Have you ever looked down at your hand going back and forth between a box of cookies and your mouth while in your head, your mind is screaming “stoooop!! What the hell are you doing!?”. I would find myself doing exactly that several times a week for 10+ years.
Something would click in my head and I would, in a half- conscious state, hurry to the grocery store, come home, and eat until I couldn’t move. Only the shame and feelings of disgust would eventually wake me from the trance, and as soon as I came to, my body sweating and working at top speed, trying to break down all the food in my belly, I would start to plan my next diet.
“It’s like my body gets taken over” I would say to my mom when she asked me what happened. To say that I felt out of control and utterly ashamed would be an understatement.
Other than learning that starving myself would always lead to overeating in some capacity, the hypnotic state of a binge was a mystery to me until I learned about emotional triggers. And that’s why learning your emotional triggers can be invaluable if you struggle with any kind of “zombie” like eating. Getting familiar with your emotional triggers is getting to know yourself so that you are better informed and prepared. Because, even though mindless eating should be an act completely free of judgement, having your life taken over by the obsession with food and weight, to the point that you have to go through episodes of outer body eating, is probably not doing your life any services.
So, what is an emotional trigger? Well, it’s an affective state triggered by an event, person, thought or feeling. And in the case of a binge eater or compulsive overeater it is the fear of having to deal with this state makes us turn to food. To illustrate I made you this beaooooutiful image:
For those of us who struggle with food and body image issues our first responses often include blaming the fat on our bodies and planning our next cleanse/diet/detox to get rid of that fat, needing to eat a pint of ice cream at this very moment, canceling plans because we “feel fat”, changing clothes over and over again because we don’t feel we look good in any of the clothes in our overflowing closets, hiding and sneaking food, pretending like we’re fine while secretly planning to binge at a later time etc.
Emotional triggers are the hot buttons of our emotional lives and they include everything from having our pants feel too tight to painful memories. Have you heard of projection? Yep, that’s a potential trigger too. Having someone pin their own pain onto you, or you, trying to lift the burden off of someone else by taking on their pain, can lead to some serious emotional overload. Which leads to serious emotional eating. Dysfunction style.
So what can we do about this? As almost always, be aware. Because emotional triggers typically are fraught with hurt we tend to avoid them at all cost, opting out of life for a few hours to eat ourselves to numbness, and later waking up not knowing what went down or how we got cake batter stuck in our hair. We can learn to survive them without having to anxiously shove candy in our mouths or get lost in searching for the best “fast fat loss” workout. We can learn to get through them without punishment, guilt, regret and checking out. Although negative emotional triggers undoubtedly contain many hurts we can choose to not always seek solace in the kind of medicine found only in refined sugars and trans fats. So what are our options when trying to befriend these inner gremlins?
‘Surf the wave’ as the seasoned psychologists like to say. Go through the motions, wait it out. Sit. Breathe. Pace. Surf that trigger like a 50 feet wave!
Detach. Take a step back and try to analyze what is really going on and the validity of what just went down. Did someone just give you a negative comment? Realize that that says more about that person than it does you, try to detach yourself from the feeling(s) and throw that trigger out with the trash.
Let it move through you by getting creative. Write your heart out, sing at the top of your lungs, paint the feelings onto paper or dance like your (emotional) life depended on it.
All this might seem like a whole lot of (not so fun) work and I’m not going to do anyone a disservice by saying that it’s not. But when the moment comes when you’re standing in your kitchen ready to dig in to the first bowl of ice cream, that will likely be followed by five more, at least you know that there is a different way. And it’s not a matter of assigning morality to food, it’s a matter of assigning the power back to you.