Let's Talk About Peanut Butter (…and Other Trigger Foods)

Once of my favorite foods! But I haven't always been able to eat it sanely.

I l-o-v-e, love peanut butter—and right now, my relationship with the creamy stuff is in a very good place. I had a tablespoon of peanut butter in my oatmeal this morning for breakfast—and I had a swipe of p.b. on a piece of whole-wheat bread last night as a before-bed snack. But peanut butter and me haven’t always gotten along. Here’s the perfect example of that: My husband literally just looked over my shoulder and said, “Why’re you talkin’ about peanut butter on the blog? Do we need to get rid of it again?” Ha!

See, there was a while there—a few years, actually—when I didn’t want p.b. in the house at all…It was just too much of a trigger for me. Late at night, if I was antsy or even just bored, it would call to me and all I could think about was pouring maple syrup into the jar and eating it by the tablespoonful. So when John and I moved in together three years ago, I had to introduce him to my p.b.-free existence. If he really wanted it, he’d buy a small jar and keep it in his office (he works from home), tucked away.

Keeping a super powerful trigger food out of my face for a while was incredibly helpful for me. I didn’t have crackers or even regular butter around for a long time, either. I did whatever it took to give myself a fighting chance to slowly but surely break the habit of bingeing and allow my brain and body to relax and heal.

I‘m happy to say that peanut butter is back in our house, and in my diet. But I still don’t like having sugary cereals around—it’s like just seeing a box of Cocoa Puffs in the cupboard sort of triggers that muscle memory of me putting my hand in and grabbing handfuls. (And, as I found out a couple of months ago, half-gallons of ice cream are still not the best idea either. Come midnight one night, I had a spoon out and was enjoying a mini-emotional eating episode straight from the carton.)

I don’t feel deprived by not being able to keep these two “iffy” items around the house—it actually feels freeing and like I’m taking the best care of myself that I can. (And luckily, John’s on board and understands; we just do single-serve ice cream treats if we’re craving it, and I’ve actually won him over to Optimum Blueberry Cinnamon cereal from Cocoa Puffs!!)

Do you guys find that you need to keep certain foods out of your cupboards or fridge in order to help yourself feel saner about food? Does it make you feel deprived or…free? How do you negotiate that with your partners, roommates (or parents, my teen readers!) if you’ve got them?


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20 Responses to Let's Talk About Peanut Butter (…and Other Trigger Foods)

  1. Rach says:

    I used to really struggle with peanut butter and crackers, but now Milo and ice-cream are the foods that I binge on the most. My parents and sister like having them in the house though, so I would feel selfish if I asked for those foods not to be bought :(

    • Heather says:

      I find this topic interesting because I find myself in two minds about it.

      Part of me thinks that if I find myself disposed to binge on particular food/s, then keep it out of the house. Buy it in portion-sized amounts as and when I want it and have it in my life but in a controlled manner.

      Another part of me thinks the above approach is still playing into the problem. Surely, to truly be ‘better’, ‘recovered’ or ‘normal’, I need to be able to live around such foods in any amount, and still be able to eat reasonable amounts, in a relatively healthful manner, most of the time. In this case, having any amount in the house shouldn’t cause undue stress. If it does, would this mean I still had a problem?

      I’m not sure what the answer is. I have started to be able to have chocolate spread in the house and not eat it with a spoon. This is possibly the scariest of foods to have around, bar apples, and I am starting to manage this. I would not, however, currently purchase more than one apple without a lot of thought. Wierd, huh?

      I guess it depends where you stand on the whole ‘recovery’ debate. Can someone ever be truly recovered? If so, then option 2 seems a plausible one in ‘full recovery’. If one is of the view that we are never ‘recovered’ but get better at managing this response and generally maintain a healthful degree of control over it, then probably the first seems sensible.

      I think I’m tending towards the latter, but then I’m not the eternal optimist, so who knows?

      • Sunny says:

        Hey Heather! I think it’s just such a journey and it’s so much more fluid than either “fully recovered” or NOT. I consider myself recovered from an active binge eating disorder. But does that mean I’m necessarily completely normal about food? Nah, probably not. Like I talked about, I still have to be gentle with myself and realistic, and not keep half-gallons of ice cream in the freezer! The way I measure recovery now is that I’m no longer bingeing with any regularity, that my food issues are no longer negatively affecting the rest of my life (relationships, work, etc.) and that when I have occasionally had an emotional eating episode (like the ice cream), it doesn’t roll over into the next day or create a spiral. I use it as information, like, OK…what is going on with me that I felt I needed to do that? What do I really need? xo…Sunny

      • Heather says:

        Hi Sunny,

        That’s a really useful way to look at recovery. I’m finding it is difficult to really know what I’m heading towards or aiming for… You can get bogged down with other people’s views and ideas and opinions of what you should be doing or where you should be.

        This has given me something to think about. I think I still need to be thinking about what ‘recovery’ might mean for me in realistic terms, so I can aim for that specifically.

        Thank you for the insight!

  2. Strength123 says:

    Hi Sunny,

    Thank you for posting this article.

    When there is a craving for some food, most likely there is a problem somewhere.

    Look into sugar (processed) who it screws your hormonal system, your blood sugars and your insulin levels. The more you have it the more you want it.

    The last time I looked at the Jiff ingredients I found sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Jiff Omega 3 has following ingredients (just found it on the companies website):



    Sugar? Fully Hydrogenated vegetable oils? Cardio vascular diseases hello! Weight gain hello!

    Choose the organic, raw version and you might find you to handle your graving for peanut butter.

    I hope that helps a bit.


  3. I actually wish I had a housemate that was more on board with my absolute no-no foods. However, they’re brought in the house multiple times a week and I not-so-much enjoy them but I eat them anyway simply because, they’re there.

    Next year I’ll be living on my own, on a very tight budget, so I shouldn’t even desire the foods I eat that I’m tired of eating. Sugary Cereals, and those stupid Andy Capps Hot Fries. (My childhood ‘comfort food’)

    I’ve found that keeping them out of sight (out of house), out of mind works for me.

    Sometimes I feel deprived without the foods, (though this is usually when I’m feeling emotional and am avoiding to cope with it appropriately). But otherwise, when things are going well and I’m coping respeonsibly, I truly do feel free. Liberated even.

  4. rc1001 says:

    I definitely relate to this. For the year or so I’ve tried to not keep any kind of cracker/cereal/boxed snack in the house. It just sets me up for a binge.

    I feel a lot more in control lately, and now can keep those things in the house more regularly.

    I live with my boyfriend and he isn’t much of a snacker so he didn’t miss it.

  5. Kate says:

    I was all set to say “I have all my old trigger foods in the house” because at this point, after I started letting myself eat them all desire for them went away.

    But you mentioned ice cream and I realized I won’t buy any ice cream and bring it into the house if I want it to last longer than a week. The last time I had a hankering for ice cream, I went to the local ice cream shop, bought the smallest size cone they offered, and walked back to work in the sun.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, I might have to tell my husband to hide the giant bag of peanut m&ms for the moment. When I’m having a bad day, those m&ms are the first thing I reach for when I want to numb myself quickly.

  6. L says:

    I’ve learned not to keep any triggering foods at home. And I can also go through a shop, even if really hungry, without buying anything I’m not supposed to have.
    Sometimes I get an insane urge to have something specific - like salted peanuts two weeks ago. I kept thinking about them for a week, until I realized that I’ll probably have more calories trying to ”eat around” them, than just getting a small package and satisfying the urge.
    So I did, and actually could stop without thinking the day is screwed so I might as well binge further.
    As for the peanut butter - I think I have only tasted it once and couldn’t understand how people could eat such a thing… ^__^

    • Erica says:

      L — COMPLETELY hear what you’re saying about just indulging a craving sometimes instead of trying to “eat around” it. I definitely feel like I consume more calories when trying to avoid the thing I’m really wanting. Usually once I’ve had a taste of what I have been craving I’m able to move on and get back to a basically healthy food regimen.

  7. Katie says:

    Sunny, I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading your blog for about a month now (it’s often the first thing I do when I wake up!), and I can’t tell you how much it has helped with my journey towards becoming a less emotional eater, and a person with a better body image and self-confidence (it even inspired me to start my own blog!). So thank you so so much for all of your work here.

    But I’m really interested by this post, and so I wanted to respond for the first time. It makes total sense to me that in some ways, a person’s relationship with certain foods would be such that it is honestly more compassionate or kind to yourself to not keep them in the house. Just like you don’t force a kid to go to sleep in a dark room if that’s what they’re afraid of, why should you make a yourself live with something that makes you feel crazy?

    But at the same time, I know that a lot of my “trigger” foods, the things that I have crazy binges on, are the things that I absolutely love most in the world. Like Nutella, to name a particularly powerful one. And even though having it in my room can be a bit scary, I’ve also found that it’s sometimes empowering. I bought a jar of nutella recently, and even though there have been times when I’ve eaten more than I would consider “appropriate,” even just knowing that I didn’t finish the whole jar, and honestly didn’t want to, seemed like a little victory to me. I wonder if other people ever try to live with there trigger foods, and does that work in the long term?

  8. Kyl says:

    These are all interesting comments. Peanut butter (one of man’s greatest discover/invention) is also one of my trigger foods. I didn’t use to have it in my place before because it would cause me to eat more. But now, I can happily say I have it in my kitchen. I only just eat it during breakfast. Nothing beats a good ol’ peanut butter toast in the morning plus green tea. There are still times when I get the urge to scoop a knife on it and that’s pretty much about it. And hi L. I have also been fighting this urge to binge on a pack of peanuts. I have been thinking about eating them for weeks now. You are right. I might as well buy me a one serving pack rather than think about them the whole time and binge afterwards.

  9. a says:

    Wow, I am struggling with this issue big time right now. I have moved back to a relatives house and cannot cope with the fact they have many of my binge foods (sultanas, dry fruit, milk chocolate, nuts, honey, jam,…..) around…I just wish I knew how to stop myself…out of sight out of mind won’t work and I can’t ask them to remove them *sigh*…a challenge to work on I guess

  10. Ice cream is my nemesis! I don’t keep it in the house but there is a Baskin Robbins a few blocks away. It’s right on my way home from work too. Over the last two days I’ve polished off a half gallon. I keep getting these sugar cravings. It’s like “give me ice cream or lose a body part” cravings. I don’t know what to do about them.

  11. KatieW says:

    My trigger foods are usually anything that is bite-sized, and either sugary or salty = cookies, chips, cupcakes, choc covered pretzels, etc…For the last 3 months I have managed to not bring these things home from the grocery store and keeping them “out of my face” has really helped me reach a new point in my healing. Keeping them away for a while helped me work on breaking the habit of making food the first thing I turn to when I want to feel better. With the triggers as far out of reach as possible I was able to really start focusing on and incorporating other ways to soothe/calm myself that didn’t involve food. I think the more I move away from using these foods to cope with my feelings, the less power they will have to entice me. I still choose to not have cookies in the house right now, but I see this as just another step I need to take to move forward in healing. I hope to someday move beyond this step and be able to have anything in the house at anytime and not be triggered by it!

  12. Sarah says:

    I think my trigger food would be shelled peanuts, cheese crackers (Cheeze-It’s, Goldfish, ect.), and sometimes just plain old crackers. Especially crackers that are made from Whole Wheat because once I see ‘Whole Wheat’, my mind starts to believe that it is healthy so I can mindlessly eat without having to deal with the consequences.. that is, until I realize that I’ve eaten the half the box in one sitting. I think trigger foods are harmful when it comes to emotional eating but it also helps you learn at the same time to look deeper inside and ask yourself, where is this stemming from? Peanuts and whole wheat crackers aren’t the enemy, it has to do with the emotional state I go into once I loose control over it.

  13. LG says:

    For the most part I feel free from trigger foods now. I used to alternate between bingeing and starving, and things like chocolate macaroons and chocolate covered almonds would be what I’d binge on. But in several books I read it talked about buying trigger foods in such large quantities (and replenishing the stash nonstop) that I couldn’t possibly finish it all in one sitting even if I had the worst binge ever. I think I started with buying mini-sized chocolate bars…I got two huge boxes (110 bars each) at Costco. Then another one when I ate through half of one of the boxes in a couple of days. I just kept replenishing the stash and eventually they didn’t call my name as much - I’d have two and be done with it. I had to do that with other trigger foods too…chocolate macaroons, cookies, ice cream. It was really hard to trust myself with this experiment, but also FUN to let myself buy whatever I wanted and have a cupboard devoted to my junk food.

    Anyway, I’m now married and I STILL have a full cupboard shelf to myself…and would you believe that there is chocolate in there left over from Christmas and Easter??? I eat some every day - a few chocolate eggs or a chunk of easter bunny, but I don’t binge on it anymore…I guess because I know it will always “be there for me”. Funny, hey? But it worked! And weightwise I’m within 5lbs of my (healthy) high school weight at 29 years of age.

    I’m not writing this stuff to brag (pride cometh before a fall!)- I’m still learning every day to have peace with my body and food. But maybe it will help someone to know that with a little courage, we can often desensitize ourselves to our trigger foods. I still deal with black and white thinking once in a while (“oh well, I ate X so I might as well overeat for the rest of the day”), but I’m so thankful to now be able to not be anxious around “trigger foods” near as much as I used to be. In fact, it’s a comfort to know it’s in the cupboard for whenever I want it.

  14. Mari says:

    I’ve been struggling with getting rid of my trigger foods for sometime (wanting to but also not wanting to “restrict” myself) - and I finally feel like it is something I need to do- and give myself a fighting chance. So! No more peanut butter- nor oatmeal- nor sweets. I can still enjoy these things in other times, but for the moment they will not be in my house in large quantities.

  15. […] Sunny Sea Gold (who wrote one of my fav books about E D recovery — Food: The Good Girl’s Drug) posted on her blog about keeping “trigger foods” in her kitchen, including peanut butter (which she says she does keep around but it wasn’t always that way) “Let’s Talk About Peanut Butter…“. […]

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.