Last night I was thinking about food triggers. Food triggers are those things in life that make me susceptible to compulsive overeating. They are those events or stimuli that create a sensation of hunger for me–and not the good kind of hunger, or real hunger, or the if-I-don’t-eat-right-now-I-will-swoon, I-swear-it hunger. In my experience, food triggers send me running toward the food for comfort of another color and not simply the cessation of a grumbling tummy. They are evil and they kept me in bondage for many years, but with the help of others I took action against them. What follows is a list of my top three food triggers and how I learned to move them off my plate and into the garbage can of life.
1. Emotions. Emotional upset is the biggest trigger I have for compulsive eating. When I am angry, threatened, moody, disappointed, anxious, and uncertain of my situation or self, I want to eat. I don’t know why. I don’t know when this habit got started, and I can’t link the behavior to any single event or person in my life, but I know that emotional upset is a real indicator that I need to watch what I’m eating, push away from the table, stay out of the kitchen, stay off the scales, and drive a route that doesn’t go past the fast food joints for at least 12 hours. Yeah, a good 12 hours!
Today, when I feel angry, lonely, tired, distraught, disappointed, threatened, or defeated I make sure I am far from tempting foods. As soon as I recognize what is happening, I begin an inner dialogue. I talk to my self and I talk with God. I remind myself that I’m stronger than I think I am, and that more food/food when it is not appropriate to eat, will not solve this problem. Facing the problem, will solve the problem, or at least begin to see a solution found. In these tense moments when I am feeling overwhelmed by old behaviors, I fall back to my training. I text someone. I ask for support. If the situation is particularly vexing for me, I talk through it with a friend, someone who knows what this stuff does to me. I have also learned how to be content with things such as they are. If I owe an apology to someone and shame or embarrassment are what I’m feeling as a result, I work to make amends quickly and sincerely, but since most of my emotional angst is driven by choices others make, I have had to learn how to be content with my life as it is, and let them figure out theirs, as they will, in their time. It’s hard, but I get a lot of practice, so I’m feeling more confident in my abilities to avoid the food trigger that is emotions these days than ever before in my life.
2. Additives. Salt, sugar, and fat are the biggest contributors to overeating in our world today, and for me and many others, go hand in hand with an inability to determine proper portion size without outside assistance. We Americans eat portions that are truly meant to feed three people, instead of one, and we do it all the time, day in, and day out. Is it any wonder we are struggling with our health? Salt, sugar, and fat are used to perfection by food chemists to keep me coming back again and again, and again. The concept of using salt, sugar, and fat to keep me eating isn’t new. Remember the commercial for Lay’s potato chips that was on TV in the 70’s telling us, “I bet you can’t eat just one!” We couldn’t eat just one. And the reason why we never could, was that food chemists at Frito Lay were covering their chips with all three of these additives: salt (and lots of it), sugar (yes, it’s in there), and fat (lots and lots of fat, both inside and outside each chip). I struggle, and it was their fault, right? Well, maybe not all their fault…
I handle the trigger that is food additives these days by first realizing that the food industry is working against my health with these powerful and addictive substances. I don’t think they mean to kill me, but they do mean to sell me more chips, and that is killing me. Knowing this, I choose to not eat as many of the kinds of foods that contain these additives as I used to eat. I am not entirely free of their influence in my life and some days I eat more of them than I would like, but I also make sure that I eat lots of fresh, raw fruits, and veggies–more than I ever did before. Less salt, sugar, and fat means fewer calories, and less cravings. My body craves what my body eats. It’s true. If you had told me ten years ago that I would crave salad greens, I would have said you were batty, and yet, here I am craving them. Amazing!
3. Victories and Failures. This final food trigger is going to sound nutty to some, but its true of me. When I experience the highs and lows that happen in life, common things that every one goes through, the toll on my food sanity is affected. When I strive to do something out of the ordinary and it works–it is a successful venture–I want to celebrate with food. I want to throw myself a party. I want to offer myself a food reward. I want to eat, eat, eat.
Conversely, when I strive to do something out of the ordinary and I fail, I want to drown my sorrows in food. Especially, I want to eat salt, sugar, and fat! I want to pig out on ice cream, and potato chips, and creamy dips, sauces, and candy. I want to sooth myself with food, tell myself that I deserve this because that didn’t work out. Assure myself that though victory has eluded me, my favorite fatty foods can be found anywhere, and any number of people will be willing to provide them to me for a price. At that moment, money is no object. The object is to eat with abandon, and think nothing of what I am doing to punish myself, my body, my future, and my family.
These days, I recognize that highs and lows of life are a trigger for me, and I mitigate the damage I can do with food during those times by reporting my food to another person, keeping a journal of what I eat, making sure that I’m not including food in the event (if possible, harder to do at the holidays), and reminding myself, again, that food will not make this victory or defeat anything other than a hit or a miss. The event has passed. Food will not have an effect on it–at all! In trying to separate my eating behaviors from my event planning/performances, I have been able to win and lose more graciously, and without chip dip on my chin.
I know that lots of people have food triggers that make getting fit any healthy a challenge. I would appreciate it if you would share yours with me, so that I can grow through your experiences too.
Do you have food triggers you have mastered? What are they, and how did you do it?