How to Overcome Trigger Foods.

Today’s guest post is by my good friend, Diane Petrella, MSW. Diane is a spiritual weight release coach and one of the contributors to The Davey Wavey Weight Loss Program.

Do leftover Halloween treats call out your name? Do candy bars compel you to snack when you’re not hungry? Do you welcome, or fear, holiday cookie platters soon coming our way?

How you relate to trigger foods helps you lose weight more easily or creates constant struggle. Take time to decide how you want to manage this before the abundance of holiday sweets appear.

What is a Trigger Food?

A trigger food is one that causes you to lose self-control once you begin eating it. You then overeat to the point of feeling physically uncomfortable, emotionally upset with yourself, or both. Common trigger foods include fat and sugary foods such as cookies and ice cream, or fat and salty foods such as potato chips.

A trigger food may prompt an overeating episode even when you’re not particularly stressed. You see the food, feel the urge, start to eat and can’t stop. Sometimes an emotional reaction prompts the urge to eat specific foods. For example, you feel frustrated and immediately react by grabbing potato chips.

There are two opposing approaches to manage trigger foods. One says avoid them; the other says give yourself permission to eat whatever you want. Let’s take a closer look at both.

Strategy 1: Avoid Trigger Foods

A traditional approach to addictions is to avoid addictive substances. While there is debate about whether certain foods, mainly sugars, are physiologically addictive, many people agree that a psychological addiction can occur. Avoiding trigger foods altogether is one way to deal with foods that you are unable to eat in moderation. For some, this is all or nothing; for others there’s flexibility. For example, you may not bring certain foods home but decide to eat them at a party.

If you choose this approach, reflect on these questions:

  • Will you feel a sense of deprivation if you don’t eat these foods?
  • If so, will that trigger a yearning to binge eat?
  • How will you handle it if family members bring these foods home?

There is great freedom in taking a stand against something that causes you harm. Those who use this approach successfully keep an empowered mind-set. Instead of thinking they “cannot” have these foods, they “choose” not to eat them. This approach works when it feels like a free choice.

Strategy 2: Allow Trigger Foods

A second approach is to give yourself permission to eat all foods. This helps you break free from a self-depriving notion that you “should not” or “cannot” eat certain foods. It is believed that by removing the restriction you feel liberated from the tension surrounding these foods.

If you choose this approach, reflect on these questions:

  • Will you be able to satisfy a taste craving with a reasonable portion?
  • Will you be tempted to binge eat on these foods when stressed?
  • If you eat for emotional reasons, have you successfully found other coping strategies?

It’s sometimes easier to set boundaries on our behavior when we feel we have choice. If you allow yourself to eat these foods, you may experience a freedom that, paradoxically, minimizes your desire.

A Conscious Choice

Take time to think this through, especially with holiday season approaching. Find what works best for you. As you improve your lifestyle habits, develop new coping strategies and maintain a confident mind-set, your relationship with trigger foods will change. You may not want to eat them, or you may still enjoy them, but there will be no tension around them. Your struggle will be over.

How do you handle trigger foods? Let me know in the comments below!

About DianePetrella

Diane Petrella, MSW is a psychotherapist and life coach. She offers her clients a spiritual approach to weight release and helps them develop a loving, respectful relationship with their bodies. Receive a free copy of Diane’s Seven Easy & Effortless Weight Loss Secrets by signing up for her monthly e-newsletter, Living Lightly, for spiritual insights and tips to release weight with confidence and love. To contact Diane visit


  1. I find that completely avoiding trigger foods most of the time is the answer for me. However, I will allow myself one special day over the holidays, such as Christmas Day, when I may indulge. Then at lease I’ll only be overeating one day out of many, rather than overeating every day over the holidays. That is the plan, anyway. The kids made a gingerbread house that is calling to me right now…

  2. What worked for me was changing how I dealt with trigger foods; when I crave chocolate instead of going to a convenience store and getting cheap chocolate I go get good quality chocolate and set aside time to eat it slowly savoring it. By doing so I eat less than I otherwise would and satisfy the urge to have the food, it also defuses the urge to binge on a food you’ve decreases by setting a pattern of controlled satisfaction of the craving.

  3. Chips and pistachios for me. Anything crunchy really.

  4. ICE CREAM!!

    I progressed from eating the whole liter in one sitting (only once a week) to spreading it over 3 sittings. Still eating a liter a week though, so not sure I’ve improved the situation. Better than heroin though.

  5. christopher says:

    maybe if tempted-have an apple?instead of chocolate?

  6. Ben Whitaker says:

    cookies. if there are cookies in the house, I find it near impossible not to inhale them as soon as I spot them. ESPECIALLY when I’m at home, bored with nothing to do! If I were living alone, I could quite easily not buy cookies with the shopping and not have the temptation right in my face, but because I currently live with my dad who says “oh no, you gotta have SOMETHING in your cupboard as a snack”, it can get annoying. He’s relatively ignorant about health foods, but I guess that could be his age? ugh. just ugh.

  7. Coca cola and pepsi are my weak points and once I start on those it usually leads to chocolate to go with it! I hate it and I hate the feeling I get after eating them. What I do is I get myself really exciting about having a cup of tea as a “desert” after a meal if I feel the need for something sweet. I dont have one all day and really make myself think that my next cuppa with be my treat and 95% of the time it works. For the other 5% I try to have a smaller portion that I would have a year ago…gotta treat yourself sometime or you’ll just crack!

  8. I have to say that the first one works, at least for me it did.

    A year ago I had 115kg (253 lbs) and I’m 185cm (close to 6ft1) and it was just pure fat. I had NO energy. At the time I was in school and since it’s a design school I used to be there everyday for at least 8-9h, and then I would come home and sit in front of computer to keep on working. Needles to say I was so stressed because of that situation, and then I would get even more stressed because I couldn’t make myself change it. Then I found something interesting – “carbs make you feel happy”. I used to drink cola and eat a bag of potato chips EVERYDAY at school as lunch. And then for desert- chocolate or ice-cream in summer.

    Then I realized that I was addicted to that eating habit. I realized that if I don’t stop it would probably only make me bigger and destroy my health completely (both physical and emotional).

    So I stopped taking: potato chips (and similar snacks), sodas, ice-cream, sugar and replaced them with fruits, almonds and veggies.
    For the past year I haven’t eaten any potato chips and similar snacks, ice-cream was replaced with frozen yogurt (only 2 times a week and really small portions and ONLY during really hot summer days) and I do drink my coffee with sugar but instead of 2 tee spoons I take less then a half of spoon (although I usually take it without sugar).

    I’m proud to say that now I don’t have ANY cravings for these things, and even if I do eat some of it (usually just to test my will xD) it’s kind of tasteless to me now. It’s “easy” to stop if you start looking at food as something you need, something that has to benefit your health, not just something that tastes good. So when you realize that potato chips and sodas are POISONS for your body and soul, it gets easier to stop taking them. But same as it is for alcoholics and drug users, you have to confront yourself and say this: I am killing myself with this s*it. I NEED TO STOP FOR MYSELF! From then it only gets easier.

    Now I have 82kg (180.4 lbs) and I feel great. My blood sugar is normal and I work out regularly (at home with some equipment, but mostly I do kettlebell workouts and jump-rope as main cardio).

    You just have to remember that you are doing this for yourself, not just to look good for others, that is completely irrelevant! You have to do it for your health, cause you only get one chance and you better enjoy it to the fullest (and junk food is not enjoyment, it’s addiction and unnecessary).