The Safe Zone: Learning to Trust Yourself Around Trigger Foods

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Trigger foods are foods that lead to bad eating habits. Everyone has different ones. For some, it’s chips, for others, it’s candy. Here are some tips to help you navigate your way around trigger foods.

1. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s so easy to grab something if it’s left out on the counter, on your desk, front and center in the pantry or refrigerator, etc. I often recommend to clients that if you find a food especially tempting, keep it in a second refrigerator in your garage/basement or tucked away in the pantry so it’s not calling your name every time you open the door. If having trigger foods at home is an issue, of course it’s easiest if you don’t bring them into your home in the first place. If you’re hosting a dinner party or get-together and you have some personal trigger foods around for the guests, send your guests home with some goodie bags so you’re not left swimming in trigger foods post-party.

2. Don’t wrap trigger foods in clear wrap. Aluminum foil or opaque containers can help because you won’t be as tempted if the food isn’t visible. Packing it in a container or wrap that conceals what’s inside can take your mind off of the food. 

3. Implement a strategy that is incompatible to eating, like putting on a coat of clear nail polish or a strip of teeth whitener. Doing something that’s incompatible to eating keeps your hands and mind busy so you won’t easily grab trigger foods. It also gives you an opportunity to reconsider if you want the food at all. Linking the thought of grabbing the food with the decision to do something else instead can help. For example, “Every time I go to the cabinets to reach for those cookies, I’m instead going to head to the bathroom and brush my teeth (or polish my nails, clean out a drawer, put on a strip of teeth whitener, write in my journal, etc.).”

4. If the trigger food is something you’ll be exposed to when you’re out, eat something before you go. This way you won’t be physically hungry and your judgment will be more intact and not blinded by a hunger pang and serious craving. Being over-hungry leads to overeating almost every time. Having a quality snack with sufficient proteins and healthy fats will curb your appetite and allow you to make healthier decisions. Going out with a non-negotiable rule can help too which could be something like, “I won’t have any bread from the breadbasket on the table and will enjoy my meal instead.” Or, “I will have one drink and alternate that drink with sips of water.” Going in with a strategy gives us a sense of control. A solid strategy when dining out combined with avoiding the over-hungry feeling can have you coasting through a potentially challenging situation. It’s also helpful to order first so you’re not as tempted by what others are ordering.

5. Break the connection. You may associate trigger foods with sitting on the couch at the end of the day. Even sitting in a different area breaks that association. You may have a spot on the sofa with a certain snack at a certain time, watching your favorite show as your “reward” at the end of the day. Just shaking up that routine by sitting somewhere else or having decaf tea can break the association with eating your trigger food during your show.

6. Break the addiction. We think it’s a lack of willpower, but those trigger foods are often foods we’re addicted to. Studies find that sugar is as addictive as drugs. The same neurotransmitters that are ignited when a drug addict has drugs are ignited when we have sugar, so breaking the addiction releases the tight grip sugar has over us. This is something I do with my clients all the time. They lose the cravings, the weight, stabilize their moods, improve their health and so much more. Kick sugar to the curb in all forms. Sugar is wreaking havoc on you physically, mentally and emotionally. Even those “healthy whole grains” are processed and can raise your blood glucose level, insulin levels, deplete your energy, pack on the pounds and create an unhealthy relationship with food. While they temporarily give us an energy surge, the inevitable energy crash follows and with sugar in our diets, we’re on a roller coaster ride of sugar-induced energy and emotions all day. We don’t allow the body to use fat for fuel, we keep ourselves inflamed, moody, irritable, and it also impacts our ability to handle stress. Trigger foods are typically nutrient void while being calorically dense, meaning there’s little nutrient value but plenty of empty calories. By deciding to eat whole, real, nutrient dense foods with minimal ingredients, you’ll give your body what it needs and will reduce your cravings for nutrient void “sub-foods.”

7. Create a different mindset around the trigger food. Instead of looking at it like it’s so delicious, remember that this food item has likely prevented you from having the body, energy, health and confidence you want. Looking at it that way makes it much less appealing. There are probably a handful of foods that have kept you from feeling lean, fit, sexy, comfortable and strong. Those foods may have kept you from seizing an opportunity, stepping up, speaking out, going for it, or challenging yourself to achieve a new level of success because of the way you look and feel. Those foods have kept you from living in a body you’re proud of with the energy you need to power through your day. Those foods have kept you from living full out and from being the role model you may have wanted to be for those within your care and reach. Nothing tastes as good as the way you’ll feel when you’re at the top of your game – when you feel your physical, mental and emotional best. When you’re excited about new opportunities, challenges and relationships, you’ll be ready for them because you won’t be thinking about how overweight or sluggish you feel. A different perspective can help change how you look at the foods that had that grip on you.

8. Create a mantra, like, “It looks better in the garbage than on me!” Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what the trigger can create and a little personalized mantra can go a long way!

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January 2014
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