By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD
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Your diet is travelling along nicely until something happens. That `something' is an eating trigger that causes you to overeat or eat inappropriately. Knowing your eating triggers is the first step to overcoming them. Here are some tips to beat the four common categories of eating triggers; Sensations; Locations; Emotions; and Relations.
Sensations are the physiological and biochemical changes that occur in our bodies in response to eating food or being deprived of it. These sensation triggers include; an empty stomach, low blood sugar levels or an unbalanced ratio of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain.
How to beat `sensation' eating triggers:
Tick the eating habits you've already mastered. Cross or highlight the ones you need to work on:
The key to beating sensation eating triggers is to level out your body's natural chemical highs and lows.
- Eat regularly and avoid skipping meals, which can leave you hungry and prone to overeating.
- Choose foods that fill you up with fewer calories and help level out blood sugars. For example, sources of low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates such as rolled oats or yoghurt.
- Include some higher-protein foods, including; lean meat, chicken, fish, dairy or beans at lunch and dinner to help you feel satisfied.
- Where possible, try to limit or avoid stimulant foods such as coffee, cola drinks and chocolate, particularly at times when you crave them. This pattern of consumption reinforces the negative habit.
- Beware of depriving yourself too much and eating too little food. This will amplify your sensations of hunger and cravings, which will make you more prone to experiencing the other types of eating triggers.
The physical locations we find ourselves in can challenge our ability to resist eating and drinking. It's not always feasible to avoid particular locations such as those we live, work and play in, so it's important to be ready with strategies to beat the eating triggers that tend to pop up.
How to beat `location' eating triggers:
At Home: Keep high-calorie snacks out of sight or out of the house. Make fruit and water easily accessible. For emergencies, choose a trigger back-up snack. These snacks are foods that are good enough to satisfy cravings for foods that are normally higher in fat or energy but feel like a treat. For example, low-fat vanilla custard on a banana, sprinkled with a little cinnamon sugar - yumbo!
Supermarket: Don't shop hungry! Eat something before you leave home.
Hotel room: Have the snacks removed from your room before you get there.
Plane: Order a low-fat or low-calorie meal when you book your ticket.
Service station: Go directly to the counter and keep your eyes on the attendant, so you're not distracted by the high fat or sugary snacks.
Office: Keep a piece of fruit and bottle of water on your desk at all times.
Business lunch: Start with a jug of water. Make salad a must-have menu item. Leave what you can't eat, rather than take home a doggy bag.
The mall: Carry a piece of fruit and know where you need to go so as not to wander past several food outlets.
At a party: Move away from the food table and find someone interesting to talk with. Bring a plate of low-fat tasty snacks. No one will notice your ricotta cheese and sweet chilli sauce dip is actually low fat!
Just as locations and the presence of high-calorie food can present negative triggers, easy access to healthy food can give you a source of positive eating triggers. Which locations do you need strategies for?
Emotions, thoughts and feelings like stress, anger, loneliness or just “feeling fat” can negatively influence your eating habits by subconsciously triggering you to turn to food when you really need something else to satisfy an emotional need.
When you feel your emotional trigger being pulled, visualise and verbalise (say it out loud) a stop sign… STOP! Then ask yourself these important questions:
Your answers, or simply the time delay for thought, may help your urge to eat pass.
- When did I last eat?
- Am I really hungry right now?
- Why am I hungry right now?
- If I eat, will I feel better afterwards?
- Would anything else besides food satisfy me?
The key to beating emotional triggers is to learn positive ways to nurture your emotional needs without food.
If you're feeling bored, find something to occupy your mind. If you're feeling tired, take a nap. If you're feeling anxious, take some deep breaths or go for a walk.
It may be important to get your feelings out. Write them down in a personal journal or talk to someone about them. Discussing your feelings with a friend, family member or counsellor will make them easier to deal with appropriately.
Plan how you might work on managing your emotional eating triggers by filling in the blanks below:
Instead of eating when I feel: ________________________________________
I can: ___________________________________________________________
Relationships with other people can, at times, present eating triggers that are challenging to manage. Partners, family members and friends can unwittingly influence you to eat when you don't need to or want to eat.
Ask yourself these questions about how relationships influence your eating:
When you are aware of `relationship' eating triggers you can start to use some strategies to help deal with these triggers. Here are some recommendations:
- Is food and eating a big part of celebrations in my family or social circle?
- Am I encouraged by others to eat or drink when I don't want to?
- Do I eat to fit in or to please the cook?
- Do some people trigger certain feelings that often lead to overeating?
Avoid the trigger: Spend less time with the person who appears to be encouraging you to overeat. This is not always a viable option.
Celebrate without food: Where possible set up some time away from food at family get-togethers. Go to the beach, the park or somewhere out-and-about rather than the kitchen or dining room.
Just say `no': Look after yourself by simply saying `No' to offers of food. You are number one and declining a second helping should not offend the cook.
Ask for support: Discuss with your partner, family or friends how important your eating or activity goals are and that you'd like their support.
Share your feelings: Explain to the person influencing your eating exactly how you feel when they behave in certain ways. They may not be aware of their influence and be willing to make some changes to help.
It may not always be easy to talk directly to the person who is pulling your eating trigger, but talking to somebody else about it can help.
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