Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bad habit takedown technique: putting a choke hold on Trigger Foods

No, not me, but definitely one way to visualize laying waste to a bad habit

On my last post, I talked about how I wanted to wrestle my grazing habit the way "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would maraud an out-of-shape/pasty opponent.  I wanted to beat this heinous and obnoxious habit once and for all time.  I wanted to beat it with a folding metal chair.

My plan was roughly focused on committing to only using Filling Foods for snacks and to try to limit myself to two 3-4 POINTS values snacks per day.  How did it go?  Great.  I actually did it.  It was funny how limiting myself to foods like fruit, 0-fat yogurt, etc. could limit my mindless eating.  What I particularly liked about last week was that I felt in control, but in a very natural and common sense kind of way.

However, even wrestlers and super heroes have their kryptonite, and it is time for me to recognize mine.

All this got me thinking about the other side of Filling Foods:  trigger foods.  So what exactly is the definition of a Trigger Food?  From the website (the Science Center section) "Eating Triggers" -- :

  • Trigger Food:  A trigger food is a specific food that sets off a course of overeating where control is lost and excessive amounts are consumed. The most common trigger foods are sugar/fat combinations (e.g. ice cream, cookies) and fat/salt combination (e.g. nuts, potato chips). Food triggers are fairly uncommon and should not be confused with favorite foods (foods that are highly preferred), comfort foods (foods that are linked to a sense of home and contentment) or food cravings (desire for a food that has not been consumed in a long time). With a true food trigger it is the food, not an emotion or situation, that triggers the out-of-control eating. For example, open the bag of potato chips and it will be gone, regardless of mood, time of day or place.

One of the keys to appreciating the above is recognize that each person has their own Trigger Foods.  What sends one person into a freakish eating frenzy might garner a mere meh from someone else.  I have spent some time thinking about my cat nip foods, and here are some of my key culprits:
  • Hummus:  deadly stuff for me even though it is a perfectly honorable food.  Set me up with a tub of this and a box of Reduced Fat Triscuits and watch the crumbs fly.  I can easily run through 12-15 Triscuits and a half a tub of Sabra.  Damage:  9.5 POINTS values for the hummus and 4.5 POINTS values for the Triscuits for a grand total of 14 POINTS values.  Ouch.  Half a day for about 5 minutes of mindless munching.  
  • Pretzels:  I started eating Pretzels instead of chips because they seemed the healthier option (i.e., not fried, etc.).  When I go this way, I often use honey mustard as a dipping agent.  Again, my logic here is that it is a healthier way to go.  Typical binge?  16 Rold Gold Twisted Wheat for 4 POINTS values and 4 tbs Honeycup Uniquely Sharp Mustard for another 4 POINTS values.  Total = 8 POINTS values.  Not as bad as the hummus, but still a 400 calorie snack.  
  • Reduced calorie ice cream treats:  This is a classic example of completely abusing a product designed to help you.  I almost NEVER have just one Weight Watchers ice cream treat, as I usually opt to go double fisted.  Cost for one Weight Watchers mint cone:  2 POINTS values.  Cost for two?  5 POINTS values.  Beware of rounding!!!  
  • Nuts.  It is disturbing how much I like nuts.  All nuts of all types.  Love them love them love them, which is unfortunate given their calorie density.  1/4 cup of almonds is about 5 POINTS values (30 nuts), which makes 1/2 a cup 10 POINTS values and a full cup 20 POINTS values.  Funny how food scales in a curiously linear fashion.  Similarly 14 cashews would be 4 POINTS values and 30 would be 9 POINTS values (!!!!).  The age old problem with nuts is proper portion control.  An open bag of nuts is not a good friend.  
What I find striking about my list is that none of them are massively unhealthy, and most people would say that they are good components to a healthy (or at least not fully unhinged) diet.  Yet in my unsteady hands they do great damage.  

So what should be my plan with my list of Trigger Foods?  For the most part, I should avoid them.  I realize that this may seem a little judgey and draconian.  In my case, I need to realize that I'm a bit of a compulsive eater.  When I get around these foods, I'm not quite myself.  In some cases, I might be able to limit the damage by trying techniques such as pre-portioning the foods:  Trader Joe's sells almonds in small plastic packs.  I can have an (i.e., one) ice cream treat, but I really should have it with my dinner, not idly on the couch watching TV.  However, for the most part, I need to say "no" to some of these foods, not because they are bad foods, but because my brain has a bad interaction with them.  

Just a brief public service announcement:  in no way shape or form am I suggesting that anyone else avoid these foods, and nor am I suggesting that they are bad foods.  It's a Dave thing, not an everyone thing.  

What are your Trigger Foods, and how do you deal with them?  




  1. My hero, Jean Nidetch, calls them "Frankenstein Foods", and I recently devoted an entire post to them on my Retro WW blog. My Frankenstein? Potato Chips! They are not allowed to enter my house...not even the reduced-fat, or "baked" ones. In fact, any chip-like product is forbidden. Popcorn (a fabulous filling food) is my savior!

  2. CEREAL. Any and all types--healthy, high fiber (ouch), sugary, whatever. If it's in my apartment, I am liable to go through the box in less than 24 hours. You'd think the ensuing stomach aches (always in bowls with milk, and all that milk...) would condition a more restrained response, but it's the same pattern over and over. I simply don't buy it anymore, opting for old-fashioned oatmeal or yogurt with banana in the mornings instead. I am hopeful that I will eventually master my relationship toward cereal (did I really just say that??)--I think one of the biggest reasons it is such a trigger for me is that I've framed it that way--"oh, cereal, I can't have that, I'll eat the whole box!" which in a weird way gives me permission to. If I didn't build up cereal as a trigger, maybe it wouldn't be? This is how I hope to behave, someday...

  3. Try the paul newmans mighty mini pretzels. They have 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. still 2 points for 20 but they are good for you too and not white flour like rold gold. my trigger food is sugar free gum...I crave food and im not sure if its because of the nutrasweet and the false postive that Im eating sugar but I go off the deep end with it. So no more gum

  4. My trigger foods are chocolate and peanut butter but not necessarily together. I LOVE M&Ms and yes, I could buy the 100 calorie snack packs but that seems so much more expensive than buying a pound bag. I could buy the pound bag and pre-portion them but I don't, and so when the occasion happens that I find myself in possession of an open bag of M&Ms all bets are off. I have been successful with Weight Watchers. I am at goal, I can quote you chapter and verse on the program and points values, set point foods and filling foods but M&Ms win every time. I have learned to handle peanut butter. I measure it and have my serving spread on crisp crunchy celery. I get the full taste of the peanut butter. I get the crunch and chew of the celery and I get the satisfaction I have regained control over a food which previously would have sent me on a feeding frenzy. Gaining control over trigger foods or learning to just avoid them is a process. I took baby steps at first. I tested the water with my control and now I know I have the ability to make smart choices for myself.

  5. Cheese is my trigger food! I can (and have on many occasions) sit down and eat an entire brick of cheese in one sitting. There's nothing better in my mind than sitting back with an ice cold beer, some cheese & crackers & watching the Yankee's play on TV. Obviously though I did not lose 79 lbs so far on Weight Watchers by continuing this habit.
    I learned how to make it work me pretty much. I swapped the heavy brick cheeses for the Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges, or the Weight Watcher mild cheddar snacks. And I no longer by brick cheese unless I can tell myself that if I eat it (which I know I will!) I will not hold onto the guilt for very long.

  6. Peanut butter. I LOVE pb. I have fond memories as a kid sitting down with a jar and a spoon and going to town. As an adult that "little" treat lead to many extra pounds.I had to do what you said and completely avoid it. I did try to "replace" it with almond butter which I have found I cannot eat by the spoonful and can enjoy only on an English Muffin. I like your idea of non-processed snacks, I might just try that this week..

  7. I used to think my trigger foods were ice cream and peanut butter. Although anything tasty and creamy that could be eaten straight from the container with a spoon was a danger. But then I realized that I don't have trigger foods so much as trigger activities - once I broke the life-long habit of eating in front of the TV or while reading, suddenly I was satisfied with a single small dish of ice cream or half a PB&J sandwich. When I eat everything mindfully, I eat less.

  8. Hmm. I have a bunch of foods that on first blush I would consider "trigger foods" but when I'm being totally honest with myself, there's really only one thing that truly fits the bill: cheap grocery store birthday cake. I can't help it, I obsess like crazy over the stuff! The cheaper the better (which is hilarious because I'm otherwise quite a food snob). In fact, tomorrow is my twin childrens' 2nd birthday and even though I promised myself that they would always have their own birthday cake so they would never feel like they had to compromise on their preferred cartoon character, color, etc., so last year we got them each their own 1/4 sheet cake. You know the rest of that story, I'm sure. This year I only bought ONE cake. And it was tiny. We had their bday party on Sunday and dang it, I was somehow able to control myself and have only one slice. Not quite sure how I managed that! I took the leftover pieces (only about 1/4 of the cake was left), wrapped them in foil, and put them right into the freezer.
    That's the good news.
    The bad news is that Monday night after a HUGE workout, I sliced off a tiny sliver (seriously tiny, as in less than a 1/2" wide) and chowed it when no one was looking. Hate to say it, but cheap grocery store cake tastes just as good frozen as it does unfrozen. (File that under wisdom I wish I did not have.)
    Sigh. I'm not perfect, but it's a darn sight better than my old habits, so I will dwell on the positives!

  9. I call that "Weight Watchers Math" - when one is 2 Pts, but two are 5 Pts. Try convincing your members there is a benefit to accurately tracking one 1-Pt Caramel bar as 1 Pt, and two as 3 Pts. They hate me for reminding them every time ;) but they're better off for it.

    Two mini caramel bars are still better (read: lower in Points value) than a Mr. Big chocolate bar, I say!

    My trigger food is salt and vinegar chips. I only buy the small bags, when I splurge, and when I go crazy - the large bags - but if it is a large bag, is must be the BAKED kind only.

    I try not to villanize any food. If it seems "bad", it only makes me want it more. Like the tattooed boyfriend on the motorbike, with the snake wrapped around his neck - picking you up in front of your parents. If your parents tell you they hate him, you will inevitably love him. He will, of course, dump you for the first available hoochie mama in chaps that slithers his way, but for a minute, it was true love.

    If I tell myself that chips are bad for me, and off limits, then I just crave them more.

    Same goes for Egg McMuffins a la McDonald's. They hold a special place in my heart but literally the only "good" thing about them is they contain an egg - or at least something closely resembling an egg.

    But because I love them, I have one once a month, to satisfy the craving.

    Seems to do the trick. The 48 lbs I've lost have stayed off for a whole year. I try not to get too cocky though, there's another motorcycle hunk waiting around every corner ;)

  10. Well, let's see--crackers, any kind, healthy or otherwise, with any spreadable cheese, Boursin or that type will just blow my points watching into oblivion. If I could count the crackers like I know I should, instead of taking the entire sleeve and the tub of cheese with me into the family room, well I wouldn't get myself into trouble. But we all know how that story ends.
    Peanuts, there's another one. Like has already been said, they're healthy, in MODERATION. But that's never how I eat them. If I weigh out an ounce, like I know I should, OK, but I'm far more apt to grab a few while I'm standing in the kitchen because the can is sitting on the counter--so why is it on the counter? Because my husband leaves it out.
    It's not the food, it's the tendency to mindlessly nibble, graze, snack, whatever your verb.

  11. I think mine would have to be granola cereal. I can eat it plain with no milk, straight out of the box. Needless to say, I cannot find one that is worth buying because of the point value! I am pretty good about not munching now, but it can still be a battle some days!

  12. This is the first of these blog posts that I've read and I really like it. Dave sharing his inner thinking about how he deals with these foods will help me examine how I am thinking about foods. Very helpful. Thank you.

  13. Cookies, or cookie-like substances like graham crackers. From the cheapest vending machine brand to the ones I make- and sadly, I am a proficient baker and have won ribbons at the state fair for- guess what? Cookies. People at my WW meetings laughed at my description of drowning poor defenseless cookies in the kitchen sink when they will not stop bothering me. So now I try not to bring them in the house.

  14. Uhmm salty peanuts, I just munch and munch. But my weird trigger food is white rice. I just can't left any grain of white rice in a plate. And when served a huge portion, like about 2 cups or even more of the stuff, I just keep eating until its all gone

  15. Peanut Butter! I can't have 1 or 2 tablespoons full. Once I start I can't stop. Sugary cereals are the same way. It's difficult for me to stop so I avoid both.

  16. Hey there- just wondering if you are ever going to post your thoughts on WW products? Maybe that topic would follow on the heels of this one really well- I asked about this on another post a couple months ago-

  17. Oh man, if it is sweet and wheat I'm in trouble. Doesn't matter what it is, cookies, pies, cakes. As long as the combination of sugar and flour is in there I'm doomed. I can control ice cream, dark (85%) chocolate, puddings., rice based treats. I don't know what it is but that combo short circuits my brain.

    If the wheat product is low in sugar I have a better bet. (Read bagel or sourdough toast) but if i'm overly tired even those can be deadly. I'm beginning to seriously wonder what it is about wheat.

    Thanks for posting this. I felt pretty disgusted with myself for giving in last time and it made me realize that they are trigger foods and for some people it's normal to have those.

  18. OMG, Sabra is Devil's food, it is so creamy yummy good. I like (too much) the one with pine nuts on top (double trigger!). :)

  19. Cheese and crackers are a definite trigger for me. Especially brie. The combination of the crunchiness, creaminess and flavors just keep me coming back for more. I can't have just one or even two. Luckily I have found a lite string cheese stick and a chilled apple (2 points total for both) as a healthy and satisfying alternative snack.

  20. I agree with an earlier poster - white rice is my main trigger food, along with most carbs. But white rice - i can't leave it alone. even when it's cold. i used to make it in bulk and freeze it (well, that was the plan), but i would keep going back and end up eating enough for 4 or 5 people..... now i weigh each portion and only cook what i need....

  21. I hear ya on the nuts. Cashews to be specific. Biggest help for me was to leave them in the kitchen and not eat them while watching a show. I could mindlessly devour a pound that way...Crazy!

  22. In our Costco, they have individual pots of Sabra hummus - a box of 18 of them for something like $6. Each pot has 3 pts and I take one to work each day with celery or peppers for dipping. Very filling and it gets my veggies in.

    Cheese is a bad trigger food for me, but if I thin slice a 1-pt BabyBell cheese and eat each slice with an apple wedge, it can satisfy a craving. Also good with it is a sliced 1-pt WW cheddar cheese snack.

    Almonds are also a downfall - haven't figured out a way to be reasonable with them. So, I have to ignore them altogether. Sucks to be me.

    -- LEF