What Triggers the Start of an Eating Disorder?

May 21, 2013 Patricia Lemoine

I’ve been using my experience as an eating disorder survivor as a springboard to have a larger discussion about mental health. Looking back, I can trace the beginning of bulimia to a specific set of events and triggers. Years before, there was already a problem with food anxiety, striving for perfection and body image issues. I didn’t know what bulimia was at the time but I certainly understood hunger, binging, purging and over-exercising. I also didn’t know my mind was slowly developing an eating disorder. The condition, however, was becoming very real.

Childhood Events Triggered My Eating Disorder

In hindsight, my mental illness came from childhood events and triggers I experienced. The connected dots would lead to me developing a full blown eating disorder as a teenager which remained unchecked into adulthood. In theory, sure, my mental illness could have been prevented, but the self-awareness, both as a child and young adult, just wasn’t there. I think part of that reason comes from the stigma. We are not taught to think about our mental health; but rather to start paying attention to it once symptoms of a mental illness, like depression for example, start to show.

Knowing Your Eating Disorder Triggers

I’m definitely not a therapist and I don’t pretend I have the answer to how embark on a successful eating disorder recovery. What I do know and what I can share with you is that it’s necessary to know your triggers and have a plan in order to prevent an eating disorder relapse.

1) Make sure to know your eating disorder triggers both then and now, so you can prepare for them. In my case, it was the love/hate relationship with my body image and the feelings associated with them that created my compulsive need for binging, starving and purging. With time, I realized that my mental illness really had little to do with food.

2) Once you’ve identified the feelings surrounding the self-harm cycle, you can actually focus on the root cause. Therapy or another trusted confidant will help pinpoint those eating disorder triggers more acutely.

3) Once you narrow down the feelings that trigger cycles of harm, it will become easier to then remember the initial events that first brought on those same feelings in the past. In my case, writing in a journal each time I felt the urge, in the present day, helped me narrow those down. When I saw it enough, I was able to think backwards to my past and ask myself, “Does this remind me of anything”?

4) When you can pinpoint those feelings and memories, it then becomes easier to see the repeats of those patterns in your present life, and take steps to mitigate their effect. This list of triggers therefore becomes invaluable as part of your road map to recovery.

5) Now that you know what to watch out for, try to avoid those situations, interactions, which create repeat triggers.

6) Also work to create a plan for when your triggers are unavoidable. In other words, develop your coping skills as part of your eating disorder recovery. Part of your plan could include speaking to someone you trust, starting an activity you enjoy, telling yourself key points that you took away from therapy, etc. Positive things and empowering things keeping you focused on why you want and can get better and avoid binging or purging. It’s also not uncommon for someone in recovery to always have a person on stand-by who’s aware of your situation and who knows to drop everything (if possible) when they hear from you when you’re in a bad place.

Remember that the goal is to get better. This means that the people who care and love you will and should understand that you may have to act in unique ways, like I described in the paragraph before. This also means that you shouldn’t feel guilty for letting others down or for putting yourself first.

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APA Reference
Lemoine, P. (2013, May 21). What Triggers the Start of an Eating Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: Patricia Lemoine

May, 24 2013 at 12:29 pm

Hi Luna!
Journaling is great for releasing and discovering things about yourself. You might find patterns in your triggers, how they come up, what connects them.
Take care & #staystrong.

May, 23 2013 at 10:25 pm

I do I'm.not a bean pole. I think my therapist looks at me like ill start worrying when your at an unhealthy weight. To me that would be a little late. I'm trying to.journal my triggers so I can learn how to avoid them.

Patricia Lemoine
May, 23 2013 at 3:42 am

Hi Luna!
Anxiety and wanting to hide are feelings I certainly can relate to. Restricting, overexercising, these are very common behaviors associated with ed. I encourage you to try to find someone to talk to so you can feel a little bit less anxious at least in that moment. Reaching out and posting a comment is a first step! Keep it up & thanks for sharing!

May, 21 2013 at 8:23 pm

I always thought that I didn't have a problem I know I did in grade school through high school. But than in the air force I had a crash down. I contributed it to over working the pt exercises. Now in my mid 30's I feel dumb that I'm seeing myself needing to.exercise run to burn off an apple or get so much anxiety after eating that until I purge the anxiety doesn't leave. I feel like my mind feelings I'm hiding in the closet with and I'm at a loss.

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