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  • Dina Cohen

Triggers, Triggers Everywhere

Does it sometimes feel like there are triggers everywhere you go? A comment made by a friend or family member, reading a magazine, shopping for food or clothing, attending a social event...pretty much anything can be a trigger when you're struggling or feeling sensitized.

If you are recovering from an eating disorder or even "just" trying to develop a healthier relationship with food, it probably feels like the world is not on your side. And it isn't, at least not yet. Our culture is still steeped in the idealization of impossibly thin bodies and so-called perfect eating. Therefore, if you are trying to accept your own real body and achieve a more balanced relationship with your eating, do not expect to find your efforts celebrated in the real world. If you are lucky, you may have a small circle of friends or family members who understand what you are aiming for and why, and/or you might have a professional or two encouraging you on this path. Hopefully, you have some good resources such as books, podcasts, or other forums where you have support from like-minded people. But in your day-to-day life, you are far less likely to see or hear encouraging statements than you are to encounter potential triggers.

So...what to do??

Because I don't want you to a) hide under your blanket all day or b) give up and chuck your recovery efforts in the bin, I have some tips for you!

1. Expect triggers. Recognize that major industries have motivations that are not in line with your health goals and that what you see and hear and read may not reflect what you know is right for you. Expect to encounter things that don't jive with what you are doing. Don't be surprised when you read something that directly counters what your dietitian said to you that morning. Be a step ahead and expect that you most likely won't find reinforcement for your decisions in the great wide world out there...and that's ok. You don't need the world's approval. It's ok if you are making different decisions.

2. Have realistic expectations of others. Acknowledge that you have chosen to do what is right for you and that others in your life may not understand or agree. Your family and friends live in the same big ol' diet soup we all live in, and it's likely that they are holding on to beliefs that do not support what you are doing. If you know people with similiar struggles to yours, you might expect that they would understand your efforts to change, but don't make that mistake! They may be a few steps behind you in your journey, or they may not have had the same opportunities for education or treatment as you've had, and they can say or do triggering things as well. Does this mean you need to avoid them? Hopefully not. You'll want to be smart in your interactions, though. Try and stick to neutral topics to avoid baiting people into saying things that will be triggering. Be selective about what you share and with whom. Of course, despite your best intentions, people are gonna say what they're gonna say, but expect it. They're just reflecting widespread beliefs. It doesn't change what you need to do.

3. Have a mantra (or two). You know you have good reasons for doing what you're doing what you're doing (choosing recovery, giving up dieting, etc.) but it can be easier to maintain your resolve when you can sum things up in a one-liner. Condensing your goals into little packages can help you face challenging situations more confidently. If you're about to meet friends for lunch or attend a wedding and you're sure to encounter food- or body-related comments, create (or borrow) a statement you can say to yourself to keep you grounded. You can also say it out loud if you dare! Here are some examples:

Restriction has never given me a happy ending.

Dieting doesn't work.

I'm choosing health.

My body is counting on me to look after it.

My meal plan will give me my freedom.

I don't have to look a certain way to live a happy life.

My body, my business.

And here's one I just came across that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue but really hits the nail on the head:

A healthy weight is not a designer choice but a biological imperative.

4. Maintain a healthy dose of support. There's no need to live in a bubble, but it is a good idea to feed your brain an ample supply of healthy influences. Recovery-focused books, podcasts, and best of all, real live supportive people can go a long way in reminding you that you're not crazy, you're just making smart, healthy choices while living in a very confused world.

Go out into the world with your eyes wide open. You don't have to invite triggers, but you don't have to be scared of them either. You know the truth and you know what is right for you. It's ok if not everyone else does. Be armed with the knowledge that you are doing what's right and you don't need the world's agreement to build a better life for yourself. A trigger is not a threat. Just keep moving. You're doing great!

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