When asked, many who continually struggle with their weight loss will report regular and powerful food cravings. Despite the desire for better health, a moment comes when they simply lose control – a moment sparked by trigger foods.
After the fact, they emerge as if from a trance to find they’ve “done it again” – another step backward, another little defeat for their diet, and even a certain sense of helplessness. Sometimes they will use this to “shame” their way through another couple of days of discipline (until the next craving kicks in)…other times it might mean quitting altogether.
Have you ever experienced this? The urge to eat a normally off-limits food is so powerful it seems you have no choice but to give in – maybe not even feeling fully aware of what you’re doing until after you’ve done it?
If so, then it’s time to talk about Trigger Foods.
What is a "Trigger Food"?
Simply put, a trigger food is any food that does not satisfy hunger, but rather produces it.
You’ll know something is a trigger food when it’s hard for you to stop eating it, even when you feel full…foods people will sometimes jokingly say they are “addicted to”…
Partly funny, partly true.
We’re individuals and we have a favorite food item or two we feel like we could eat endlessly. Trigger foods are a bit different and share common characteristics. They are typically processed, highly sweet or highly seasoned, and generally calorie-dense.
It’s a great combination for palatability – and even what’s known as “hyperpalatability” – but it’s more like a Perfect Storm for your Health and Wellness.
So what’s the solution?
Rather than fight, it’s probably better to run. Let’s identify the most common trigger foods and replace them with wholesome, real food alternatives.
Down to Business…
The high concentration of refined sugar in candy and candy bars puts this category at the top of the list. They contain pure sugar which causes wild spikes in your sugar/insulin balance and produces additional cravings. Or, a sneaky, unnatural combination of sugar and fat – which spikes insulin and smuggles in potentially twice the calories.
If candy is a major part of your life – present at your office desk or home kitchen – then it’s time for a change.
As a substitute, start replacing candy with unsweetened, dried fruit. Of course this will mean a minor adjustment at first, but in the long run you’ll be surprised. Once your palette recovers from sugar-bombing, the natural sweetness of dried fruit will reveal its true flavor, which most candies lack.
Try dried apples or pears, apricots and mango. Special mention also goes to banana chips!
Speaking of Chips…
2. Salty Snacks
With few exceptions, the vast majority of salty snacks – pretzels, chips, popcorn and others – are processed and full of fiberless, refined carbohydrates. Saltiness works in the same way as the sweetness of candy, generating that compulsion to munch, and that “Bottomless Pit” feeling…
Your option for substitutions here can go two ways.
If you’re drawn to saltiness, consider trading for lightly salted nuts or seeds. Your palette will adjust to the decreased sodium in the same way as the decreased sugar. And, the combination of fat and fiber naturally present in both of these foods will have you feeling satisfied instead of endlessly hungry.
On the other hand, if it’s that satisfying crunch that keep you coming back, consider lightly salted carrot sticks or baked cucumber chips. Both are volume-heavy and calorie-light to be filling, satisfying, and guilt-free!
3. Soft Drinks and Sweet Drinks
These beverages have even more sneakiness than candy bars, simply by being beverages. It’s ridiculously easy to drink calories and some soft drink manufacturers include sodium in sweet beverages. Along with all the sugar – you don’t taste the salt, but are compelled to drink more.
If these drinks are a regular part of your life, then you know firsthand just how addicting they can be. It’s better to make a clean break rather than switching to the “Diet” version…
So: completely replace all the high-calorie, high-sugar, sneakily salted drinks. Substitute with zero-calorie iced teas, sparkling water, or even homemade Spa Water (water made with various combinations of steeped fruit and herbs such as mint and basil). Experiment, have fun and find a recipe that’s your favorite.
Depending on your prior level of consumption, you may find this simple switch the easiest way to drop a couple hundred calories from your day. When you also realize these beverages actually quench your thirst, it’s a very pleasant surprise!
So There We Have It
Three effective strategies for trading out the three most common Trigger Foods: foods that we have the potential to eat not out of authentic hunger, but out of simple habit.
Simple, but powerful. It’s habits that can work against us – keeping us from our health, fitness and weight loss goals. But, it’s also habits that can help us reach those goals and (most importantly) help us stay there.
Here’s hoping you choose your habits wisely and this article has given you a good place to start today!