Overcoming Triggers to Overeating

Do you recognize any of the following triggers to overeating? If so, try some of these strategies to gain control.

Trigger: Social connection

This common psychological trigger is about attempting to connect with others and gain a sense of safety. As an example, research has shown that if we are at a restaurant with someone who orders or consumes large portions, we tend to follow suit. We also eat for traditional and cultural reasons to connect with those we love.

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Strategy: A shift in focus

Shift your focus from food to social interaction — strike up conversations, take photos of the event, amuse young children. Eat foods that others recommend and compliment their recipes, but keep portion control in mind.

Trigger: Ease frustration or fear

Many people who overeat tend to hide rather than voice their frustrations and fears. Often, pushing frustration down with food is also an effort to avoid the guilt that comes after you have expressed frustration toward someone.

Strategy: Release your emotions

In the short-term, release the adrenaline associated with these feelings by screaming into a pillow, riding your bike, taking a walk, lifting weights, or even rearranging the furniture. You can’t overeat while you are being active. Once you feel a little calmer, write about your frustration or fear. Acknowledge its presence and ask what you need to feel better. Your emotions are there for a reason, and overeating to push them down will not help address the reason for their presence.

Trigger: Craving comfort

This happens when we feel life has disappointed us in some way. Instead of confronting our feelings, we choose to deal with the unresolved loss, fear, or trauma through comfort eating.

Strategy: Be kind to yourself

Be compassionate with yourself. Understand that you are hurting and reach out to a friend, family, support group, or counselor. Indulge in rhythmic activities to soothe yourself, such as yoga, dance, walking, or even a bubble bath.

Trigger: Sugar addiction

More research is showing just how addictive sugar is. As with any other addiction, there is the initial high of the sugar rush, followed by guilt, and then you swear never to be controlled by the substance again — but you soon find yourself back in the vicious cycle.

Strategy: Seek support

Professional input in the form of a support group or therapist may be needed if your trigger is due to addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, has been found to help change addictive patterns. If you choose to tackle this trigger alone, replace the sugar with a healthy food or physical activity.

Trigger: Self-punishment

Overeating can be a way to punish ourselves if we feel ashamed or guilty, or simply because we lack self-esteem and do not like ourselves.

Strategy: Self-care

See the desire to punish yourself as a trigger to do the opposite. If you are reaching for chocolate because you know you will feel bad after eating it, select a kinder option for your body’s needs instead. If you feel like isolating yourself for a food binge, plan a healthy meal out with a friend. Every time you do the opposite of self-punishment, you strengthen a new pathway in your brain — one that encourages self-care.

Trigger: You are “hangry”

A common trigger to overeating is when you become “hangry” — bad-tempered because you are hungry.

Strategy: Don’t go hungry

Fuel your body regularly and any time it is signaling to you that it needs food. If you are following a diet that leaves you hungry, stop it straightaway and find one that respects your body’s need for sustenance.

At the core of defeating each of these triggers is simply being kind to yourself during those times when the urge to overeat is strong. With self-compassion, the urge will subside, and you will come out the other side stronger.

Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Strategies for Weight Management,” and “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?”