We’ve talked a lot around here about what triggers binges: stress, loneliness, keeping quiet when we want to speak out. But some emotional eaters—and researchers too—believe that certain foods themselves can trigger a binge. HealthyGirl.org reader Rebecca, 29, is considering avoiding her trigger foods, but asks if that means she has to give them up forever:
Q: I recently had that light bulb moment where I realized that what I thought were just bad eating habits and lack of willpower are actually a real eating issue. I’ve been seeing a therapist and going to OA meetings, and your blog keeps me helps keep me grounded and inspired throughout the day.
After reading your story, I have one question: When you were going to an eating disorders support group, did you abstain from any particular foods? OA is a big proponent of abstaining from trigger foods, which I completely understand; however, I’m concerned about writing off certain foods forever —it just doesn’t seem realistic. I realize I’m questioning a long-standing program with a record of success, but just wanted your thoughts and feedback.
A: I did avoid a handful of especially problematic foods for a while, yes. And I completely understand your hesitation. After years and years of yo-yo dieting and binge-restrict cycles, the idea of not “being able to” eat any particular food was not only scary, but offensive to me. But I was desperate to get better, and I’d read a lot of things, and talked to a lot of people, that suggested it might help.
So, at varying times, as I realized that these foods seemed to push me to overeat, I stopped eating peanut butter, pizza, chocolate, crackers, chips and other sweets. Some of them didn’t pass my lips for two years. Strangely, instead of feeling restrictive, like a diet, it felt freeing. I didn’t have to worry about eating too much of those things or if I’d feel weird after nibbling them because…the simply weren’t options for me at the time. But guess what? They are now.
Every single one of those foods is back on my menu. Amazingly, they no longer trigger binges for me and I can eat them in moderation. Peanut butter can still be a little iffy for me, especially the creamy kind with sugar in it, so I try to be careful—but I eat with so much freedom to CHOOSE now. And I think that avoiding my trigger foods for a significant amount of time was helpful in getting me here. It gave me the mental space I needed obsess less; and I think it gave my brain pathways and neurochemicals a break from bingeing that they needed in order to heal and reset.
This doesn’t mean that I still don’t have to work to find balance. I had a big ol’ red velvet cupcake last night, for instance, that was super good and it wasn’t in any way a binge. But I woke up with a bit of a sour stomach and bloaty feeling from all that sugary frosting this morning—so sometimes I wonder if it’s really worth it for me to eat that stuff more than very occasionally.
The point is, now I have the choice; my mind is now clear enough and my body hale enough for me to make those choices in a way that’s helpful rather than harmful to me. This recovery thing is, above all, a process. Don’t be scared to experiment, to take suggestions, to stop taking suggestions, to try tools that have worked for others, to ask for advice. But, ultimately, tune into yourself. You’ll know when something feels helpful and right.