oral fixation impulse

    1. Dental professional here…

      Yes to everything you wrote about xylitol.

      Having said that, most of the xylitol on the market is a highly processed quasi-food. Organic birch xylitol is hard to find and spendy. The stuff in Spry is probably the processed stuff, but I am not certain.

      While I don’t advocate internal consumption of xylitol, the little bit you get in chewing gum is probably ok, and the benefits to dental health are almost certainly worth it.

      1. I know some people who use xylitol with a little bit of salt in warm water and do a gentle sinus rinse with it. Especially if it seems like a sinus infection is coming on. I’ve even done it myself. I think you could even put it on wound. The military have been putting xylitol gum and toothpaste in their rations for a long time.

  16. I fall into this trap every week. However I’m craving paleo-ish foods/snacks: pistachios, raw milk cheese, and almond butter with apples. I fall into this craving when I’m bored, after a long day at work, when I don’t sleep well the night before, or when my schedule/routine changes and I can’t have dinner.

  17. This article came just in time for me! Thank you, Mark! I have had a LOT of stress the past week and really, in despair, just wanted that crappy candy bar in the machine. I haven’t felt compelled to eat crap like that in months. It made me even more aware of stress’ effects on me & given me more motivation to reduce it even further, in this, the most stressful of weeks! Thank you again!

  18. Good article, I don’t have any food weakness besides nut butters. A good almond or walnut butter and I can eat several servings of it before I’ve realized how much I consumed haha. Better yet a freshly ground almond butter with raw cacao in it is the absolute best! I guess there’s much worse food addictions, but there’s no denying it’s full of phytates.

  19. Nah … I like my drug of choice!

    Sorry, but I just can’t start analyzing why I eat what I eat when I eat it. I’m sensible enough to know what’s gonna hurt me and I avoid it simply because I’d rather not feel pain if I can avoid it.

    I think this article would have bored Grok. 😉

  20. No one else in my family eats the way I do for the most part. I emphasize whole foods in everything I make, but the kids get rice, potatoes, dairy, and paleo-ish treats. I made the banana cream pie from Ancestral Table the other day and practically ate half of it myself the first day. Talk about feeling miserable later! I kept telling myself: “It doesn’t have *that* much sugar in it.” Yeah, well, it has a boat load of fat and half a pie far exceeds two tablespoons of the stuff. I just can’t make even acceptable “sweet treats” or even salty ones, and leave them around the house without finding my head in the fridge with a fork every time I pass it. I’ll devour kale chips. It worries me somewhat because I didn’t start out on this process with a tendency to eat too much of anything ever. I’ve been writing down everything I put in my mouth for a few weeks and that really helps to keep me on track. I allow one fruit a day, but the rest of the time I try to stick with vegetables, eggs, and meat in all sorts of combinations. I’ve replaced ten o’clock snack with a mighty green, only green, no-fruit smoothie and that seems to help too (with exciting add-ins like liver and avocado). It’s a bit like a soup. I need to give away the rest of the banana cream pie though. I cannot live peacefully in my house with it in the fridge. I just do better without dairy in my life, sadly!

    1. Last week I opened a package of dates meaning to only eat 4, but then I ate another 4 until the whole bag (10 Oz) was gone. Perfectly paleo and totally real food, but just to addictive.

  21. @Jack Lea Mason: Chewing gum! I’m doing the same thing (unfortunately with non-xylitol ones, have to find them) and it helps with the sweet tooth. Sometimes I chew till my jaw hurts though????And it can make me really hungry (due to the chewing I guess, my stomach expects something to eat) so not a good choice when I have no access to food. But great after a meal????

  22. Yes to chocolate, I love it! I also find the salty, sugary fatty combination hard, like salted caramel. I think I just have to acknowledge that some foods I find really hard to resist and so try to avoid them and the temptation of them. I think Dr Briffa in The Diet Trap talks about avoiding food you love too much, that is like crack cocaine to you.

  23. I think this is fantastic advise for all sorts of addictions–not just food. The concept of routine is so powerful and I don’t think most folks are aware of it.

  24. I love my chocolate. I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth otherwise and only eat 90% (or 85 if I can’t find 90) Lindt squares or raw cacao nibs. I have been known to overindulge on occasion, mostly when bored or tired, so now I make sure to put the bars at the back of the cupboard and pile lots of stuff in front. When the mood strikes, I’ll dig out the bar, snap off one square, put the bar away, put the stuff back in front of it, and exit the kitchen. More often than not, I do not return to the cupboard as it is not so easily accessible.

  25. I am an emotional eater and I can’t control myself when I am under stress. It seems like a bit of stress at work throws me off and I eat a bit of everything that I find even if I am full until I feel sick… and disgusting.

    Thanks for writing about this, it gives me a few things to ponder about and see what habits I can change!

    1. Try this book for breaking a bad habit.
      The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

      It breaks down patterns (habits) into identifiable parts. The theory is that until you identify the trigger and the reward correctly you can’t replace it with a better trigger and reward. I think that’s the book’s strengths. It starts off with the premise that you don’t break a habit, you replace it with a new one, because habits are the foundation to behavior.

      Most of our actions are really ingrained patterns and habits. We do very little conscious thought. So trying to break a bad habit through will power alone is literally fighting against your brains default organizational and survival abilities. So work with your brain’s inherent strengths and not against them.

  26. I’ve got a lot of respect for Mark and the primal approach but it was just as frustrating and ineffective as every other theory I tried to solve my obesity. Unlike many others. Talking to slim people i realised my appetite was completely different to theirs off the scale in pain levels. And no processed foods flours or sugars plenty of good fats. I believe Mark’s almost aside comment about the drug like power of food are the research suggested that 12 step programmes are the most successful approach to these type of cravings because the minds ability to justify craving behaviour will undermine any attempt to solve it alone. I’very found Overeaters Anonymous a tremendous support system to stand in for my own judgement in the face of those powerful forces of hunger painful and yet overly so. I have learnt to trust that frequency and quantities that do not seem enough at the time are actually are satiating after a 20 min delay. The craving mind invents a sense of catastrophe during that delay that seems very real. I do believe that 12 step programmes have a real role to play in this space.

  27. Great points. I especially like the last one about remembering to pursue other sources of pleasure. When I’m out hiking or on a fun day trip with my family or (trying) to play an instrument I don’t think about eating. But food seems like a nice break when I’m doing something boring or unpleasant.

  28. Thanks for this article – it’s so true that we need to view food as nutrition and fuel for our physical bodies.

    That being said, I laughed out loud when I noticed a dark chocolate almond bar advertisement on this webpage!!!

  29. A lot of people are guilty about ending up eating more than they’ve planned because food is undeniably a drug. Mindful eating requires a lot of willpower and re-programming your emotions about food. Thanks for the article. This is a good eye-opener =)

  30. I battled with a binge eating disorder for the last few years but when I started taking notice of what was happening around me, what were the stressors and the triggers I made important changes in my life and it got a whole lot better. With all the negative stress now gone, it’s easier for me to stick to a paleo lifestyle and thrive. Eating similar things over and over definitely helps. I used to get upset if I had to eat the same thing twice in a row; now I look forward to my lunch!

  31. It’s interesting, I find if I don’t get enough variety and enough in the way of interesting meals then I start to crave random foods. I suspect that in that case that it’s actually my body seeking certain nutrients and that I need to work harder in the kitchen and prepare a bigger range of foods. Either that or I am just bored with my repertoire.

    I also found out recently that colds and flus and gastrointestinal illness can increase your body’s requirements for salt. It was a lightbulb moment for me as I only ever crave chips when I am sick. Normally it’s very easy for me to say no to them, but when I am sick I start thinking about them. At least I know what to do now when I am sick – eat healthier salty foods instead like anchovy stuffed olives and salty cheeses.