It may also be helpful to eat your trigger food after a meal. This way, your blood sugar will be stable, making it easier to check in with yourself and stop at a place of pleasant satisfaction. Again, understand that at this point of reintroduction, overeating is still likely and common. I also recommend that clients repeat this process at least several times per week, though it can vary from person to person. Consider incorporating it regularly until you get to a place of peace with it and aren’t feeling compelled to binge it (or eat past the point of fullness and or satisfaction).
4. Stay present when eating the food.
I often hear people report that they “clock out” or dissociate when they are consuming trigger foods, but I encourage you to do the opposite. Try to stay fully present with the eating experience. Notice the taste, texture, smell, and flavor of the food you are eating. Are you enjoying it? Does that joy peak, plateau, and/or decrease? Try to taste each bite of food as best you can, and note what the eating experience is like and whether or not the food lived up to your expectations. Staying present will help increase satisfaction and also stay in touch with how your body is responding to what you are eating.
5. Leave room for reflection.
While you eat and after you’re done, notice what, if any, feelings come up for you. Did you automatically have negative self-talk? Did you feel shame or judge yourself for eating this food? Try to approach the experience from a place of curiosity rather than judgment.
“Judging yourself just keeps you in the vicious cycle,” says Dr. Ross. “The number one thing I advise is not to judge yourself.” She recommends writing affirmations on Post-it notes, such as “I’m working on intuitive eating,” that you can read before, during, or after eating these foods—whatever works for you. Another possibility? “I’m doing what I can to make peace with my trigger foods.” If affirmations aren’t your thing, you can also use journaling as a way to check in with what you are feeling.
6. Repeat the process.
Once you run out of the package of food, check in with yourself. How was that experience for you? Did it bring up any memories (positive, negative, or neutral) surrounding this food? Were you able to eat mindfully using all of your senses? Did you even like the food? What was your anxiety like before, during, and after?
If you are up to it, I recommend continuing to eat the trigger food on a regular basis—typically I recommend once a day, though this can vary from person to person—until you feel you are more at peace with it. This may mean being able to enjoy the food, stay mindful, and stop at a place of satisfaction rather than feeling sick. It can also mean saying no to the food when you aren’t in the mood for it, or forgetting the food is even there.
7. Work on healing from trauma if you need to.
Dr. Ross says that for many people with compulsive eating behaviors, there may be some underlying trauma to work on, ideally, in some cases, with the help of a mental health professional. And if you have trauma, especially any that is severe, expect it to take time to heal. In the meantime, Dr. Ross emphasizes how important it is to avoid blaming or judging yourself for coping however you need to—including with food.
“That may be the only [coping] skill you have right now,” she says.
The beauty of habituation is that, with time, you will begin to ask yourself the question of whether or not you actually want the food in question. Sometimes the answer may be yes—and that’s perfectly fine, and is a great time to enjoy it!—but other times it’s no. You also will be able to stay connected with the eating experience so that you can check in with your body to learn when it’s had enough. If you are struggling with trigger foods, I highly recommend giving this process a try. It may take days, weeks, or (most commonly, based on my experience working with clients) months before you get to a more peaceful place with a particular food. But once you get there, it’s priceless.
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