Have you ever thought about the WHY behind those food choices that don’t serve you?
Do you “have to” eat biscuits on Tuesdays because that's the day they shout morning tea at the office?
Do you always get a bag of lollies when you go to a certain petrol station?
Do you self sabotage yourself when on a diet and say to yourself “I blew it- so I might as well keep going”.
Do you turn to food in times of stress, sadness, anger or even boredom?
Do you restrict certain foods only to end up binging on them later?
In cognitive behaviour therapy these are called “triggers”. Identifying your triggers and coming up with alternative solutions can be the most powerful tool in healing from problematic eating or an unhealthy relationship with food. Most of us have one or many triggers. These are classified as, 1. Emotional 2. Cognitive 3. Behavioural 4. Environmental (5. Food – but we’ll talk more about this shortly). A cognitive trigger is when we engage in black and white thinking about a situation or event. Or, we might have distorted ideas or thinking about ourselves. For example we might tell ourselves “I will never lose weight” or “nothing works”. We also commonly tell ourselves something along the lines of “I blew it – so I might as well keep going” after a period of restriction. Cognitive triggers are the thoughts that keep us stuck. A behavioural trigger is an unwanted pattern of destructive eating that might turn up repeatedly. For example you might be the type of person who eats in the car or eats while standing in front of the fridge. An environmental trigger is an event that takes place in your environment and creates some form of unwanted response. Perhaps it’s as simple as a co-worker of yours having a bowl of lollies on her desk so you grab one each time you walk by. Or, it could be that delicious morning tea shout that happens more than you’d like it to. An emotional trigger is when a person responds to an emotion with unhealthy eating. This is one of the most common of all triggers and fondly referred to as “emotional eating”. It’s when we eat ice cream because we’re sad or an entire bag of chips because we’re bored. Lastly, I want to mention food triggers because I often hear people talk about certain foods, such as sugar, eliciting some form of unwanted behaviour. I want to argue that it is not the food itself that is “addictive” but more so the distorted thinking which causes the unwanted response. For example, I used to tell myself that if I ate sugar I wouldn't be able to stop or the cravings would start again and I would lose control of all my hard work. Turns out that thinking creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cognitively, you’re basically giving yourself permission to “not stop” when these foods occur. Again this happens because of “restriction” or the “diet mentality” and not because of the food itself. I wont argue that food can make us feel good and our brain will naturally want these positive responses but a lot of things make us feel good and that in itself can make it “addictive”. When your thoughts are black and white such as this you can’t simply have a piece of chocolate and move on with your day, all you can do is punish yourself which then leads to further restriction or even binging. If you have a history of problematic eating (yo-yo dieting, emotional eating, binging, obsessive eating etc.). I encourage you to begin to think about the triggers that are leading to any unwanted behaviour. From there, you’re able to identify some alternatives. For example, if your trigger is loneliness – maybe it’s a good time to call a friend. Perhaps you could ask your co-worker to move that bowl of lollies, or offer to shout a morning tea one week. Taking the time to identify these triggers and come up with alternatives is so important if you want to make changes for a lifetime.