In the early years, triggers, big and small, threatened my recovery constantly. Now, thirteen years later, I stand on steady ground, but I remain vigilant recognizing that the most innocuous gesture may cause me, a friend, or another person to struggle.

An article recently re-posted on The Meadows Ranch blog spurred numerous comments. The feedback was genuine and heartfelt. Readers were concerned that the essay and accompanying pictures could trigger someone’s eating disorder thinking and behavior. The Meadows Rach staff is sensitive to our readers’ comments. Therefore, we promptly removed the post. This interaction with our readers was a good reminder that the topic of “triggers” is an important one.

In a “Psychology Today” post about addictions dated March 17, 2010, Adi Jaffi Ph.D. stated, “A trigger can be thought of as anything that brings back thoughts, feelings, and memories that have to do with addiction.” He went on to say, “Triggers actually bring back drug seeking, and drug wanting behavior.” Using Jaffi’s definition, we can say that triggers may be thought of as anything that brings back thoughts, feelings, and memories that have to do with the eating disorder or anything that brings back eating disorder behavior. Quite simply, triggers shift an individual’s focus from recovery mindset back to acting out eating disorder behavior. That is never a healthy or wise place to be.

Just as the woman in Target and my winter flu encouraged me to pick up old behaviors, people with a history of eating disorders may be triggered by any number of things. This is, by no means, meant to be an all-inclusive discussion. This post is written in hopes of raising awareness and softening hearts toward that which may make recovery more challenging.

Some things I wish people knew:

  • When I see pictures of people thinner or prettier than me I feel less than or not enough or too much. Sometimes I want to disappear. Magazine articles, pictures, social media, blog posts etc. that highlight physical attributes and size can be triggering. It is not uncommon for “body image concerns to frequently be the last feature people working for recovery address successfully and it may always be a sensitive topic,” states James D. “Buck” Runyan, Director for The Meadows Ranch.
  • When I realize that I weigh more than I used to, I start to panic. Discussing weight, BMI, and/or measurements (even with a professional) may encourage unhealthy behaviors and overwhelming feelings.
  • When everyone is talking about going gluten free, keto, Whole 30 or whatever I am tempted to give it a try, but I worry about where it may lead. For a person with a history of eating disorders, over controlling what we will eat and not eat can trigger old habits and feelings.
  • When holidays and birthdays roll around, the focus on food and family is dizzying. Some of my familial relationships trigger old memories and emotions. Sometimes the tense interactions cause new struggles. For me, all the talk about food and calories takes the joy out of the meal. Boundaries and appropriate conversation make the meal table a safer place to interact.
  • When TV shows, novels, or movies highlight eating disorders I am sometimes tempted to practice my old behaviors. Sometimes they make me sad. I worry that media glorifies eating disorders and possibly encourages others to experiment with anorexia or bulimia.
  • When you tell me I look “healthy” I hear you saying that I look fat. I understand that you are being complimentary, but it makes me feel like people’s approval is based on my size. I wish I wasn’t so sensitive, but I am. Words (even those meant to be kind) can be a trigger.

There was a time when I could have written pages and pages about my triggers. It may have been a dance, a date on the calendar, a shadow, a song, a phone call, a look, an emotion, an outfit, a comment, or a piece of fruit. My list is shorter now (I am grateful for that), but there will always be a mental list. Over time, the list may shrink or grow, but sometimes it will roar. It’s up to each of us who have eating disorder struggles to be aware of our own triggers. It’s incumbent on everyone, though, to be gentle when responding to others. Together, we can (and will) walk in recovery. One day at a time.

For over 25 years, The Meadows Ranch has offered an unparalleled depth of care through its unique, comprehensive, and individualized program for treating eating disorders and co-occurring conditions affecting adolescent girls and women. Set in the healing landscape of Wickenburg, Arizona, The Meadows Ranch allows for seamless transitions between its structured multi-phase treatment. A world-class clinical team of industry experts examines core issues through a host of proven modalities. Providing individuals with tools to re-engage in a healthy relationship with food – and with themselves – disempowers eating disorders and empowers individuals with a renewed enthusiasm for life. To learn more contact us or call 866-390-5100