January seems to be the month the diet industry takes over the internet, radio, and television with promises to create a new you. It’s the perfect time to find willing customers ready to buy anything that will help them overcome the indulgences of the holiday season. The diet industry continues to be a multibillion-dollar industry even though the failure rate of diets is huge. Why do we still get hooked?
Eating issues are hard enough to deal with, but then add to that everyone around you being fanatical about diet and exercise, and it can often be a recipe for disaster. Facebook becomes a “pro diet” highway of bragging about before and after shots and the latest “healthy” tricks. Standing in line at grocery stores you see a smorgasbord of magazines with airbrushed models routinely promoting the “perfect” body. Just walking into Costco in January can be overwhelming, due to having to walk around extensive exercise equipment on special for the month. Needless to say, triggers are unavoidable when we live in a “thin ideal” society.
What are Triggers?
Some may be unclear what the term “trigger” means. It can be any person, place, thing, or situation that evokes negative feelings about oneself. These triggers often lead to destructive behaviors designed to punish, change, or soothe. In the context of eating concerns, these behaviors often include caloric restriction, excessive exercise, binge eating, or purging. Eating concern triggers are everywhere this time of year, and can be quite overwhelming when you are doing your best to have a more balanced relationship with yourself (and your body).
Be Aware of Your Triggers
In order to change any behavior you first need to be aware of it. It is also pretty tough to overcome something if you don’t even know what you are fighting. This is why it’s important to understand and know what events or situations trigger you. Often clients react to different circumstances without even really understanding or knowing why. Anything that makes the negative voice louder in your head can be identified as a trigger. What triggers you does not necessarily trigger another–there may be similarities, but everyone is different based on unique history.
First, pay attention and make a list throughout the week of your triggers. Next, identify feelings and thoughts associated with the triggers. Try and answer the following: how did this experience affect me? Why did it lead to these thoughts? What can I do to help myself? The most challenging part of this exercise may be trying to separate the “negative” voice from your “healthy” voice. The healthy voice will be more rational, kind, and forgiving. The negative voice will use all-or-nothing language such as always and never. It can be empowering to learn that you are not at the mercy of your thoughts. And you can actually question them and recognize that just because you are experiencing strong urges, does not mean you have to give into them.
Reach Out and Build Understanding
Individuals struggling with eating issues often isolate to avoid judgement or questions. When triggers arise it can be really tough to reach out to your support network, especially if you don’t feel they will understand you. It may also be tough to reach out if you feel you are a burden on others. Unfortunately, this approach can often backfire as it leaves loved ones more worried, but with little direction as to how they can support you when they see you struggle.
Rather than shutting down, let your loved ones be there for you. Help them understand what you need; what is helpful and what is not helpful. Remember that they are not experts on eating issues, but they love you and want to help you. Don’t assume they know what’s difficult for you or what you need to feel better. This is a great time to utilize your therapist or dietitian in educating your close family and friends. These professionals can help translate your concerns and advocate for effective support.
Be willing to communicate and be assertive in meeting your needs. Be forgiving–no one gets it right all the time. Provide gentle redirection to your loved ones and express your gratitude for their good intent. Give specific suggestions: listen when you come home, eat a meal together, go on a walk after a meal for distraction,help with meal prep.
The negative voice can be downright cruel, and it can be easy to be taken in by its subtle lies. In those moments you may feel completely undeserving of compassion, and yet that may be the thing you need the most. Think of how gentle you are with others. You may know just what to say to a friend in distress. Practice some of those same statements on yourself. It may seem foreign, but isn’t it time you become accustomed to nice? When hit with triggers, rather than berating yourself: try kindness instead. What would you say to a loved one? You’d probably be gentle and understanding. This is exactly what you need in these moments of distress.
One suggestion is to make a “911” box for yourself. The goal is to cover all five senses to help you relax. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you want. It could include things like mints, scented candles, relaxing music, a soft blanket or toy, favorite picture or artwork, movies, bubble bath, journals, whatever you can think of to help you nurture yourself. Yes, this may be a foreign concept– try it anyway. A little kindness can go along way– especially toward yourself.
The path to wholeness is not linear, but one that often includes many hills and valleys. Do your best to assert your needs when triggers strike and verbalize your concerns. There is no need to suffer in silence. Choose healthy behaviors that align with kindness. Hang in there! Triggers will settle down the more you learn to listen to your healthy self. It can be exhausting at times, which is why support is so essential. Keep fighting and never give up. Challenge the triggers, stay firm in your commitment to wellness, and know that it will not always be as hard as it feels today.
Reichmann, C. (2015). Trigger Here, Triggers There, Triggers, Triggers Everywhere. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from http://theprojectheal.org
Roulin, J. (2015). National eating disorders association. Retrieved January 13, 2017, from Proud2BMe, http://nationaleatingdisorders.org