Addictive desire when the food is already in the house

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    • #8067
      Jen R

      Hi Gillian,

      This might be a question for this week’s webinar, but I thought I’d post it here while it’s on my mind.

      I am having quite a bit of success with managing addictive desire at the moment. I need to keep doing the choice exercise and also listening to the MP3 every day as this keeps it all fresh in my mind – I find I forget about choice very, very quickly if I don’t do this!

      I am doing well at managing my addictive desire at the shops, and am often making the decision not to go out to the shops/takeaway at all. (Previously I was making frequent trips to the shops to buy my favourite sugary binge food).

      One thing I am still struggling with is managing addictive desire when the food is already available at home. So for example, there was a birthday cake in the house this weekend – I had one small piece and managed my desire for more for the rest of the day. However, the next day I woke up and ended up scoffing most of the rest of it, without making any real attempts to manage my desire. I was thinking ‘Well I’m definitely going to eat it at some point so I might as well eat it now and get it out the way!’. It feels quite overwhelming having sugary food like that in the house, like I can’t concentrate on anything else until I’ve eaten it!

      Do you have any suggestions about how to deal with this? It would be really great to be able to have food like that in the house sometimes for other members of the family without it feeling inevitable that I will eat it all (or to be able to just have one small piece without eating the rest!!).


    • #8071


      I do have a suggestion but maybe not what you’re looking for: that is, not to have left-over birthday cake in the house.

      Perhaps you can get a smaller cake for the next family birthday?

      The problem here is a cultural one rather than personal; although sugar is highly addictive and damaging to our health (especially its contribution to fatty liver disease), it’s prized, valued as very special and often considered harmless.

      For me, I would make sure I didn’t have any left-over birthday cake in my house, as I would do exactly as you did and figure I was going to eat it anyway, so why not right away.

      This really is the value of “making choices in the shops”. When you buy birthday cake next time, just remind yourself that you will be eating half of it the next day. That’s your choice.

    • #8076

      Dear Jenny, dear Gillian,
      I know the problem very well, which you describe.
      My husband often buys sugary food and salted but fat food like popcorn or other high addictive food. (He can eat only a littel amount of them and let them for weeks at there place without eating them).
      It is in the house….so it is not possible for me to work through my desire in the shops and leave it there.
      Do you have a suggestion?

    • #8077
      Jen R

      Thanks Gillian. You are right, if it’s there then I’m going to eat it! I do almost all of the food shopping/cooking for the family so it is definitely possible for me to make sure the sugary food isn’t being brought into the house.

      Gunici – that sounds really tough!! Have you talked to him about how you would prefer not to have that food at home, for health reasons? Do you think he would be happy to just buy that food when he’s out/at work, and not bring it home?

    • #8080


      I may not be quite understanding this situation, but if your husband buys something addictive and leaves it in the house and you eat it, as far as your husband is concerned there’s no benefit to having those things at home.

      Does he leave the house in the morning to go to work? Can you put this food in his bag or coat pockets for him to take to work? You could say (in a light-hearted way?) that you’ll eat them all if he leaves them at home, I assume he already know that, anyway.

    • #8083

      Dear Gillian, he works at home, my husband. And for exampe, in the afternood he drinks coffee and eat two small pieces of choclate. If I am at home and have a cup of coffee with him, there are this two small pieces of chocolate on the table or the whole bar of chocolate lay on the table, it is extremly hard for me not to eat the chocolate.
      Or often he buys salted peanuts or potatoe chips, which he sometimes eat in the evening. I love them too, but I want to stop with this habit. They are in the house, I see them when I open the kitchen cabinet.
      Once I put all the chocolate in a place, where I could not see them, but I knew, they were in the house, so the desire was not smaller.( and my husband was angry)
      I think I will work through the desire and hope, that the desire will fade.

    • #8117
      Alison M


      Your advice seems reasonable and I’ve heard it before . . . but not from you. I thought that one of the distinguising factors of the methods you teach is that you don’t have to remove temptation to learn to deal with it. So many others preach the “just don’t bring it home, because your willpower is limited, and you can’t handle the temptation of seeing it in your house, so simply learn to not have it in the house.”

      But your message seems to be, in part, “Your willpower isn’t limited. In fact you can retrain your limbic system to be less powerful by activating the prefrontal cortex whenever your limbic area starts pitching its little baby fit. You have to have the desire felt in the limbic system to give you opportunity to do this retraining.”

      So . . . please clarify.

      I identify strongly with the participants in this thread–too many times I have snuck into the kitchen to cut another and another and another piece of birthday cake, even at times wondering how big a piece I can cut without prompting the next person who cuts a piece to say “WHO ate all the cake?” It’s embarrassing when a kid asks such a question, expecting to oust his sibling, only to discover (if I confess) that it was the MOM who was the big overeater!

      I also agree that we do have a cultural problem of too much sugar and other fatty foods. I love how you started the course reminding us that not too many decades ago, smoking was 100% normal and few people (if any) were concerned about its negative impact on health. Certainly today in our culture, overeating is so common that our culture largely dismisses the negative health implications of overeating.

      But setting this aside . . . I don’t see how your comments to “get it out of the house” sync with your many other points of instruction in this course, about facing the desire and talking through it.

    • #8118

      I can really relate to this problem, because although I live alone and it’s easy not to have things like that in my house, I often visit my sister. She’s one of those people who can have stacks of addictive food in the house and just eat very small amounts. She’s very good at delayed gratification – so good, in fact that the chocolate sometimes goes mouldy before she has eaten it!

      I also have this problem when I have visitors. I have always been a keen baker, so I make homemade cakes for my visitors – and when they have left, am left with my own delicious homemade cakes sitting in a tin!

      Sometimes I give my cakes to my neighbour, who has two children (I reckon they are at least healthier than the processed cakes they would otherwise eat). Sometimes, I throw the cake in the bin to stop myself eating it. But at other times, in answer to Alison’s comments above, I go through the Outline when faced with my sister’s addictive food or the homemade cake I have in the house. I then eat it over a period of time, sensibly and in a way I feel okay with.

      It doesn’t always work, and sometimes can’t help myself from eating a lot, especially of my own cakes where no one can see me. But this is one of the things I want to change, so I will keep working through it. I will say, however, that when I first started Gillian’s course some years ago, I could not have done this. It’s only because I have worked through my addictive desire on less challenging things that I now feel able to tackle this very strong habit.

      So maybe Jenny, you need to get the food out of the house while you work up to being able to have it in the house and to eat it in moderation. I think, if it’s too hard to do that, getting it out of the house will be a stepping stone towards being able to live with it.

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by Louise.
    • #8121

      Thanks for asking for this clarification, Alison. I’ve noticed a few people are confused about this question of having certain food at home.

      I do believe it can be helpful to “make your choices at the shops”. What I mean by this is (when shopping) to acknowledge addictive desire, free choice and motivation – and to take into account that, in a very real sense, your choice to eat that item is made when you buy it.

      It’s an idea many have found useful. Especially those who often buy things “for the kids” which in fact they end up eating themselves, and also for those who live alone. But this is not a primary strategy, as you seem to suggest. Do you really think I’ve been saying that you need to remove temptation because you can’t handle it?

      I’ve not intended to promote a black-and-white “get it out of the house” solution, as for many this isn’t going to be practical, as we’ve seen on this forum. But at the other end of the possibilities, I doubt there’s huge benefit in bringing your favourite binge food into your home purely to work through your feelings of desire.

      If, however, you very specifically want to consume addictive food more gradually, say, one cookie a day instead of the whole box, by all means use “Working Through” for that. I find the challenge with this is in the motivation: “I’ve eaten one cookie, so why not have another?” And so on. I get a much better sense of the outcome when I choose the whole box (or not).

      I’m going to go out on a limb here, Alison, and ask you to consider that the idea of not having certain addictive food in the house creates alarm bells of perceived deprivation for you. If so, that is why you would never consider leaving anything you might want in a shop, and dislike the suggestion that you do.

    • #8122
      Alison M


      Thanks for this prompt, detailed, and very helpful reply.

      Regarding your question, I do not think you have been saying that we should remove temptation because we can’t handle it. In fact I’ve heard nothing like that from you, until this post, which seemed to be implying that. I asked for clarification because what I thought you were saying here seemed to not sync with your other teaching. So, I figured I must be misunderstanding. I apologize if I came across as accusatory and didn’t accurately express my main questions, which were,
      “What are you saying here? I assume you are not contradicting your main teachings, but how does this advice sync with the themes we’ve been learning?” Your response here helps clarify that. Thank you.

      Good point about not having a huge benefit to bring something home SIMPLY to work through desire. Agreed.

      I appreciate your emphasis on no black-and-white.

      Your comment about getting a much better sense of outcome if you eat all-or-nothing is thought provoking. I would like to be at a place where I could have just one cookie and be content, or if not content then, as you say, at least in a more peaceful relationship with the food I ate or didn’t eat. Perhaps I want this because I envy so many people around me who seem completely able to do that. Eating just one cookie or just half a bar of chocolate, without strongly desiring more, is foreign to me personally, but it seems plenty of others have this ability. Perhaps this is a goal for another phase, some months down the road, after I have more experience with these strategies.

      Regarding your comment about “why you would never consider leaving anything you might want in a shop, and dislike the suggestion that you do” . .. not quite right on that one. Actually, perhaps your comment is right, in response to the query I wrote, but it appears I didn’t articulate myself well enough.

      In fact I frequently leave stuff I might want in the shop, and think it is just common sense to do so. My point was to ask how your answer to Jenny synced with the other strategies you have given us, and to say that I identify with Jenny’s challenges.

      My husband is completely able to eat one cookie per day until the bag goes stale with the cookies he hasn’t eaten. Also, I have older teenagers and college kids who don’t struggle with overeating as I do. So, forcing my expectations onto all of them, to “keep tempting food out of the house since the Mom can’t handle it,” doesn’t seem practical to me. Please note: we have lots of healthy food in the house; we are not a sugar shop around here. But they want occasional treats, so those treats are available.

      Although I appreciate your comment about making my husband take the cookies with him to work, or other strategies toward the goal of just “not having too many tempting foods in the house” . . . that won’t work in my situation (I actually have asked him multiple times, over many years, to do this. He’s a great husband and willing to compromise in many areas, but not in this one. I can’t deny it’s reasonable for him to want to have a cookie per day, or whatever the sweet-of-the-week is. So, the kids and I put any sweets reserved for him into a clearly labeled container and then we don’t eat them. This actually works pretty well as it creates the extra “you’re stealing if you eat this” concept. This seems to work because I don’t feel that particular food is even available to me.)

      The challenge comes in when there is unlabeled special-treat food leftover: like my 17 year old making his amazing brownies or the leftover cake from a birthday party, or my daughter making homemade cookies. How to eat just one? How to not have an extra small slice of cake when it’s so easy to do so, it tastes unbelievably good, and no one is looking?

      From what you are saying, I am thinking that my best strategy is to choose no cookies, or no cake–at the moment. Then use the strategies you’ve been teaching: talk through the desire, emphasizing to myself that I do have the freedom to eat as much of it as I want, which will also result in the negative consequences of that overeating. Or I can choose, for the moment, to not eat it and therefore get all the positive benefits of eating less.

      So, no magic “easy button,” right? Just plain hard mental work, but worth it in the end.

    • #8123

      Yes. Absolutely. An all-or-none choice about that item, for the present time, is a good way to go.

      I want to add, though, that it’s not necessary to be or become abstinent. I may seem to be contradicting myself again, but there may well be times when you’ll eat these addictive things, and maybe just a small amount, in a way that seems right for you.

      The skill of working through addictive desire delivers this flexibility, and I strongly believe this is much more sustainable and reasonable.

      Everyone’s circumstances are so different, and for this reason it’s largely a matter of taking the ideas I teach and figuring out how to make use of them in your own situation.

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