How I Coped With a Surprise Eating Disorder Trigger

Last weekend I experienced an anxiety trigger over something I thought was years behind me – Binge Eating Disorder.

At age 29, I’ve come a long way from the eating disorder that had me depressed in my early twenties. I’ve learned and sustained an attitude of moderation with food. I have a healthy body image most of the time am aware of when I’m eating out of a mood or emotion rather than hunger or because it makes sense to eat.

And then I experienced the salad bar at Whole Foods for the first time.

Have you ever seen the salad bar setup at Whole Foods? It’s not your typical row of lettuces, raw veggie options and two or three dressing bottles to choose from. No, Whole Foods does salad majestically. You have a whole section of a grocery store serving hot food, vegan options, purple sweet potatoes, slaws of all sorts, and, oh yeah, greens. It like an all-inclusive resort with the best whole-food options, all those fancy things you’ve seen in recipe books but avoid because you don’t know how to find them or even what they look like.

I took it in with wonder. Then Kyle handed me a huge container, and I proceeded to fill it. With EVERYTHING.

The Trigger

Everything looked so fresh. I wanted to try it all because there were so many options outside of what I usually make at home. I filled my container to the top (those things are huge, btw), not realizing what that meant until I saw Kyle’s eyes bulge out when he saw me.

That’s when I remembered that the plan was to just eat a quick, small meal before meeting our friend at the bar for the Cubs’ game. I remembered that I wasn’t even that hungry. I remembered that too many raw veggies typically leave me feeling sick and bloated, so I usually stick to small salads.

You’re going to eat all that right now?!

It was a valid question, one I sure as heck don’t blame him for. I’ve said the same thing to him several times.

But when I heard it and looked down at my nearly overflowing container, I froze. I swear the lady walking by us looked over, saw my container, and said “Jeez!”… further confirming that I was going to be overeating.

My bowl was full of veggies and protein, but at that moment I felt as bad about myself as I did after eating a pan full of brownies in college.

Trigger.

The feeling was so surprising to me. Mostly, I was surprised that I knew exactly what it was. I felt out of control.

How was this a problem now? I hadn’t experienced anything quite like it in years.

We sat and ate our salads in silence. I was lost in my head, freaking out about how I’d lost control and now I had to eat this whole dang salad. Another thing I didn’t know was that Whole Foods charges by the pound (obviously). My salad ended up costing about $15! I felt terrible about all of it, and I couldn’t shake the feeling the whole night.

When You Don’t Know What to Do, Know What Not to Do

After Whole Foods, Kyle and I met up with our buddy to watch the Cubs, their second game of the season and the first we’d get to sit down and enjoy. I had been looking forward to it all day, all week even. The Arizona night was perfect, and we sat outside on a patio at a Chicago-themed bar. Baseball season was back, and it was the best time of year to be living in Arizona.

But I was lost in anxiety.

And I felt bloated and sick.

I really didn’t know what to do.

But I knew what not to do. Do not make it worse on yourself.

For me, that meant not drinking the feeling away. I would end up feeling so much worse and beating myself up even more. That would only extend my pain further into the next day.

Yet, we were at a bar. Sure, I could have ordered a club soda, but instead, I set a small drink limit for myself. We’d be there for a few hours. I decided to stick to two drinks and evenly space them throughout the night. Only drinks that I really like, not something just to be drinking.

After I ordered a glass of rose, I went to the restroom. I stood there in the stall for a couple of minutes and took a few deep breaths – not really thinking or saying anything, just counting the inhales and exhales. I had a lavender essential oil roll-on bottle in my purse, so I put that on my wrists and temples. I did what I needed to in order to slow things down in my head and body.

Then, I went back out and watched the game. I wasn’t totally over it, but I felt calmer. I focused on the game and on the conversation. I tried to stay in the moment as much as possible. It wasn’t easy.

Do the Things You Love

When things like this happen, when anxiety comes up for any reason, my big fear is that I won’t be able to shake it off. That it’s here forever. I couldn’t let that be the case. I had too much going on where people needed me to be my best.

I needed me to be my best.

The next morning, I went for a short run outside and spent some lovely time reading and writing, doing all the things that fulfill me and light me up. While caught up in that, any thoughts of sulking or feeling sorry for myself went out the window.

In the following days, I wondered what it was I needed to hear in that moment. When the trigger came, the flashbacks ignited and the anxiety set in. When the memories of the past and fear kept me from smiling in the present. What did that girl need to read, to hear, to remember?

What would have helped me get through it quicker? What would have helped me settle down and get back to the great mood I had been in before?

What would I want someone else experiencing that trigger to think of?

You won’t always know what will trigger you, whether it’s today or decades ahead. You have this dark memory from your past that is always going to be a piece of you. You are triggered to think of other memories all the time – playing ball with your brother as a kid, baking with Mom, conversations with Grandma, completing your first half marathon. Some memories are good and some are bad, but they’re just that – memories.

Maybe you do have an “addictive” personality as you’ve been told, and that’s why an all-you-can-eat setup is challenging when you’re not expecting it, but that’s okay. Now you know. Do the next best thing you can to make yourself feel better.

You might not know the answers in this moment, but you know what not to do. You know what makes it worse. Don’t do that.

The best you can do now is feel this experience for what it is, all of the pain and sorrow for that 20-year-old girl, and learn from what triggered that painful memory. When you’re feeling calmer and thinking more clearly, you’ll come up with a plan for how you’ll handle it in the future. There is no need to fear this state of mind. Simply learn from it and move on to the next thing.

Know that this likely isn’t the end, the last time you’ll experience it. But it also isn’t the beginning of a relapse. It is simply a moment you learn and grow from.

How do you handle eating disorder triggers, or anxiety triggers? Have you ever seen the Whole Foods salad bar? Do you think it’s exciting and overwhelming all at once, too? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

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