Trigger Desensitization: Why Fear Your Favorite Foods?
In “Eating the Moment” I distinguish two broad approaches for dealing with environmentally-triggered eating: trigger control and craving control. There’s a big difference between these two approaches and quite a bit of nuance within each of these approaches.
Trigger control helps you avoid triggers that provoke your cravings as well as to reduce their trigger power through a process of desensitization. Craving control helps you manage the cravings once they arise.
These two approaches are complimentary: to get across the temptation land-mines without blowing up (your waist-line), you must learn to avoid the avoidable triggers and to control the inevitable cravings.
These two approaches consist of at least six separate strategies – 2 trigger control strategies (of trigger avoidance and trigger desensitization), and 4 craving control strategies (of distraction, self-talk, relaxation, and mindfulness – which, by the way, aren’t created equal).
Trigger Avoidance vs. Trigger Desensitization
Trigger avoidance is simply staying away from the infamous addiction trigger trio of “people, places, and things.” This approach can be restated as “out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth” or, if you are an olfactory craver, “out of nose, out of mind, out of mouth.” As difficult as it is to create a “drug-free” environment, a “food-free” environment simply don’t exist. Let’s face it: food is the legalized drug, and, as such, it is omnipresent. Despite its limited utility, trigger avoidance is not without some value, and the exercises below will allow you to tap this strategy for maximum value.
Trigger desensitization is a process of getting so used to a given trigger that it no longer has the power to trigger a craving. Repeated exposure to a particular trigger eventually voids it of its stimulus value. Eventually we stop noticing and reacting to the trigger. That’s how we learn to tune out the midnight train whistles if we live next to a railroad track. An example of trigger desensitization would be to carry a bar of chocolate on you at all times. With this constant access to the object of your desire, you eventually learn to eat chocolate on your timing, when you choose to, rather than at random, when you encounter it in the environment.
Food “Shrine” – a Trigger Desensitization Exercise
Flooding is an overwhelming degree of exposure that expedites desensitization. To accomplish a flooding level of exposure, build a food shrine. While I use the term “shrine” in a non-religious, metaphorical sense, I do encourage you to ponder our worship-like obsession with certain foods. First, let your significant others know about this kooky exercise, and get their informed consent. Then, prepare the “shrine” materials (pictures, articles, recipes of your favorite food, write a poem about it). Then, build a shrine. If possible, place a sample of the actual food in the focal point of the shrine (take precautions to prevent infestation). Then, spend some time “worshiping” the food on a daily basis. Allow the cravings to emerge. Let the exposure flood you.
If necessary, use your craving control strategy of choice. If after a week the experience continues to be meaningful, update the shrine (with a new sample of food). Contemplate the insights. You may repeat this exercise with a different trigger food if you’d like.
Chances are that the idea of a food “shrine” scares the bejeebers out of you! My guess is that you don’t trust your craving control skills. In which case, I encourage you to postpone this exercise for a month or so and refocus on craving control training. With some craving control successes under your belt, revisit this exercise to stop fearing your favorite foods.
Somov, P. (2011). Trigger Desensitization: Why Fear Your Favorite Foods?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2010/01/trigger-desensitization-stop-fearing-your-favorite-foods/