Many of us have a rather complicated relationship with food. We may experience guilt or shame about what we eat and, in turn, develop negative notions of self.

As a food addiction coach, I understand that my clients often have an unhelpful narrative around their eating habits and tend to develop emotional eating behaviours and patterns of disordered eating. I find that the beauty of recovery is getting back in touch with our bodies and transforming our perspective around body image and our relationship with food.

Through this explorative process, we focus on creating a positive body image and notion of self. Transforming negativity into a high sense of self-worth is essential before a client begins their recovery journey.

In this blog, I will examine the steps of this process and provide insight and advice you can hopefully use to help your own clients or yourself on the journey to food wellness.

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a pattern where people use food to cope with challenging feelings or situations. Consuming highly palatable food – particularly sugary foods or foods high in salt or fat – activates pleasure reward circuits in the brain. Dopamine is produced, which leads to feelings of calm, bliss, and happiness. It has been evidenced that the sensations are similar to when using alcohol, cocaine, or other addictive substances.[1] This invariably leads to cravings and a repeat of these same eating behaviours. However, more and more of the same substance is needed to provide the same high.

It is not uncommon to turn to takeaway after a long week, a glass of wine after a stressful day at work, or eating mindlessly when bored.

However, emotional eating, also known as stress eating, can cause food addiction, obesity, mental health disorders, eating disorders, and an inability to cope without comfort foods.

The first step in tackling emotional eating is to practice mindfulness. If we can become aware of the feelings, people, and situations that cause us to turn to food for comfort, we can avoid those triggers and make healthier choices.

Taking Care of Self

Once we have identified our triggers, we can learn and enact positive coping mechanisms. Understanding our needs and feelings of self-neglect will allow us to practice self-care and begin a loving relationship with ourselves.

It is essential to not self-chastise or to suppress or abandon our negative thoughts or feelings. An unhealthy relationship with food cannot be overcome through negative self-talk or condemnation. Instead, we need to be patient and compassionate and create a positive state of mind to be free from triggers.

When we have established our goal for recovery, this must be first and foremost in our minds. It will become easier to make positive and healthy choices that aid our hopes and dreams by acknowledging our self-worth.

Set Boundaries

Triggers can be certain foods, environments, and feelings. By acknowledging these triggers, we work to contain them by creating healthy boundaries. Boundaries act as a safe space between ourselves and a trigger. This space allows us to stop reacting instinctively and instead make a conscious decision about what we do next.

Boundaries will likely include avoiding particular foods, avoiding certain people who do not positively influence our food choices, and avoiding certain activities and situations that encourage an unhealthy relationship with food.

Abstinence from Trigger Foods

Abstinence is not a diet; it is a rational decision to remove the foods that cause a chemical reaction that instigates cravings, obsession, compulsion, and dependence. Abstinence is not something I recommend doing all at once or without support.

A food addict requires support from peers, family, friends, and a professional coach to meet their goals, and abstinence should be carried out in stages.

The two main groups that my clients need to abstain from are sugar and refined carbohydrates. We start with sugar, and when this has become more comfortable, we remove processed carbohydrates and then particular fats. Abstaining from all of them at once can shock the system, cause withdrawal symptoms, and lead to a decreased quality of life.

Creating an abstinence food plan requires a personalised approach. There is no ‘one size fits all’ plan that suits every individual’s needs. The plan’s primary focus is to reduce harmful eating behaviours and should not focus on weight loss as the goal. Weight is likely to change sporadically as the body becomes used to the new food plan; therefore, focusing on body shape or weight loss can negatively affect the individual’s self-esteem.

Once abstinence is achieved, incredible changes occur. My clients have more energy and can think clearly and with optimism. Cravings and obsessions decrease, allowing room for friendship, family, and enjoyment of life once again.

If you would like to seek help or learn more about reframing your relationship with food and an abstinence recovery plan, please contact me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.



[1] Lennerz, Belinda, and Jochen K Lennerz. “Food Addiction, High-Glycemic-Index Carbohydrates, And Obesity”. Clinical Chemistry, vol 64, no. 1, 2018, pp. 64-71. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1373/clinchem.2017.273532. Accessed 16 June 2021.