Stop! Don’t Pull that Trigger!

By Michelle May, M.D.

What is a trigger?Trigger

Think about the word trigger for a moment… In behavioral terms, a trigger is anything that serves as a stimulus that initiates a reaction or series of reactions. This concept is analogous to a mechanical trigger, defined as a mechanism that activates a sequence.

Thinking about a trigger in mechanical terms is helpful because it takes the emotion out of it for a moment. More importantly, it reminds us that a trigger has no effect on its own and must be activated in some way. Similarly, your triggers for overeating are powerless over you—until you choose to act on them.

Dismantle the machine

The following mindful eating concepts will help you break the automated response to your triggers. (For those who have participated in an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program and/or read Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, you’ll recognize this as a version of FEAST from Chapter 3):

Focus: Whenever you want to eat or continue to eat, that is your trigger to pause and ask, Am I hungry? or Am I still hungry? In essence, you are creating a new trigger for yourself – wanting to eat now triggers you to pause and check in. This pause creates a gap between the stimulus and response, allowing you to respond instead of react.

Explore: If you’re not hungry, get curious! I wonder why I want to eat right now even though I’m not hungry. What was the trigger?

Accept: Don’t judge yourself. You wouldn’t judge a machine for having a switch! Instead, say, Hmmmm, isn’t that interesting?

Strategize: Choose how you will respond. I could eat anyway if I want to. For now, I am not going to activate this particular sequence of events. Let’s see…what else could I do until I’m hungry?

Take Action: Each time you choose not to pull the trigger, you weaken its connection. It’s as if the wires rust and eventually break. Further, each time you choose a different action, you create new connections. With practice, you will hardwire these new pathways – like insulating the wiring.

P.S. As always, I acknowledge that the concepts I share with you are simple, but not always easy. (Remember, I’ve been through all of this personally as well as with thousands of other people just like you!) If you need help, please tap into our other resources including Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Workshops, retreats, self-paced programs, and coaching and/or seek out additional support.

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