Posts tagged ‘parenting’

August 18, 2010

People, places, things :: Identifying triggers

by Ashley Solomon

I can already tell you that my mother is going to be none too happy about this post. But the inevitable phone call I will receive tonight will be the price I pay to address a topic I think is extremely important: triggers, specifically ones that are difficult to recognize and confront. And hopefully she’ll forgive me by the time she gets to the end!

My brothers, Justin, and I - Photo by Gabi + Jeremy Photography

I say that Mama Neu, as my friends and I lovingly refer to her, will not be happy with this post because she herself is one of my biggest triggers for unhealthy eating. Well, her and the rest of my immediate family (but mom’s get blamed for everything, so why stop now? 🙂 ). Growing up in Cincinnati, my family didn’t exactly have an active or healthy lifestyle. In fairness, my mom was for a brief time a single parent, and then quickly a married mother of three, working full-time with a husband who often worked late or out-of-town. In addition, my mom is not the most open-minded of eaters herself. This meant that my brothers and I tended to eat fairly simple meals that lacked a bit in nutritional value (okay, yes, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese does have calcium…). We always had “junk food” (a term I really don’t like to use, but for the sake of simplicity will use it in this post) around the house. Breakfast was not a priority, and if eaten was often a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru or an Entenmanns donut (I still crave those chocolate pieces of heaven…). Vegetables were optional and not particularly varied (green beans, again!?).

I want to emphasize here that this post is not intended to demonize my parents for how they nourished their children. I’m quite sure that many, many parents out there have struggled with feeding their children in a balanced way, particularly twenty years ago when there was a much more limited focus on these issues and less information available.

But, this was where I learned, at least initially, about nourishing my body. The home is the primary source of learning for children about the meaning of food. I’m not addressing the science of developing “taste” for foods here, but rather the cultural and psychological significance of food. The things that I learned as a child were that food should be simple, taste is the most important factor, and that food is an integral part of connection. These are not all bad lessons, but taken to the extreme, as I do with most things, they can lead to some pretty unhealthy habits.

While I have branched out from my family’s more limited palate and have begun to value how foods make me feel physically and mentally (in addition to how they taste), I still struggle with the third “lesson” I learned, the one about food equaling connection. My family, like many others, bonded over food. Meal time was family time and every celebration or event was marked with some edible decadence. This is not inherently a problem. In fact, I think the cultural significance of sharing meals is incredibly beautiful. However, going back to the issue of extremes, problems arise when connection relies solely on food.

I began early on to equate food with love. And when I didn’t feel this love externally and internally (for reasons only my old therapists know!), I fed myself (a lot) to try to achieve the feeling of love and connection. As you of course already know, this does. not. work. I was left feeling very full and very alone.

Fast forward to today and I am a fairly healthy eater, have wide culinary interests, and have learned to receive love and give love to myself. But then I make a visit home…

As soon as I walk into the house, the urge to eat comes rushing back to me. No matter if I’ve just stopped at Skyline Chili and had a three-way or I’ve finished a big breakfast, I walk into my parent’s home and I want JUNK FOOD!!!! Seriously, you’d think I was one of Pavlov’s dogs the way my mouth salivates when I enter that old kitchen. I start dreaming of donuts and ice cream and potato chips (and I don’t even really like potato chips!). I feel like my ability to reign in this insatiable hunger has been left safely back in my apartment. So, my Cincinnati home is a trigger. I now know this.

What’s perhaps scarier is that this same thing happens when I’m around my parents, even in a different location, like, say, when they come to visit me in Philadelphia. Granted, some of this related to the fact that it’s like a mini-vacation when they are visiting us – all about doing fun things, eating at new restaurants, and relaxing. But for me it’s more than that. It’s an urge to not just eat, but to overeat and completely indulge. I have more difficulty gauging my body’s cues and feel more compelled to eat emotionally. So I now know that, unfortunately, my family is also a trigger.

My parents, Justin, and I in Atlantic City over the 4th

So… how do we deal with triggers? Well, that’s for another post due to the extensiveness of the topic. The first step, however, is figuring out what your triggers are. In AA and other recovery programs, a lot of emphasis is put on identifying PEOPLE, PLACES, and THINGS that trigger you to use alcohol or other substances. (For most of us, PEOPLE are the hardest to identify and change). This is a great principle for whatever your issue may be – emotional eating, compulsive gambling, intense anxiety – and requires some deep investigative work. It’s not easy work – I’ll give you that. But it’s important work in the journey to leading a new and different and healthier life.

So, have you figured out what your own triggers are? How you determined what have triggers you? How do you cope with triggers you can’t avoid or are hard to admit?


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