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How can I trust myself around trigger foods?

By Michelle May, M.D.

Mindful Eating question from Darla: What is the best way to trust myself around trigger foods?

Thank you for your question, Darla!

#AskAmIHungry Video Transcript:

This is a short question without a lot of detail Darla, but you gave some big clues about the nature of your challenge, including your use of the words “trust” and “trigger foods.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “trigger foods,” these are foods that a person feels triggers a loss of control, sometimes leading to overeating or bingeing.

While these foods are often highly palatable, meaning they may be high in sugar, fat, and/or salt, that really isn’t what causes the feeling of loss of control.

The common denominator is that these are foods commonly restricted on various diet and lifestyle plans. In experimental studies, restraint has been shown to be a powerful trigger for feeling of deprivation, cravings, overeating or bingeing, and guilt – which usually leads back to more restriction.

I call that the eat-repent-repeat cycle! If you want to learn more about this cycle, download chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat – it’s free!

So basically, what’s happening is that when we restrict certain foods, for whatever reason, we put them up on a pedestal. They actually become more special and more powerful over us. We have to think about these foods all the time in order to avoid them.

As we’re thinking about these foods, over time we may begin to feel more deprived. That may lead to powerful cravings and of course, I don’t know about you, but the foods I was not supposed to eat would show up in my environment all the time!

Then over time, when I’m hungry or stressed or just really craving a particular food, I would eat that food then feel guilty and out of control. I’d keep eating that food because I wasn’t going to have it again tomorrow. Then I’d decide I wasn’t allowed to eat that food anymore because I clearly couldn’t control myself. That’s why it’s a cycle!

So while it may seem counter-intuitive, an important step to learning to trust yourself around certain foods, is to stop making them “bad” or “forbidden”!

I know that sounds scary – which is why we call the process Fearless Eating!

Now, don’t be surprised if you want those foods more often at first; that just makes sense when there’s a food you love that you haven’t let yourself eat!

However, over time, as you begin to trust that you can eat that food when you really want it, it will lose its power over you. It will move from being a trigger food to simply a food you love. That’s how you rebuild trust in yourself around certain foods!

Do you have questions about mindful eating?

View previous questions in the #AskAmIHungry playlist.

Submit your mindful eating question for an opportunity to have it answered in a future video!


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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