Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cultivating a New Level of Awareness: Trigger Foods

Salty or sweet? You know the answer. (If you're not a compulsive overeater, go read some other blog and come back here tomorrow! We love you too, but this just ain't for you.)

For me, it's sweet. Take some good old refined sugar, pair it with fat, and I've got me a big old problem. Take birthday cake for example. If it's in my house, it's all I can think about, but only after I've tasted it. Put a big bag of potato chips in front of me and they will sit there untouched. Salt has no power over me. God help you if you say both!

Is that a vegan birthday cake I see?

Why yes, it is! Not only that, it's tasty. But I only knew that after I had a small slice (er . . . two) last night. Before that it was just sitting in my basement refrigerator and I might have even forgotten it was there. Now that it's half eaten, all I wanna do this morning is have some more. What does that mean? It means I need to THROW IT AWAY.

So here's what I want to talk to you about right now: Your level of awareness when it comes to your problem, a.k.a. trigger, foods.

That vegan birthday cake, it was good, but no where near as satisfying as Mama Pea's Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls (hint-the only ingredients are dates, nuts, vanilla and chocolate chips). I ate one of those yesterday and it was enough. They are sitting in my refrigerator right now and I don't want one desperately. What does that mean? It means that for me, these are a safe food. Surely not something that I want to eat all of the time (they are very high in calories and fat), but something that is perfectly appropriate to make and serve once a week at our Friday night dinner.

Want the recipe for Mama Pea's Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls? Get it here.

You're probably wondering why I even brought the birthday cake into my house. I wonder that too. Here's what I was thinking: It's my son's third birthday. This compulsive overeating thing is my problem. It may end up being my children's problem too as they get older, but me being super crazy strict and not having any sugar in the house ever is not going to . . . to . . . what?

Am I scared that not having junk in my house is going to contribute to having kids that can't control themselves around junk when they are older? Being a compulsive over eater, I know that if my mom had been filling our house with sugar when I was young (which she wasn't) I would not have been able to control myself any better back then or today. My taste buds and psychology were determined before she had any shot at shaping them. No amount of intervention by her could have saved me from this disorder. I believe you either have it or you don't and there is a certain amount of genetics involved. I definitely see patterns in families.

So what should you do if you want to be healthy, lose weight and not let this compulsive overeating thing take you down? You could develop a set of tools for yourself that if used, would make the situation a lot better. The following are a list of ideas that have worked for me:

(1) Remember the motto "Plant Strong, Not Plant Perfect." Let go of the expectation that you are never going to compulsively overeat again. Just forget about it. It ain't gonna happen. The key is to be aware of it when you do, and then to make the necessary adjustments so that you don't keep repeating the same behaviors over and over again. What's the definition of insanity? Not making mistakes, but making the same mistake over and over again.

(2) Know that just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's healthy or a safe food for YOU. Again, you have to know yourself and really observe how you react around that particular food or food group. You could compulsively eat brown rice. You certainly could compulsively overeat "healthy" vegan desserts, baked or raw. If you try it and have a compulsive experience with it, make it either an "off limits altogether food" or develop rules about eating it like "I will only have that food when I am with other people" and "I will not have that food in my own kitchen/pantry/freezer/refrigerator but I can have it in a restaurant or at someone else's home because in that situation I don't overeat it." Again, you have to really be aware of your own behaviors and develop a sense of what is safe for you.

(3) Eat a whole foods, plant based diet, high in volume and low in calories. "What does that have to do with it?" you ask. I'll share with you my experience. When I was eating whatever I wanted to, attempting to control portions and choose foods that I thought were healthy, I was overweight and unhappy. Eating was a colossal battle for me. I wanted to eat enough to feel full, but I knew that if I ate enough of those foods to actually get full I was eating too much to lose weight. It was a mess!

Fast forward to now. I've been eating a whole foods, plant based diet, high in volume and low in calories for over a year. My taste buds have COMPLETELY changed. I am not making this up. A green smoothie tastes better to me now than a hamburger and french fries. An apple is so sweet it's criminal. Nuts and beans are the new foods that I have to be careful not to overeat. I'm laughing at myself as I write this. It's amazing!

The foods I used to eat taste like garbage to me now. It's not even a struggle to eat this way or to say no to processed food. It tastes like s#*!, why would I eat that?

(4) When your trigger foods make their way into your house, which they will, no matter how hard you try, get rid of them. As soon as you become aware of the situation, throw them out. You have no power over them. That's why they are YOUR trigger foods at this particular time. And they will change over time, that's why you can never rest. When foods that once would not have been a big deal to you suddenly become a big deal when you have eliminated all of your other trigger foods. Just tell yourself that it is normal for this to happen and get rid of the new trigger food.

It's either trash in your body or trash in a landfill. Where do you think it belongs?

Don't feel sorry for yourself. Get excited that you have a new level of awareness that will make you life much more manageable and happier. Never dwell on your past mistakes. Don't let a slip up become a give up. That's your old heavy person's mind doing the thinking for you. Let your new thin person's mind take over. Thin people slip up, they never give up. That's how they remain thin.

(5) The big one. The doosey. Here it is: When you are eating, do nothing else.

Oh boy, I know this is true, but I struggle with it. Have you ever tried just sitting at a table by yourself with food on a plate and a fork and knife and just eating? I thought so. If this were your regular practice, you wouldn't have read this far into this post! It's not something that I am proud of, but I love to eat and read, eat and watch TV, eat and talk, eat and do anything!!!!!

When it comes right down to it, it is almost impossible to compulsively eat if you are sitting down and doing nothing else but eating. Why? Because eating this way is BORING. It's the opposite of numbing yourself. It brings you into the moment. Whenever I do this I can barely eat what I have served myself. It really is that simple. Most of the food that I have eaten in my lifetime I never would have eaten if I wasn't distracting myself at the same time. That's the drug effect of food--the distraction from feeling and emoting.

Are you aware of your trigger foods?

What types of adjustments have you made or are you trying to make regarding these foods?

What happens to you when you sit down to eat without doing anything else?

Could you commit to just eating for one meal? One day? One week?


Danielle said...

Hi Wendy,
Your post reminds me of the work that I've been doing in Overeater's Anonymous. I cannot express how much this program helps me achieve a level of serenity around food that I've never experienced. I use the OA workbook, and on Step 1, you write a list of all the foods you compulsively overeat and all the behaviors in which you compulsively overeat. Instead of taking a dieting mentality and telling myself I'm not allowed to have those things, I now actively choose to let those foods go from my life in order to achieve serenity, which is physical, emotional, and spiritual. I've learned that I can't keep Earth Balance, Vegenaise, and a list of other foods in my house. I've given up white flour and refined sugar. I eat a plant based diet based on Eat to Live with 3 meals a day and 1 optional snack, which is what I've defined as my abstinence. I put my abstinence as #1 in my life and boy does this pay off. I am not perfect and am constantly making mistakes and learning. Sometimes I go out to restaurants and I do my best to plan ahead by looking at the menu. At restaurants there is always more oil than I'd like or sugar and lots of salt or white flour in things and I try to avoid these but can't all the time. I try not to sweat it.

It is a continual process. I was sad to have to give up some ETL friendly chocolate coconut date balls I make because right now I overeat those. They may be ok for me later or if I take them to a party, but right now, I'm not eating those. I also gave up having nut butters in my house, and only have whole nuts which I can grind into nut butter in the Vitamix. I would compulsively eat the nut butter. I don't have it now and you know what? It is ok! The peace and serenity that comes with my abstinence, along with the other gifts the universe gives me, make it all worth it. I highly recommend OA!

Kate (What Kate is Cooking) said...

I have a lot of trigger foods, but not all of them are unhealthy, surprisingly. I don't want to be scared of these foods, so I make an effort to try to incorporate them in my diet in small amounts. Granola, for example. One serving used to lead to a binge! Now I have half the serving and eat it with something to stretch it, and it hasn't led to a binge anymore.

Dani- danielleislosingit said...

I am definately a sugar person. Cakes, cookies, muffins and brownies oh my! Fortunately, as I eat better, I can see changes in my tastes as well. Green smoothies are the biggest thing that helps. A green smoothie in the morning keeps the sugar monster away.

Anonymous said...

thanks so much wendy. this is all very helpful. i am also getting a lot out of reading the skinny thinking book. you are an inspiration and i enjoyed my chai smoothy this morning!

Anonymous said...

I've been working my way through *why weight* by geneen Roth. It is a workbook to help end compulsive over eating/ binging (no they aren't the same). And honestly, it is not easy. actually, it is exhausting. I had almost convinced myself to "take a break" (read: quit). this was not the universe's plan. your post encouraged me to continue to work through this. Thank you!

katshealthcorner said...

My taste buds have really changed ever since I have changed my way of eating. All of that junk never sounds good, and in fact makes me sick. I now really only crave fruits and veggies (and nuts; a girl's got to have her nut butter). :)

chris said...

I go for salt/fat and salty/sweet/fat. I am not "dieting", so in my head I could eat these things any time any day.

When I am around them, or have the option on eating them, I have a conversation with myself that goes like this....How good are they really? Can I eat just a taste or would I eat a whole portion? What will I have to eat/not eat to compensate? What will it do to me, my body, my cells, my energy, my skin, my digetive system....

If, after going through all these question I still want it, I eat it.

Amy said...

We are dealing with a few food allergies in my house, and I'm thinking some of my over eating has to do with the allergies. I am trying to totally cut out dairy for me and my kids, move to a vegan lifestyle, eat more raw foods, and eat less/no wheat/gluten. Dairy, starchy carbs, and sugars are my trigger foods. My first change is to have green smoothies for breakfast to start my day of right. I am hoping, that in time, I will decrease, if not lose my cravings for things if I don't have them often and my body gets used to good healthy foods!

debbie said...

Wow. I am so glad that my friend recommended your blog to me. I went plant based this January and was doing great with my binge eating until I hit a roadblock last month. So for the past month I have been struggling. I kept thinking, "wait, how can I be vegan and STILL have this problem?" Then I realized that vegan or not vegan, my issues are still there and I need to address them. The comments in this post helped me a lot today - especially the first one about serenity. I have an OA book and I just blew it off years ago as just another self help book that I bought to help me. I think now that I am older and wiser that I will take that book out again. Thanks for all that you do.

Oh, the questions...
Yes I am aware of my trigger foods. It is like I go on autopilot though and just eat them without thinking. I am working on trying to catch myself before the autopilot switch goes on! I've tried banning those foods, but that does not work. I have tried having them in the house and following intuitive eating strategies, but I end up diving in eventually.
Sitting and eating without doing anything else seems to help a bit...especially if I force myself to put my food on a plate or bowl instead of just eating out of the bag/box.
I am going to commit to JUST eating today at breakfast to see how it feels. I bet I actually TASTE the food today!
thanks again!

Cat said...

Thank you so much for this post - it is really insightful and helpful. It particularly addresses some of the issues I've had over the past 6 months or so. I find that my trigger foods are often 'healthy' enough, but fairly calorie-dense. Such as raw deserts, nut butters and so on. I could never quite bring myself to remove them from the house because, well, they're healthy right! This post has given me the wake-up call needed :)


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