It is somewhat ironic that, in spite of having more diet plans and weight loss programs available to us than at any other time in history, our struggle with keeping our weight down continues to be a problem for most of us. There are, of course, a myriad of factors contributing to this unhealthy and unfortunate trend, but understanding some of the major variables that cause us to overeat unconsciously may help us to overcome the eating habits that are keeping us overweight. One set of variables that cause us to mindlessly consume more food than we need are grouped into what are commonly called eating "triggers."
Eating triggers are specific things that cause us to overeat. More often than not, we are not even conscious of these triggers and how they are encouraging us to eat too much. Understanding these triggers and finding strategies for how to avoid or overcome them can significantly reduce our mindless eating habits and help us to succeed in our desire to lose weight. Eating triggers typically fall into three main categories: foods, feelings or environments.
Food triggers are specific foods that set off a reaction that makes it difficult to stop eating and therefore cause you to overeat. For some people, trigger foods may be sweets. For others, they may be salty snack foods such as potato chips or certain dishes such as pasta. These are not to be confused with comfort foods (foods that are associated with a certain feeling). Instead it is the food itself, not the feeling or environment, that sets off the period of overeating. For example, if a bag of your favorite chips are opened, they will soon be gone regardless of how you're feeling or what environment you're in.
Becoming aware of specific foods that trigger overeating can help you to avoid them altogether. Instead of trying to convince yourself that you just going to "cut back," you may want to consider avoiding these foods altogether or take measures to ration portions so that can "finish" eating without overeating. Distributing a bag of potato chips into smaller sandwich bags, for example, may help you to enjoy the snack without being tempted to consume the entire bag in one sitting.
The second type of trigger for overeating are feelings. People often eat as a way of dealing with certain emotions, both positive and negative. The most important thing is to become aware of how certain feelings cause us to overeat so that we can make different choices in the future. Unlike food triggers, which are caused by a particular food, feeling triggers can cause us to overeat any kind of food. Once again, awareness is the key. Once we identify specific emotions that initiate a reaction of overeating, we can work on developing strategies for dealing with these emotions without using food.
The final category of eating triggers are associated with specific environments or events. We often have a tendency to overeat when we go to certain types of places. For example, sporting events, buffet cafeterias, and movie theatres with their super jumbo deluxe portion offerings will often trigger a tendency to eat more than we normally would have. Holidays or parties are other types of settings that can launch us into an unconscious eating frenzy. It is important to identify and understand the places or events that can cause us to overeat. Once we've done this, we can adopt a strategy for how to deal with these types of situations beforehand.
We may choose to avoid the "all-you-can-eat" buffets and, instead, go to another type of restaurant that offers specific well-balanced portions. If holiday parties tend to be our downfall into gastronomical extravagance, we may want to limit our time and carefully monitor our snacking and keeping track of how many cups of egg nog we consume. The key is to have a plan for how you are going to handle the temptations in the environment before you actually arrive.
The main weapon we have in dealing with each of these types of eating triggers is our awareness. Once we realize they exist and understand how they affect us, we are much better equipped to deal with them effectively. Losing weight is only one part of developing a healthy lifestyle. Eating triggers will inevitably happen. The real secret to success in overcoming eating triggers is being aware of what they are and having a specific strategy of what to do when they occur.
Tim Wright, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and busy father of four living in Virginia.