When I was first getting sober, one of the slogans that I learned was “people, places and things”. This meant that I should avoid anything in my control that may cause relapse. These are triggers. For example, If I drove past a bar on the way home from work, I should take a different route home. We should do the same to avoid food triggers.
I would never keep wine around the house.
It’s been over 5 years and I still wouldn’t do it.
However, I am around wine some times. It’s unrealistic to think I wouldn’t be. During those times I ask God for help, or distract myself or use many of the tools I’ve learned (that is for a future post).
Like alcohol or any other addiction, it’s important to know and avoid food triggers.
what are trigger foods?
Trigger foods are typically calorie-dense, highly palatable foods that are often combinations of sugar and fat (e.g. ice cream, cookies) or fat and salt (e.g. nuts, potato chips, French fries).
There are certain foods that I could never keep in my house (Oreos, ahem) because I would spend the day battling obsessive thoughts (which is NEVER a fun way to spend the day)!
Here is how the day would go:
At my desk working, I would remember that Oreos are in the pantry. As I continued to work, I would think about those darn things more intensely.
I would hold off for a fairly good amount of time but the thoughts would continue to where I couldn’t concentrate on work. I’d be white knuckling it.
Then I would say it to myself, the biggest lie I can ever tell myself, “I will just have ONE”.
THAT doesn’t happen. Once I have ONE, I am off to the races—all bets are off.
I would finally give in, I’d have “ONE” and then eat them like my life depended on it.
Then I’d panic at the thought of what I just consumed. How can I make this right? What can I do to pretend the last hour didn’t happen? Do I eat TWELVE salads—will that wipe the slate clean?
The insane part is that I would do it all over again if I woke to a fresh package of Oreos.
This insane rollercoaster was my life with drinking and I don’t want to ride anymore.
avoiding trigger foods
The way to handle addictions (and life!) is to focus on what we can control.
Keeping your environment “clean” is something you can control. I don’t keep foods around that will cause me to binge or go down the negative spiral. There are many times when food is out of my control. When that happens, I have to use the many tools that I’ve learned.
I have felt weak or selfish because I don’t keep certain foods around the house because I can’t control myself. The reality is that 90% of the foods that I would binge on or get addicted to, others do as well (food companies design it that way!).
Why would I want others around me to struggle with foods controlling them?
how to identify trigger foods
In general, trigger foods are those that when eaten make you crave and possibly eat more. They are generally eaten out of habit, not necessarily hunger. They are mostly high-calorie, processed and filled with non-nutritional carbs.
I have a mental checklist that I ask myself when it comes to keeping foods around the house:
- Will I be fixated on it, so distracted that I can’t do other things to the best of my ability?
- Will I get angry that I have to share it, leaving less for me? Do I mentally calculate how much I’ll be able to have (ultimately knowing it won’t be enough)?
- Do I want to be alone w/ it so no one sees? No one comes in the way of me and that substance
- Will it cause shame/guilt afterwards?
If I answer yes to these questions, I simply won’t allow myself easy access to it.
I may come into contact w/ these items, I’ll deal w/ that as it comes but I’ll do my best to make it as hard as possible to access.
tips to avoid food triggers
It is helpful to replace trigger foods with better options. After all, no one wants to live a life where they feel like they’re always missing out! Below are my favorite replacements.
trigger food: refined sugar & baked treats
This is my biggest trigger so I make my own treats and desserts and substitute almond and whole wheat flours instead of all-purpose white flour. I also use plant-based sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, monk fruit or xylitol instead of sugar. These ingredient substitutions will make your baking lower in carbs, healthier and less addictive. Check out my post on avoiding sugar binges for more suggestions.
Lastly, if you don’t have time to cook, keep some Lily’s bars in your freezer!
trigger food: salty, crunchy snacks
In general, I try to keep many healthy snacks available because this minimizes cravings. I find that if I snack on things like no-bake caramel protein cookies, bacon guacamole or avocado on whole grain bread or egg cups, my cravings decrease overall.
With that said, sometimes you just want salt (or something to crunch) so you could munch on insanely good crispy parmesan chickpeas, herb roasted sweet potato fries or quinoa granola with oats (gluten-free).
trigger food: sweet drinks
First, it’s always helpful to drink as much water as possible. If you are not a water drinker, create the habit. There are fun apps that can help!
If sodas or juices are your thing, try sparkling waters and seltzers – there are SO many options these days. Make it fun! Add some fresh fruit like lemon, lime or orange slices. Pour it in a wine glass. Every day since I’ve been sober I have my “cocktail” in the late afternoon, doing exactly this.
trigger food: fried foods
Try making your own home-made versions like loaded roasted potatoes with bacon and avocado sauce, herb roasted sweet potato fries or insanely good crispy parmesan chickpeas. TIP: use the same seasoning from the chickpeas on broccoli, cauliflower or other veggies. Roast them in the oven on 400 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes. These make a fantastic snack.
I’ll be honest, it takes preparation to avoid food triggers but it really is worth it. If you have many new habits that you’d like to create, start changing one or two first—after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Be your best friend, your best advocate. If someone you loved struggled w/ a substance, you wouldn’t want to bring it around them. You deserve the same kindness for yourself.