Let's Get Trigger Happy!
Do you remember the last time you were stressed, angry or frustrated? Did you eat just because you always do when you feel that way? What about the last time you ate five of your favourite chocolate chip biscuits – even when you told yourself you would just have one? And think back to the last time you were at a movie. Did you buy popcorn just because you always eat popcorn at a movie, even if you are not really hungry?
These are all examples of triggers exerting an unconscious control over you, setting off bouts of overeating. Trigger feelings, trigger foods, and trigger situations can be so powerful you can almost hear them yelling "I've gotcha!" before you even feel you have time to stop them. However, with the right tools and strategies, they can be stopped.
Read on and learn how to recognise and control your personal triggers.
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You and your triggers
Triggers are certain foods, situations, and feelings that prompt you to overeat; they can trip you up any time, anywhere. For example, it might have always been a habit for you to eat chips when you're stressed. This means that no matter how much weight you lose, or how healthy your regular eating habits become, there will always be a "chip-eating trigger" for you when you get stressed, unless you learn to control it.
Places, people, situations and even seasons can trigger an eating response. For example, at the movies, you might be "triggered" to eat popcorn. When you see your mother-in-law you might automatically reach for the biscuit tin. At Easter, it's likely you're "triggered" to eat chocolate.
Learning to identify and control your triggers is crucial to your weight-control success.
Everyone’s triggers are different. However, there are some fairly common ones:
Pavlov's dogs teach us a lesson
The Russian scientist Pavlov gave us a great example of how triggers work when he researched reflex behaviour. In his research, Pavlov conducted one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology. The strategy of the experiment was simple: a tuning fork was rung every time a group of dogs was fed. After the dogs had become accustomed to this pattern, it was rung without feeding them. It soon became clear that if the tuning fork were rung, the dogs would begin to drool more than normal, even when there was no food. The dogs had learned to associate the sound of the tuning fork with food, linking a trigger (the sound) with a response (drooling). In other words, they had developed a conditioned response to a trigger.
This conditioned response is what makes you eat popcorn at a movie just because you are there, or eat certain comfort foods when you are stressed, or eat chocolate chip biscuits as soon as you smell them – whether you are hungry or not. For various reasons you have either learned or are conditioned to respond to trigger foods, situations, and feelings as if you are truly hungry; you are unconsciously prompted to eat. Once you begin eating in response to a trigger, your ability to stop is very limited.
Although conditioned responses can take on a life of their own and begin to operate as if they were reflex responses, they can be undone. Unlike Pavlov's dogs, you can think, reason, and unlearn conditioned responses; you can learn not to drool just because a tuning fork is ringing!
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