What Triggers Eating? The EBB and emotion of cravings.

What triggers eating? Physical, emotional and environmental things can drive us to the fridge!

What Triggers Eating?

You are saddled with PMS, and all you can think about is chocolate, chips and candy. Or your are menopausal, or post menopausal and all you can think about is FOOD. Especially comforting, filling foods, like pasta, or ice-cream.

What’s up with that?

“Understanding the triggers of eating in everyday life is crucial for the creation of interventions to promote healthy eating and to prevent overeating.” (Appetite. 2009 Feb; 52(1): 72–82.)

(Warning: the article above uses words like diet, restraint.)

Although cravings can have many emotional levels, sometimes we can break it down to 3 areas.

Dr. Kent Berridge Ph.D. (here’s a nerdy link for you!) studies the chemistry of pleasure in the brain. He states that cravings can fall into a couple of categories: food “liking” and food “wanting”.

When you like something, you are getting sensory pleasure from the food you are eating. Wanting is different. When we are experiencing food “wanting”, we are experiencing motivation to eat, hungry or not.

We are made for longing, our brains crave pleasure and this is just part of us.


Sometimes we just eat mindlessly, or out of habit.

Do you know your triggers?
Did you know triggers can fall into categories?

They EBB and flow. They are emotional too.

EBB and Emotions of cravings.

Environment, (Being around the girlfriends with wine, nachos and chocolate? Hello, sign me UP!), Behaviour, (always eating lunch at 12, hungry or not, this ca also be described as habits) and Biology, or physical state. Hunger is biologically driven, and the answer to physical hunger is food.

Another trigger: Feelings. Yeah, you know it. Emotions.

In Mindful Eating practice, we start with a clean slate of curiosity, where all foods are considered food, and just that. Food can enhance your life, body, mind and soul. Food feeds our cells, and our emotions.

Mindful eating creates choice, not chains.

Birthday cake can enhance your life by connecting you, the birthday person, giving you some yumminess, and joining you socially, but eating it for every meal may not give much physical benefit, and may emotionally drag you down. 

Practicing Mindful Eating can help you decide to eat the cake, or not. You can eat a small amount and experience pure satisfaction, or eat a little more as a conscious decision.

This is where learning your own cues and triggers for yourself is so important, rather than following a food rule that tells you all of (fill in blank here) is “bad”. 

The authors in the article at the beginning of the post, (A. Janet Tomiyama, Traci Mann, Lisa Comer, from University of California, and University of Northern Colorado, respectively), look at elements besides hunger, that drive us to over eat. They compare those people that are restrictive eaters, with those that are not, and find that non-restrictive eaters are in tune with their hunger and eat when hungry. 

Restrained eaters, which was my eating style for as long as I can remember, eat with cues such as anxiety, feelings and even distraction. We are not paying attention to the food, the act of eating, and our body’s signal of fullness when we are engaged in other things while eating.

Or we are eating to soothe the feelings that are arising, and really just stuffing them down, and not working through them.

They also say that there can be sub-categories of restricted eaters, where only some of them will be prone to overeating. Wow.

Back to trigger categories!


Barbecues, holiday treats, socializing and enjoyment. The year can be a never-ending parade social fun, and food is usually involved, no?

You may have decided you need to recover with a detox, or sugar free program. These suspiciously look like diets to me, but to each his own. Assess how you feel doing one of these, and listen to your body. Trusting your body is key, as we have long been told as women, we don’t know ourselves.

I have entered parties, thinking I had a suit of eating armour on, planning on eating only this thing, or three bites of that, and before you know it, I’ve plowed through a tray of cheese and a plate of cookies, leaving physically ill, and emotionally down. 

#failed again.

What happens in a room of cheer, bubbly people and a tray of canapés??? Like smoking, ENVIRONMENTS can trigger a relapse in our behaviour. We may feel it’s just one bite, (or puff of a cigarette) and won’t want more, or we feel we have lost a sense of belonging, since we aren’t partaking in whatever everone else is doing. 

By becoming AWARE of the people, places and functions that trigger cravings, I was better about to strategize around them and feel like I had choice.


Asking yourself if you are truly hungry is a logical first step. Being able to recognize your physical hunger is a practice, and if you have been ignoring hunger, not eating when your body needs to, or getting so hungry you overeat, you may have lost touch with what your body is telling you.

The simple process of getting too hungry can trigger overeating in certain people. Bring some curiosity to eating regularly to diminish overeating. This is something you can tune in to, and try to recognize.

Ask yourself:

Does your overeating happen when you let yourself get extremely hungry?

Is your body needing some nutrients?

  • Chocolate craving? Maybe you are magnesium deficient.

  • Salty food craving? Possibly chloride.

  • Sweets? Possible nutrients lacking may be tryptophan, chromium, phosphorus, carbon or sulphur.

Are you really freaking tired?

Lack of sleep can drive hunger. Makes sense, as your pushing your body to work when it needs rest.

These cravings are all too real, and I’ve heard them described as:

“At one point I hated all sweets, now I can’t get enough of them! Whats up with that?”


We are creatures of habit. We like our morning coffee or tea. We like our holiday traditions, a certain side of the bed, a blue toothbrush, and the list goes on.

Your tummy and brain may be tuned to expect meals at a certain time. We react to the perceived discomfort of hunger, as biologically we humans need to eat or face starvation.


We all want a warm blanky, a hug, and kind words some days. If you’re a menopausal woman, like me, we may find the best strategies for getting these feelings come from our own self nurture, and not from others. We have spent too many years taking care of others, (or still are) and it’s high time we started to nurture ourselves!

Emotions are very strong, and the emotions and cravings around food are intense. The happens around occasions, holidays and even people!

There is nothing wrong to want to feel nurtured. Nothing at all. We deny this feeling inside of ourselves. I labelled myself as weak, wanting to be nurtured as a grown woman.  I got the message early on, that needing some emotional nourishment was not correct, and so I sought refuge in the cupboards, and fridge. 

It’s not a fault to want to feel safe & secure, heard & held. 

These are human needs. And busy, middle aged, stressed out women, need to feel safe, secure, nurtured and heard, even if we provide that environment for ourselves!

If you are in your 50’s, you may be keeping up with career, saving for retirement, while still raising kids, and caring for aging parents. You need nurturing, and not just with food!

Try and find non food ways of feeding yourself and give yourself permission to do so. We need to eat, so it becomes a break for us. We need to rest, walk, read, laugh, all of these nourish us on so may levels.


Treating the emotional self can start to fill a void that gets filled with food, when you’re not physically hungry.

And if you deprive yourself regularly of foods that are truly delicious and pleasurable, the restriction factor may have you craving even more.

Try eating mindfully to fully taste and experience your food, and give your brain time to register fullness in the tummy.

Triggers can be an endless list of feelings, thoughts, events and places that set off overeating (1).

If you have been in a restriction mentality for years, and tell yourself that you can’t have certain things, because of what they will “do” to you, you may be just increasing your desire to eat even more. By letting go of your personal food rules, bit by bit, you may find that the cravings can decrease.

Try the principles of Mindful Eating, and savour a little more of life, and chocolate:) Looking for a Conscious Eating and Living Community? Where we talk about ALL of the body, including gut health, mouth health, and more? Come on in!

Be well, and please, be HAPPY😊


  1. Els, C., Kunyk, D., Selby P., Disease Interrupted, Tobacco Reduction and Cessation, 2014

*This is in no way meant to take place of mental health advice, licensed medical care or diagnosis. I am not a mental health practitioner, I am a coach, sharing my own experience and formal knowledge. If you feel you have an eating disorder, please, find a mental health expert, to talk to and help you through.



Tanya StricekComment