Emotional eating, binge eating, stress eating, trigger eating, compulsive eating all boil down to one thing. The trigger. The triggered compulsive feelings that drive an urge to splurge or binge are what leave us feeling helpless.
When you are triggered into overeating, you feel the anguish, the compulsion, and the bewilderment. Thoughts of “I can’t stop!” run amok like a broken record. Before you know it, your stomach is in pain, guilt begins to surface and the love/hate relationship to food leaves you in its wake… until the next time it strikes.
The above scenario was a daily experience for me. I tried to run, but couldn’t hide from the next binge that would leave me in its wake. I believed if I beat myself up enough I could stop. Not true. If I dieted enough I would heal. Also, not true. If only I had more will power, the triggers would go away. Not exactly. Hopefully, your experience is not as drastic, draining and foreboding as mine was.
I’m now into my 12th year at being free from emotional eating triggers and have learned a lot. In order to fully move beyond triggers to eat, we need to examine the anatomy behind a compulsive stress response.
First, when we perceive stress, our bodies react. By the time you get the compulsive feeling of “I can’t stop!” the amygdala gland in your brain has already flooded your brain with a hyper stress response. That is where the compelling feeling comes from.
Next, catch yourself in the emotion. When you feel the compulsion kick in, remind yourself, “It is just my amygdala flooding!” (It even sounds funny when you say it and that is ok, it will help you lighten the mood).
Third, have an emergency back-up plan ready in advance. You’ve acknowledged your body has just being flooded with fight-or-flight hormones. Now, remove yourself from the situation so your body can calm down and reboot itself. This is key!
It is not your fault. There is a physical reason you feel compelled and out of control. The good news is that it is just a feeling. While it is not your fault, it is within your reach to take yourself out of the reaction and back into the realm of choice. Being back in the driver’s seat of your life is an option.
The problem takes further root when we end up having a reaction to our reaction. If we fear the compulsive feeling, it worsens. By knowing what is going on, we actually begin to calm ourselves down and examine what triggered us in the first place. Overeating is not about the food. It is about what is going on in our heart.
Now that you know what is happening you can stop reacting to the reaction, which makes the feeling of compulsion multiply.
Here are three steps you can take to free you from a triggered eating response:
- Remind yourself about the brain’s stress response and follow-up with a “snap-out of it” statement. For example: ”I don’t want to eat my problems away; I want to be healthy!” Or, “I can stop this. It is within my power.” Write these on a notecard and keep them with you at all times. Read them when you need them.
- Remove yourself from the situation. If you stay in the kitchen, or the car, or the room with the food it is harder to stop a binge. If you are inside, go outside. If you are in a car, drive to a parking lot and get out of the car. If you are in the kitchen, go the back yard. This approach confuses the brain and can stop a stress response.
- In advance, create an emergency response to fall back on. For example: journaling, phoning a friend, jumping jacks, doodling, prayer, meditation, or going for a walk. Apply your response the moment you feel a trigger coming on.