Posted: June 23, 2011 at 9:39 am

Over the years of paying close attention to my eating habits, I have discovered what situations and feelings will trigger me to mindlessly or emotionally eat easier than at other times. The biggest one is stress or feeling overwhelmed about something. I quickly have to find a way to distract myself by other means in those situations, because otherwise I will undoubtedly nose dive into our ice-cream stash and eat it all.

The past few weeks I have found another trigger. My previous “working” space.


As you may recall, I complete all of my blog work time during the kid’s mid-day nap time. I get a solid 2-3 hour block of time and I have to use it fully. This often meant that I would prepare my lunch and plop myself down at the kitchen table with my netbook to get moving on my posts, catching up on emails, and other related tasks. My fanny would chill in that kitchen chair or standing at the counter the duration of that time. Well…the duration of that time minus the little pit stops I would make on occasion to the pantry to mindlessly grab something to nibble.

I have no problem eating snacks when I want them. But I do have a problem eating snacks when I’m not hungry and when I’m not even enjoying them. When I recognized this habit I quickly made some necessary changes. I stopped trying to get things done while eating my lunch. I will sit at the kitchen table, enjoy, and pay attention to my food. I will also take this time for some quiet reflection and prayer. Then, I pack myself up and move out of the “food zone” so I don’t mindlessly meander to the box of cereal. I work more efficiently and now, when I have my snacks, I must make a conscious decision. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer fully savoring my food, so I quickly resolved this trigger issue.

However, I have another trigger that I have never fully mastered. It still gets me almost every time. Social events. I have picked up some tools and approaches that guide me to more balanced decision making while at these events, but I still have to try really, really, really hard to put them into practice. Take last night, for example.

Our church had a special gathering for those who work in the small groups community. Peter & I plan to once again sign on to lead a group this upcoming fall with our friends, so we put on our party hats and gathered with other church friends for a night of fellowship. I went in knowing that I could possibly come across a lot of good food, but that I also didn’t want to eat past full. I reminded myself to do the following:

  • focus on that “feeling of health”
  • pick and choose what I really want to eat/drink
  • focus on the time with friends I haven’t seen in awhile
  • pay attention to my hunger and eat slowly/mindfully
  • simply do my best to honor the body and health God has given me

It worked! I dined on two small wraps – one ham and one turkey – plus a bit of fruit.


They also had brownies up for grabs, but I decided not to grab one. They didn’t look as thick, chewy, and fudgy as I like - so I passed. I didn’t feel the need to grab one simply because it was there. Instead, I satisfied myself with the other food and the knowledge that if I had a sweet hankering I could have some ice-cream, which I would enjoy more, at home later. Sometimes I just need to go in with a plan of action and a reminder that I have the power to choose what truly satisfies me. Although, I can’t promise I would have had the same results had there been Oreo Truffles in the mix. 😉

  • How do you handle triggers for mindless/emotional/over-eating?


77 Comments to “Triggers”
  1. I love your tips Tina. I don’t find that I overeat when I’m at social events but I undereat which is sometimes just as bad. Also I totally understand your work time being stressful when you have to fit so much in.

    Thank you as always for sharing. You’re a wonderful example of someone who has come so far but continually looks for ways in which she can improve and he healthier and happier each day! 🙂

  2. Social events are tough for me, too. Especially when they are filled with good food that I really want to eat, whether I’m hungry or not. I try to allow myself small tastes of the foods I want to eat instead of eating huge portions. This helps keep it in control.

    • Tina says:

      That’s a great tip that I love putting into practice. Although that still sometimes backfires when they are small tastes of 50 different things. LOL But then again, those times are usually soooo worth it. Holiday parties anyone? 😉

  3. Woo– those are definitely two of my main triggers too– social events and stress. It can be hard to get a handle on them, but I always try to stay extra mindful of why I’m wanting to eat what I’m wanting to eat– if that makes sense 🙂

  4. Lindsay says:

    Dido on the food triggers, the second my toddler ends up in time out I end up in the pantry waiting for the 3 minutes to be up 🙁 Not the best coping mechanism. Luckily time-outs have become less and less frequent lately. I also struggle with social gatherings, I just LOVE food so much that even if I take a little of everything that looks good I end up eating way too much. My husbands staff party is tonight and I am really hoping I can enjoy my food without leaving feeling stuffed. I do try to fill half my plate with fruits and veggies and then allow myself whatever I want on the other half.

    I am so jealous of your long nap time break! My kiddos do nap at the same time but it is rare that I get more than an hour!

  5. Mellissa says:

    I always grab the food that I know I will really enjoy! Similar to you turning down the brownie, if it isn’t good I don’t want to eat it.

  6. I CANNOT work from home without eating all day. I thus rarely do it. On weekends, I need to go do my extra work out on my balcony and away from the kitchen. Very hard to stay away from the kitchen when you live in 800 square feet. Good luck! You are strong, you can do it.

    • Tina says:

      My husband is the same way. He works from home on Wednesdays and always says how snacky he gets while at home.

  7. Jess says:

    Oh man – YES. Social events are SO HARD to maintain that healthy balance. But you make some great points – choose your battles and remember to focus on hunger cues. Are you actually hungry or are you eating that cookie because it’s there in front of you? SO hard to do – but once you get into the habit, it gets a little bit easier/less stressful every time.

  8. Rachel says:

    one of the biggest things i’ve learned is that triggers become most powerful when you’re vulnerable. i was taught the main vulnerabilities in a way that’s somewhat based of AA, with 2 added letters, in an acronym: HALT BS, meaning hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored, sick. when you’re any of these things, it makes it harder to function as well as you want to, and thus a triggering situation- be it a comment or a location- it more likely to set you up to use a behavior- such as bingeing, or whatever the behavior is. to try to avoid this, i make sure that i’m controlling all those vulnerabilities to the best of my ability, or at least asking myself “am i hungry/angry/lonely/etc and is that my motivation for ____”. i’ve found it quite helpful!

    • Ana Maria says:

      Wow, this sounds so great! I’m going to try it, thank you!

    • Tina says:

      AWESOME!!! Such a great acronym and really is so true that having those things cared for will make it easier to mindfully avoid triggering times. Thanks!

      And oh – I tried commenting on your blog about the 30 days but it didn’t have the Name/URL option. Would love to have the chance to say hello there. 🙂

  9. Those little wraps are so cute – love the variety!

    Great job – love the ideas of things to focus on during ‘trigger times.’ Mine are definitely around 3 o’clock in meetings, late at night and social events get me every time! I try to focus on, like you said, not mindless eating and eating what I TRULY want to eat and drink. Great post!

  10. I definitely struggle at social events as well. Even if I’m not hungry, I find myself with the urge to eat! I try my best to snack on the veggie trays (minus the dips) and eat slower than anyone else, so I’m not tempted to go get more to eat if others are still eating!

  11. Focusing on the feeling of health is SO important for me. I’m so glad you’ve found a way to stop eating behavior you didn’t like.

  12. Great tips Tina!! Identifying our triggers is one of the hardest things to accomplish. I get better at mine everyday 🙂

  13. Dawn says:

    You put some good plans into place and they worked great for you. I have been doing that a lot also lately…it does work once you have faith that you can control it.

  14. Oh man, social events are the worst for me. Put me in a room with a giant table packed with goodies and I cannot stop myself. These are excellent tips though, and my favourite is “focus on that feeling of health”
    It is SUCH a good feeling… Whenever I stuff myself I feel terrible afterwards. Lethargic, bloated, etc. But when I eat healthy and not a crazy amount I feel so good about myself! I need to remember this feeling!

  15. stress at home = major trigger. so is not getting enough consistent sleep- thats when i’ll mindlessly eat and not care.

    when i’m at social events, i don’t really feel like i need to eat everything for the most part, unless i really want to try everything so its different. but sometimes i actually feel like i HAVE to because others would be insulted (especially at a family party…) and its really annoying when i have people ask me “or your not going to have any?” or “why aren’t you having any dessert? are you on a diet? are you trying to loose weight? your skinny enough why don’t you eat this” ugh. very frustrating. and its not about being skinny. i’ve gotten better at responding and doing what i feel is right in those kinds of situations, but people bugging me about my eating habits (no, i’m not trying to loose weight, i just don’t want the extra sugar today).
    anyway, great post Tina as usual 🙂 have a good day!

  16. Whitney says:

    Tina, I needed this blog yesterday. We had a church family bowling night. So of course the bowling alley did not have anything that looked remotely healthy. 🙁 So cheese pizza to the rescue and I did have a few fried pickles. 🙂 They were so yummy! Then when we got in the car I was so mad at my self. Ugh!! So proud of you and you motivate me everyday!!

    • Tina says:

      Hope you’re not staying mad at yourself. Sometimes we have to make the best of our situations and just go with the flow…and that’s perfectly okay! Just remember to pick back up with a positive attitude on your healthy behaviors and it will be just fine. 🙂

  17. I really try and ask myself if I want that piece of dessert at a social function just because it’s there or b/c it truly looks good. If it’s the latter, I will most likely eat it. But, if it’s the former, I really try and stay away b/c that’s just mindless eating!

  18. I am still working on this! Good job, Tina! My boss just brought in a giant bag of cookies today. Yikes. Office snacks usually make me cave all the time. But I had one and am happy and I will move on. I will not eat another this afternoon! And the other night, I was craving cucumbers and that was all. I felt like “something else” but didn’t know what (cookies, brownies, ice cream …) so I didn’t buy anything but the cucumber! And that’s what I ate 🙂 I’m learning!

  19. Great post Tina! Thanks for sharing some of your “triggers” with us. I definitely used to have a problem overeating at social events, especially ones with lots of rich indulgent food. Now I make sure to eat what I really, really want and stop when I’m full. It’s as simple as that!
    Have a great day! 🙂

  20. Oh goodness…I have the same issue! Working from home running businesses, I eat all day here…..graze, pick up, pop in the mouth, etc.

    Since starting a 90 day health challenge I am so much more aware or what I am doing!! I need that push! So I sip shakes instead 🙂


  21. I just posted about this yesterday Tina! I was having a moment where I was mindlessly shoveling granola in my mouth and didn’t even like the flavor but couldn’t seem to stop. I need to step away and evaluate why I’m doing this and it usually is because of anxiety about something bigger, so if I redirect my focus that usually helps.

  22. Khushboo says:

    Love how much wisdom your posts pass on! I do te exact sane thing at restaurants when the dessert menu comes out! If there aren’t any ‘worth it’ desserts I remind myself that I can eat something more satisfying at home and tends to do the trick!

  23. Lisa says:

    For me it’s about “habit.” For example, I “always” have dessert after dinner. Sure I make good choices most of the time and have low calorie treats but there are nights when I don’t WANT or NEED dessert but because I “always” have dessert I do. Last night for example: I had like 400 calories left for the day after dinner and kinda wanted some chocolate but was too full from dinner. I ate some chocolate anyway. Shoulda skipped it!

  24. jobo says:

    I totally get this too. Social events can be killer, but when you really think about it before grabbing a brownie or an extra anything, it really DOES help. I am amazed at how I am changing my habits in this way too. Less about food as ‘fun’ and more as fuel, for me, which has really helped me not feel deprived so to speak. And food can still be fun, but it doesn’t always have to be. if that makes sense.

  25. This is a great post and the tips are very helpful! I’m still navigating the whole “triggers” thing. For example, I’ll be busy at work in the next month and really don’t want to emotionally eat. For me, having a goal in mind or something to look forward to sometimes helps me control the mindless/emotional eating triggers.

    • Tina says:

      Recognizing that a busy month can be a trigger is huge to begin with. That knowledge will help you have more control I’m sure.

  26. I often stand and multitask during lunch. It’s the neglected meal for me. But, it makes me think about being on vacation, and just leisurely eating each meal and only doing that. It was so nice! Need to put those practices into effect here at home:)

  27. Julie says:

    I’m really glad you posted this. Last night – I was just trying to relax after having my kids in my face and fighting all day long (much like they are doing right now). We also went through the whole process of making an offer on a house yesterday and I was massively stressed out when my fax machine decided to stop working. I had to stop everything and go get a new one! Ugh! Anyhow, I was sitting there, trying to relax and I wanted FOOD. I didn’t even care what kind. I have to admit – I ate too much watermelon. At least it wasn’t cookies! My triggers are always stress related!

    • Tina says:

      We all have our moments. You recognized what it was and can learn from it for the future. Sounds like you already made progress by choosing watermelon over something else. Kudos for that step.

  28. I love these tips! I’m so bad at snacking in social situations…I’ll have to keep these in mind :).

  29. Tina, your words about focusing on that “feeling of health” have been SO helpful and inspiring to me lately!

  30. Alisha says:

    Social events are a big one. For me I eat more b/c it’s there and it’s something that I don’t have at home. Also seeing someone else eat. Ken & I can go into a grazing back-and-forth cycle for an hour…he eats then I eat then he eats then I eat…

    Also, being downstairs near the kitchen. I spend most of my time upstairs b/c if I’m downstairs and I see the pantry door or the refrigerator, I peek to see what’s in there that I want to nibble on.

    You are so lucky that your kids nap. Sydney hasn’t really napped in almost a year and it makes for a LONG day!

  31. Jamie says:

    My trigger is totally social events too. I saw a dietician and she said that I eat great most of the time but need to back off at parties/events. I usually drink and eat too much mainly cause I am nervous. I have a little bit of social anxiety and it makes me feel like I am doing something with my hands… And of course alcohol is social lubricant.

  32. Haley Q says:

    The only way I successfully avoid mindless snacking is by removing myself from the kitchen or anywhere near it, and serious prayer! Focusing my mind away from myself really is the best way to find the strength to resist emotional eating.

  33. I think I would be the same way if I was sitting at the table or even on the couch. I have to keep my workspace separate or else I mindlessly eat too!

  34. lindsay says:

    social events are definitely hard. You tend to just grab whatever everyone else is eating and try everything. I like how you made a concious effort to stay in tune with your hunger and honor Gods gift to us. Well said!

  35. I’m working on the “social situations eating” as well. Our church has a social time after service, and there is always coffee, juice, fruit, and SWEETS. Sometimes there is even hot stuff like egg rolls, mini quiches, etc.

    For starters, I went to the grocery store and looked at the nutritional information on egg rolls and mini quiches. Once I saw how incredibly horrible they are, I have an easier time resisting.

    In general, whether it’s a party or some other kind of event, I allow myself ONE of something awful (like an egg roll), a good amount of the relatively healthy stuff, and one small treat/dessert.

    My biggest problem tends to be with the drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. If I refill too many times, I forget how many calories that is. A lot!!!

  36. Oh my I totally do all of that bad stuff. I eat snacks all the time without even realizing that I’m eating them. And they’re not always healthy snacks. And then on top of it, I gorge at social events. I think it gives me something to do with my hands so I don’t look awkward or end up drinking my weight in wine.

    I have another trigger that I would absolutely LOVE your opinion on – every night after dinner and after the baby is down, the hubs and I plop our tired butts on the couch in front of the TV where I blog and he watches mindless television. That’s how we unwind. Almost immediately he gets up to get a snack, then another, then another, than another until it’s time for bed. Last night we ate a pound of peanuts. The night before half a box of cookies and some goldfish. I won’t keep going as I’m sure you’re totally grossed out by now. Anyways, I’ve tried asking him not to eat those snacks because when he snacks, I can’t resist. I try and try but I can’t. But he doesn’t care because he wants to snack (there is no way that he is hungry, btw, but I’m no starting that battle again). So how do I not snack while he’s stuffing his face with delicious yummies that won’t be there anymore when he’s done going through yet another full box of cookies?

    • Tina says:

      Not grossed out! Perhaps, since they sound like things you both enjoy, you could portion out his and hers servings. Then you can portion yours out into single servings if you want beyond that, but not necessary.

      You can have a single serving while he’s snacking away on all of his…and then have more leftover to continue to enjoy when he’s all out. Maybe he will see “hey I don’t want my goodies going so fast” and not snack as heavily? Thats just a random idea that popped in my head.

      Otherwise, I always say open communication and letting him know exactly how much it impacts you and upsets you (without any judgment – which I don’t think you would give) works wonders.

  37. My triggers are ABSOLUTELY stress and, to a much lesser extent, sadness. Knowing that, I try to make snacks that are easy to nibble on BUT take a long time, and satisfy me a lot. A favorite of mine: soy nuts and raisins. It’s my own little taste-a-like to PB+J sandwiches without the bread, and I end up eating it a lot slower, especially if I take the time to put it in a cute serving dish.

    I know that’s not really a REAL tip, but it’s my own little trick of the trade.

  38. Angela says:

    I’m so glad you brought up social events because I have a post coming up soon about how I deal with eating in social situations. One of my triggers is reading blogs! As much as I absolutely love blogging, reading blogs, and everything else about them, the gorgeous photos always make me think about food! Stress is also a trigger for me, but if I find other things to busy myself – or provide incentives for myself to get through whatever work is stressing me out, that usually helps!

  39. Compassion, empathy, love… that is how I have learned to deal with mindless eating. I notice that the more I stay positive and compassionate with myself, the more likely I am to choose healthy snacks, eat slowly and mindfully… If I do eat mindlessly then I stay positive and tell myself I was using food to fill some other kind of need. Alot of positive and loving self-talk!!

    • Tina says:

      Love the positivity! I have learned that not beating myself up when slip-ups do happen (because they of course do) keeps things from spiraling downward. Great point!

  40. ohmygosh YES! I have the same trigger situation. People must think I have never seen food before b/c at social events I put everything vegetarian on my plate and eat it b/c I feel like I have to.. even if its not delish… well that was the OLD me. The last two events I attended If I wasn’t butt crazy in love with it (to quote clueless) I tossed in in ze trash or didnt pick it up in the first place.

    ahhh its glorious =)

  41. my other comment is surely in spam *pouting*

  42. Melodie says:

    Eating out with people other than my family is a huge trigger. And, I am finding that raising a teenage boy and having a husband who is self employed are HUGE triggers for me also. When he has clients that all of a sudden “cannot” pay him, I react by finding comfort in food. When my son barely passes 7th grade because he is too social and does not hink grades matter, food is a comfort! I am really working on turning immediately to prayer and scripture memory and it is starting to work, but I still have those moments when I really believe that huge bowl of ice cream will somehow make the situation better 🙂 I have to remember that food is fuel and not supposed to be my comforter 🙂

    • Tina says:

      I know as time progresses and I face challenging family situations like this I will have to fight hard to not turn to food for comfort as well. But we both know that we can overcome that with God’s strength and support. I have faith in you!

  43. Great post! I struggle with this sometimes too. I find that when I go to places for get togethers, if they have something I can eat, I will eat it regardless of whethere or not I’m hungry. I’ve gotten better about this though! I also will eat if I’m bored. I find myself going back and forth to the kitchen for no apparent reason. Thanks for this post and for opening up about it!

  44. I can definitely relate! I try to find something else to focus on–such as painting my nails, working out, or calling a friend. It helps me switch gears and refocus.

  45. Heather says:

    I struggle so much eating at social events! having yummy food I didnt have to cook, and easily eaten with my fingers is so tempting, and I usually dont even realize I am doing it b/c I am busy chatting away with friends. Weddings and the worst!

  46. Meg says:

    You totally hit the nail on the head when you said “I didn’t feel the need to grab one simply because it was there.”

    I’ve been trying to work on exactly that and be a little more picky about treats. If they’re not tasty they’re not worth it!

  47. Haley says:

    Your story about recovery from binge eating truly does inspire me.
    I’m like you in that stress and messy work stations and all that triggers me.
    But food isn’t supposed to be comfort, just fuel.
    I also snack mindlessly at social occasions, thinking I can use that as an excuse to have no rules with food.. It’s really dumb because I should just allow myself that stuff in the first place!!
    anyway, thank you so much for your blog.
    <3 Haley

  48. I also like to savor and really taste my food! I find that when I’m struggling with emotional/binge eating, the damage is much less if I eat whatever it is I’m craving slowly and savor it. I still may overeat, but it’s not NEARLY as bad as it would be if I would have eaten the food at the speed that I wanted to.

  49. This post couldn’t come at a more perfect time, as I am slipping back to my ED right now and have been incredibly triggered by different things. Granted, bingeing is not my usual symptom, but it inevitably comes after a lot of time restricting.
    As to how I *usually* handle triggers… my greatest resource is my phone. I text. I email. I reach out for support.
    I also use self-talk: remind myself why I don’t want to go down the road of using food (or the lack of it) to cope.
    If I feel like bingeing, I avoid food at all cost. I don’t go grocery shopping until the feeling passes. I stay out of the kitchen. Instead, I might go for a walk (without any money), etc. After the feeling passes, I eat asap… slowly, mindfully tasting the food.
    If I am triggered to restrict food, I usually do the opposite. I force myself to eat a meal or a snack, no matter how long it takes me. Right now, I am not taking my own advice, though.

    • Tina says:

      No better time than the present to start taking your advice. It’s GREAT advice so deserves to be taken. 🙂

  50. Kathleen says:

    Social events are hard for me too… Usually because they include foods I don’t normally prepare or order. It leaves me wanting to sample things. I try to grab water and spend more time sipping that, but it’s always a challenge.

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