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Managing Triggers

I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show last week, and I was appalled. There in the middle of the Flower Show exhibits, was a stand selling all kinds of Booze and Ben and Jerry’s. Now there has always been food at the Flower Show, but on the edges of the exhibit area, and in a comfortable restaurant upstairs. Both healthy and unhealthy foods were available at a steep price, but at least you could order them easily. Never before has there been a nutrient free food exhibit in the middle of the flower exhibits.

It made me angry and it made me sad that we cannot get away from food triggers easily.

In the late 1930’s, after Prohibition was repealed and AA was begun, there were lots of places to get liquor easily and there is lots of talk in the early AA literature about avoiding triggers.

So, I want to talk today about food triggers. They are everywhere. It is absolutely essential that you recognize and deal with your response to triggers; I call these red flags because they need to make you stop, look, and listen. Tell yourself:  what are your most difficult triggers?

Cinnabon has a special scent additive, so that when the buns are baking, the scent spreads all over the mall.

                Annie’s pretzels, right outside the store where you had to buy a larger size skirt.

Girl Scout cookies, in front of your favorite store. Isn’t that little girl adorable?

Needing to make a dinner, that you won’t eat, for your family.

The relative who asks, “Can’t you have just one? It’s the holiday.”

Going to the grocery; or stopping at a convenience store for lunch.

Three snowstorms in seven days; having the family home; loss of power; memories of what you used to eat.

And then there are deeper triggers – the ones that come up inside you:

I’m not worthy

I can’t do this.

Remember what happened when____________

I failed again.

I feel ___________ and I don’t know how to handle it.

I wish I could have______.

I just want to eat “normal”

A trigger is a thought, feeling. behavior, or situation, that unsettles you and leads you to want the food to calm the feelings. I tell clients, “Once you are triggered, you must take action immediately; you have six minutes to six months to stop a relapse.”

If you do not manage your triggers effectively, they will consolidate and grow into a craving.  A craving is an overwhelming, driving force that seems to take over your brain. You are entirely focused on this food and you feel as though you will die if you do not eat IMMEDIATELY! It involves all of your consciousness and you feel compelled to eat this food. Resistance feels futile; it is as though you are competing with a hurricane; you cannot escape.

So there are two pieces to managing this problem: Handling triggers, and handling cravings.

The first thing I want to say here is, “You will not be able to do this perfectly at all times.”  Stop believing that you can do this perfectly, that you will never again have a trigger or craving you don’t know how to manage. Or that you will never again encounter a trigger.

The secret with triggers is to plan and prepare for them if you can; or to handle them as they come up; or to look at what you need to change in your recovery program to decrease the triggers.

So, I want to know, what are your most common food triggers? Over the next weeks, let’s talk about how to handle them, so they do not expand and take over your recovery program.

Here are the three most common:

Smells.  We totally underestimate the effect of smells on our subconscious minds.

Don’t buy food scented candles, lotions, potions, etc.

Move away from the smell of food you should not eat.

 Use a non-food scented lotion or essential oil if you aren’t sure what will be available where you are.

                People.   It is so hard to draw effective boundaries with people who love us.

Say, “No, thank you” repeatedly.

Try “I’m having allergy testing done”

“Why is it important to you that I eat that?”

The mall, the Flower Show, the movie theater – all these places that do not need food to provide their services but have it there anyway.

                Never go to these places hungry! Take a snack if you think you might need one.

Focus on what you went there to do; walk by the food as quickly as you can or change your path to avoid the worst of it.

Take another person who supports your goals, with you.

Now, tell me. What is your toughest trigger? What is your best way of coping? What is the one trigger that gets you every time? Send it to me and we will discuss it.

Then we can talk about handling the worst ….. cravings!

Blessings to you, and please leave me a comment below.



8 Responses to Managing Triggers

  1. Jackie Stowell April 25, 2018 at 11:43 am #

    The worst trigger for me is my homemade “chewy chewy” chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. Even thinking about it as I type this triggers me. It’s mostly the wonderful smell of that cake that does it. I can’t imagine going the rest of my life without ever tasting that cake again.

    • H. Theresa Wright April 30, 2018 at 1:32 am #

      Ok, you don’t have to think about how to go without it for the rest of your life. Just think about focusing on WHY you are involved here and what you want the cake to do for you. And what else you need to be doing to meet your goals. And keep the ingredients off your grocery list till you figure it out!

  2. Judy Kresloff April 25, 2018 at 1:27 pm #

    Excellent article, Theresa!
    I am going to try a lavender hand cream to carry in my purse.
    Even before I get to the mall, I will put som on my hands and a dot under my nose. My nose gets me in trouble as much or more that my eyes! I can avert my eyes but can olly fool my nose. Thanks for making your wisdom available on a blog

    • H. Theresa Wright April 30, 2018 at 1:29 am #

      Wonderful! Let me know how it works!

  3. Brooke April 25, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

    Sugar is the worst for me. If I avoid it, I tend to binge on anything I put in my mouth. I know that I can avoid it, but for some reason I haven’t. I say with my mouth I want to stop eating sugar, but my hands continue shoveling in. Sick!!

    • H. Theresa Wright April 30, 2018 at 1:29 am #

      I cannot say specifically what is happening here without knowing more. But some things that might help are: looking at other foods that might be triggering you; looking at the feelings that you perhaps do not want to feel; asking yourself what you want the sugar to do for you; praying about it. Beating yourself up over it, and speaking rudely to your self will not help. This is not about will power; think of it as a physical allergy.

  4. Alicia Navon April 30, 2018 at 12:52 am #


    This was very helpful! Would love to hear about my biggest trigger which is anxiety…caused by overwhelm when life gets inevitably crazy.

    Also, when you discuss cravings, please address emotional & physical cravings and making the distinction. (actually, I most likely experience mental & spiritual cravings as well.)

    Alicia 🙂

    • H. Theresa Wright April 30, 2018 at 1:24 am #

      Anxiety and overwhelm are the worst! I suffer with these too! My best answer is PAUSE….take three deep, slow breaths… ask myself what is the next right thing? Who will did if I make the wrong move….no one!…Ok…BREATHE…. What is the next right thing?
      This week’s blog is about cravings, and I will address them there.
      Thanks for writing. Theresa

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