Ever had that feeling, when you are dieting, that you just cannot avoid certain foods? That you see something and you need to eat it, or that if you don’t eat it you will think about it for days? Perhaps there are some foods which make you feel suddenly hungrier? Or a food that, after you eat it, you know your whole diet is ruined and you may as well give up? Or even a food that once you start eating it you just can’t stop yourself. Welcome to trigger foods.
A trigger food is, as the name suggests, a food that triggers an effect. When we talk about allergies, a trigger food is one with ingredients we are allergic to. When we talk about mental health, a trigger food is one that causes an onset or a worsening of our health. And when we talk about dieting, a trigger food is one that results in behaviors usually associated with eating disorders, such as starving, binging, and purging.
Now, please bear in mind that you do not need to have an eating disorder to experience these behaviors. People without bipolar can have mood swings, people without arthritis can have sticky joints, and people without an eating disorder can binge. In fact, in the modern environment our attitude towards food is so unhealthy that most people experience eating disorder symptoms at some point or another, even if they do not qualify as an actual eating disorder!
Therefore, overcoming trigger foods can be an essential and healing step in the process to losing weight, getting fit and healthy, and staying that way. And the first part of overcoming trigger foods is to work out what your trigger foods are. A trigger food is any food that makes you change your eating plan consistently. So if you eat a bit less because you had a burger, that is not a problem. But if every time you have a burger you need to fast, that is a trigger food. Or if it makes you want to burn off the calories suddenly, feel sick, or give up on your diet entirely, it is a trigger food.
Next, you need to ask yourself why these are trigger foods. Why is it that after eating a burger you want to fast? Is it because of the calories? Do you fast every time you eat something with that many calories? Do you think the burger is somehow “dirty”? Do you feel it has “ruined” your diet or your day? Do you feel powerless? Working out why a food is a trigger usually gives us an answer that fits into one of three categories:
- Emotional eating. We eat a food because we feel sad, angry, frustrated, etc. And we fast or purge because we feel powerless, guilty, and broken.
- We have formed a habit, or we are bored. We eat a food because we simply have got used to eating it at this time of day, or in these situations.
- We really, really like it. We eat a food because we love the taste and texture. We indulge ourselves easily because we like it too much.
To overcome emotional eating, you need a new outlet for your emotions. Find something positive to do when you feel down or angry. And try and detach your emotions from your foods. There are no happy foods, sad foods, good foods, or naughty foods. Just food.
To overcome snacking and indulgence, you need to exercise moderation. There is absolutely nothing wrong in having a food just because you enjoy it. After all: there are no good foods and no naughty foods. But you have to remember that you need to eat healthy most of the time. So have your treat and then focus on healthy foods for the rest of the day, to make sure you don’t overdo it.
In summary, the key to overcoming trigger foods is to not attach emotions or meanings to foods. And if we have a food that is genuinely too emotional or meaningful to us, we ought to avoid it or save it for special events only.