I want to address the question of whether or not to keep trigger foods at home while you are trying to stop binge eating. Trigger food is a popular term in eating disorder recovery conversations that usually refers to the foods that tend to make binge eaters feel out of control and binge. If you’ve read Brain over Binge or listened to my podcast, you know that I don’t believe any food can cause binge eating—because the urges to binge are the only direct cause. So, when I refer to trigger foods in this blog post, I mean foods that commonly to lead to your urges to binge, or foods that you typically eat large amounts of when you follow the urges, or foods that are simply linked to binge eating in your mind.
Distancing yourself from trigger foods doesn’t cure binge eating
If keeping trigger foods out of the house was the cure for bingeing, then that would make recovery pretty easy—but if you’re anything like I was as a binge eater, you just find a way to get the food anyway, or find something else to eat too much of. Home isn’t the only place to binge, and trigger foods aren’t the only foods that you binge on. Also, it’s not realistic to expect to be able to control all of the food that comes through your door—because roommates, children, parents, partners, relatives, or friends who share or visit your home also need to eat, and they may have different ideas about what food to have on hand.
Even though keeping trigger foods out of the home is not a cure for binge eating, it’s still one factor to consider when approaching recovery. I believe that it is an individual decision, and there isn’t one right or wrong way. If you think about it, the decision of what foods to have at home is one that all people need to make, even if they don’t have a history of an eating disorder. When you look at this choice as just a basic part of living—something you’ll need to do for the rest of your life—it can take off some of the pressure you may be feeling right now.
Will the trigger foods make me binge more?
I realize that the additional consideration during recovery is that you may be worried that certain foods will lead to increased binges, but if you remember that all the trigger foods can do is lead to increased urges, you take your power back. You give yourself the freedom to choose what foods to have or not have at home, and you can learn to dismiss the urges that are linked to those foods. (If you are new to the concept of dismissing urges, you can get my free eBook, the Brain over Binge Basics to help you get started).
It’s okay if you don’t feel ready to have any and all types of food at home right now, but with time and practice, you can gain confidence that you can be around any food and eat any food—without binge eating. On Episode 76 of the podcast, my guest shared her own experience of reintroducing trigger foods into her life, and I think you will find it helpful.
Food temptation is a universal experience
It also helps to realize that feeling tempted by certain foods at home is common, and although the urges to binge will fade, feeling drawn toward food pleasure will never go away completely. Normal eaters often say that they don’t like to have, for example, a dessert item in the house because they believe they’ll eat too much of it, or they ate too much of it last time it was in the house. The reality is that sometimes it’s just easier for anyone—with or without a binge eating issue—to simply not have something tempting in close proximity, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
In the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, I explained that these choices extend beyond food, and I drew a comparison to my choice at the time to not buy paper towels, because when I did, I used too many of them. My kids were very young at the time, and made so many messes, and paper towels were way too convenient. If I didn’t have paper towels in the house, I put myself in a situation where I had to take the time to wash rags and keep them ready for use. Now that my kids are older and there aren’t as many spills, I do buy paper towels again, but I don’t overuse them.
Giving up binge eating and dieting makes foods less “triggering”
The paper towel example could also help you see that your decisions about what to keep in the house can change over time, and if you decide to avoid buying a certain trigger food right now, you don’t have to avoid buying it forever. One day, you may decide you want that food in your house again, and you’ll learn to overcome the temptation, or it simply won’t be as appealing to you once your binge eating habit has stopped. Foods that seem so tempting today could become foods you don’t even think about in the future—this is a wonderful benefit of giving up the dieting mindset and learning to eat everything in moderation.
I wrote a detailed post to share how this happened for me regarding my biggest trigger food—sugary cereal—and how I can now have boxes of it in my house and not even want any (read the post: How I Stopped Binge Eating Cereal and Craving it Too). It’s an amazing experience when you first realize your trigger foods are no longer triggering, and that they hold no power over you. It gives you so much freedom to be able to be around any type of food and know it won’t lead to a binge. But, everyone gets there in their own way and on their own timeline, and it’s okay if you’re not there yet.
Just make the best decisions that you can right now as far as what to keep in the house to support yourself in recovery, knowing that you can make adjustments, and add new foods over time. Eventually your urges to binge will fade and go away completely, and all of the things that once triggered them—including certain foods—will no longer lead to urges. You’ll be left with some standard temptation and cravings like all normal eaters, but it will be so much more manageable. You’ll find yourself doing things that you never thought were possible—like forgetting you have leftover cake from a birthday party in your house, or throwing out half of a batch of cookies you baked last week with your kids because you never ate them.
Dismissing urges to buy the binge foods
I want to take a step back and also talk about buying the foods at the store, because that’s ultimately how they get to your home. Even if you make a firm decision about what foods you want to have in your house, and that doesn’t include many of your trigger foods, your lower brain might try to change your mind at the grocery. You might feel urges to buy a lot of binge foods—just in case. This is all part of the habit—you’re simply used to buying them, so habitually, you feel like you need to keep buying them. An example I thought of, which I’ve experienced myself, is a parent whose child gets older and out-grows the baby items that they used to need frequently; but the parent still finds herself automatically going down the baby food or diaper aisle.
You can think of urges you have in the store as just your lower brain telling you what it thinks you need—based on your past shopping and eating behaviors—but now that you have changed, you don’t need to follow those messages anymore. Dismissing urges to buy the binge food is good practice for dismissing urges to actually binge. You don’t have to get upset with your brain for encouraging you to buy certain things, just try to observe your thoughts and gently remind yourself that you no longer binge. You don’t have to tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have certain foods—because you can learn to buy and eat anything you want in moderation, provided there are no allergies or other health issues. However, if you only want to get the food to binge on it, then you can react to the urge to buy it like the parent of an older child would react to an urge to buy baby food—you can just shrug it off, maybe smile a little, and say, “Oh, I don’t actually need that anymore.”
In your case, it might not be that you don’t need any amount of a certain food, but you may simply need much less now that you are eating in a normal way. You don’t want to create a situation where you’re saying no to yourself too often for food you actually like and want in your house. You ultimately want to find a balance of foods that are going to nourish you, and foods that you buy purely for pleasure. Again, this is something you’ll need to do for the rest of your life as part of taking care of yourself and the people who share your home and food.
If you can keep a grateful mindset for all of the food you have the ability to buy and keep in your house, it can help the food feel like a gift instead of something to fear—and this can help your decisions surrounding food feel easier.
If you want more help learning to eat in a normal way and dismissing the binge urges around any food, you can check out the Brain over Binge Course that is now available for a low monthly price.
It’s been a tough year, and I want to help you end it on a positive note—with progress toward recovery. Even if you’ve previously struggled with increased binge eating in December, this is your chance to do things differently, and have this month be a successful one.
When I was a binge eater, the final weeks before the new year usually included my worst binges. I’d often have thoughts like…
“I can’t stop binge eating now, there is too much tempting food this time of year.”
“I’m too busy with the holidays to even bother with recovery.”
“I will binge all I want through the end of the month, and then quit on January 1st.”
Why December Seems Like a Binge Eating Opportunity
Telling myself I’d quit at the start of the new year seemed to give me a pass in December—to binge as much as my lower brain wanted. That primitive part of my brain seemed to view the days leading up to January 1st as a non-stop binge opportunity. At the time, I didn’t understand how my lower brain worked, and I thought my binge urges were expressing my true desires. I also thought that I was emotionally broken and “needed” to binge to cope with the holidays. So, I went along with my lower brain—all the while telling myself that I’d leave binge eating in the past once January arrived.
What I didn’t know was that my lower brain was repeating a habitual and predictable pattern that’s common in binge eaters (and really in anyone with a destructive habit). I’ll call it the “one last time” rut, and when binge eaters get in this rut, they repeatedly promise that each binge will be their last, and promise to quit afterward. I explain this pattern in detail in Episode 14: Overcome “One Last Time” Thoughts to Quit Binge Eating.
However, in December—instead of telling yourself it’s your “last binge”—you may start telling yourself that it’s your “last year of bingeing.” You tell yourself that after December, you’ll be done for the rest of your life, so these are the final weeks of being caught up in the binge eating habit.
Because you feel committed to quitting on January 1st, you might stop any attempts to curb your binge eating at the end of the year. You may allow your lower brain’s desire for the temporary pleasure of binges to completely run the show. You end up feeling awful from the binges in the December, but when you remember that you’ll quit in January, you see no point in even trying to stop now. You just accept that you’re going to keep bingeing until the clock strikes midnight and marks a new year—and a new you.
January Doesn’t Erase Your Binge Eating Habit
During all of the the years of my binge eating, January 1st always came with a sense of dread. I wondered if I could really quit, and felt confused and frustrated that my desire to binge was still the same on New Year’s Day that it had been on New Year’s Eve. In December, it was comforting to believe that a new year would bring a swift recovery; but looking back, my resolutions usually only served as excuses to binge prior to the resolution’s start date. If I told myself I was quitting tomorrow, next week, next year; it gave me reason to binge today, this week, this year.
On January 1st or shortly thereafter, I began to resent the new year—because of the struggle of trying to avoid binges. I often wished it was December again, when I felt like I could just binge without even considering quitting, even though I knew December had been miserable. Until 2005, nothing I tried to help myself quit had worked, and I always found myself binge eating again by about January 5th.
In Brain over Binge, I talked about that first New Year’s Eve (15 years ago) when I didn’t have to make a resolution to stop binge eating. I wasn’t with family or friends or at a party—I was simply alone with my thoughts, watching others ring in the new year on television (where most of us will be this year as well). It was a wonderful feeling knowing that the next year would be different—that I wouldn’t just binge again a few days, and that I’d never have to resolve to quit binge eating again, because I was already done.
Do December Differently
No matter what your thoughts are saying now in December, your binge eating habit will not suddenly disappear come January 1st. The lower brain has no regard for time, and it will send urges automatically no matter what day or year it is. You will not suddenly gain the ability to avoid binges, unless you support yourself in learning how to do that.
You don’t want to spend another December being miserable, promising yourself you will do better in January. You can do better now. You can learn to recognize all of those faulty brain messages that drive you toward binge eating, and stop believing them. You can stop believing thoughts that say it somehow makes sense to binge through this month. You know that it doesn’t make sense, and you can absolutely break this cycle.
Just think of how amazing you’ll feel if you gain control of your binge eating before the new year, before the start of your typical resolution. Challenge yourself to do something different this year—break the pattern, and stop waiting until later for freedom from binge eating.
You can start ending this terrible habit today, and I want to offer you some support this month for a price that I hope is doable for anyone.
You can now get the Brain over Binge Course for only $10.99/month, with no commitment required.
That means if you feel free of binge eating by January 1st, you can cancel your subscription and you’ll pay nothing else.
The challenging circumstances we’ve been through in 2020 got me thinking about how to help more people. Those of you who have followed my blog, or read my books, or listened to my podcast know that this is a mission for me more than a job…but the reality is that I do need to charge for some of the resources if I want to continue doing this work.
I will still continue to offer no-expiration access for the regular price of $179.
If you think you’ll use the course in some way for more than 16 months, then the no-expiration option is still the best value for you, but I understand that kind of financial commitment may not be possible in these difficult times.
With the monthly subscription option (and the no-expiration option), you get the entire course (116 tracks) right away, plus you get immediate access to the new app we’ve recently set up to make it easy to listen on mobile. You will also get two new resources each month that you are subscribed.
You can use the course for as much time or as little time as you need to support yourself in ending binge eating and getting your life back.