Triggering Emotion

Do Not Pull the Trigger to Cope With a Triggering Emotion

April 22, 2021

Emotional triggers can come in many forms. Triggering emotions can result from a memory, unhealed event, person, place, sound, smell, or experience that provokes a reaction out of the individual. This reaction could be a mood change, an intense tone, or response, and for that battle with food – it can be a strong need or uncontrollable craving to eat. We are often not aware that we have been triggered until after the eating frenzy has occurred.

The important thing for you to know is that you can handle any triggering emotion.

Further, instead of considering an emotional trigger, it is much easier just to believe we are no longer motivated or have the willpower to continue our weight management program. That diet failure dialogue is a familiar pain that is much easier to cope with than the triggering emotional.

Almost instinctually, we can switch our focus onto every negative aspect of our weight loss program until the reaction to the trigger subsides. This cycle is done over and over again until we are genuinely convinced we can never lose weight instead of being truly convinced we can heal from emotional triggers.

To avoid reacting to an emotional trigger, you first have to identify them and their origin. You cannot fix something you cannot understand or begin to face.

Does Everyone Have Triggers? The Short Answer is YES

However, not everyone seeks excessive eating to cope with those triggers. Some may use drugs, alcohol, gambling or excessive spending, or other vices to avoid dealing with the unhealed experiences.

As adolescents, we inevitably experienced pain or suffering that we could not acknowledge and/or deal with sufficiently at the time. This was due to a lack of coping skills or a safe place to examine those emotions. In turn, they just continued to be buried beneath the anger, deviant behavior, silence, eating disorders, or other destructive behaviors.

As adults, we typically become triggered by the experiences that are reminiscent of these old painful feelings. Thus, the instinctual reaction is avoidance or suppression, so it continues into our adult life, and an addiction occurs.

For example, you may have grown up in a house where rage was a common reaction, or there was physical abuse, and you had no way of coping with all the effects that the environment created. As an adult, you may be triggered by anger, someone yelling, or throwing things.

However, instead of dealing with the current circumstances, it “triggers” an emotional reaction, which creates the impulse within you to seek out your vice-food. This trigger brings on a diversion or a calming effect that allows you indirectly get through the emotional trigger and continue on without having to face it.

What Is The Typical Triggering Emotion?

Although every person is unique in what they have endured, buried, or want to believe it never happened.  There are commonalities of emotional triggers (that can lead to emotional eating) in the weight loss world that might apply to you. These include but not limited to:

  • Anger, physical aggression, or extreme loudness
  • Helplessness over painful situations
  • Fears - people leaving, judging you, not accepting of you
  • Feeling left out or not measuring up to those around you
  • Lack of protection or safety
  • Rejection, betrayal, or loss of control
  • Perceptions of being unwanted or unneeded by those we value
  • Family friction, anniversary dates of painful events
  • Events causing sadness, grief, pain, loss of hope

Perceptions that remind you of previous trauma are going to have some form of triggering power over you.

If a conversation, situation, or act makes you feel uncomfortable, there is a triggering emotion brewing. Although there are some situations that we can easily avoid and ensure our triggers are not activated; however, there are others where we do not see it coming or are just unavoidable.

The idea is not to stay isolated to avoid uncomfortable situations but instead learn to cope with them so you will not need excess eating to get you through them.

What Can You Do To NOT Pull the Trigger on a Triggering Emotion?


Know the majority of your triggers before they are activated. Be honest with yourself and recognize those people, places, or events that are more likely to trigger you and decide what to do with them. Do not be afraid to say no; I cannot make it; I have other plans, maybe next time or I simply changed my mind.


Heal the areas you can.  Make the time and effort to heal in all the areas you can, so you stop having emotional reactions to them. Seek professional guidance on the more difficult issues so you can acquire the tools necessary to make peace.


Practice the pause. Your body will begin to react internally when places or conversations are beginning to ignite difficult emotional areas. Pause and change the internal tape you are playing in your mind that increases the need to react. Redirect the thoughts to give you a way out, calming reassurance, or steadfast guidance to get through the situation.


Honor your instincts. Your instincts are specifically designed around your personal experiences, learned beliefs, environmental patterns, and levels of fear or uncertainty. The keywords here are: specifically designed. It does not matter if anyone else feels the same way. They are there to protect you from what you cannot or will not be able to handle in the current moment. You do not have to fully understand what is going on when your instinct ignite. Just know they are always in your best interest, and adhere to their guidance.


Begin to fill up your life. Your triggers lose power as you continue to learn, change, and grow. Your overweight world and ways do not transform over to a thinner world. With your renewed energy, increased self-esteem, confidence, or desires requesting more from you, you need to begin designing your life with more interests, hobbies, career moves, relationship changes, or other things you are interested in.

The goal to overcome triggered emotions and emotional eating are to achieve a life that gives back to you all you believed you were getting from the excess eating.

Debra Taylor


Dr. Debra Taylor, Ph.D., M.S. is founder of "Weight, WHAT? Food Addictions Center" working with surgical and non-surgical weight loss clients for pre and post care and long term support. She is a national and international motivational speaker and trainer for addictions, obesity, finding purpose and living your best life. Read more articles by Dr. Taylor!