Trigger foods: identify, remove and resist them to jump start weight loss

Do you remember that ad for Lay’s Potato Chips? “Bet you can’t eat just one”

As a teenager, my best friend and I would open a bag and dare each other to try. ‘Go on. Eat just one’. It was a contest that my girlfriend always lost. Chips were her trigger food. Not mine. I’m fully capable of resisting salty, it’s sugar that has me under it’s spell.

Although our trigger foods differed, what they, and all trigger foods have in common is the ability to set off a course of overeating, where control is lost and excessive amounts are eaten. (Does this sound familiar to you? Who’s nodding their head yes?)

For the most part, trigger foods are calorie-dense combinations of sugar and fat. Why? Sugar and fat trip the pleasure sensors in our brains. And happy brains want to stay happy regardless of how unhappy they’ll be at the end of the binge.

Your particular trigger foods aren’t necessarily your favourite foods. I love oatmeal, raspberries, chicken breasts and red peppers, but have never been tempted to eat any of them to the point of feeling sick.

Chocolate, on the other hand…

Want to jump start weight loss and improve your health and wellness?

  1. Identify your trigger foods.
  2. Remove them from your house. Not just your sight. Trigger foods call to you from the deepest, darkest recesses of your kitchen pantry.
  3. Resist purchasing them on your next grocery store trip. Ignore that little voice in the back of your head that tells you next time, you’ll really be able to stop at one. You won’t.
  4. Tell your friends and family not to tempt you with them. Sometimes those closest to us are the worst diet saboteurs.

What are your trigger foods?

Have you ever ‘gotten over’ a trigger food? That is, does a previous trigger food no longer have any affect on you? Can you now “eat just one”?




  1. ahhh back in the DAY when they first came out mine was VITA TOPS!
    They werent yet sold single’y and the case? would disappear in a weekend.
    MIzMiz recently posted…Living not blogging: back to the second wave edition.My Profile

    • It’s probably a good thing that I don’t know what VITA TOPS are! (But now I’m curious, so will have to Google and NOT buy…)

  2. Great post! Yeah, it’s cookies for me. I rarely keep them in the house. But, I’ve been counting calories to lose weight, and I find that it actually makes it possible for me to only eat 1 or 2. For some reason the fact that I’m going to have to write them all down and see how many calories I have consumed makes me stop at a reasonable amount. Hopefully, by the time I reach my weight goal I’ll have this under control without counting calories.
    Krissy recently posted…Obesity and Hunter-GatherersMy Profile

    • Journalling is a powerful tool for weight loss, as you know. A true trigger food is really hard to stop eating; it behaves similarly to a drug, in that it creates a chemical feedback loop in your brain!

  3. I have my trigger foods for sure & they don’t come in the house! 🙂 As an ex crackerholic, none in the house. I freeze some of my weekend cookies but I never go after them during the week – I have got that down. I also keep my healthy bread in the house & do fine. BUT the unhealthy stuff that triggers me stays out!

    Will watch video later… hubby is asleep & I am pooping out! 😉
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & YOU, the Readers – I Will be Blogging Less!My Profile

    • Jody, you must do all your blog reading in the morning! Before I’m even up!
      Crackers are also something that don’t come in to my house very often. I don’t eat them, but my 8 year old can devour a box in under 20 minutes!
      And now he’s old enough to search the cupboards for them on his own…

  4. Christina says:

    I have a terribly strong sweet tooth as well. Though I’m pretty good at sticking to a portion size – one cupcake, one cookie, one piece of chocolate, for some reason it’s cookie dough that triggers me. Just yesterday, I made cookies (ate only one) but then had at least 5 spoonfuls of the cookie dough! I felt sick for about 2 hours. I like cookie dough, but I don’t LOVE it. But I can enjoy cookies in moderation…it’s that in-between time, waiting to bake the next pan-ful that gets me :-/

    • Sounds like you should make the batter then get out of the house while somebody else bakes them!
      Funny how one form of sweet has such a powerful effect on our brains…

  5. Well said! Everyone has them and it’s good to identify them.

  6. Since I have given up gluten, I don’t have many trigger foods any more. Used to be high starch carbs but those are pretty much gone now… wine is something that spikes my blood sugar and could trigger a sugar craving, so I make sure if I have it, to have some protein and fat with it, such as cheese or nuts, and that alleviates that problem.

    I read the Carb Sensitivity Program as you suggested and it was a real eye opener for me.
    Elle recently posted…A Swimmer in the MakingMy Profile

    • That was a great read, wasn’t it Elle? I haven’t managed to give up wheat entirely, although I suspect it would be a great thing for me too. Not because I have issues with wheat, just because of the other ingredients that tend to be in things wheat is used to make!
      Love that you’re swimming!

  7. I’ve recently found that writing out my trigger foods helps me acknowledge and stop a craving for something. I have to stop and think what my body REALLY needs. Great post.
    Katie @wishandwhimsy recently posted…Determination Is My DriveMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by Katie. Writing things down is a powerful way of making ourselves acknowledge what we’re REALLY putting in our mouths (rather than what we WISH we were…)

  8. Awesome posts and tips! I keep telling myself I can eat dk chocolate in moderation, but then when I’m stressed I have no will power- like this last week where I single-handedly ate a whole bag of dk choc chips. In a week. Oops! Heading to the store today and I am not buying any this week. 🙂
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted…Two magic words for running (and life)My Profile

  9. Cookies. They get me every time. I can never eat just one. I say I buy them for my kids but they have actually looked at me and said, “mom, how many cookies did you just eat?” I will not buy them any more!
    Alison @ racingtales recently posted…Does My Cowbell Annoy You? Tips for Race SpectatorsMy Profile

  10. I love cheddar Chex Mix and could eat the whole bag if it was given to me. Which is why I keep it in the cupboard and only take a small handful to snack on and no more than once a day. I’m disciplined enough to do this, but if I ever find myself reaching for it more frequently, out the door it will go. 🙂
    Carrie Rubin recently posted…Contracts, Edits, And Errata OR The Least Creative Title EverMy Profile

  11. Tortilla chips used to be a trigger food for me. I didn’t have to remove them from the house; I just made a decision to stop eating them. If you can’t stop then you need to remove the trigger food. However, this makes it a little tough if you’re trying to abide by a 90/10 rule. For me, I no longer have any trigger foods. At all. The only way to do this (I believe) is to slash and burn your cravings using reason – that is, willpower.
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…Your Ideal Weight: It’s Between Your Body and Its FuelMy Profile

    • Suzanne, I think that trigger foods are different from ones you crave. Neuro-imaging studies have shown that certain foods trigger receptors in the brain, much like drugs and nicotine trigger opiate receptors. Once those receptors have been tripped, a feed-back loop kicks in making it difficult to stop.
      Willpower is great, but it’s hard to overcome biochemistry…

      • Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana says:

        Indeed studies show this, yet it might be an area for debate as to whether they influence people to a degree they cannot control… 🙂

        • Oh I do see your point, Suzanne! I think perhaps willpower can keep you from eating the first item, but then it becomes much harder to resist your brain chemistry. I personally, find it easier to resist altogether (that’s the willpower part) then to stop once started…

  12. Ice cream, ice cream and more ice cream. Gotta have it and it cant be a little… needs to be a bowl for a king.
    Pavement Runner recently posted…Fun with #ReplaceMovieTitleWithFitnessMy Profile

    • Ice cream; yep, it has both the sugar and fat content to constitute a trigger food! Only once in a while, though, right?

  13. Chicken, Oatmeal, Red Peppers … some of my all-time faves!

    I do love me some candy 😉
    Kierston recently posted…BAM: Let’s Party!My Profile

  14. Thanks for these tips. You’re so right about loving the “healthier” food but never wanting to binge on them. I love carbs so I try not to keep the starchy ones out of the house.
    Kareen recently posted…Mood Lifter Monday – Be About it!My Profile

    • Wouldn’t it be great to go on a cucumber bender? Ha, ha! Maybe all we need to do is convince ourselves that healthy is the new sweet…

  15. Begone naughty doughnuts! They used to be my trigger food, but now I can go months without them and eat just one with no desire to plow through a second one.
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…How to Be Enchanting? 5 Tips: Part 2My Profile

    • Kymberly, have you ever been to Voodoo Donuts in Portland? Amazing and creative and so filling that you can ONLY eat one!

      • I am familiar with VoodDoo, as I used to live just south of Portland. They are huge and hysterical. I liked the one with the jelly blood and the pretzel knife in the belly! But yes, one doughnut takes up an entire box. Donuts were never my trigger food. Unlike my sis, I don’t actually have any, even in my past. I like Americone Dream by Ben & Jerry, but I’m capable of totally ignoring it when I buy it for the boys. I need to be more interesting.
        AlexandraFunFit recently posted…How to Be Enchanting? 5 Tips: Part 2My Profile

  16. Sugar is my trigger food….chewy candy like licorice, Starburst, jellybeans, etc. I have tried so many times to give it up but it was easier to quit smoking. I know I have to though in order to feel better and be healthy. I just have to get ALL snacky stuff..sweet or salty out of the house!

    • Peg, I find it really interesting to hear you say that giving us sugar is harder than giving up smoking. I wonder why that is? Do you have any insight?

      • Not sure why that is Tamara. All I know is when I quit smoking (3rd time) it was hard but not like the first 2 times and not as hard as I thought it would be. Maybe it had to do with my mindset at the time. I am hoping it won’t be a problem and I won’t be too irritable when I give up sugar but I guess I am just thinking the worst and hoping for the best 🙂

        • Peg, join us for the Fresh Start Fitness Challenge! Ditching trigger foods (and sugar) is part of the challenge!

  17. So true!! I have realized taht I love sugar, but I can have 1 piece of dark chocolate and feel totally happy…but if I start with a piece of say cake or a cookie it’s nearly impossible for me to stop with 1
    Amanda @RunToTheFinish recently posted…6 White Foods You Should Be EatingMy Profile

    • It must be because really dark chocolate has less sugar than milk. For me, it has to be at least 80%, or I want the whole bar…

  18. Mine’s ice cream too. I do have a Dairy Queen (ice cream store) just a three minute drive away, but it’s amazing how just that bit of distance deters me when I have a craving. Most recent one? Last night. I didn’t give in!!!

  19. One of my trigger foods is trail mix, the kind you can buy in the bulk aisle of the grocery store. Which in and of itself is healthy, but I always feel compelled to eat all of it, whether it be 1/4 lb or 1/2 lb. Nuts and dried fruit are calorie/fat dense. So I’ve resorted to not even going down that aisle of the grocery store anymore.

  20. peanut butter is my trigger food, but I use it EVERY DAY for my kids lunches. Should I just stop giving it to them? Help!!

    • Natalie, can you resist the first spoonful? If so, no reason not to give it to your kids. If you can’t fight the urge to dip in yourself, you may need to ditch it for awhile. 🙁

  21. Hey! I’m Claire, and I just started my blog “Tummy Toneover” today. My very first article is of a topic similar to this one..Trigger Foods! If you could check it out and let me know what you think, that would be fantastic! Thanks 🙂


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