Foods That Make You Trigger

I received a comment a while back that really made me stop and think. After blogging about some form of chocolate or peanut butter treat, someone said they never buy it because it’s one of their trigger foods.

For some reason, this comment resonated with me. The term “trigger food” is one I’ve used and see all the time. And yet, to have it used so commonly really stuck with me.

The idea of a trigger food is that it creates an uncontrollable urge to eat. The type of food is different for everyone. But I’m sure we can all relate to grabbing a small handful of chips. Then another. Then another. And without even thinking about it, half (or all!) the bag is gone.

Not a salt person? Ever have a chocolate bar disappear before having the intention to even eat it all?

A trigger food can mean different things to different people. For people with a history of binge eating, it can mean a lot. For people who are trying to lose weight, it can be the difference between a good day and a bad day.

I’m of the school of thought that there is no such thing as bad food. Just bad food choices. What I mean is that everything is okay in moderation. And yes, there is such as thing as too much of a good thing!

I hate to live in a world where cookies are absolutely off limits. Or crackers are something I’ll never allow myself to eat again. That is not a healthy way to live life, and it’s important to open ourselves up to indulgences every once in a while.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I do have trigger foods. Ones that I’ve more or less deemed completely off limits. Yes, even in my quest for balance there are some things I’ve taken an all-or-nothing attitude about. And in these cases, I really do believe it is for the sake of my mental sanity. For there are some foods, trigger foods, that I really do have no control over. Ones that will leave me feeling bad about and sorry for myself. Ones that I’m really better off just not having in my life. No matter how delicious.

First up, pretzels. In all forms.

Pretzels always sound good in theory. They’re fun to bake with. A nice addition to any trail mix. But I have absolutely no control over them. Soon after the bag is opened, I’ve devoured 1000 calories in a salty food devoid of any nutritional value.

I almost didn’t buy Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels because I knew they’d be a danger food. Sure enough, I munched on them until the bag was gone. Happy that I got to experience their deliciousness. But finishing a bag in three days is just not healthy or welcome for me. So long pretzels! (and good riddance)

Another one: small crackers.

I don’t buy them. I don’t know how to portion them. It irks me that most small crackers are 10 calories a piece. You see, I have a serious munching problem. When I’m in my kitchen, even if I’m not hungry, some food container is being opened to munch on. I’ve gotten smart about keeping carrot sticks around to do this with. Because it’s going to happen no matter what (I’ve tried many times to stop, all in vain). These days I’m all about the big crackers. Ones I can sit down and make an actual snack out of.

The absolute worst trigger food for me is cereal. Of all kinds. Granola, bran cereal, even puffed cereal. If it’s in my kitchen, I will eat it by the handful. Entire boxes have disappeared with nary a bowl or milk being involved.

I’ve tried numerous times, each time with fail, to kick my cereal habit. I’ve finally realized that it is just one of those foods that trigger an automated response from me. One I am not comfortable with. Thus, you will never find me in the cereal aisle. I know this sounds pretty depressing. It is sad to come to the realization that cereal is not good for your mental health.

I am however happy to report that I’ve overcome some trigger foods!

Me and trail mix used to have a rocky relationship. Now when I buy a big bag, I immediately portion it out into little baggies. For some reason my mind (and tastebuds) don’t like messing with those little baggies and it now goes untouched until intentional consumption. Same goes with other dried fruits and nuts.

The biggest success for me so far has come with chocolate.

I have memories of eating half a large chocolate Easter bunny in one sitting as a child. It’s one of those foods I just can’t get enough of. It’s taken some practice, but I can now have just a small square of chocolate, or a small amount of something like M&MS or Mini Eggs and feel completely satisfied.

This post is not supposed to be about deprivation. Believe me, I do allow myself “trigger foods” occasionally and thoughtfully enjoy them. But it’s about living day-to-day in a world where eating is often connected to a mental or emotional response. It’s about recognizing foods that make us feel bad, and deciding if they’re worth having around at all.

If anything, writing this post made me realize that my list of trigger foods is pretty small. Way smaller than it would have been when I set out to lose 30 lbs two and a half years ago. Maybe I will make amends with the remaining foods someday. But for now, I am completely content keeping them banned from my cupboards :)

Question of the Day: How do you feel about trigger foods? Too strict? Any that you don’t let in your house?


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Posted on November 19, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.

  1. I can totally relate to this post! I know it is probably unhealthy, but as someone with a disordered eating past I know that trigger foods can lead to very unhealthy behaviours that I am not full capable (yet) of overcoming. Mine are almost the exact same too, pretzels and chips, crackers, cereal and any dairy free ice creams. PB used to be one but I have managed to overcome it. Thank you so much for posting this because it makes me feel a little less crazy : )

  2. Granola bars are my big one. I can eat 2-3 packages of bars before I know it because they don’t really satisfy me. For a long time I couldn’t keep any in the house, but we just recently bought a huge cost co. sized box and so far, so good.

  3. Trigger foods are having less and less of a power on me. I, too, believe that no foods should be off limits. I have problems with cereal, too, and with most baked goods. I love them, though, and try my best to incorporate them in my life and enjoy them. But there are times when they seem to take on an insane amount of power.
    I feel the same way about Mary’s crackers. I always want more than a serving (or two!).

  4. Great post! I believe there are no bad foods, just bad amounts of food.

    All of Trader Joe’s is a trigger for me if I’m not careful. If it’s not an eating binge, then it’s a buying binge (ie. we have 3 frozen flatbreads in the freezer and 3 Thanksgiving desserts at the moment for the two of us).

    There’s some great info in “The End of Overeating” about why certain foods can trigger overeating by layering salt, sugar, and fat. It really opened my eyes and even my husband started to eat better after I read him parts of it.

    We’re strong women! We shouldn’t let a food item manipulate us!
    (but peanut butter pretzels can totally do that. Thank God I’ve never bought the chocolate-covered ones!)

    • I’ve been hearing about that book for a long time – I need to read it already!!

      • Not to creep on comments or anything (:s) but I bought the audiobook of The End of Overeating. It was great to hear read out loud! Really interesting topic. Although, I will say that it gets a bit technical/specific about biological impulses at times.

  5. Cereal is such a trigger food for me too! I stopped buying it. Ice cream is another one too. I buy portion-controlled servings of both and it has really helped me.

  6. Definitely awful with the cereal too. I can plow through a box in two days…wish I was kidding! Portions have always been something to trip me up – ESPECIALLY with sweets. Chocolate, cereals, donuts, you get the picture…

  7. Ice cream. And Fro Yo. I can have just one if I’m at the shop, but I can’t bring it home because I’ll have one cone. Then just one more. Too much. Ice cream can really add up that way, and even if fro yo isn’t as caloric, I don’t like the feeling of wanting another one before I’ve even finished the first!

    Love this post.

  8. This is SUCH an interesting topic. I used to have a lot of foods I would consider triggers. Particularly homemade baked goods. I would eat the majority of them/the ones I didn’t give away within a few days, when really they should have been enjoyed over a week or two (or put into the freezer). I loved to bake (and still do) so it was a major challenge for me to balance my desires with what I knew was good for me.

    Things have changed a lot over the past couple years, and I don’t really have triggers anymore. It’s also been totally different living with James, partly because I would never go nuts on the fridge with him around. We have all these snacky items and foods in the house that i *never* would have bought before (ie. lots of cheeses, juices, bagels, yogurt raisins, lots of booze, etc.). On top of that he bakes two or three times a week (I’m not kidding!! The last three weeks we’ve had chocolate zucchini loaf, banana bran choco-chip muffins, cinnamon cake, and then hummingbird cupcakes with cream cheese frosting). I keep telling him to stop feeding me all these goodies or I’m not going to look the same a year from now!

    But that all said, it’s interesting to see how things have panned out. At first I found all these new treats exciting and enticing and I’d want to try them or eat them all the time. Now that they’re regular features in the house, and I’ve accepted that he’s not going to stop buying them, I’ve relaxed a bit and don’t have the constant urge to eat/drink them. OJ in the morning and cheese every couple days is more regular now, but aside from that, I usually only eat (and desire) one treat a day. It really shows me that it really is a mental thing, and when you know it’s there, and it ain’t goin’ anywhere, you really don’t feel the same urge to devour it.

    I think the ONE exception that would TOTALLY throw me over the edge would be having a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar in the house. Love.those.things.!!

    • I totally agree with you on the mental part. I’m a “clean plate eater” too and I often have to tell myself that the food isn’t going anywhere. If I’m still hungry in 20 minutes I can always go back and finish the rest. I’m always fighting the urge to have all of it NOW.

  9. my trigger foods are biscuits! i used to always end up binging if i had biscuits! but touch wood i havent had a big binge in nearly 6 months! :)

  10. back in my binge eating days i definitely had trigger foods – but i’m happy to report that that’s no longer the case – even those ones that set me off in the past. after my many years of dealing with this, i know that it’s possible (for me) to make peace with something that really tormented me.

  11. I can send you that “end of over-eating” book!
    I personally have a problem with frozen yogurt/ice cream. I seriously cant have it in the house! I could enter an ice cream eating contest and totally win.

  12. during the times when I practically starved myself, anything with sugar was a trigger food. Esp ice-cream. Even cookies, and back then I KNEW I didn’t even like cookies, yet I HAD to have a nibble or something if I saw them lying around. It got so bad I didn’t let my family members bring sugary foods into the house.

    but once I started letting myself have proper calories and nutrition, I no longer craved sugary foods. I’m at peace with them now. They can either enter my mouth or not.

    Yet, I still DO have certain trigger foods. For me, it’s nuts now. God damn them. They are so crunchy and fatty and delicious. Thank goodness they are expensive so I can’t buy them too often.

  13. In an ideal world nobody would have trigger foods and everyone would be perfectly healthy and able to reach their goals through intuitive eating alone. Obviously this isn’t the case. I think it’s a lot more healthy to recognize how you react to different food/products and how that makes you feel. I could call carrots a trigger food, but I don’t keep them out of my house the way I keep cereal out (seems like everyone has a problem with that). Mentally though, it’s the same issue.

  14. You are so right! And cereal is EVIL.

  15. I think we have the same “trigger” food taste bud. Another one of mine is trail mix and granola mmmmm….

  16. Pizza, mexican food and any type of fast food are HUGE trigger foods for me.

    Jen

  17. What a great, insightful post Susan!

    I am also in the “nothing is off-limits” school, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have what most people would consider “trigger foods.” Salty things like nuts and trail mix, peanut butter pretzels, that have a little sweet in ‘em… danger zone. I’ve just learned to control myself with them, 90% of the time. It’s not easy. But If I reason with myself- just have one serving of this today, maybe another day I’ll have two, and once in a while- special occasion, road trip, etc I WILL have two (or three) servings, I’m consciously making the decision, which to me is healthier than eating mindlessly OR restricting myself.

    I can’t say “off-limits” to any food because then I feel deprived and want it more!!

    xo

  18. Lately I think sweets in general are a “trigger” for me because my cravings are off the wall the last couple months of pregnancy. Not good with the holidays coming up! LOL

    I don’t think I really have trigger foods outside of pregnancy though. I can easily stop eating certain foods and not go overboard. I do have certain situations though that will make me want to eat more and that I always have to be more mindful during.

  19. I know in reality that foods should not be avoided, BUT trigger foods are real. It is important to know what foods lead you down a path that can cause unhealthy eating habits. My triggers are pretzels, peanut butter and trail mix. I try to avoid at all cost. Is this healthy? No, but I know what happens when I do get a “taste” of them. I am happier just not having them in my life.

  20. I have heard the term “trigger food” before but didn’t know what it meant until now, but I used to have the same problem with cereal! What helped for me was changing my mindset. I used to just eat it like I was never going to be able to eat it again. Now when I pour myself a bowl I remind myself that cereal will always be there. I can have more if I’m still hungry, but that box isn’t going anywhere!

  21. I agree with you on the ‘no such thing as “bad” foods’ stance. I can’t say I really have any trigger foods, and anything can come into my house. However, I don’t normally buy things that I know aren’t going to sit well in my stomach, so those don’t tend to make it in unless someone brings them. I’ve never been big into chocolate, so a bowl sitting on the table isn’t really as appealing to me as it might be for someone who loves the stuff. Having said all this though… if there’s watermelon…. watch out! :)

  22. I like how you tackled this topic. I’ve actually been thinking about this recently in my life. Trigger foods for me are things that I can’t actually cut out. I find when I do, that’s when I binge on them. Mostly I just don’t keep them in the house.

    Also one thing I’ve noticed is trigger foods will vary depending on what’s going on in my life. Sometimes I can eat chocolate/peanut butter or anything else completely fine, but then if there is a LOAD of stress or I’m really busy or upset, that chocolate just gets wolfed down like nothing else.

    • Yes! Stress has a lot to do with it for me as well. That’s why I’ve been able to determine it’s such a mental/emotional thing for me. I have to be extra careful around certain foods in times of stress or sadness. Still learning how to deal better with this one… but then, it’s a problem someone can spend their whole lives trying to get a handle on :\

  23. Cereal for me too! And m & m’s those dang little candies.

  24. Potato chips – they don’t stand a chance in my house so I don’t buy them. If I’m dying for them it forces me to leave the house and walk to the store.

  25. To be honest I have absolutely no trigger foods…I have triggering situations at times. If I go to long without eating and my blood sugar gets low then I will eat the first starchy thing I see in mass quantities until I stop feeling shaky. So as long as I remember to eat every couple of hours I can be surrounded by chocolate, ice cream, chips, whatever with no issues. In fact when I buy treats my husband usually eats them all before I even get around to them!

  26. I have come to realize that as long as I have my trigger foods in moderation, I am less likely to over indulge. One thing I do not keep in the house is Ice Cream. I would rather spend the extra money and go out to get it once or twice a month than devour an entire carton in a few days.

    Also, pretzels (especially the TJ ones) are dangerous!

  27. Trigger foods for me are things like candy, cookies, ice cream, etc. I allow myself to eat those treats on occasion but I just can’t keep them in my house all the time…

  28. Oh gosh. Small crackers and cereal are by FAR some of my worst triggers foods. Certain cereals I’m okay with but anything remotely granolaish or that has different types of pieces… you know, where you can sit there and sift and pick out all the goods ones…yeah. I HATE having those around. Love em…but hate it. Unfortunately I live at home with family members who love their crackers and cereal. And anything crunchy and munchy and carby for that matter. Daily battle I tell you. I can’t really do anything about it! If I lived on my own a lot of the stuff that’s in my cupboards right now would NOT be, I’ll tell you that. For now though I just have to make due and try my hardest not to go toocrazy on the good stuff. Sometimes I pass, sometimes not so much… but then I just load up on the veggies for the rest of the day :) Or at least try to haha.

  29. Great post, I completely agree with the cereal one. Luckily I’ve managed to control this as a trigger and haven’t had a binge in a couple of months now. At the moment when I feel like I’m about to have a binge I eat apples, in fact I’ve just ate four! At least these aren’t too calorific and give you some nutrition. I slice them up and eat like chips!

  30. Susan what an innovative (meaning ya don’t see posts about trigger foods on every stinking blog out there) post!! And brave of you to put it all out there :) Glad you don’t have trigger food issues any longer :D
    OMG. Mini Eggs probably could have been classified as a trigger food for me a while back. They are so superbly delicious. Best Easter candy out there by far, no?

  31. Peanut butter is a total trigger food for me and I gave it up as a november goal and I’m doing well none has passed my lips! x x

  32. Anything salty and crunchy is a TOTAL snack attack food for me. I only have them when I’m out of the house because I can’t buy a bag or box of it because I will plow through it in no time flat!

  33. I recently had to stop buying big bags of pop chips. Originally I bought them as a low cal alternative but if I buy a huge bag I will eat the whole thing. It’s inevitable. It’s only like 300 calories for the whole bag but like you said about pretzels- void of nutrition or filling fiber. Speaking of pretzels herr’s sold in my area have a rye flax seed pretzel that does have fiber and protein and omega 3s I feel better about eating those and they are awesome if like rye!

  34. LOL – thinking about my PB chocolate Bugles here!

    While I don’t believe in good or bad foods, I sometimes jokingly call some foods evil just because they do create some sort of reaction in me. And not all the time, either. That is the weird thing.

    I can go along with cold cereal in the house for a while and be fine. Then the snacking jones will hit and I overeat it. Then cereal has to go away for a while. I don’t necessarily think it is bad to have foods that you need to control in some way. Heck – I out of controlled my way to 250 pounds, you know? Don’t forget that manufacturers try to create foods that are addictive and that you will want to eat more of. That’s their job. They want to sell this stuff, and to do that, people have to want to eat it.

  35. Wow, scary! I also always munch when I walk into my kitchen, especially on the several (open) bags of nuts and raisins that are stored in the drawers. I use nuts a lot so freezing them like some do doesn’t seem practival to me.

    Granola for me is the same, I love making my own batches but at least half I eat outside of meal and snacktimes.. Chips I also want to eat full bags of but I never buy them. Sometimes my boyfriend does and then I eat about 1/3 a bag haha.

    geat post, thanks!

  36. I definitely struggle with trigger foods. For me they are foods that I can’t have in large quantities in the house (large quantities meaning more than a single serving left accessible at a time). My main ones are pizza and ice cream. I do fine with eating only one or two slice of pizza for a meal (as planned on) but if there is a lot left over I struggle not to eat some for every meal/snack. With ice cream I have a hard time feeling satisfied when I eat it, so I’ll end up eating until my tongue is numb and I just can’t taste it anymore. I now try to buy the little single servings whenever I really want some at home because then when I eat the whole container it is only a single serving instead of 4 or more servings.

    I’m not sure if I consider chocolate to be a trigger food, but I know that if I want chocolate I’m satisfied with just a small piece of high quality chocolate vs. wanting a lot more to feel satisfied if eating lower quality chocolate. I much prefer the higher quality stuff anyways.

  37. I read this post the other day and I think it is no surprise that it hit home with me. I am the same as you with cereal. Thanks for reminding us it’s ok to admit we have foods to keep off limits!

    I would leave a longer comment but I am over leaving long comments these days because they all go to spam on every blog I read =/

  38. I am probably the oldest person leaving a reply and I want to say that over the years I have overcome all my triggers – but one. I did not work on it – it just happened. I can have chips, pizza, chocolate, cereal, cookies, nuts, etc. in the house and I am as cool as a cucumber. I think it has something to do with being in menopause and I am no longer a slave to hormones. But I cannot have fresh bread in the house – hot fresh bread of any kind, bread that is still so hot it melts the butter. The loaf is gone in a way that I would not want to be captured on video. The solution for me is to buy frozen organic spout bread.

  39. susan, thank you. this is an excellent blog post.

    i might have been one of those people who very rarely allowed myself even a small amount of my trigger foods while losing weight but blogging & reading blogs has taught me so much about enjoying myself without feeling like im missing out while still being “healthy”

  40. I had to think long and hard what would be my trigger foods… I think it’s candy in general.. or chips and dip. I try not to buy them much since I cannot keep my hands away from them but time to time I allow myself a treat :)

  41. While some people are huge advocates of the “everything is good in moderation” rule, I definitely have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to certain foods. I never crave anything salty but have a huge sweet tooth. Cookies, chocolate, rice krispies, any kind of pastry, I can eat until I am physically sick and still not feel satisfied. The worst is ice cream, I can easily eat half a liter in a sitting! With these foods, I need to stay away from completely.

    I have a similar experience to you with the granola. Once I transfer the box into pre-portioned plastic baggies, I don’t mess with them unless I plan to eat a whole bag. And usually then I can visualize that it’s a snack and not mindless munching and will think carefully about whether its what I actually want to eat. Buying pre-portioned ice cream also helps – especially because they’re so expensive, I feel bad eating more than 1 in the same sitting.

  42. oh man pretzels are my weakness….i cant have a normal portion. ever. i open the bag and its gone. done. even when i put the bag away between servings, i just keep going back to the kitchen. over. and over. and over. again. ugh. its more annoying for my budget than anything else. ill go long periods without buying them because i only know the fate of the little buggers. sad but true.

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