Triggers & Anchors
How do triggers and anchors affect emotional eating?

Emotional eating can mean either over-eating or under-eating to affect how you feel. I'm often asked by clients to help them overcome the emotional eating cycle they know they are in but can't seem to stop.

The best way to change a behaviour is to understand what drives it in the first place. Once you can work out and understand the reason for the behaviour it becomes so much easier to change.

In very simple terms we create the trigger that results in the behaviour, in this case emotional eating. The behaviour combined with the trigger then makes, and strengthens with repetition, the anchor for that behaviour.

If emotional eating is the resulting behaviour then what triggers it? I hear you ask. I'll explain:
  • - something happens during your day, the thoughts you create about that situation are                                             determined by your beliefs
  - your thoughts then determine the feelings you experience about that situation
  - often people feel there is no opportunity to express those feelings so they remain repressed
  - as a result we turbot food to avoid those feelings and to help ourselves feel better.

However this 'triggers' the vicious cycle of emotional eating. There is usually another belief about over-eating which...creates the thoughts (guilt, shame, disgust), which creates the feelings, which we can't express to anyone so we eat more to feel better. And so it continues.

The most common triggers are: stress and anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger, frustration, sadness, depression or a feeling of hopelessness unable to do anything. There are ways in which to break the cycle which include:
  - taking a 10 break before heading for the food, re-learning what it means to be hungry so you can             distinguish between hunger and habit 
  - finding other things that make you feel good which you do instead e.g. ring a friend, go for walk, take a bath, pamper yourself.
  - have a drink of water, it helps you to distinguish between thirst and hunger

If that's a trigger then what's an anchor?

An anchor is an unconscious connection between one or more experiences that brings on either a positive or negative emotional response. These responses aren't necessarily logical but have become 'wired', so to speak, into your hard drive. A well-known example would be an experiment known as Pavlov's dogs. Pavlov rang a bell then fed his dogs and repeated this many times so the dogs made a connection - anchor - between hearing the bell and being fed. So when Pavlov simply rang the bell the dogs started to salivate. The more you repeat a behaviour the stronger the connection and emotion becomes. 

Common examples that lead us to building our beliefs about food making us feel better are started in childhood. Hw many times have you heard something like "Never mind let's go and get some sweets/ice cream/cake/chocolate to make you feel better". An anchor is then created between a 'bad feeling or experience' being made better by food.

In summary something we experience pulls the trigger, which literally fires off the anchor, which results in the emotional eating behaviour.

If you would like to know more about triggers and anchors, or want help to overcome your emotional eating, I have linked up with Janey Holliday, lifestyle mentor and health coach. We are running an online course to help people tackle their Emotional Eating. For further information click here: and read Janey's blog 'Can You Re-train Your Mind http://