Day 8 of Your Year to Wellness
I had planned to write about trigger foods somewhere in week three. I don’t like telling people that they need to give things up before they have the opportunity to see all that they are adding. But calls and email from friends and new family have brought the subject to the present.
I like to plan and organize my days, but I also allow for the surprises of life, the needs of another and the will of the Universe and I am so grateful because I needed the trigger food reminder too. If you could see me you’d know that I have the look of a person who is hung over. I don’t drink, so that’s not the issue, but for my body, I am experiencing the same thing. A wonderful friend had a surprise party for her husband and she invited me to come. I fought with the idea because believe it or not I can be a tad shy in social settings when I don’t know a lot of folks. Before going to parties or even dinner out with friends, I try to eat something at home first. That way, my eyes are not bigger than my stomach as my mother would have said. My daughter prepared a small salad for me from the dinner she was preparing for everyone else. She inadvertently added cheese which I really shouldn’t eat but I said, “No that’s okay, I’ll go ahead and eat it.” I didn’t want her to have to remake a salad, I told her but in truth, I wanted a little of that cheese. Now for you cheese may be just fine, but for me it is not; I’m lactose intolerant. I ate my salad and went to the party certain that I would not be able to eat anything else.
When I got to the party I could see why Sherman didn’t burn Savannah, the locals had plied him with food and liquor and entertained him with good music, high culture, wonderful people and not much has changed. These were young folks who had grown up here and had learned that booze does not make a party, food does; and it was everywhere. Having a mixed heritage with a mother from Panama and a father from Italy, my friend made sure there was something from every part of the globe and I made a mental note to take her up on every future invitation and to bring friends. There were ribs and chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, potato salad, rolls dips and sauces. There were cookies and candies, brownies and fruits but directly in front of me being popped right there fresh for everyone to see was that demon popcorn. I had to stay clear and talk to myself (“You already know what that tastes like; you already know what that tastes like.”) I avoided the popcorn, but the cheese I had before coming had weakened me to the point where I was vulnerable. I fought my emotional need for popcorn but replaced it with a few harmless Twizzlers (they looked so cute on the table.) The sugar and CORN syrup of a massive headache.
A trigger food is a food or beverage that is usually low in nutritional value but high in emotional comfort. It’s a food that you have almost every day and feel that you can’t go without. As harmless as it may seem a trigger food, literally triggers a craving for other more “harmful” foods and often leads to overindulging. As I wrote in the post What I eat Won’t Make You Go, what is harmful to me may be fine to you. Because trigger foods also tend to be allergens, you will find that they can cause headaches, swelling, joint pain and sudden weight gain.
We may not notice or have learned to ignore all of these symptoms but I have found that a major hurdle in becoming well was learning and the gradually removing these foods from my diet. This is not an easy task, but it is not something that needs to happen overnight either.
Ask yourself the following questions:
· What do you think? When you first read this, which foods came to mind? What did you immediately crave as a result of just thinking about it (you may even be eating or drinking it right now. Put that down I see you.) We know ourselves better than anyone else and can identify our own patterns.
· How do you feel? Try to go a day without the food or beverage and then have it on the next. On the third day, make an observation of how you are feeling. Trigger foods don’t just affect weight they also affect your mood. When you remove something that gives you comfort, even the smallest amount, you will need to replace it with something else. Which is why I had three Twizzlers last night; in my attempt to avoid popcorn, I had sugar when I should have just had more green beans—they were divine.
· When did you first have it? A trigger food almost always has an emotional/ comfort component. Think back to when you first had the food and why it gave you comfort. My popcorn addiction started when I was stood up for my senior prom—no emotional connection there.
· When do you need it? I have been in settings with popcorn and have not had a craving for it, but because I was little anxious about meeting new people, I “needed” my corn-fix. Stress, anger, anxiety, fear and sadness will bring on a craving, but giving in to the craving will not satisfy the need; it only creates a pattern of emotional responsive eating. Also make a note of whether this is a morning or evening habit. It may be something you do to start your day, or something you need to calm you at night.
· How do you look? Take a good look at yourself after giving in to a craving. You should even take a picture of yourself. You will see the tell-tale dark circles under your eyes, the swelling of your face and jaw line. For many folks, even your coloring with be different. Seeing is believing so do your own research to see how and why your body and mind demand something that is not good for you.
When you begin to identify the foods that are your trigger foods, gradually remove them from your diet. When you do eat them, drink lots of water afterwards. This will help you flush your system as you find healthier replacements.
We are what we eat, but we are also the things that are eating us.
BE Well, Be Whole, Be You
Bertice Berry, PhD