Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to handle trigger foods

When it comes to weight loss, most of us have a trigger food. A food that when you eat it, it causes you to eat more. A food that when you try to stop eating it, it is very hard to do so. A food that when you don't eat it, you want it all the time. Chips, candy bars, brownies, ice cream, chocolate Easter eggs and chocolate Easter bunnies. Typically, a trigger food is one that is not so healthy for you. High in fat, high in sugar, high in something not so good for you. Most of the time, a trigger food is not a healthy, clean food. You don't typically say "Oh, give me some asparagus now" or "What I wouldn't do for some broccoli right now".

So, how can you handle trigger foods? 

Here are three steps that I teach to my clients:

1. Substitution. Find a healthy substitute for an unhealthy food. What is the emotional attraction to the trigger food? Is it the texture? Is it a childhood memory? Find out what attracts you to this food and try to duplicate it. Examples:
Ice cream - cold and creamy. Start to experiment with making your own desserts with cottage cheese by blending it to remove curds, mixing yogurt with frozen fruit, or protein pudding. Healthier options that are not so high in sugar and fat.
Candy bars - chocolately and sweet. Replace with protein bars that are similar to candy bars. There are some good ones out there that still have sugar in them, but not as much as a candy bar. Try Luna or Clif or Lara bars.
M&M's - not so bad when you have just a couple, but who ever has just a couple? When I had a huge problem with M&M's [everyday], I started getting edamame [soy beans]. I would get a bag and boil it in a pan, rinse and drain and then put in small ziploc bags. When I had that craving for M&M's, I would eat edamame instead and it solved that craving. No, it wasn't a chocolate M&M, but it was similar to a M&M in size and texture and that was enough for me.

2. Moderation. After you find a healthy substitution for an unhealthy food, next is learning moderation. Portion control. Here's the deal - you can overeat a healthy food just like you can an unhealthy food. Except for maybe asparagus or broccoli. Learn proper portions.
Ice cream - after making healthy substitutions and happy with my cottage cheese and yogurts and protein puddings, I learned I was lactose-intolerant and had to cut back. Jeez! So, I tried it every other day instead of every day.
Protein bars - when I was getting closer to my goal, I also had to cut back on the protein bars I was consuming. It is easy to do because you tell yourself that they are healthier than a candy bar. So, I would cut a bar in half and have the rest the next day. Or I would have one every other day.
Same thing with edamame or any other trigger food. Learn to moderate and not focus on the food so much. What are the emotions that cause you to go to that food? It is more important to find that out during this time.

3. Elimination. Okay, here's the part where all the diet snobs roll their eyes and will have the sugary comments about depriving themselves and how it will hurt you to eliminate anything or restrict yourself in any way. You know, it's okay to go without once in a while. We live in a fast-pace, give it to me now, whatever I want society and along the way, we have forgotten self-control, self-discipline and common sense. If you have a problem with a certain food, say chocolate like me, is it okay not to have it for a certain amount of time? Um, who the hell cares? It's nobody's business what you eat or don't eat. Oh, except for the people around you who tell you it's okay to have a chocolate treat because you've worked so hard. Or the friend who can eat anything and not gain a pound, but criticizes your choices.

Elimination is tough. Some people can go straight to the elimination stage, skipping 1. substitution and 2. moderation. That's fine, if it works for you.

Elimination can be a temporary thing.

It doesn't have to be permanent. There are certain periods of time when I give up chocolate completely. When I am training for a race, when I have a photoshoot or big event coming up.

Find the reason WHY you have an emotional tie to a trigger food and then find your way to deal with it.

It's okay to not have a trigger food for a period of time if you take that time to figure out WHY it is a trigger for you and WHAT you can do about it. Will I ever have chocolate again? Of course, I do now. But I don't focus on it. And I can handle it now. It's not a problem for me now. It is still a trigger food, but I handle it in a healthy way. I use substitution when I need to. I use moderation when I need to. I use elimination when I need to. It works for me. It can work for you too. So, will you try?