Don't Deny Your Trigger Foods--Manage Them

By , Dayna Macy, author of 'Ravenous'
You’re at a party and you see a table filled with some of your favorite foods: potato chips with sour-cream dip; charcuterie heaped high next to pieces of crusty baguette; and a steaming tray of macaroni drunk with melted cheddar cheese. Nearby is the dessert table where you see dense chocolate cake topped with fresh whipped cream; peppermint bark and still warm ginger snaps; a ten-layer coconut cream layer cake. Do you:

a) walk on by clutching the celery sticks you brought from home for dear life
b) grab whatever you can as fast as you can and shove it down at warp speed
c) enjoy a reasonable portion of the food in front of you without a shred of guilt.
I vote for c: a choice informed by moderation and pleasure, not gluttony or denial. It’s totally do-able, but first you need to come to terms with what it means to eat treats.
For many of us, treats are triggers. In other words, if you eat one cookie, you’ll eat a dozen. When I first began my journey to lose weight a few years ago, there were some foods that held me in such thrall, I literally could not go near them. My list included triple cream cheeses, crusty bread of any kind, charcuterie (especially salami), cookies (any kind), cakes (ditto), Doritos, and olives. If two bites were good, twenty were better. I couldn’t eat just a little of these foods so rather than go to town, stuff myself, then feel the inevitable guilt, misery and anger, I cut them out of my life -- for a while anyway. Until I could gain some distance, examine what my relationship was with these foods, and discover what lay underneath my insatiable desire.
I learned a lot.

In the course of researching and writing “Ravenous,” I learned I could be happy with 6 olives; that dark chocolate is better for me than cookies because it’s satisfying and I don’t binge on it; that salami no longer drives me to distraction; and that it’s smarter for me to buy only a very small wedge of that creamy cheese so I don’t tempt fate.
In other words, I don’t deny myself trigger foods – I manage them. I couldn’t do this a few years ago, but I can now. Things can change. And so can people. The key to managing trigger foods is to first, know what they are, and then be honest about your relationship with them. If you know eating one potato chip leads to eating 100, choose another course. If you really can eat a cup of macaroni and cheese and not go back for more, then go for it. With practice and time, your relationship with trigger foods can change.
But until then, there are some practical strategies you can use during this next month of holidays that can help you enjoy treats, and even your trigger foods, without eating everything in sight.
Don’t arrive hungry. This is probably the single best proactive step you can take. I always eat a little bit before I go to parties, usually some protein. If I arrive a little hungry but not starved, I make much wiser food choices.
Be selective. In other words, be choosy about what you put in your mouth. If you’re at a party and you see tables filled with food, take a good look at all that’s available before you put food on your plate. The little hot dogs in pastry dough may seem yummy, but if what you really love is that fancy cheese and crusty bread, nix the dogs and go for the cheese.
Slow down. This is common advice for a good reason. It takes your body about 20 minutes to register satisfaction. If you eat slowly, you will eat less and be satisfied, not stuffed.
Easy on the alcohol. Not only is alcohol filled with calories, it also lowers inhibition. If you start with a few drinks, you might not only end up with a hangover, you might also eat more than you want.
Food is not something to be afraid of -- it’s something to be embraced and enjoyed -- especially this time of year. Special foods like yule logs, eggnog, or potato latkes make us happy because they are a tradition, linking our past with our present. So enjoy! And remember, sometimes memories can be just as nourishing and delicious, as food itself.
Dayna Macy is the author of “Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom.” For more info, please visit

Do you avoid trigger foods? If so, which ones? If not, how do you eat them in moderation?

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RAZZOOZLE 12/21/2019
thank you Report
BONNIE1552 10/22/2019
I would like to read her book because I feel ravenous lots of the time. Report
ALUKOWSKY 8/6/2019
If this strategy works for you, great; more power to you -- but as for me, I will continue to avoid them. Avoiding the triggers in the first place is what has helped me. Report
CATNAP629 7/29/2019
good article Report
I find the more I plan meals and plan food I WANT to eat the less I am distracted with less nutritional foods. I like well prepared savory foods that are well presented instead of quantities of poor choice foods. Chocolate chip cookies have always been a favorite. Now I make the dough and freeze cookie size scoops, so I can take one or two out for a warm chocolate chip cookie experience. I really find that it doesn’t happen as often as you would think, maybe once a month or so. Sometimes I think people do continuous grazing for the same reason a cow or calf will, something is lacking in their diet and they are trying to find it, but with a good nutritious diet that just doesn’t happen. Report
RENAHF 7/18/2019
I also manage my "trigger foods" this way. I have a little bit of whatever it is and I get to enjoy the flavor without going way over my calorie budget. I can eat one Dorito, or one forkful of rich, delicious chocolate cake, or one cookie and I feel satisfied that I got to taste it . And done this way, you don't eat your day's calories in one dessert! Report
Thank you for the article. Report
RREDFORD5 2/26/2019
I've got it with almost everything-I can take a little and be fine, or sub something else yummy and feel like I'm better off, but I have given up on pancakes and waffles. I'm OK with eating nice whole-wheat toast instead-it's just as good in its own way! :-) Report
Thanks Report
thanks Report
Thank you for the information Report
Very good advice but there are still foods that I cant keep in the house Report
Thank You for a great article. Report
I appreciate your wise comment, URBANREDNEK! Report
I have found that once I started focusing on thoroughly enjoying high quality foods, I no longer have "trigger" foods at all. The better the food (whether it be a triple-cream cheese, or a homemade sourdough baguette, or a baked dessert made with home-ground flours and sweetened with local berries, or a smooth and pure dark chocolate), the more satisfying it is. I firmly believe that the "trigger" in most food-like produced options is that they are inherently UNSATISFYING to the body in flavour and texture and aroma and overall experience, so the body keeps looking for MORE in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to be satisfied. Report
all great advice. now following it!!!! haha Report
Interesting! Report
Good article. Thanks. Report
Some trigger foods I have a hard time managing. Report
A work-in-progress. Report
I have a couple of trigger food that I have to stay away from because I'm not quite there yet. Chocolate like in candy bars and Chocolate Cake which I do make on occasion but only if I am having company over. Someday I may be able to buy a candy bar and be satisfied with one but not now. Report
Great blog, I really want to read your book! Report
Thank you so much for sharing this. Christmas is THE hardest time for me. I have a lot of wonderful memories surrounding the baking of goodies at this time of year. Plus...I just love, love, love chocolate! Report
For me, part of the enjoyment of trigger foods, is just posessing them. I like knowing there is ice cream in my freezer, even though I may go weeks without eating any. Same thing with chocolate peanut clusters. Looking at them in a bowl is as good as eating them. I get fancy cookies at a bakery, and put them on the table, rather like a bouquet of flowers, and usually toss the last few into the trash. I gives me sort of a power surge to control food this way! Report
I try to avoid my triggers ( I have so many). I give in way too often, but I'm working on it. Report
I have to avoid cheetos. LOL! Maybe I could have a few, but they defintely cannot be in the house. I'm learning to manage other triggers to where they aren't really triggers anymore...all except cheetos. Report
I like your approach - works and it is satisfying mentally, Report
I read Judith Beck, PhD's "The BECK Diet Solution" which is not a diet, but how to learn to THINK like a THIN person. So, I avoid "Trigger" foods, one being Coke-a-cola and another being ice cream, since I know it will just set me off to eating a lot. She says to learn to say to yourself "NO CHOICE", "STOP", "Get away from here." etc. I like her advice to not hang around the food table at a party. Report
It sounds like you're substituting foods, rather than actually "enjoying your trigger foods in moderation." Dark chocolate INSTEAD of cookies. That's not enjoying the cookies. That's distracting yourself with something else.

Which is a perfectly fine strategy, but don't represent it as something it is not. :-) Report
Very good suggestions. I never plan ahead and then end up eating everything in sight. Report
I used to not have any ice cream or desert in the fridge, because I knew that if it is there, I will eat it. But over time, I have learned to have desert and icecream in the fridge and not eat it. They are for my daughter, and I just don't touch them, as if they are belongings of her. Report
I will glutton if I'm hungry and it's a real favouorite but I'm pretty good at portion control and I don't have a sweet tooth so it makes it easier. It took me 4 months to nibble my way through a Toblerone large dark chocolate bar. I love the suggestion to look at EVERYTHING before selecting. It helps to take a little of all the treats/dishes I love. And waiting for a while helps get the message to the ol' brain that I've had enough. Report
I know if I buy a package of something chocolate I'm going to eat it all so I only buy the sizes that are within my range. For instance, I love Reese's peanut butter cups. Usually I get a regular twin pack (210 cal) or a single large Reese's (200 cal). I only allow myself 1 treat a day and I never get the King-size packs. Yesterday I really wanted a bit of Reese's PB. The checkout only had packs of 400 calories or more. I ended up succumbing to a twin-pack of the large Reese's cups. I started nibbling in the parking lot. Savored the flavor and made it last most of the trip home. The rest of the trip I debated with myself over the fate of the second cup. Actually made it to the house without eating the second cup. A feat I'm proud of by itself. I then made myself leave the second cup in the glove box. I kept telling myself "I'm the grown up here! I decide what I eat and when I eat it!". I made up my mind I was not going to eat that second cup until the next day. All evening I wanted it, but I drank extra water and tea and worked out with the weights and bands while watching the Biggest Losers. I was determined to stick to my 1 treat a day rule and I'm happy to say I succeeded. I managed my craving and didn't let it manage me. Report
I was told I may be diabetic so I'm limiting the movie popcorn I enjoy so much. Everything in moderation. not elimination!Holidays aren't usually a problem for me as I eat just like I usually do, until I'm full and avoid overeating! Nor do I drink alcohol. Report
Excellent article; been there, done that. A lot of it has to do with "know thyself". I know that at this point, buying a can of jalapeno almonds is a BAD idea, because I still can't trust myself not to sit down and eat the whole can. But I can now have pistachios, cashews and the like; I just count them out, have that amount, and am satisfied. I've also found the book The Gift of Our Compulsions to be very helpful in learning to respond differently to compulsive urges. Report
having food out seems to be the trigger. if it's there, i'll eat it. if it's put away I won't take it out (usually). Report
I want that book! I'm just starting my last ever diet and binging on high calorie, high fat, high carb foods has always been my downfall. I would love to be able to mange these foods but at the moment I'm cutting them out of my diet altogether. Report
Totally agree "if you eat one cookie, you¡¦ll eat a dozen". I try to do what you list. Slow down is my challenge. Report
I have a general rule to only eat if hungry and don't have any known trigger foods left other than I have a tendency to grab for "fun" size candies more often than I think I should if they are out on a counter. It took a while to figure out the triggers and even with them under control there is no reason why I need to keep some of them in the house (I don't need cookies, chocolate, etc on a daily basis). Report
I'm new to sparkpeople and this story was a revelation for me! I now know I have trigger foods. And a lot of them. I'll refer to this often when I need encouragement to keep away from my trigger foods. Now I'm off to find the book. Thanks! Report
I look for healthier alternatives to trigger foods. For example, I LOVE instead of inhaling a bunch of candy, I drink hot chocolate made with water. Once I get used to the alternative, I start to crave those instead of the original "bad" food. Report
I am somewhat shy and parties where I don't know many people can be stressful for me. If I don't have anybody to talk to, I eat to look "busy" instead of "lonely". If I can find somebody to connect with right away, it's a lot easier to be social and forget about the food. Report
I read the book and found a kindred spirit in terms of food and the cravings for certain things (olives, sausages). But some of us cannot have just a taste - b was the "norm" at a party with so many goodies. I find myself drinking a lot of seltzer and water. Another thing to remember is that a party is not only the food - it is the social aspects and the atmosphere. So I try to keep talking, or, if there is no one to talk to, I enjoy people watching - looking at the dresses, shoes, hair, etc. Report
My trigger foods can be managed IF I first measure it out and then leave the source in the cupboard. My problem is first getting myself to measure out the portion. Eating cookies or potato chips without first measuring out the correct portion is mindless eating on my part and leads to problems. I try to deni myself the trigger foods as much as possible. One way I've found to avoid them is to get busy doing something else immediately. At some point, I allow myself a portion, but I try to keep it at bay as long as possible. It seems to be easier the more I try and perhaps one day, I will be able to say, "I am not plagued by trigger foods." Report
Great advice! Some I have used before, all I need to use all the time. Thanks! Report
Thanks for the blog. I loved your book.

I'll have to spend some time today thinking abotu my trigger foods. Sugar and carbs in general come to mind but I'd like to narrow it down more than that. Time for some self reflection to help me get back on track. Report
fortunately my trigger foods are not found at holiday parties. So I eat beforehand and while I haven't ever brought celery sticks to a party..I have a rule that I am only allowed to eat raw veggies and dip/dressing only if it's not the pre-packaged junk. Report