If you've ever taken a beginning psych course, you've learned about Pavlov's dogs. Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physicist who rang a bell whevever he fed the dogs in his laboratory. Before long, the dogs had so strongly associated the bell-ringing with the upcoming lunch that they salivated whenever they heard the bell. In other words, the sound of the bell by itself triggered them to expect and to want food.
Humans have triggers, too, situations or feelings that we have come to associate with food. For instance, sitting down in front of the television set is triggering for me, because in my pre-surgery days that was my favorite place to binge eat.
Being stressed out about something is also a major food trigger, since I used to cope with stress by stuffing sweets in my mouth.
So, what do you do once you identify a trigger. You have two choices. The first is to avoid the trigger, but this method is not always practical. After all, how can I guarantee that I will never sit in front of the TV again or feel stressed out again? I can't. My particular triggers are not avoidable.
The other tactic is to loosen the association between the trigger and food. Going back to Pavlov's dogs, if Pavlov had started ringing the bell at random times without providing any food afterwards, the dogs' hunger response to the bell would soon have gone away. In clinical terms, it would have been "extinguished."
Similarly, every time I curl up in my favorite chair in front of the television set and don't eat, I'm re-educating my body and my mind to not expect food in that environment. And every time I sit with and acknowledge a stressful moment without turning to food to fix it, I am sending a message to my system that I can cope without bingeing.
Take a few minutes to think of situations or feelings that trigger your food cravings. Can you avoid them? If not, what can you do to weaken the associations between your triggers and food?
The Good: With the encouragement of my counselor, I've started losing weight again, and I'm down three pounds. My close are loose, and I can move so much more easily than I could before.
The Frustrating: I've been having a lot of heartburn and some trouble swallowing solid food. My doctor thinks there might be some scar tissue or another small, fixable problem causing it. She's scheduled an endoscopy for me on Wednesday to "dilate my esophagus." I'm not looking forward to it, but, as one of my friends who is a nurse reminds me, I will get some pretty good sedation drugs.