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8 Coping Tips for When You See Eating Disorder Triggers

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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.

Growing up, I didn’t know what an eating disorder was because we never talked about it in our household. Or at school. Or in any media. All I knew is that girls wanted to be skinny and if you were hungry, you were supposed to “eat a handful of almonds.” When I had inevitably developed an eating disorder but then had been fortunate enough to find the help to overcome it, I was always surprised by how quickly seemingly mundane things would trigger my disordered thoughts.

I was always told that “the real world doesn’t come with trigger warnings” but that’s not true. We have “peanut allergy” labels for snacks and “high voltage” stickers on electricity panels. We have speed limits on streets and pools that let you know there are no lifeguards on duty.

When we know there are risks, we adjust and prepare appropriately. The same thing goes for eating disorders.

What is a trigger? A trigger is some sort of stimulus that causes an uncomfortable and upsetting emotion — a negative reaction that leads you to react compulsively and destructively.

Here are eight tips and tricks that have helped me and my triggers:

1. Learn what your triggers are.

You can’t adjust your behavior or prepare yourself mentally when you don’t know what you’re preparing for. The first step is learning what triggers you: is it grandparents telling you to eat more? Or an aunt who compliments you when you’ve lost weight? Maybe it’s friends who are always talking about the latest health trend or the people you follow on social media.

After you figure out what your triggers are, we can focus on what is within your control and focus on what you can control.

2. Do a social media cleanse.

This is the perfect example of “out of sight, out of mind.” We all know the differences between Instagram and reality, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t subconsciously compare ourselves to the images that we see on our screens.

On top of the fact that there is a lot of conflicting information out there, we have to remember that not everything we see online is true. It’s important to take all internet advice with a grain of salt and to fact-check when necessary.

Unfollow accounts and people who are triggering for you. And that might include friends and family. Sure, they may be upset, but you have to set that boundary for yourself and they should respect you for it too. Perhaps it’s too-heavily edited images or that they are constantly sharing their latest diet. You have to do what is best for you.

3. Use the buddy system.

Just because there are triggers out there doesn’t mean that you should avoid going out at all costs! And it’s always easier to do something when you know you’ve got somebody in your corner. So if it’s a family event or a friend’s birthday party, have someone with you whom you can confide in when you feel triggered or know you are starting to spiral.

Having someone who will let you know that you’re doing well, to remind you to breathe, or to even be your excuse to leave an event can be a great thing to have.

4. Remember to breathe.

When we’re upset and we start to panic, it’s easy to forget to breathe. Remember: you know more than you think you do. You are stronger than you think you are. When we start to panic, we can tend to hyperfixate on the thing that seems to drive us mad, and the more that we hold our breaths and hold onto the triggers rather than focusing on letting it go. Remember all that you’ve learned in your journey so far. Take a moment to acknowledge the triggers and the eating disorder. Acknowledge how you feel. And then take a breath and focus on letting it go.

You got this.

5. Be conscious of how you spend your energy.

We all only have so much energy to expend on any given day and we are better off focusing that energy on alternate behaviors that are less destructive and more along the path of recovery. Interrupt the bridge between the trigger and the eating disorder behavior. When you’ve faced with an urge to restrict, binge or purge, take a breath. Don’t give in immediately. Sometimes delaying engaging with the disordered behavior is enough to deter it completely.

6. Try mindfulness.

Take some deep breaths. Start at 100 and subtract 7, going backward. (It’s hard enough that it forces you to concentrate on the task, but not so hard that you get frustrated and want to quit. But, I get it. Mental math isn’t calming for everyone!)

7. Journal how you feel.

Either in a physical journal or on a notes app on your phone, or even just a voice memo to note how you feel.

8. Make a list.

five things you’re grateful for; a list of your favorite cookies; all of your elementary school teachers; zoo animals for every letter of the alphabet… but backward; the Marvel movies in timeline order. Whatever works!

Eating disorder triggers are everywhere, but don’t let that scare you. You are stronger than you think and you have more tools in your toolbox than you may realize. You’ve been putting in the work and you’ve fought through all your hardest days — you can do it again.

Remember that you can always ask for help. Remember that the triggers do not own you. Remember that you are strong and that you got this.

I believe in you.

Photo by Ri on Unsplash

Originally published: May 28, 2021
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