Treats, Triggers, and Temptation

Four Strategies for Coping with Cravings.

If you’ve been following, you might have the list available that was described here. In this post, I want to discuss some tactics for dealing with those foods near the “10” rating on the treats scale.

I remember being a 300 lb. teenager, and mindlessly eating whatever I wanted. Remember “trigger foods?” Here’s an example from my experience. You know those bags of individually wrapped chocolate-covered peppermint patties? Back then, they were each wrapped in foil, and not the little packets I’ve seen recently. Anyway, I’d eat one, and roll the foil into a little ball. Then I’d eat another, and wrap the foil around the foil from the first one, and so on, until I’d have a ball the size of a golf ball or larger! Here’s another one: those big bags of spicy corn chips? I’m talking about the big ones you buy when you want to set out a bowl full of chips for a party. I’d sit with one of those, eating away, while watching television, and, before I realized it, nearly 5/6 of the chips were gone! I’d never eat the whole bag at once; I mean, that would be gluttonous, right?

Perhaps you can tell some stories like these yourself.

Now, feeling it necessary, for whatever reason, to do something about your eating habits, you’re wondering how to cope with these binge-inducing trigger foods. Here are some suggestions that I’ve found helpful in my own life.

  1. Keep yourself removed from them. Out of sight, out of mind, as the old saying goes. This is probably the simplest, and yet most challenging, of the options, especially if you live with others, and they don’t share your dietary goals. But, insofar as you’re able, simply don’t have these foods nearby. If you must be around them, do whatever you can to distance yourself from them. Lots of families live quite casually, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the storage space for an open bag of chips happens to be on the kitchen counter or even table, make an effort to get your cohabitants to put them behind closed doors! Store them in a kitchen cabinet, get a bread box for the countertop, anything to get them out of sight.

2. Don’t deny yourself; delay yourself. This has been a “go to” tactic for me, for years. Rather than telling yourself, “Oh, I can’t eat that,” say instead, “I can eat that any time I want it; I don’t need to eat it right now.” Years ago, before cell phones, most homes were equipped with a now old-fashioned land line, and perhaps only one telephone. When it rang, I remember feeling an immediate, reflexive urge to stop whatever I was doing and answer it. Trigger foods (or any food, for that matter) can have this same effect on us. When they “call us” we immediately feel compelled to “answer” and start eating them. In my experience, attempting to resist the urge actually enhanced and strengthened the craving! Using the approach described here was like the home phone ringing, and someone immediately exclaiming, “I’ve got it!” from the other room. The urge to drop everything and answer the phone disappeared at once. Another way of putting it: “I know what that tastes like, I don’t need to taste it right now.” More often than not, when I use this approach, the craving passes, and I end up not eating the food at all. Sometimes I actually follow through with the “eat it later” idea, but at that time I’m more inclined to follow the strategy in the next point…

3. Eat intentionally. Now we’re getting into more challenging territory, as we’re actually going to eat some of the desired food. You really want some of that ice cream in your freezer? OK. Eat it. But don’t sit down in front of the television with the whole carton and a spoon. The problem here is two-fold: you have in your hands the entire carton, multiple servings just inches from your mouth, and you’re going to eat while watching television—distracted from the act of eating. Further, this scenario hardly makes the ice cream a special treat. Instead, get a nice dish, preferably a small sundae or custard cup (chill the cup ahead of time, if you wish), and measure out a single serving. If you have a melon ball scoop, use it. It might take 3-4 scoops of ice cream to make a serving! Get the smallest spoon you have in your drawer to eat the ice cream. I like to use an iced tea spoon, or regular tea spoon. It’s just natural to take smaller bites with a smaller spoon. Next, sit down at your dining room table, with a cloth napkin (if you have one), and, without distraction, enjoy every single bite, taking your time to focus your attention on the taste, the texture, even the aroma. Eat slowly! Transform the experience into a special occasion to be enjoyed, rather than a thoughtless, guilt-ridden experience of gluttony. You come away from the former feeling satisfied on multiple levels, whereas the latter leaves you ashamed, overly full, and feeling defeated. To summarize, control the portion size, eat slowly, and give your attention to the act of eating, enjoying the food rather than just “scarfing it down.”

4. Know when you are vulnerable. Things get a little tricky, here, and some thoughtful self-examination is required. This point applies to all aspects of one’s eating habits, not just coping with trigger foods, but it bears repeating as part of this list. It’s this: know when your defenses against cravings are at their weakest.

A. Waiting too long between meals.

B. Failing to fuel your body with the proper amounts of macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates). More about this in a future post.

C. Allowing yourself to become hungry combined with virtually any negative (or even neutral) emotion (anger, frustration, disappointment, and being tired all come to mind).

D. Putting yourself in circumstances where you’re very happy and/or excited, with friends, or other social settings where you’re distracted, and surrounded by these kinds of foods. No need to avoid these situations, but don’t go hungry, and stay mindful.

Do you have coping mechanisms that have worked for you? Or do you use some of these? Feel free to discuss!

Author: Ron Maurey

Pianist, teacher, vocal coach, and church musician. Fitness enthusiast.

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