I am in Orlando this week paying it forward as a member of the Board of Directors of the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America. With Spring in full bloom and Summer right around the corner I think this blog post that I wrote in 2017 is worth sharing with you again. After all, trigger foods will always be trigger foods. Nothing’s changed! Hope you enjoy it – and think about what your triggers are and how to avoid them.
A trigger food is a specific food that sets off a course of overeating where control is lost. The most common trigger foods are calorie-dense, highly palatable foods that are often combinations of sugar and fat (e.g. ice cream, cookies) or fat and salt (e.g. nuts, potato chips, French fries).
Yale university researchers had both thin and obese women complete a standard food addiction assessment and then used MRI imaging to examine the subject’s brain activity while they were shown and then drank a chocolate milkshake. They compared these images to seeing then drinking a tasteless beverage. The results showed the brains of both thin and overweight women who scored higher on the food addiction test exhibited patterns similar to those seen in drug addicts — there was greater activity in region of the brain responsible for cravings, and less activity in the regions that curb urges.
So does this prove that food is addictive? Well, it certainly shows that the brain seems to react in a similar way, although the trouble is of course that while you can live without alcohol or drugs you can’t live without food.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at my trigger foods and how I have dealt with them most of the time. They still do win – occasionally. Now they wouldn’t be triggers if they didn’t, right? (wink, wink).
Summertime is difficult for me when it comes to ice cream, frozen yogurt, chips and dips. All of these meet that fat and sugar combo talked about above. So, does this mean I never have ice cream or frozen yogurt or a chip again? There are periods of time when I MUST refuse them, not allow them in my house, or in my grocery cart, and as far as frozen yogurt goes it is my responsibility to not walk into these shops and fool myself into believing I am having only 3-4 oz for 120 calories and a few grams of protein…it doesn’t work that way. No matter how hard I try there is always more than 4 oz in my cup AND I must have toppings, even if they are “only” a spoonful of healthy almonds. It just doesn’t work for me. I doubt that I have ever left a frozen yogurt shop with less than 250 unnecessary calories in my cup, and many days I can assure you it was more than that. This does not serve my health in any way, shape or form.
Ice cream is yet another story. My husband loves ice cream. My husband does not need ice cream. However, he has much better control than I do. If it’s in the house I will eat it, and folks there is just no way to hide ice cream in your freezer. Hubby thinks he is being healthy by buying no sugar added ice cream. I can avoid this pretty easily since it is a chemical concoction that really doesn’t taste all that good- or, I have convinced myself of that fact. Whatever the case is, it works for me.
Cookies, cakes, muffins, pies. Just cannot have them around anymore. For the first 2-3 years after surgery I had no problem avoiding these foods in my presence, however now, 13 years later they call to me if they are around. The worst part is, one is just not enough for me. I know I probably do not even taste them after the first one, but I will continue munching right along.
Chips, Cheetos, dips, spreads are the same. If I am having family over I will often have guacamole or a dip and some chips and some veggies. The veggies are for me, but somehow my hand will find its way into the chip bowl at least once.
Cheetos are my crack. Just walking by them at the supermarket they seem to sprout wings and fly right into my cart. I often must remove them forcibly as they seem to get stuck until they are ready to be put in my grocery bags to come home. The worst part is the brilliant marketing folks have them at check stands, not only in grocery stores, but at places like Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Loew’s. Now Cheetos at a building supply and hardware store, THAT is just wrong! Once I open a bag I rarely put it down until I either throw it in the trash – the big ugly outside can that is disgusting trash, or finish it.
All right then. I have just confessed to the fact that I am human and a food addict. So, what do I do, how do I deal with it, how has success happened for me?
For the first 1-4 years after surgery I did not allow myself the privilege of many of my trigger foods. They just were not on the acceptable food list and they didn’t make their way into my house. My husband was totally supportive (and still is when I ask) and learned to live without bread, cookies, ice cream, etc. around. When I was out at a restaurant I ordered foods that would require more handling or chewing so that I was using my tool instead of my addictive nature. If I was busy cracking crab or eating peel and eat shrimp I had absolutely no time or desire to reach for the bread or the crackers and by dessert time I had no room. Simple, and by the way it still works. When at a gathering where the finger foods were all trigger foods I would try to bring my own, allowable food with me. Who doesn’t want a tray of shrimp with cocktail sauce added to their table full of chips and pretzels and nuts, etc. I had something delicious to eat.
The bigger problem was people coming to my house, bringing food gifts out of the kindness of their hearts. (or more likely their own desire to eat them). They knew I wouldn’t have any ______ (fill in the blank), so they brought it. Ugh… it became easier to ask folks to bring a specific dish and 95% of the time it worked. Please bring a tossed salad, or a fruit salad, or veggies and dip. The key here is to ask your friends, co-workers, and relatives to agree to a no food gifts policy. Most of the time folks do this out of caring but when you explain that you can’t resist and it doesn’t serve your long-term health goals, they will usually comply.
Now the flying Cheetos that get stuck to the grocery cart can be a real problem. Never go grocery shopping hungry. Bring a bottle of water to sip on while you’re shopping so thirst doesn’t rear its head as hunger and fool you into reaching for a trigger food. Next make a grocery list and stick to it. You’ll spend less money in the long run, and have more to go shopping for those new clothes you will need as the weight falls off and stays off. If possible, go shopping with a spouse, a friend or someone who can help you avoid those end caps full of tempting treats. My husband and I will separately pick up interesting finds at the market randomly and ask each other what we think of the food. We take a look at the serving size, protein and calories and make a decision from a place of knowledge rather than that impulse buy. It’s been working for us pretty well. When either he or I go shopping alone we often come home with something unintended in the cart “to try”.
Watching TV can be dangerous on so many levels. First of all that food porn they call commercials can have us getting up to see what we might have to snack on. Next, if we do have a snack it is often eaten mindlessly. We just chomp away without knowing or tasting or measuring how much we have eaten. Anyone ever have a bowl of popcorn disappear and they wonder when they finished it? The best suggestion here is to distract yourself from the food ads. Go fill or empty the dishwasher, start another load of clothes, fold your laundry, groom your dog or cat, write in your journal, or drink some water.
I had a barbecue for family last weekend. I made ribs, fresh corn (off the cob for me) and fresh green beans. My guests asked what to bring. I suggested a fruit salad. I had a rib, some corn off the cob, and some green beans. Later I had some fruit salad. Everyone had theirs topped with a ton of whipped cream, everyone except me. The little bit of fresh fruit was a treat and didn’t need any whipped cream to be delicious. Everyone was stuffed at the end of the meal as they consumed huge quantities of everything. It can work. It just takes some thought, some planning and some commitment to your goals and your health.
So do you believe that food can be addictive? Do you ever feel out of control yourself? Please share your thoughts.