A trigger is a stimulus that causes strong, usually negative emotion. The trigger may be psychological, social, situational, environmental or physiological, and may come up entirely out of the blue. The appearance of a trigger may cause an individual to react in a way which removes the unpleasant emotions, thoughts or feelings of the trigger as soon as possible regardless of whether the reaction is healthy or not.
Why it’s important to identify triggers
Taking the time to know and identify one’s triggers is the first step in avoiding them. If you know that certain topics of discussion are triggering for you, you can avoid those triggers by refraining from bringing them up, or excusing yourself from a conversation entering uncomfortable waters.
Unfortunately, one of the most common triggers for those suffering from an eating disorder is food. Food is not unavoidable, as it is the fuel our bodies need to keep us alive and functioning. The point being, not all eating disorder triggers are entirely unavoidable.
That being said, while you can’t avoid everything which may cause distress, there are ways in which you can learn to cope with certain triggers that will never go away, while also knowing how to avoid or lessen the triggering effect of the things over which you have some control.
Avoiding eating disorder triggers
- Know what conversation topics to avoid – While it might seem like harmless chit-chat, talking about calories, clothing sizes, ideal weight, virtually anything that is qualified by numbers, can be incredibly triggering and distressing for someone battling an eating disorder. Sometimes it’s unavoidable to be present in a conversation like this, such as a relative asking for your shirt size in order to buy a birthday gift, but you can control this topic at times. Either refraining from bringing up number talk entirely, stepping out of the room if the conversation goes there or simply requesting a change in topic can be a helpful way in which you avoid these conversations, and the resulting trigger, entirely.
- Remove triggering foods from your home – During ED treatment, it can be helpful to make your home as supportive an environment as possible, in that it encourages your recovery in all ways. This might include removing foods from your home which either trigger binge-eating behaviors, or contrary restrictive behaviors. By filling your pantry with foods that promote health and wellness, both physically and mentally, you might begin to find healing in your relationship with food.
- Don’t scroll through photos – These might be past photos of yourself, or they might be some random stranger on social media. No matter who it is, scrolling through photos can lead to comparison, self-sabotaging thoughts, poor self-esteem and be overall triggering to the brain. When you look at pictures of yourself, or someone else, you immediately begin to idealize the “perfect” image you want for yourself, and might be tempted to engage in unhealthy behaviors that “promise” to help you achieve this image. However, those promises are nothing but lies fed to you by the ED.
- Practice self-compassion – Triggers happen even when you’re doing your best at avoiding them and addressing them. Sometimes they can be very debilitating, especially when you least expect them. During treatment, and throughout your entire journey of recovery, it’s important to practice self-compassion when faced with a trigger. This does not mean give in to the trigger; it means to refuse to beat yourself up when you experience distressing emotions as a result of the trigger. Success is not measured in whether or not you’re good at steering clear of all triggers. Success is measured by how well you can come face-to-face with a trigger and be compassionate with yourself and your emotions, while continuing on with your day in a healthy way, unmoved by the triggering situation.
- Pause – If you are confronted with a trigger, don’t panic that you couldn’t avoid it. Take a minute before immediately falling back into old coping habits to really think through the trigger. The response to a trigger is simply a response, and you have the power to respond in a disordered manner or in an ordered manner. Before your panic gets the better of you, decide whether you even want to give into the disordered behavior. Should you let it control you, or are you in control of it?
- Come up with a plan – During treatment, you work closely with your therapist to develop a personalized plan for your recovery. Learning how to identify and cope with triggers is part of this plan, and a crucial part of knowing how to avoid triggers. You can work with them to determine what your triggers are, how you plan on avoiding them and what Plan B you have for when you inevitably are confronted with them. Having a plan in place will have you prepared and ready, keeping you in control.
Reach out today
To talk with an eating disorder therapist about treatment for you or a loved one, or for more information on eating disorders, contact Seeds of Hope today at 610-644-6464.