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7 Things That Can Trigger My Eating Disorder Thoughts


Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

The things you say and do can trigger me. No matter how recovered I may look — or feel — there are circumstances that instantly make the eating disorder voice natter in my ear. Incessantly. How I react to that voice is dependent on my psychological and emotional well-being — as well as the length and depth of my recovery. But regardless — I feel triggered to regress in certain situations and it’s an exhausting fight to stay on the recovery road.

For me, “triggered” means feeling a compulsion to succumb to the disorder. As a bulimic, that means compensatory eating behaviors. Bingeing, purging or restricting. Finding any means possible to compensate for eating. Feeling triggered means a huge risk of relapsing.

Here are some things that can trigger me:

1. Numbers

Any number related to diet or body size can be highly problematic. When you share your weight, dress size or how many pounds you’ve lost or “need” to lose, it’s extremely distressing. My immediate reaction is a desire to stop eating. Completely. It doesn’t matter why the numbers are shared, or how high/low, healthy/unhealthy they may be, my eating disorder will compel me to drop weight.

2. Labels

Knowing the calorie content of food is triggering. It’s an immediate and obvious way to compare (judge) foods and the eating disorder raises its very ugly head and decides all food is off limits because of the calorie content.

3. “Before and After” Photos

Before and after photographs. Thinspiration. Photos of me. They all bring about a rapid spiral into misery. In this digital age where we take hundreds of photos then scroll through looking for the best shot, I judge every aspect of my being. Unflattering angle. Messy hair. Bags under my eyes. Enormous butt/boobs/belly. Photos are concrete evidence of my perceived failure to live up to an impossible standard.

4. Food

We have to eat. There’s no getting out of it. But the sight of food can be triggering and the more there is the harder it is for me to deal with. Buffets are a nightmare. The desire to eat it all or nothing is overwhelming. Making food choices is exhausting. The chatter in my head is confusing — eat this, don’t eat that. Be good. Be bad. The more choices there are, the harder the decision. And social eating can become an unhealthy competition. I see everyone eating and wonder whether I should eat differently — different foods, portion sizes, slower, faster. I don’t trust the choices I make.

5. Conversation

Talking about your diet, compensatory behavior (I’ll exercise tomorrow to burn off this dinner!) or body (for better or worse) is triggering. My eating disorder says my body isn’t good enough — it never has been. My food intake is a war zone. Part of my recovery is learning to think about other things so if conversation turns to diet and body image, another bit of my carefully constructed armor is chipped away. Worse still is conversation about my diet or body. Compliments are triggering. Criticism is triggering. Saying I look “healthier than before” or “it’s good” to see me eating well is triggering. It’s all triggering.

6. Insecurities

Anything that causes worry, distress, shame or embarrassment, becomes a trigger. My tolerance for stress is pitifully low — something I continue to work on. But the eating disorder has long been my preferred coping mechanism and old habits die hard. The higher the level of stress, the stronger the pull because it numbs emotional pain and stops the silent catastrophizing.

7. Myself

The biggest trigger of all is me. Seeing myself — in pictures, in person, in a reflection. Past or present. Putting clothes on — or taking them off. Misunderstanding someone’s comment. Or understanding them perfectly well… Eating. Not eating. Exercising. Not exercising. Discussing my eating disorder. Not discussing my eating disorder. Sharing my problems. Not sharing my problems. It is incredibly easy to revert to a level of emotional comfort that results in physical discomfort and psychological pain.

These are situations unique to me, but resonate with anyone who has experienced an eating disorder. In my opinion, unless you are a professional support person, it’s never appropriate to comment on anyone’s body, appearance, food intake or exercise habits. And if you’re talking about your own diet and body, consider who’s listening, how it might affect them and why you need to talk about it at all. The people I know with the healthiest outlook on food and body image never feel a need to discuss it.

Getty Images photo via Victor_Tongdee