Taming the food trigger giant

It’s right about now when I warn my patients to be on guard for the sugar parade: a steady stream of sweet delicacies from Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas to Girl Scout cookie time. Each event could derail any well-meaning consumer.

Let’s not kid ourselves: That premium bag of candy you purchased at Costco way before Oct. 31 will be gone a week before your doorbell rings and substituted a few days later with the cheap stuff.

Studies tell us we gain between two to four pounds around this time every year. That’s not a bad thing; we just fail to work it off after the holidays. The cumulative effects after age 20 or so can really add up.

So how do we best prepare ourselves to succeed when it comes to any kind of caloric temptation, from birthday celebrations and holiday festivities to the more common emotional hunger triggers that drive our face into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s?

According to Weight Watchers, a trigger food or craving is a specific food that sets off a course of eating where control is lost. That sounds so cold and sterile for something that brings so much comfort and relief.

The most common food triggers, Weight Watchers tell us, are “calorie-dense, highly palatable foods that are often a combination of sugar, fat and salt.”

How true, I tell my weight management support group. No one ever tells me, “Oh, I just can’t keep away from Brussels sprouts and lima beans!”

I’ve divided food cravings into three categories. The first: gooey/savory, like cheese and sauces along with breads, pizza and pastas. (Can you say comfort foods?) The second category: swirl-in-your-mouth chocolatey, caramel or nutty. And the third: salty/crunchy. Nothing a whole bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos can’t fix, right?

So, not scientific by any means, but these are the “911 go-to’s” I’ve observed and come up with when life starts pressing us from every direction.


Lurking triggers

Dr. Judith Beck, author of “The Beck Diet Solution, Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person,” identifies five different kinds of triggers that can lead to sabotaging thoughts: environmental triggers such as seeing or smelling food; biological triggers such as hunger, thirst or cravings; mental triggers such as reading a description of food or thinking about food; emotional triggers such as pleasant or unpleasant feelings; and social triggers such as others around you who urge you to eat.

Beck believes that if you can identify the triggers that lead you to eat in unhelpful ways, you can change how you respond to them and reduce your exposure to them.


Hunger and eating styles

In their book, “Intuitive Eating,” registered dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch teach that you must first honor and recognize your biological hunger.

You must ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” while learning what true biological hunger feels like. They believe this is the first step to reclaiming normal eating and understanding what fullness feels like. The authors also have identified eight different eating styles (or personalities), the characteristics of each style and their triggers. For example, The Chaotic Unconscious Eater is a person whose eating style is haphazard, gulp-’n’-go when food is available. They seem to thrive on tension. Their trigger would be an overscheduled life. Sound familiar?


Expert advice

Here are some additional tips to curb your cravings as outlined in “The Daniel Plan—40 Days to a Healthier Life.”

  • Balance your blood sugar. Low blood sugar leads to poor nutritional choices. Eat protein with each meal to keep your levels stable.
  • Eliminate sugar, artificial sweeteners and refined carbs. These can trigger cravings. Many doctors believe sugar is the primary cause of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. The average American consumes over 130 pounds of sugar per year.
  • Get moving. Research shows physical activity can curb cravings. Plan your exercise for the week and schedule it on your calendar.
  • Manage your stress. Stress triggers hormones that activate your cravings. Chronic stress has been associated with obesity, addiction, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and cancer. Adopt a daily stress management program that includes prayer, rest, music and enjoyable activities.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Hyman, M.D.:

“What you put on your fork dictates whether you are sick or well, slim or fat, depleted or energized.”

May you thrive and enjoy the upcoming holidays with family and friends and honor God in all you do.

Kim Ruby


— by Kimberly Ruby

Ruby is a certified nutritionist at University Compounding Pharmacy, has been in the wellness industry for more than 20 years. She has been facilitating one of the longest-running weight management support groups in the nation, meeting weekly in the North County for 10 years. Her health segments have appeared on several local news channels.

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