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preventative health, weight loss

8 tips for managing trigger foods

Friday night with my boys is pizza night. We celebrate getting back together, giggle about our weekend plans, and engage in all sorts of general mayhem. But when I started on my weight loss journey a year ago, pizza night was also a harbinger of panic. How could I get through the evening without, well, stuffing myself? You see, I am a pizza slut and as a result can find myself 6 slices in and covered with grease in no time. It’s not a pretty sight.

Initially, I gave up pizza altogether. I didn’t feel I could trust myself in the early stages with my biggest trigger food. I had a problem (sort of an understatement) with binge eating and I knew that I needed to learn better eating habits before pizza could become a controlled part of my life. My goal was to chalk up as many days as I could without binging to A) help undo an eating style that had essentially become habit (inhaling food) and B) give me confidence that I could eat single portions (i.e. have a controlled, healthy eating pattern). I am a huge believer in the concept of I did it once, I can do it again.

Eventually, I knew I would have to face my nemesis. It would be impractical to live my life pizza-free considering I am the mother of two pizza-loving 8 year old boys. So, I developed a plan for reintroducing the pie of desire once I had lost 20 lbs and had some confidence. I’m now 50 lbs down and have successfully navigated pizza night every other week for six months, so for me this strategy worked.

My plan:

1) Accepting the concept of a trigger food, meaning something that is incredibly hard to stop at what a dietician would call a single serving. If you are having trouble losing weight I challenge you to find out the portion size for every single thing you eat. We all round up. More with some foods. You know when two slices of pizza don’t quite get cut in half, yeah well, for me that is was one slice.

2) Modify the food to make it the healthiest it can be without sacrificing taste. With pizza that meant ordering skinny crust and only eating cheese or veggie toppings. Thick crusts/deep dish and meats (not typically from the highest quality charcuterie) add a lot of extra calories. If potato chips are your thing, have the chips where the only ingredients are potatoes, oil, and salt (i.e. all natural, chemical-free). If it’s cake or cookies, nothing from a mix as they often have trans-fats, go with made from scratch. If ice cream is your mistress, choose organic and natural flavors. The point is, there is almost always a better for you option. That doesn’t have to be lower calorie. Many chemicals affect the satiety center in the brain, which is the part that tells us when we are full. This is not a part of your brain where you want mixed messages!

3) Plan your portion size in advance. For me and pizza that is 3 slices of a large Round Table skinny crust mushroom. The slices are 160 calories each, so 480 calories is a pretty good meal and still leaves me calories for wine!

4) Put the portion in a bowl or on a plate and sit down to eat it. There is no way anyone is paying any attention to portion size if you are eating from a box, bag, or carton. I’m just saying.

5) Once you have eaten your portion, eat something healthy. This is my way of stopping the descent into mindless eating. I eat an apple (an orange also works, but for me a banana is no good because I can inhale one of those babies in under a minute). Sometimes I try and make a salad, but honestly smelling the pizza in the car all the way home leaves me with a pretty one track mind when I walk in the door. The other advantage of an apple is that it is fairly easy to carry around in a purse/backpack/diaper bag or keep at work should you be faced with your trigger food when you aren’t on your home turf. I have even done this in restaurants. Sure, I get a few looks, but I want to be healthy more than I give a flying fuck about what anyone thinks about me.

6) Once you have eaten your apple, journal the meal. Immediately. Besides keeping you on track for your day’s allotment, it is another physical break from the trigger food. Going to your journal is even more important if you think you have exceeded your calorie allotment. In my head I would think, “Shit, I’ve eaten 1,000 extra calories, what’s four measly cookies?” But now that I write everything down, I realize it is never as bad as I thought, which helps gives me the boost to get back on track.

7) Put away any leftovers. ASAP. Pizza slices in the frige, ice cream carton back in the freezer, and chips sealed and in the pantry. Pizza slices have been known to just fall into my mouth.

8) If you go over your calories for the day just let it go. Perseverating will only throw you off. If you over indulge on one meal, you must pick yourself up and carry on. Read a book, go for a walk, or jump on Twitter to take your mind off of things.

I did all those things last Friday night except, in refereeing the intense negotiations over the movie choice, I forgot about the leftovers. As I was cleaning up, somehow a left over slice of cheese pizza on Oliver’s plate somehow found its way into my mouth. Crap. I whipped out my iPhone, added the extra 160 calories and accepted I was now 230 calories over for the day. Two years ago I would have promptly polished off a box of Girl Scout Samoas, drowning my shame in that delectable concotion of coconut, chocolate, and trans fats. Instead, I celebrated that I stopped at 4 slices with a cup of chocolate tea.

If I can do it, you can do it.

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Discussion

14 thoughts on “8 tips for managing trigger foods

  1. Awesome post — I love the apple idea!! Thanks.

    Posted by coachcrystalspadawan | March 12, 2012, 11:05 am
  2. This is so inspiring! I am trying to lose some weight myself, and these tips seem really helpful. I hope to get rid of my somewhat bad habit of munching down a cookie now and then…

    Posted by RL | March 12, 2012, 11:25 am
  3. Which calorie / nutrient intake tracker do you use? I use CRON-O-Meter (desktop version), but would like to be able to track some other nutrients (iodine for instance), too.

    Posted by Enola Knezevic | March 12, 2012, 12:08 pm
  4. Seconded. We already try to do some of these things in our household, and always appreciate reasonable new suggestions. Thanks!

    PS– I really like the point of view that you bring to your posts, as well as the variety of topics. I’m new here, but have added you to my (more or less) daily blog rounds.

    Posted by madder | March 12, 2012, 12:09 pm
  5. One of the best ways to avoid eating large portions of unhealthy trigger foods is to start with something healthy. Our body naturally wants to eat more of the thing that we start with, so if you start with a large portion of something healthy you’ll be less inclined to trigger eat. So next time you have a big pizza, have a delicious salad with it, and make sure to eat some of the salad before you start in on the pizza!

    Posted by Jesse | March 12, 2012, 12:46 pm
  6. My husband and I have started making our own pizzas and we haven’t looked back. The thought of all that lard from bought pizzas in my mouth makes me feel ill – never again! Just buy the base (single serve etc) and low fat toppings, put in oven 20mins and viola! You can also make pizzas in advance then freeze them and low fat healthy pizzas are ready to put in the oven for that Friday meal!

    Posted by Catherine Voutier | March 12, 2012, 5:24 pm
  7. Thanks for the great tips!
    I also have found that if you are at home, brushing your teeth ASAP after a meal/snack helps you stay in track and avoid overindulging with leftovers.
    Love your blog!

    Posted by Angela | March 12, 2012, 5:50 pm
  8. So, why the organic ice cream? Isn’t the lighter kind, made with lower fat or skim milk better, regardless of organic status?

    Posted by Amy (T) | March 12, 2012, 6:24 pm
  9. i love that you used perseverating. good tips. i should think about trigger foods; i never really have though i’m sure i have them.

    Posted by magpiemusing | March 13, 2012, 7:19 am
  10. To be honest I have the opposite problem being a former anorexic but I have learned to eat 80% of what I put on my plate and then fill the rest of me up with a cup of herbal tea.

    I think many people have issues with food (eating too much or too little) and having the courage to confront the issue is what really matters. It’s great that you have found strategies that work for you.

    Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Oubli | March 13, 2012, 2:08 pm
  11. I love round table pizza! Can’t get it since I moved away from California.

    Posted by Mir | March 31, 2012, 11:21 am

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