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Triggered to Heal: Understanding Eating Disorder Triggers

Let’s Talk About Triggers

 

Triggers, in the context of mental health, are phenomena that set off emotional reactions, often linked to past traumas or unresolved issues. They can be powerful catalysts, propelling individuals into states of distress or anxiety. Understanding eating disorder triggers and learning to manage them effectively is essential for navigating the complexities of recovery.

 

On the path to recovering from an eating disorder, one crucial step is to recognize and understand the triggers that may hinder your progress. 

 

A trigger in eating disorder recovery refers to anything that could consciously or subconsciously provoke urges or cravings related to disordered eating behaviors — it sends a signal to your mind urging you to engage in harmful eating patterns, exercise, or other means to try and control your body.

 

By taking the time to pinpoint and comprehend your triggers, you empower yourself to navigate through them effectively. Let’s explore some categories of triggers and how you can become aware of your own.

 

Most Common Eating Disorder Triggers

 

An eating disorder trigger can manifest in various ways. It may appear as a reminder of a past time when you engaged in disordered eating behaviors or reminds you of specific circumstances or emotions associated with those behaviors. Here are some common types of triggers:

 

Pattern triggers:

These triggers include family gatherings, holidays, or other events where food is a central focus, potentially leading to thoughts or actions related to disordered eating.

  • For instance, during Thanksgiving dinner, where the table is abundant with dishes like mashed potatoes, gravy, and pies, you may feel overwhelmed by the abundance of food and may struggle with urges to overeat, reliving past patterns of disordered eating.

 

Emotional triggers:

Emotions like stress, sadness, or anxiety might trigger urges to engage in disordered eating behaviors as a coping mechanism. Conversely, there could be associations between certain positive emotions and disordered eating habits.

  • Consider a scenario where you are facing a breakup and turn to restriction or purging as a way to regain control amidst feelings of sadness and rejection. Conversely, you might associate celebrations or moments of joy with indulgent eating, leading you to engage in binge eating as a response to positive emotions.

 

Social triggers:

Spending time with individuals with whom you previously engaged together in disordered eating behaviors or feeling pressured to conform to societal standards of appearance can trigger urges or cravings.

  • Imagine attending a reunion with old friends who have a history of encouraging extreme dieting or excessive exercise. In this social context, the pressure to conform to certain body ideals or participate in disordered eating behaviors may be heightened, triggering urges to relapse into harmful habits.

 

Environmental triggers:

Triggers related to your surroundings, such as certain smells, sights, or sounds associated with past disordered eating episodes, can evoke cravings or thoughts about engaging in harmful behaviors.

  • Picture walking past a bakery emitting the scent of freshly baked cookies, reminiscent of past episodes of binge eating. The environmental cue of the enticing smell could trigger cravings and thoughts about engaging in disordered eating behaviors, despite efforts to maintain recovery.

 

Behavioral triggers:

Engaging in certain behaviors that may seem “okay” to others can trigger backsteps in recovery from an eating disorder or even cause relapse. The most common behaviors are obsessing over reflection and body checking, weighing oneself, calorie counting, fasting, dieting, detoxes, and overexercising. 

  • Suppose you are recovering from anorexia nervosa and start calorie counting and meticulously tracking your food intake after seeing a coworker successfully lose weight through a strict diet. These behaviors, seemingly harmless to others, can reignite obsessive thought patterns and jeopardize your recovery journey.

 

Reflecting on these categories can help you identify your triggers more effectively. Recognizing your triggers enables you to develop strategies to cope with or avoid them.

 

HALT in Eating Disorder Recovery

 

In recovery from substance addiction, the term HALT is often used within the 12-step programs to identify triggers reacting to a physical state.

 

“An acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, it’s a tool used to remind people of four of the most common stressors in recovery. While they may seem obvious, these basic needs can be easy to overlook and lead to relapse if they’re not met. Practicing HALT works as an effective warning system, reminding you to pause (halt!) and identify common triggers before picking up a drink or a drug.” –American Addiction Centers

 

How can HALT be applied to eating disorder recovery?

 

These four physical states often precede urges or cravings related to disordered eating. When you recognize these states, you can pause, reflect, and respond to your needs in healthier ways. Addressing these states directly can help you avoid succumbing to disordered eating behaviors.

 

H – Eat a nutritious and enjoyable meal

A – Go for a mindful walk 

L – Reach out to someone you care about

T – Give yourself permission to rest

 

Each time you identify a new trigger, you can enhance your Recovery Plan by documenting it and brainstorming coping strategies. For instance, if social gatherings trigger disordered eating urges, you can plan alternative activities that focus on connection rather than food. By becoming adept at recognizing and managing your triggers, you empower yourself to progress further along the path of recovery.

 

Path of Resilience and Growth

 

Recovery from an eating disorder is a challenging journey, but it’s also a path of resilience and growth. You can overcome eating disorder triggers and regain control through compassion, seeking support, and finding effective coping strategies. Progress may not always be linear, but every step forward brings you closer to healing and freedom from disordered eating.

 

Recovering does require resilience, self-awareness, and determination. Triggers, whether they’re emotional, social, environmental, or behavioral, can present significant challenges. However, by acknowledging and understanding these triggers, you can empower yourself to navigate through adversity with strength and resilience.

 

Remember, setbacks are a natural part of the process, but with perseverance and support, you can overcome them and emerge stronger than before. Each step forward brings you closer to lasting transformation and freedom from disordered eating.

 

I’d like to leave you with some inspiring quotes 

 

“There’s nothing negative about being triggered. It’s a calling to heal our wounds. It’s a calling to self-reflect and to get curious about the reaction we are having.” – Dr. Nicole Lepera

 

“The people who trigger us or cause us to feel negative emotions are messengers. They are messengers for the unhealed parts of our being.” – Teal Swan

 

“Be grateful for the triggers, they point where you are not free.” – Anonymous

 

You’ve got this. Keep moving forward and remember that you’re not alone in this journey.

 

In Love & Light

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Triggered to Heal: Understanding Eating Disorder Triggers

Let’s Talk About Triggers   Triggers, in the context of mental health, are phenomena that set off emotional reactions, often linked to past traumas or unresolved issues. They can be powerful catalysts, propelling individuals into states of distress or anxiety. Understanding eating disorder triggers and learning to manage them effectively is essential for navigating the complexities of

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