Trigger Foods

What is a trigger food?

According to Weight Watchers,  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.

To help manage trigger foods, it is important to identify the food and avoid it altogether, at least for a certain period of time, and then reassess periodically.

Trigger Feeling

A trigger feeling is an emotion, good or bad, that sets off a period of overeating. Unlike food triggers, which initiate overeating of a specific food, after an emotional trigger any available food will do. For more information on this topic, read the Science Center library article, Emotional Eating.

To manage trigger feelings, it is important to first identify the specific emotion that initiates the overeating and then develop positive strategies to cope with that emotion without using food.

Trigger Environment

A trigger environment is a specific situation or place that sets off a period of overeating. Common examples include walking into a movie theater, going to a buffet restaurant, attending a sporting event or visiting a relative.

To manage trigger environments, it is important to identify the specific location, people or events that set off the overeating. As with trigger foods, avoidance is an effective strategy for many people. For example, if the movie theater is a trigger, then going to a play or museum may be a better option. If visiting relatives in their home sets off an eating frenzy, ask to meet in a restaurant or elsewhere. When avoidance is not an option, it is important to develop tactics that minimize the likelihood of overeating.

Inevitably, eating triggers happen. When this occurs, it is important to recognize them for what they are and think about how you could avoid it from occurring in the future.

So, what do you think?

  • Do you have a specific trigger food?
  • Do you have any trigger enviroments?
  • Do you think there is a difference between trigger foods and emotional eating?

I believe there is a difference between a trigger food causing you to over eat and emotional eating and/or binging.

Personally, the only time I ever “binge” ate was when I dieted.  I was restricting too much calorie-wise and it would cause me to binge. Big time.  It felt more physiological than psychological to me.  Once I stopped dieting and fighting my body, I didn’t binge. Imagine that 😉

I do once in a while eat for emotional reasons, but I never binge.  I may  make a snack because I am bored and not hungry.  So I do recognize that.  And there are times I over eat simply because I enjoy food so much. But again, I recognize it and I am OK with doing that occasionally. I’m human!

My Trigger Foods

Now, I DO have trigger foods that I will just keep eating and eating and eating. It’s not emotional eating for me.  It’s simply the food that makes me want to keep eating it.

Ice cream, trail mix, and chips and dip are a few of my trigger foods.  I do not keep large quantities of them in my house because I will eat too much of it. However, I do not avoid these foods either and actually eat them quite often!

Trail Mix


Chips and Salsa


Ice Cream


If I get a serious craving for any of these foods, I will just go out and buy it.  But I will not buy a whole gallon of ice cream because I know I am likely to plow through it in just a couple of days! My favorite ice cream are Dairy Queen Blizzards and I usually get one every couple of weeks.  But if there were ever an option to have a blizzard machine in my house, forget it! I’d turn into an oreo blizzard in no time! 🙂

My Trigger Food Environments

Some trigger food environments for me are buffets, family get togethers, or parties and weddings.  I typically will make a mental plan for these occasions, such as how much I plan to eat and when I will stop.



There have been numerous times in the past where I have literally planted myself right next to the appetizer table and just kept eating and eating and eating.  So a mental plan I might make would be as simple as not standing next to the food table all night! Instead, I would plan to get just a couple of plates of food and then be done with it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on trigger foods. Do you have any?  If so, what strategies do you use to help you around those foods or situations?


14 responses to “Trigger Foods

  1. Ice cream can be a trigger food for me if I’m not careful. Especially when I’m eating by myself at home… that seems to be what does it. :S There are a few others, but I’m glad that I’m aware of them so I’m not AS likely to binge.

  2. OMG, i have so many trigger foods. Cereal is my biggest one though. I can’t have it in my house because I end up eating the whole box! Literally.

  3. I have a ton of trigger foods. It seems like I have very little control over anything baked and amazing. Cookies, brownies, will power!

  4. I completely agree that there is a difference between triggers and them leading you to overeat and a binge. I know I still overeat at times or eat when I’m not genuinely hungry, but I am okay with it because I can recognize it like you said. Also, binging to me is losing total control and trying to mask other problems and not being able to stop or gain control of yourself even after the situation or trigger has passed. When I was binging any day it could have happened…no matter what emotions, situations, or foods I encountered that day.

    I love how you distinguish the different types of triggers. I think desserts can be a trigger food where I will eat more than I really need, but I don’t always overeat. I would say I am most likely to eat past fullness in social situations where there are a lot of delicious options. I have a hard time not trying everything!

  5. oh man, i overeat easy at parties. definite trigger situation for me. I always remind myself to be social more than eat haha!

    Cereal used to be a trigger for me, but not anymore. I think once I finally allowed things in my head, a lot of what were triggers went away.

  6. Ice cream, nut butters, chocolates, and nut mixes to name just a few. They are all so delicious and so easy to mindlessly overindulge in. Like you I don’t avoid them since I know that if/when I make them taboo it only increases my propensity to over-indulge when I’m finally around them. Instead I get fro-yo every so often by the cup, I make my nut butters or opt to buy smaller jars, get chocolates when I want them, and buy my nut mixes from bulk bins so that I get to choose how much I want.

    Great post and great topic Linds!

  7. My trigger foods are: CEREAL- that is my ultimate downfall- especially Honey Bunches of Oats, Apple Jacks, or Fruit Loops (quite a combination-lol!) I just dont’ buy those cereals- otherwise I will just eat the whole box in like 4 days, if that. I choose better alternative brands- like Kashi Go Lean. Also, ice cream, but instead of ice cream, I buy frozen yogurt if I need to get something to satisfy that craving.

  8. GREAT post! I’m with you- my #1 trigger food is trail mix. It’s so tasty and easy to mindlessly munch. I try not to avoid my trigger foods (that sounds funny; most people say the opposite) and instead measure out a portion and then remove myself from the scene!

  9. I am like you, I NEVER binge, EVER. Which is particularly awesome since I struggled for about 7 years with a binge eating disorder! Once I fully stopped restricting, they stopped too.

    I guess I can overeat tortilla chips at a mexican restaurant (same as you) and I also overeat when I’m at a social setting with snacky foods instead of a meal (like a cocktail party with mini desserts or something).

  10. Isn’t it amazing that you really CAN stop the binge eating when you stop restricting?

    Before I dieted, I didn’t understand how someone could eat so much during a binge..and then it happened to me! It was scary, I kept doing it every night.

    Then I finally stopped restricting my intake and realized I am OK at the weight my body is at…a light bulb clicked! I am binge free!

  11. i think everyone probably has some kind of “trigger food” of mine is probably trail mix or any kind of chex mix.. i think i can eat a whole big bag of either if i let myself! recently, i haven’t really overate or binged on anything but i remember a few years ago i would eat til the point that my stomach hurt. not good! reminding myself i can always go back and eat more helps not overeat..also knowing how bad/sick i’ll feel after stops me too.

  12. Dessert things, like chocolate cake etc. If I have a really good dessert I find it hard to stop eating it (or to just eat my own and not finish other peoples too!) It’s not because I’m deprived it’s just that stuff tastes so darn good I guess. But I mean, I sometimes eat way too much, like probably a weird amount.

    Also, nuts. I don’t know what it is but if I mindlessly eat them I can intake a huge quantity. I try instead to pay attention when eating nuts now and only eat a reasonable amount. I find this a lot easier when I’m eating enough overall.

    Trigger situations? Buffets. Really, breakfast/brunch buffets. Unlimited access to bacon, eggs, fruit, and all kinds of pancakes/breads etc. is just not good for me. I actually avoid these now as it’s hard for me to control myself and I tend to feel ill afterwards.

  13. I agree with the buffets and family dinners. I see allll this food and I want a little bit of everything which is what I get. But by the time you get a scoop of 20 things, I actually have a REALLY big plate. Sigh…On my vacation in Mexico though, I ate HUGE quantities of fruit and seafood and because it was soooo tasty, fresh and sweet, I had no desire to eat the steaks and potatoes, pizza or fries. I don’t usually go to buffets anyways because the quality of food is not as good. When I go to restaurants, I still try to make good choices.

    Trail mix is a huge trigger for me. All nuts in general. I loooove the brunch, and the nutty/buttery taste of it all. Peanut and almond butter is the worst!! I just really try to keep these out of the house. I don’t miss it when it’s not around but if there’s, I feel like I have to eat it all right now because it’s so good! I’m getting much better though, I’m learning balance and self control. I need to realize that it will still be there later and I can have some LATER if I want to.

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