Biggest Triggers

What things do you find triggering for your eating disorder symptoms and relapses?

In our survey, participants responded in an open-ended, qualitative format. The information below reflects the percent of individuals who gave an example within a general category. Each individual response could appear in several categories, as many participants listed more than one helpful activity.

Items listed as “biggest triggers” for ED thoughts and symptoms

  • Situational stress, feeling fear or helplessness, guilt or frustration (42%)
  • Other people dieting or discussing weight, “fat talk” (31%)
  • Feeling a lack of control (19%)
  • Comments or discussion focused on eating-disordered person’s weight, appearance or ED (18%)
  • “Thinsperation”-type images (including images of themselves) (14%)
  • Family gatherings, holidays or group events (12%)
  • Interpersonal or family conflict (12%)
  • Being alone, loneliness (12%)
  • Chronic stress, anxiety or depression (12%)
  • Transitions (12%)
  • Invalidation or rejection (11%)
  • Comparing with others (11%)
  • Scales or mirrors (11%)
  • Feeling tired or other physical stress (10%)
  • Shopping for clothes (10%)
  • Media, thinness ideals (8%)
  • Eating challenging foods (7%)
  • Weight loss OR gain, either intentional or unintentional (5%)
  • Behavioral associations, i.e. force of habit (5%)
  • Exercising (or not), activity level (4%)
  • Parents and/or home life (3%)
  • Availability of challenging foods (3%)
  • Group treatment settings (2%)
  • Lack of coping skills (2%)
  • Sex (2%)
  • Shopping for groceries, grocery stores (2%)
  • Being hungry (2%)

Selected actual survey responses

“Invalidation of emotions, loss of control, inability to express feelings, sense of loss, loneliness, regrets, shame, fear of failure, feeling “fat” because something didn’t fit.”

“Guilt, transitions, scales, people being unsupportive, ANY comment about my weight”

“People around me going on diets”

“Text messages/email/phone calls from my parents. 97% of the time it is either abusive or manipulative. Holidays. Any sense of failure. Illness-colds, flu, headache, etc. Being unemployed- feeling powerless in that sense. Eating anything that later felt like an attack on my body for any specific reason, as I am sensitive to flavorings and additives. The changing of seasons. The menstrual cycle.”

“being with people who don’t eat, or who do not realize how important it is for me to eat regularly, saying “you’re not really hungry AGAIN?!?””

“When I go home after not being around my friends for a long time- I want to look a certain way. When I talk to my parents and they stress me out. When anything stresses me out for that matter. Dieting triggers my symptoms- even trying to deviate AT ALL from a consistent meal schedule can trigger me to continue restricting or to binge. Trying on clothes, especially bathing suits. Looking in the mirror. Depression, anger- ‘negative emotions’”

“When something in life happens that is uncontrollable, seeing others pick at their food and eat very little”

“Stress, and perceived lack of control are my triggers, finals time at grad school, and periods of uncertainty bring me back to feelings of needing to control my eating/exercise more, go back to disordered eating habits”

“Other people not eating, and being told what I had to eat (ie. full fat meals, or buffets) without any warning, so I couldn’t plan ways to reduce stress.”

“Stress, whether it is considered ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ I tend to have eating disorder thoughts/dreams during times of great change. Same when I am going through a big mental or emotional shift or breakthrough in recovery. Also, if I am trying to juggle too many (fill in the blank-jobs, responsibilities, classes in school, tasks) I feel overwhelmed and incompetent and I want an escape- often in the form of disordered eating or thinking.”

“Constant diet talk and guilt trips”

“Not being heard or understood, big changes, holidays and parties, having a scale around, and being pathologized.”

“stress and strong emotion.”

“If I am really tired, feeling unsure of myself or nervous about some tasks I have to complete. It will start with turning on the television to avoid my work and that will trigger a desire to eat for no reason.”

“I definitely find comments on my appearance triggering, but it’s hard to really avoid that. It’s triggering also when I ask for support from my parents in therapy and that sort of lasts for a few days, only to fall apart again over and over. Being home alone and spending too much time alone is also triggering (particularly for purging or bingeing and purging).”

“Conflict. This creates a lot of anxiety for me and my anxiety is my biggest trigger.”

“anger, hopelessness, boredom, lack of identity, underweight people, anorexics, sadness, loneliness, not feeling like i’m ill enough for help.”

See more results from our survey:

Leave a Reply