Do you have foods that set you off and make you want several servings despite being full? Or is there a food that you literally can’t keep in the house because you know it will send you into a frenzy of overeating?
A trigger food is a specific food that sets you on a course of overeating and a total loss of control. These foods are usually high in calories and fat, like chocolate, or are highly processed, like packaged baked goods. Fried and salty foods like French fries and chips are common trigger foods. Holiday time will be filled with trigger foods.
For many of us, trigger foods are comfort foods you turn to during emotional upheaval. You tend to eat large portions because they work almost like a drug, calming you down and helping you gain control of your feelings. Any time you see these foods they can trigger a binge. Think of them as “gateway foods” that open the floodgates and pave the way for you to not only over eat this one choice, but possibly to lose control and indulge in an avalanche of eating.
The fat-and-sugar double whammy in many holiday treats can thwart your brain’s ability to regulate appetite and cravings. It is unlikely that you can manage “just one bite.” So how do you enjoy the holidays when faced with all these trigger foods?
Run for the carrot sticks or sparkling water
If you physically create barriers, it may help to lower your food anxiety. Holding a glass of sparkling water and a plate of cut-up vegetables or fruit can help to calm you down by creating a food wall. This technique should also inspire you to offer to bring a salad, a platter of crudités, or a fruit salad to the event, or healthier versions of trigger foods. Provide your own ammunition.
Stop a binge before it begins
As with any habit you want to adopt, you have to practice. In the case of trigger foods, exercising mindfulness before you enter a party or approach the dinner table or buffet can help put you in control.
- Before you go to the holiday gathering, picture in your mind how you will fill your plate, what you will fill it with, and how you will move on from the trigger foods, physically, to reduce temptation
- If there’s a buffet, fill your plate and leave the area
- At the table, immediately pass the platter with the offending food and start talking to the person next to you. Preplan and divert attention away from the trigger food.
Have a prepared answer to the host
Hosts often define the success of the party by getting every attendee to try every food and have seconds. Have a response at the ready so you can assure the host that you are enjoying yourself but you’ve decided for health reasons to be very selective this year about what you eat.
If you take too large a helping of a trigger food you can stop yourself after a few bites and literally walk away for a moment to gather yourself and access your willpower. Take a drink to clean your palate and do not be afraid to discard the plate and grab a fresh one to fill without the trigger food.
One of the best ways to slow eating and to limit how much you eat is to keep a drink in one hand and your plate in the other while talking to guests. Each time you want to take a bite of the trigger food you will need to put the drink down and pick up your fork, and those actions give you a moment to pause and even stop. Add conversation to the formula and you will eat less and also have opportunities to abandon the plate.
If friends or family somehow feel that you should be joining them as they indulge, you may face some pressure to eat everything — after all, it’s the holidays. They may suggest that these foods are special, and only served at this time of year. The reality is that you can pretty much get any food at any time of year these days. The truth is that you are likely invited to several parties and events and indulging each time can result in perpetual overeating and binging. So you need to have tactics or answers to draw upon in those sabotage situations. You can be honest and share the struggle and ask for support. If you think you will still get pushback then you can strongly suggest that you are very concerned with your current health and well-being and you know that you need to watch what you are eating. Assure these individuals that you are having a good time and they should feel free to indulge.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”