What is a "Trigger"?

Just because temptation calls doesn't mean you have to answer.
"Warning: possible trigger." "This may trigger some." "Please remove this [link; picture; number], it is very triggering." "My mom bought all trigger foods."

These are just some of the statements I've seen by eating-disordered individuals online lately, usually in Facebook groups. Supposedly, in eating-disorder rhetoric, a "trigger" refers to something - either a food or weight-related reference - that is likely to worsen one's eating-disordered behavior. Quite honestly, some of the complaints I've seen about "triggers" border on the absurd - a family sitting down to a meal together; a recipe posted by a friend; a link about a woman who has undergone cosmetic surgery.

Part of me (the unsanctified part) wants to scream, "GET OVER IT. Stop looking outside yourself for excuses to blame your behavior on; this is the real world." The fact is, food is a normal part of life; the media will always have thin women sporting bikinis on magazines; mothers will always grocery shop and stock pantry shelves. However, as a biblical counselor, I'd like to stop and take this thinking a little bit deeper, to expose why living in fear of "triggers" is counter-productive (and unbiblical.)

First of all, a caveat - it is wise and necessary to remove yourself from situations where you may be overly-tempted to binge. This is especially true in the early stages of renewing your mind and renouncing the behavior. Just as Jesus commanded "radical amputation" of what leads you to sin in your life (see Matt. 5:29; Mark 9:43-48), I certainly recommend avoiding certain situations, environments and particular food types while God is transforming your heart. This goes as well for anorexics - avoid "thinspo" websites and other media or literature that is going to encourage wrong thinking. However, seeing every comment, food or picture as a potential "trigger" does nothing to help your own recovery.

Seeing potential danger or attempted sabotage in such mundane parts of life as another's food purchases, a co-worker eating lunch, or an article about cosmetic surgery further isolates the eating-disordered individual. Retreating into a bubble - where only "safe" foods, censored media, and extremely cautious individuals who are sensitive to one's emotional demands does not help a repentant addict to live in this world. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13? "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Does the Holy Spirit dwell within you? Then you needn't fear being "triggered". He who is within you is stronger that the world. You are NOT a slave to sin, or external stimuli. (1 John 4:4).

Additionally, thinking in terms of "triggers" sets an eating-disordered individual up to fail, because on some level she comes to see herself as at the mercy of others. There is no biblical precedent for blaming our own failings on another's behavior or choices. While we need to be careful about guarding our eyes, minds and hearts from what will cause us to sin, we are only responsible for our personal behavior. If you come to see your co-worker's burger as a "trigger", you have just provided yourself with a handy excuse to give in to temptation the next time it hits. Just because temptation calls (in any of its myriad forms) doesn't mean you have to answer.

The next time you hear the word "trigger" in connection with eating-disordered thoughts, remember what Scripture teaches. The great freedom available to you who are in Christ is that temptation doesn't "have to" overcome you! We each carry our own load (Galatians 6:5) and will answer before the Judgement Seat of Christ for our own choices (2 Corinthians 5:10). Ask the Lord to help you make the right ones today, and don't worry about what others are doing, eating, or posting!