Food Psychology

Triggers with Food:

Sometimes just knowing that a fun food is in the next room (#environmentaltrigger) is enough to tempt us into eating it. But you can break that habit!

Change your environment and eliminate the trigger!

Furthermore, this might mean not keeping ice cream in the freezer or chips in the pantry. Like most tactics, it’s easier said than done, we understand. 


Grocery Shopping

So let’s talk about grocery shopping when it comes to some psych tricks.

Tip #1: Go in the morning. Ever heard of “decision fatigue”? It’s a term psychologists use to describe how the quality of your decisions decreases as the day goes on. This means that going to the grocery store after a long day is a recipe for disaster. 

Tip #2: Shop during the less crowded times. According to the Journal of American market research, crowds can influence your decisions and make you more susceptible to marketing messages.



Exposure is a method used by people who want to overcome their triggers.

Exposing yourself to a trigger, like the junk food aisle repeatedly and saying no is just like working out. Over time, you will build up the “ just say no”  muscle in your brain.  It will be hard at first but soon it will get easier and you replace the bad habit with a good habit.

Conversely, if you limit your exposure, you will build a habit of avoiding discomfort, which will make you more susceptible to temptation when you can’t avoid exposure. 



Some days you spring out of bed raring to start your morning workout. Other days, you have to force yourself off the couch just to get a bowl of popcorn. Sound familiar? That’s because motivation is not constant. 

At the beginning, you have the hype and the honeymoon.

Then you have the plummet.  Here’s where reality kicks in and your motivation starts to decrease, which is totally normal.  This is when you realize you can’t eat ice cream every night.

Then you have the lapse: this is where a lot of people get stuck and where thought distortions set in. “I’m a failure”.

However, the laps is where we have the greatest ability to learn grow and get stronger.  This is where we can turn lemons into lemonade.

Then we have the slips and surges: after your first lapse, you will experience motivational highs and lows. That’s because motivation isn’t constant, it is ebbs and flows. Remember not to get too discouraged when you slip because a surge is right around the corner. 

The best thing you can do is plan.

Know your elephant and come prepared. Know your strengths know your weaknesses. Know when and where your elephant acts out and have a plan to defeat it. Does your elephant steer you toward the vending machine when the midday munchies strike? Keep a stash of healthy nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies at work. Is your elephant good at finding reasons you can’t make it to the gym after work? Workout early in the morning.

  •  Control your environment.
  •  Have a plan and commit to it.
  •  Have a back-up plan.
  •  Have a back-up back-up plan.

Whenever you are trying to make a change, obstacles are inevitable and frustration is normal. But, your ability to handle frustration is different than everyone else’s.

This is called frustration tolerance.

Psychologist’s define it as your ability to handle a situation that causes short-term discomfort, but long-term benefits.

The difference between someone with high FT and someone with low FT is how they think about their situation.

 When you’re frustrated, thought distortions run rampant.

 “I’ll never be able to eat like my friends.”

 “I’m too out of shape to run.”

 “This will never work.”

 “I’m not made to lose weight.”


Learn to “oh well” it.

“Oh well” doesn’t mean raising a white flag and giving up. Oh well means you acknowledge how you feel in the moment, accept it, and persevere. 


Temptation Bundling

 Temptation bundling = something you want to do plus something you should do.

 Temptation bundling works in 2 cool ways:

  1.  You’re spending less time on your temptations.
  2.  There’s a higher chance you’ll do what you should be doing (AKA you’re building a new habit).


 Examples of ways that you can use temptation bundling to improve your health:

  •  Listen to your favorite podcast on a walk after dinner
  •  Begin a meal out with a healthy, broth based vegetable soup
  •  Meet a friend for a hike instead of coffee dinner or happy hour


The 5 W’s

Who? What? Where? When? Why? ….and How? 

Before you grab that second slice of cake ask yourself:

  •  Why am I reaching for seconds?
  •  What else can I do in this situation?


 Before you pass by the gym, ask yourself:

  •  Who is telling me to skip the gym?
  •  How will I feel later if I don’t go to the gym?


 Asking questions helps you:

  • Slow down
  • Think
  • Be self-aware
  • Stay motivated to make better decisions 



Turns out, finding even small ways to distract ourselves when we are tempted plus using psych tricks, can help you think things through, and keep your willpower strong.

When you’re trying to find your balance, a good way to start is to think about each choice not as an isolated incident, but as a choice that would be repeated. Remember that you’re not really trying to be perfect. Consistency is what matters most!

Studies have shown that we assume most people will be most motivated by those basic needs, like having enough money in the bank or a nice place to live. But really, people report feeling a lot more motivated by the higher level needs like self-improvement. So, make rewards feel really important and motivating to you. Try rewards that will help you build self-esteem and feel good about who you are. 


Food Mindfulness

Let’s look at mindfulness as it pertains to eating:

 What do you notice about your food?

  1.  How does it taste?
  2.  What is the temperature like?
  3.  How is the texture?
  4.  What flavors do you notice?


What do you notice about your body?

  1.  What is your hunger like before you begin to eat?
  2.  Notice the act of chewing, tasting and swallowing.
  3.  Check in with your hunger as you eat, noticing as you begin to have your hunger satisfied.


What do you notice inside your brain?

What emotions do you feel as you start your meal?

What emotions do you feel as you decide on what to eat?

How do you feel as you begin to eat you chosen food? 

What Memories do you have tied to these Foods?

What emotions do you feel once you have finished eating? 

Knocking out triggers with some Psych Tricks:

Delay:  Cravings can hit hard, but if we ignore them or put them off, most Cravings will fade within about 10 short minutes, and if not, studies show that after 30 minutes, 90% of urges have passed.

Escape:  Removing yourself from the source of your craving can really help those triggers fade. Out of sight, out of mind!

Accept: Keep your Cravings in perspective. You’re not weak if you have a craving, you’re normal, because Cravings are normal. Accept that it’s happening, and let it pass!

Dispute: Notice when and where your Cravings tend to occur, so you can come up with strategies to tackle those triggers where they live, or even avoid them in the first place!

Substitute: When a craving hits, substitute another fun or healthy Behavior instead. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself craving your substitute!


An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary, that is acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.

In other words, I have it is something you do automatically – no thought required. You make habits by repeating a behavior over and over and over to solidify your behavior chain.

Keystone habit – Keystone is used to describe something that is first necessary for other things to succeed. Therefore, a keystone habit is a habit that you do that helps other habits fall into place. Think of it like the first domino you slick that creates a beautiful cascade. A great example of a keystone habits is meal prepping. When you meal prep you’ve got your meals and snacks set for the week. 


Creative Visualization:

 Creative visualization is just a fancy psych term for using your imagination. It will help you:

  •  Overcome limitations
  •  Increase self-efficacy
  •  Achieve goals 

Here’s your how to:

  1.  Close your eyes. Literally.
  2.  Take a deep breath and picture yourself having achieved your goal.
  3.  Now picture yourself interacting with the new world around you. Maybe you are asserting yourself in social situations. Your life is different. 


Studies show that eating too often can actually make you more hungry.


When you’re on a calorie budget, distributing calories over 6 meals prevents most people from ever feeling satisfied after a meal. And eating often keeps food on the brain all… the…time! This is the opposite of what you want to do when you are trying to change your relationship with food and lose weight. 


Psych trick #1: Putting your food on a plate helps your stomach and your mind register that you’re eating. It also helps with portion control.

Psych trick #2: Make that plate a side plate. It reduces the amount of food you put on your plate even if your plate is full. You might end up thinking you’re eating more than you actually are, and in turn eating fewer calories overall. It’s called the “Delboeuf  Illusion”. The amount of white space around a given object (the food), influences the perceived size of the object (portion).


All-or-nothing thinking: all-or-nothing thinking is one of the many types of thought distortions. You see things as falling into extremes. In the context of eating, food is either:

  •  good or bad
  •  healthy or unhealthy
  •  diet friendly or fattening
  •  approved or off limits 


Try this little exercise:

  1. Find your food (trigger) – something you have a love-hate relationship with
  2. List the labels (thoughts part 1) – all the words you’ve used to describe this food
  3. Expose the thoughts (thoughts part 2) – What types of thoughts do you or have you had about this labeled food? 
  4. Analyze your actions – if your rider is strong, you might successfully avoid this food for a little while. But because you were thinking about this food all the time, you feel deprived and the food becomes more rewarding. Then your elephant takes over and you give in. Let’s be honest it happens. Maybe not our proudest moment, but we are human.
  5. Call out the consequences –  when all is said and done, after your elephant gets loose, how do you feel? Call out to mental, emotional, and physical consequences.
  6. Break the cycle –  this won’t happen today or tomorrow. It will take lots of practice and a few new tricks. What you can do today it’s plan to break the cycle and commit to it.  Here’s your to-do list:
  •  remove or change the food label to it
  •  replace your thoughts about the food
  •  associate that start with a different behavior 


People spend 47% of the time thinking about the past or the future. Whoa oh, that’s a lot of time not spent in the present. And it’s specifically easy to let your mind wander while you’re eating, as it is an automatic behavior. Psychologists usually use automatic behaviors to describe things like smiling when you’re happy or rolling your eyes when you’re annoyed –  actions that happen without awareness and can continue without conscious effort. Though eating shouldn’t be an automatic behavior we do it so often that it’s become one. But just because eating’s become an automatic behavior doesn’t mean that we can’t get it under control. To do this, we need to retrain our brains. And that’s where mindful eating comes in.


Mindful eating:  Eating with attention and intention

Intention: Don’t just eat because it’s snack time or chow down that bread basket roll because it’s just sitting there.

Attention: When you eat, focus on the meal – not today’s to-do list! Savor every last bite, you deserve it.


Studies show that people who eat mindfully:

  1.  Lose more weight
  2.  Develop healthier eating habits
  3.  Keep weight off long-term

This is because mindful eating slows you down and increases your self-awareness. This way you eat fewer calories and make healthier food choices. 


Here’s the mindful eating master plan:

  1.  Make eating an event
  2.  Cook your meal
  3.  Remove distractions
  4.  Sit down
  5.  Take a deep breath
  6.  Engage your senses: How does your meal look? How does it smell? How does it feel? Then during each meal ask yourself: How does the food feel in my mouth feel? How does this bite taste? How is this bite compared to the last? Enjoy your food. Register your fullness. Stop when you’re satisfied.
  7. Chew your food
  8. Swallow and reflect
  9. Put your fork down
  10. Practice Practice Practice 


 *Bonus tip at the end: brush your teeth. You’ll be less likely to continue eating if you brush your teeth.


Now let’s look at some habits that make us eat more:

We’ve all had those nights when we binged a show on Netflix, blink your eyes and realize that we had just downed a giant bag of chips. But do you know why it happens? Because electronics make us eat more. Studies show that people who eat in front of the TV always eat more than those who don’t. Furthermore, these people even ate more throughout the rest of the day. 


Identifying Drivers:

  •  What are your midday drivers:
  •  Hanger (hunger + anger)
  •  Boredom
  •  Visual appeal (the cookies on the counter are just too hard to pass up) 


Now let’s look at the behavior chain when it comes to times that we eat each day:

  1.  Food (Environmental)
  2.  Emotions (Emotional)
  3.  Time (Psychological) 


Look for ways to break the script by filling your environment with positive food triggers.

 Here’s an example:

  Challenge: emotions (positive and negative) cause many of us to eat.

  Solution: replace eating with healthy actions to cope with emotional triggers.

There are tons of healthy ways to cope with stress, you just have to rewire your brain to link emotions with your favorite stress-busting strategy.


Largely the problem is that most of us have gotten into a routine that’s dictated by society, rather than designing an eating schedule that works for our bodies. 


Discover why you eat how much you do:

There are 2 environments that influence your food choices: 

  1. Your social environment 
  2. Your food environment


Food choice – Well, you do have a mind of your own and your brain likes to avoid decision fatigue.

Food handling – Subconsciously, we think many of our eating actions with those around us like starting and stopping eating, taking breaks, using utensils or hands.

Food consumption – Statistics show that if you sit down for a meal with someone else you’ll eat a whopping 44% more calories than if you eat alone.  Y’all eat 58% more with three people, 69% more with four people, 96% more with 7 people. 


The top three food environment triggers that influence how much we eat are:

  •  Presence of food
  •  Evidence of consumption
  •  Serving sizes


Things to assess with your eating style:

  •  Your work eating style
  •  Your home eating style
  •  Your social eating style


Determinants eating:

What you eat:

  •  Convenience
  •  Pleasure
  •  Visual appeal


 When you eat:

  •  Presence of food
  •  Emotions
  •  Time


 How much you eat:

  •  Other people
  •  Presence of food
  •  Evidence of consumption
  •  Serving size


 An important part of food choice is understanding how big of a role each determinant plays:

 Health, cost, pleasure and convenience determine what we eat.

 Stress, presence of food, and time determine when we eat.

 Serving size, presence of food, other people, and pleasure determine how much we eat.


101 Food Psychology & Hormones:

Your hunger brain has a lot of metaphorical food to swallow. It integrates signals coming from a number of different places in our bodies –  Our stomachs, guts, livers, and more. These signals are also known as hormones.


Leptin (satiety 101):

Leptin lives in your fat cells. The more fat cells you have, the more leptin you have. Therefore, it only makes sense that leptin acts as a satiety signal. “Hey buddy, you aren’t at risk of starvation so you can stop eating whenever you want.”


Ghrelin (leptin’s arch nemesis):

When you think of Ghrelin, think of your stomach growling. Ghrelin is produced in your stomach and acts as your brains Main “feed me” signal.

Insulin-like peptide #5:

This is produced in your colon when there’s an absence of food. So if you’re thinking it would act as a hunger hormone, you’re one smart cookie.


Glucagon-like Peptide-1:

This tongue twister of a hormone delays “gastric emptying” –  the time it takes for food to leave your stomach. Low levels of this signal your body that there’s plenty of room in set tell me and it’s time to feast.


Chlolecystokinin (GLP1’s  Antagonist):

While Leptin tells your body that it doesn’t need to be fed, CCK is a bit more pushy and says “stop feeding me now.” CCK is released by your small intestine when you digest proteins and fats.


Gastric-inhibitory Polypeptide:

This is also released in the response to food, acting as another satiety signal.


Normally, these hormones know how to handle themselves. But many dramatic changes in your life and body (stress, illness, or even weight loss) can wreak havoc on your hormone imbalance.  Studies show that when you lose weight:

  1. Ghrelin increases (you get hungrier)
  2. GLP -1 decreases (you get even hungrier)
  3. Leptin decreases because your fat cells are getting smaller (your hunger isn’t as inhibited)
  4. CCK + PYY decrease (you simply aren’t feeling as satiated)
  5. Cortisol increases


When your hormones are out of whack, keeping weight off can be a real struggle.

Let’s look at an example for volume:

 250 calories of oil is only two tablespoons, so not much to feel full.

 250 calories of broccoli is 8 cups which would make the stomach explode from a volume standpoint.

 Therefore, we will feel more full eding the broccoli because it fills our stomach and the physical expansion of  your stomach is the first and foremost trigger to deploy a cascade of signals to tell your brain it’s full. 


*Related Exercise Factoid:

 Low-to-moderate intense aerobic activity, like a stroll in the park or going for a swim increases Ghrelin and decreases Leptin levels. In other words, it makes you hungry.

 However, high-intensity activity has the opposite effect. Bursts of really intense sprints haven’t shown to suppress hunger both immediately and for up to 48 hours after. 


Your metabolic rate is the rate at which you burn through energy. Your metabolic rate is often described as your total daily energy expenditure. It can be broken down into two components:


Resting energy expenditure –  Amount of calories your body burns from its most basic processes like keeping your heart beating oh, your lungs breathing, your brain thinking. essentially if you were to lay in bed all day everyday your body would still need this many calories to survive.


Non Resting Energy Expenditure –  This can be divided into three parts:

  1.  EAT –  exercise activity thermogenesis
  2.  NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis
  3.  TEF –  thermic effect of food


Your basal metabolic rate is determined primarily by your weight, height, age, and sex. 

If your scale isn’t moving fast enough, do you have your changing metabolism to thank/blame.

This is because of metabolic compensation. Basically, as you feed your body less food, it becomes more efficient, learning to survive on fewer calories.


Each macronutrient impacts your energy expenditure differently: 

  •  Fats increase your basal energy expenditure 0-3%
  •  Carbs move the needle 5-10%
  •  Protein blows the others out of the water increasing you burn 20-30%

Strength training is huge because it will help reduce the amount of lean muscle tissue you lose, and also help you develop new muscle tissue. Strength training is an excellent strategy to help you maintain a healthy metabolism. 


The Set Point:

The set-point theory hypothesizes that our brains regulate our metabolism to maintain a certain body weight and level of body fat.

  1. Everyone’s set point is unique.
  2. Your body’s set point is determined by your genes.
  3. Your body set point is more like a “set point range” – a range of body weights and body fat levels at which it can sit comfortably and sustainably.
  4. Your “set point range” is the range in which your body functions most optimally.


The Settling Point:

Another theory is called the Settling Point Theory, which hypothesizes that your body weight can settle at different body weights and levels of body fat based on our behavior, which are influenced by our internal and external environment.

Your weight is tightly regulated at a biological level so that your body can function at its best (set point). However, your actions and habits work at an environmental level to maintain lower or higher weights (settling points).

Note to self – Your body’s happy weight might not necessarily be your happy weight. If we let our happiness be determined by a number on the scale, we may never achieve happiness. 


Plateaus are bound to happen however they’re unpredictable as to when they will happen. Everyone’s journey is a little bit different.

Many of us think these are plateaus but we’re just quite impatient. Scientifically speaking, a weight loss plateau is 2 or more weeks without weight loss. 



When you feed your body fewer calories…

  1. You lose weight, lowering your total daily energy expenditure.
  2. Your fat cells get smaller, so you produce less leptin, meaning you’re less satiated. You also produce less PYY, GLP-1 , and CCK hormones when you eat, meaning your stop eating signals are weaker and more delayed.
  3. Your body makes more graylin and ILP-5, stimulating hunger.
  4. Your body realizes that you are feeding it fewer calories than normal, so it becomes more efficient at using calories –  metabolic adaptation.
  5. As your body becomes more efficient, your tdee decrease is beyond what is expected from weight loss alone –  adaptive thermogenesis
  6. The amount of calories you burn from  physical activity decreases.
  7. Your perception of the amount of food you eat decreases, making you more likely to overeat.
  8. The reward value of food increases, making large portion sizes, sugary treats, and calorie-dense eat look a lot more appetizing. 


Attitude Behavior Consistency Theory:

Our attitudes and beliefs predisposes to our behaviors. How so? Our attitude influences our personal triggers and how we interpret and think about different triggers, ultimately influencing our behaviors. 

We need to focus on our core beliefs.


When you see a sinfully sweet, swoon-worthy Savory, or seductively salty treat, your response may include one of the following thoughts:

  •  This looks delicious
  •  I want to eat this
  •  I need to eat that
  •  I can’t resist this food
  •  I have no self-control
  •  Eating this will make me feel better.


When you think one or many of these torturous thoughts, your action might be one of these:

  • Taste the food
  • Fog eat the food
  • Storm eat the food
  • Eating the food some other kind of way


The first step in reclaiming your locus of control is simply understanding the difference between your thoughts and your actions.


The next step in reclaiming your locus of control is identify a counter thought – a thought that “talks back” to your thought distortion and will prevent you from allowing your turkey thought distortions from turning into sabotaging actions. Examples of counter thoughts in this situation may include:

  •  I am  not hungry
  •  I don’t want to eat that
  •  I choose not to eat that
  •  I don’t have enough calories in my calorie budget to eat that
  •  Eating that food will hinder my progress
  •  Eating that food goes against my goals


Other suggestions:

  •  Leave the room
  •  Put the food out of sight
  •  Contact your accountability buddy


Rewards = Positive Reinforcement — Increased Behaviors — Hardy habits


“I know what to do, I’m just not doing it.”

Because change is tough. Even when our brain knows which choice we should make for our health, the less healthy choice can charm us into making a different move. All our behaviors ultimately come down to our brains. But sometimes, willpower, triggers, and patience, and rampaging elephants, can Mutiny against the captain, and are poor captain brain doesn’t stand a chance. Psych tricks are what we use to strengthen our brain, and how power captain stay in control. They can help us talk our brain into making that healthier choice, even when the donuts are crying out for attention.


Our mindset can really make a difference, because our minds can convince us of almost anything.


  1.  A person with a fixed mindset believes were born into our talents, so if you weren’t born good at something, no amount of effort will make you better.
  2.  A person with a growth mindset believes that we can improve ourselves, and growth a smart we were born with with a little effort.

 Of course, those with a growth mindset are most successful in all areas of life. 


When we’re children, if we’re constantly praised for our intelligence, we will start to think that if we have to really work at something, we’re probably just not meant to be good. So we quit.

But, if we’re told we should be proud of our hard work, and are praised for effort, we are more likely to develop a growth mindset. If we find we are not good at something, we will work harder until we become good at it.


Change is possible! 

Overcoming thought distortions is about embracing personal choice, and learning from mistakes without dwelling on them or telling yourself you’re a failure. Recognize that we don’t have to be perfect – we’re human and we just need to keep moving forward.


Quick tip for changing your mindset:

  1.  Notice your thoughts
  2.  Counter it 



What is your biggest frustration in your journey right now? What tools in your tool kit might help you work through that frustration?



Share your frustration with your group and let them know  what you’ll do to flex your frustration tolerance muscles.