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A recent University of Michigan poll found that one in eight adults older than age 50 showed signs of addiction to highly processed foods, including intense cravings and a lack of control around eating. Those in the study with worse mental health or increased feelings of isolation were more likely to have a food addiction. “Food is an easy answer if a person is lonely, sad, unhappy, or looking for some immediate gratification from an unwanted emotion,” notes Becky Sharon, a health and wellness coach at TriCore Wellness in Naples. She explains that food addiction generally refers to having an unhealthy emotional connection with some foods and adds that she wasn’t surprised by the study’s results. “I think the mental health connection is the most critical aspect of the study,” she says. “There is a connection between a person’s feelings about their health and happiness and how they eat.” Sharon says she’s worked with many people who eat when they feel frustrated, lonely, or bored. If you also struggle with eating certain foods to cope with your feelings, she first recommends avoiding buying that food or buying it only in small quantities. But then what happens when you have the food and want to eat it? Sharon has a few tips: Stop for a moment. Decide to wait 30 minutes before eating the food, and set a timer. Once time is up, decide if you still want to eat the food and enjoy every bite, or decide to wait 30 more minutes and set the timer again. Repeat until you decide you don’t want the food or until you eat it. “When we take some time to decide if we want the food, we find that sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t,” notes Sharon. She adds that making the decision—whether you choose to eat the food or not—is empowering. “A decision is a great tool to eliminate the negative emotions that happen if you eat from a reaction or with a lack of control,” she explains. Finally, she notes that while food addictions are not eating disorders, they can lead to an eating disorder. “If you have an eating disorder,” she says, “see a mental health counselor immediately.” ( –E.K.

LINK TO ARTICLE: fighting food addiction