‘Birthday cake doesn’t have any calories!’ We’ve all heard some version of this joke at a birthday celebration at some point. The implication behind the joke is that a birthday is a time for celebration and you shouldn’t deprive yourself of things you enjoy – i.e. birthday cake.
Of course, your birthday is a time for celebration and you should do what you enjoy, but there is something else at play here as well. Something more subtle. You see, when we go to a birthday, we associate that experience with certain types of food (mainly cake), we expect that food to be there, and we begin to crave it. It’s called an environmental trigger for food cravings. And knowing how to recognize these triggers could make all the difference when trying to stick to a healthy diet.
Environmental triggers can include things like watching TV and being triggered into a food craving through commercials, having the habit of finishing a meal with something sweet, or associating events (like Christmas or Birthdays) with certain foods. It’s everyday things in your environment that make you reach for the chips or the biscuits. Because they are everyday things, and because the cravings come up before you even have a chance to realize it, they can be hard to recognize. Hard, but not impossible.
Emotional triggers (like feeling bored, depressed, anxious, tense, or sad) and physiological triggers (like social events or being around others who are eating) can both promote a sense of feeling hungry or an urge to eat something in particular, despite not being physically in need of food. Emotions are tricky, and we don’t always understand what brings them on, but it’s understandable that when we feel emotional the instinct is to reach for something that makes us feel good – some ice cream perhaps, or a pizza. This seems to be especially strong in what scientists call “restrained eaters”, meaning people who limit the amount or types of foods they eat.
Mind Over Pizza
Knowing when you’re most likely going to be tempted, recognizing temptation and having methods available to resist temptation may prove to be essential for people who struggle most with healthy eating.
Dietary restrictions can be difficult to follow for some, and various strategies can be applied to make it easier to follow healthy food choices. Mindful eating is all about being aware of what you’re putting into your body and how (you can read more about mindful eating here). Being aware of your triggers can help you to be more mindful of your eating habits and stop those cravings. A few ways to put this into practice are:
- Smaller portion sizes or plate sizes – there is something to the idea of ‘out of sight, out of mind’
- Setting clear and measureable goals – don’t drastically change everything all at once. It will result in a shock to your system and even more cravings. Make meaningful, thought out changes, slowly and deliberately.
- Making restricted foods less readily available – just don’t buy the chips and the ice cream. If it’s not there when the craving strikes, you have more time to put your mindfulness approach into practice and avoid the instant gratification of food that is not good for you.
- Being aware of the impact from advertisements – ads are everywhere and we are so used to them, but food companies spend millions on advertising for a reason. It works. It makes you want to eat. Practice your mindfulness and be aware of how a food ad makes you feel when it comes on.
The most successful approaches are ones that are personally meaningful and effective based on one’s physical condition and personality traits. With ph360 you can learn exactly the best diet for you. With a little practice you can learn what your environmental and emotional triggers are and you can take control of your cravings
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Lattimore P, Caswell N. Differential effects of active and passive stress on food intake in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Appetite. 2004;42(2):167-173.
Tanofsky-Kraff, Marian, et al. “Psychometric properties of a new questionnaire to assess eating in the absence of hunger in children and adolescents.” Appetite 51.1 (2008): 148-155.
Polivy, J., and C. P. Herman. “Eating in response to external cues. “Managing and Preventing Obesity: Behavioural Factors and Dietary Interventions (2014): 181.
Papies, Esther, Wolfgang Stroebe, and Henk Aarts. “Pleasure in the mind: Restrained eating and spontaneous hedonic thoughts about food.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43.5 (2007): 810-817.
Ouwehand, Carolijn, and Esther K. Papies. “Eat it or beat it. The differential effects of food temptations on overweight and normal-weight restrained eaters.” Appetite 55.1 (2010): 56-60.
Scott, Maura L., et al. “The effects of reduced food size and package size on the consumption behavior of restrained and unrestrained eaters.” Journal of Consumer Research 35.3 (2008): 391-405.
Papies, Esther K., and Petra Hamstra. “Goal priming and eating behavior: enhancing self-regulation by environmental cues.” Health Psychology 29.4 (2010): 384.
Blechert, Jens, et al. “To eat or not to eat? Availability of food modulates the electrocortical response to food pictures in restrained eaters.” Appetite 54.2 (2010): 262-268.
Harris, Jennifer L., John A. Bargh, and Kelly D. Brownell. “Priming effects of television food advertising on eating behavior.” Health psychology 28.4 (2009): 404.
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