I feel like a lot of my eating choices can be summed up by this three step process: react, regret, reset. Personally, I’ve identified a few triggers that I often react to by eating. When I’m bored or procrastinating I’ll grab a snack as a distraction. When I get tired and I don’t feel like I’m ready to rest, I often find an indulgence to stimulate me. If I’m around a group of people who are all diving into a big spread, I often follow suit regardless of how hungry I actually am.
Simply being presented with the opportunity to eat even triggers me. To expand, think about when you’re given a wonderful opportunity to have an enjoyable meal, though it’s not really in line with your optimal wellness. This may happen when your workplace has lunch catered in or your colleague brings fresh donuts in the morning. This could also occur when you visit a friend or family member’s home and they’ve prepped food for you.
These are just a few examples of triggers that I’ve come to recognize in my life. The former are more internal, like my boredom; whereas the latter are external, more so based on what’s going on in my environment.
Infinite other triggers exist. I say infinite because a trigger is such a personal thing. A trigger that I mentioned, may have zero effect on you. What triggers you is specific to you.
To identify yours think about a feeling you experience that is often followed by food. Feelings besides hunger. Do you eat when you’re really happy, like a celebration? Do you eat when you’re proud of yourself, as a reward? Do you find a comforting snack when you’re sad or confused? Maybe you eat when you’re anxious or nervous about something? Food may act as the perfect distraction or soothing mechanism. We could converge this with having a drink too. Do you have a drink when you are ready to transition from the grind to chill mode? Do you have a drink when you’re stressed, as a go-to coping mechanism?
Continue reflecting on your eating habits. Think about what types of situations, environments, and places you eat in. In these circumstances are you always eating because you’re hungry? Likely, not every time. Some instances may be effected by the people you’re with, the circumstance, or simply the opportunity to eat.
As you can tell, triggers are infinite. A trigger is what causes us to eat. At the basis of eating, hunger is our true trigger; one that we were built with so that we can be prompted to eat when our bodies need fuel. Hunger is the perfect trigger, given it’s true hunger. Food gives us our energy, so we should be responding to this trigger.
You may have very positive experiences in which you eat for reasons other than being hungry. Even better, you may have moments when you are hungry and it’s coupled with a really pleasurable non-hunger reason.
Think about sitting down with a plate of food at a restaurant with your significant other when you’re hungry for dinner. You are triggered to eat by hunger, yes. But you’re also responding to the opportunity to eat, the environment being totally conducive to eating, and your partner enjoying their dish right next to you. And, of course, the food is damn good! Ideally, you’re probably happy to be sharing a meal with someone you love as well.
The key to having a positive experience in response to a trigger is just that, the ability to respond rather than react. Noticing a trigger, whether it be actual hunger or a non-hunger trigger, internal or external, is the biggest piece. Making yourself aware of the desire to eat and then identifying it. It just takes a slight pause to gain this clarity. From this point of awareness you can make a choice to respond to the trigger and eat something, or not. You can respond by being more intentional with what you eat or how much you eat too. You are in control. Your pause and clarity welcome a calm, cool, collected response.
This feels really good. I call this the Relax + Respond model.
In contrast, there is the React + Regret + Reset method, that process that I mentioned at the start. The React + Regret + Reset method often goes like this: We are triggered and the only thing we take into account it that we want to eat. Then, once we’ve consumed a bunch of food, our awareness sets in and we wish we hadn’t. At least not in the exact way we did. Maybe we wish we would have eaten less, taken a slightly smaller portion, or not had seconds. We may see, in hindsight, that there were healthier options on the menu that we ignored. Or we may wish that we soothed ourselves with tea instead of a drink. We may wish that we engaged ourselves in an activity, or even exercise, as a distraction instead of eating. A vast variety of regretful, wishful thinking often passes through our minds after an eating reaction occurs. Especially when it’s a substantial reaction. The regret can really set in when you’ve eaten to the point of discomfort or when you feel like you’ve sabotaged an imminent goal. It simply does not feel good. The opposite of what the Relax + Respond model feels like.
The last part of this negative process is the reset. You feel as though you must embark on a drastic reset mission to get back on track. You rack your mind with all kinds of commitments and expectations to make you feel like you’re back in control. But really, these types of reactive resets just take up a bunch of our mental and emotional energy and we’re left feeling drained, struggling with the thought that we can’t trust ourselves.
This is not fun.
It should be fun! Eating has a purpose. We eat to create the energy we need to live! Eating is literally the basis of our existence. Something this pervasive in our lives should be fun and enjoyable. Thankfully, it is. We reside in a place where food is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed. Creating and preparing good food is some people’s career and passion. Food is an art. Eating is an experience. Sharing a meal and eating together are huge sources of joy in our relationships. Food truly can comfort us and pacify us. Food, quite literally, enhances our lives and sustains us. This food-centric euphoria is great, when you choose to engage with it in full awareness. When you allow yourself the space to relax and respond, you gain control and clarity. This causes you to eat in a way that makes you happy and encourages your optimal wellness. There is not regret, thus no need for a reset.
If the React + Regret + Reset method resonates with you at all, I recommend you try out the Relax + Respond version. See if you start to feel better and notice your eating habits become naturally more in line with your wellness. When you feel triggered to eat or drink something that you know doesn’t totally align with your goals, try creating a space between the trigger (the onset of the want) and your reaction. Within that space, you have the chance to pause and become aware of what is triggering your desire to eat or drink. Is it hunger, boredom, discomfort, celebration, or environmental cues? The pause doesn’t mean you must forgo the food choice, it simply puts you back in control because you get to respond from a place of calm awareness, rather than react and regret it later.
Next time you decide you want to eat, RELAX; take a pause and recognize why you want to eat in this moment. Then, with this awareness, respond in the way that feels best to you.