Four Stages of Breaking an Addiction

Nowhere do the Four Stages of Addiction come into play more powerfully than they do when you resist changing a habit relating to the foods with which you self-medicate. For most of us those foods are the instant, and easily available Ė Bread, Beverage, Dessert, or Alcohol. For others they are the fatty foods, and plenty of them. You might choose huge portions of steak, hamburger, and French fries, enormous bowls of salad with globs of dressing. Perhaps chunks of cheese appear as a part of your daily food consumption.

Whether it is a basket of bread, a huge salad, or a box of cookies, your body takes so much extra time to slog through the extra food Ė more food than youíre able to burn Ė that it cannot easily process it. The body wears itself out. You get tired.

Calories are units of energy. After eating your meal you want to feel energized, not tired.

Eating more than you need causes you to feel as if you are in a drugged state. This altered state, zones out the brain, and helps you to escape from feelings.

Stage One Ė Resistance to change

My Program comes along and says: "Letís not have a beverage at every breakfast. Sometimes, choose to have a beverage every two, or even three days. Soup is a meal. Put your fork down between bites. Weigh yourself twice a day."

This is scary stuff. You may be thinking youíre comfortable this old way. Therefore, a new way canít be as comfortable. You erroneously conclude youíll feel uncomfortable. You donít know this will be the outcome; youíve never tried the new way before; but you resist change even though you know the old way is not working. One component of addiction is that you continue doing what youíre doing even though there are negative consequences.

It is your old Addict Pea Brain resisting change by projecting a negative outcome even though you donít have any knowledge or experience that your projection is valid. The addiction twists your thinking to justify your behavior.

Stage Two Ė Begrudging attempts

You join a weight loss group or purchase a book and decide, however grudgingly, youíll give it a try. "I donít want to do this, but Iíll pick one no-coffee day. I donít want to weigh myself twice a day. I donít want to write down everything I eat. I donít want to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I donít want to eat breakfast, but I will because I want to weigh ________ pounds.

Stage Three Ė Surprise, I enjoyed it

"I tried hot cereal at breakfast and I enjoyed it. I tasted the most wonderful soup for lunch one day. I didnít think Iíd like it, but I did. I had a cup of hot water instead of tea one night and it was actually very nice."

Stage Four Ė The new way becomes the comfortable and preferred way

Itís important to know, however, that the attachment you seem to feel for certain foods is not predicated on how much you "love" that particular food. Rather, it indicates how very addicted you are to numbing yourself with that food. Thinking about the food, getting the food, eating the food in a certain way, has become an integral part of your self-medicating ritual. The thought of not "acting out" (not getting your drug) causes you great anxiety. You eat the item (bread, beverage, candy, popcorn, etc.) to relieve the discomfort caused by not eating the item. Consider not drinking coffee and getting a headache and then drinking a cup of coffee to relieve the discomfort caused by not drinking the coffee. Itís like a puppy chasing its tail.

Knowing there are four stages to breaking an addiction will help you be pro-active in traveling through stages two and three and shifting from resistance to change all the way to knowing the new way is the comfortable, preferred way. This information will break you of the food rituals you use to help quell your anger, anxiety, or other uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. Then you can deal with the feelings more directly, more appropriately.

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About The Author / Credits: This article is an excerpt from the book Conquer Your Food Addiction authored by Caryl Ehrlich. Caryl also teaches The Caryl Ehrlich Program, a one-on-one behavioral approach to weight loss in New York City. Visit her at to know more about weight loss and keep it off without diet, deprivation, props, or pills. Caryl welcomes questions or comments about this article and the behavioral methods she incorporates into her weight loss program. Contact her at or call 212-986-7155.

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