Short-term vs long-term thinking for food addicts

Don’t they look amazing? I want them all!

Many decisions in life have short-term and long-term impacts upon us.

If I decide not to study for my exams tonight, then the short-term impact is that I have more time to relax or party, but the long-term impact is that I might fail my exams!

The same kind of short-term vs. long-term thinking often applies to weight loss as well. If I decide to eat a tray of donuts, then the short-term impact is that I feel great, but the long-term impact is that I gain weight which then impacts my health.

And so, most of the time we try to focus on the long-term goal in order to make better decisions. We prioritise the long-term weight loss over the short-term pleasure of the donuts. 

The nature of addiction

Unfortunately addicts (of whatever form – drugs, alcohol, gambling, or food) often have a distorted balance when it comes to short-term and long-term thinking. They find it harder to focus on the long-term goal, and end up giving in to short-term cravings.

An alcoholic knows that their drinking has an impact on their health, relationships, family, work, and quality of life – but the short-term release or euphoria they get from drinking overrides the long-term impacts.

It’s the same with people that have a food addiction. Ask any overweight or obese person, and they’ll tell you that they know that their overeating is bad for them, but the short-term pleasure they get from consuming the food or drink takes precedence.

I think that only by recognising and acknowledging that overeating is a food addiction can we hope to tackle the problem.

Education is not the answer

Educating people on healthy eating is not the way to tackle a food addiction. Just as educating alcoholics that being sober is good for them doesn’t stop them drinking.

I’ve known that fruit, vegetables, and lean meat are the road to a healthy diet for my full adult life, but it hasn’t stopped me eating my own body weight in chocolate and crisps!

I remember being in hospital a couple of years ago, and my consultant (having noticed my obese frame) had arrange for a dietitian to come and talk to me. But she wasn’t able to tell me anything I didn’t already know.

It wasn’t that I was eating loads of chocolate because I was ignorant of its effects on me. Like a smoker who knows that it’s bad for them, I know what healthy eating looks like, and I still don’t do it!

So what is the answer?

Well there are many things that can spark an addiction – and most of them stem from someone being unhappy about something in their past or current life. Their own private addiction is often their means of escape; their way to forget about their problems, even for just a few minutes.

And so, to me, the way to tackle this addiction cannot be just telling them to refrain from whatever they are addicted to. We need to get to the heart of the problems they are trying to drown out – and hopefully give them coping mechanisms to deal with those problems without resorting to bad short-term decisions.


I should probably point out that I’m not a psychologist, and I have no direct experience of treating or studying addiction. This is just my personal theory, based on my personal experience with food addiction. Your mileage may vary. But do feel free to comment on this post to let me know what you think.   

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