The Surprising Power of Exposure
I believe avoiding so-called ”trigger foods” makes things so much worse. I believe the opposite in fact.
I believe that every single time you put yourself in front of the things that triggers you the most, that’s when you grow the most as well.
Avoiding every situation that has food that you might binge on is an outdated model. The goal is to change your behavior, right? But what you’re actually doing is avoiding the problem. How long is avoiding food that triggers you gonna last? What are you gonna do when you suddenly find yourself confronted with a decadent chocolate cake with the most perfect frosting and pretty little extra decorations. Yeah. Try avoiding that one.
Every diet guru keeps jabbing the same old story to ”stop buying junk food”, ”clean your pantry from all trigger foods” and my favourite one; ”carry healthy snacks in your bag in case of an emergency” (read: binge on carrots if you happen to pass by a candy store). Meh. It’s so ridiculous I don’t even know where to start. Really. If avoiding trigger foods has ever worked for you before, then please, by all means don’t let me hold you back. How about you change your relationship to food instead? How about you try doing the opposite instead? How about you expose yourself to every single food or situation that ever triggered you before?
It might work, you know.
The thing is that you’re not really up against what you think you are. You are just out of practice. That’s all. You’ve been avoiding food, life, yourself, for so long that you don’t know any longer what you’re capable of.
Let’s change that.
“There. Consider yourself warned. There are so many little triggers out there, being squeezed in the darkness even as I write this. This book is correctly labeled. Now, all we have to worry about is all the other books, and, of course, life, which is huge and complicated and will not warn you before it hurts you.”
― Neil Gaiman
I want you to take a deep breath and feel the discomfort this blog post is causing you (because we all know that chocolate cake got you all triggered). That’s ok. Good job. You’re already exposing yourself right this very moment by reading this. Good girl. Now, do you feel the discomfort passing? It leaves...I know. Cool, huh?
Ok, friend. Now I want you to picture a cupcake with the best frosting ever. Bring up the mental picture of that big cupcake and try to smell it. Now take a big bite out of it. Taste it and savor it. Scary? Good. Then you are on the right track. Now I want you to feel the tension in your body. Maybe you’ve started salivating. Maybe you hear the thought ”Must eat cupcake NOW.” Even better. This is where you lean into all this discomfort and welcome it. Without fear. With curiosity. Stare at it and then gently let it go. Let it pass. See how all the sensations, thoughts and feelings leave your consciousness. This is what mindfulness is all about. The art of paying attention to what goes on inside our minds and letting that shit go. Not letting it scare us.
What we ever were up against is not the food itself.
It’s our thoughts.
We’ve been scaring ourselves all this time and innocently thinking it’s been the food that is the problem. Whatever we think scares us out there in the world, it’s not. Ever. It’s never food that triggers us. Let me repeat that.
Food can’t trigger you.
Food doesn’t have power over you. Your own thoughts trigger you. Your own thoughts created the idea that a specific food has power over you. And you believed it. (I did too btw for 25 years, so I relate).
I want you to start seeing that you can expose your mind to what you think triggers you. Merely notice how it’s all in your mind and that by simply observing it, is enough. You wake up to it in the moment and see that there was nothing to be scared about.
It was just made up thinking.
Every time you notice you’re avoiding food, life, people and situations lean towards it instead. Expose yourself to it and refuse to let your own brain play mind games with you. If the thought of exposing yourself to ”trigger foods” scare you then go gently. Start with something small and innocent. Maybe a raisin? Bring it up in your head and play with it, smell it, taste it, savor it…then let it go. Kindly release it and let the thought pass.
Next time you’re standing in front of a bunch of leftover Halloween candy be curious. Maybe you’re gonna let them pass. Maybe they won’t ”trigger” you because you’ve played with the thought of trigger foods so many times that they don’t tempt you any longer. Food don’t affect you anymore. Because you’ve been exposed to it so many times.
You’re brain got used to trigger foods and stopped paying attention.
This is what exposure is all about. Walking into the realm of what scares us most and seeing that we never had anything to fear. Seeing that it was all an illusion.
A cool little insight that profoundly changes everything.