Weight Gain Beneath the Surface: Understanding Your Triggers (and Your Reactions to Them)


We continue our Beneath the Surface blog series where we take a deeper dive into the emotional and psychological triggers that cause us to choose habits that lead to weight gain.

In this post, we’re looking at understanding our problems and why we behave the way we do.

Once we understand — really understand — what our triggers are and why we experience things the way we do, we can then begin to pinpoint ways to change our reactions.

Life is, after all, 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you make of it.

The best way to understand our triggers is to define how we experience them in five specific areas, outlined below.

For our purposes, we’ll lay out an example scenario that is likely something many of us have experienced. (Note: The people in this example are fictional and do not depict any actual event.)

Environmental Changes/Life Situations

Define an event that happened in which you experienced a strong emotional reaction — something that stands out in your head. It could be a moment you compared yourself to someone else, someone you thought looked thinner than you. Or it could be a moment someone said something rude to you, something that made you feel badly about your health or the way you look.

Example: Linda, Stephanie and Becky work together. Becky would like to be friends with Linda and Stephanie, but often feels like she is left out of their conversations. One day, Becky overheard Linda and Stephanie talking together in the break room. They are talking about shopping together the past weekend, and how they both wear Size 8 clothes and can probably borrow the new outfits they bought from each other. Becky, who wears a Size 16, immediately thinks to herself, “A Size 8? No wonder they don’t invite me. I would never be able to fit in that.”

Physical Reactions

Now, think to that event you chose earlier and really try and pinpoint how your body felt physically in that moment. Did you feel tense? Where was the tension? Was it in your back? Your shoulders? Maybe you felt your chest tighten or butterflies in your stomach. In some instances, you might have even felt physical pain. The key is to be aware where on your body you feel that physical change.

Example: Let’s go back to Becky. When Becky overheard Linda and Stephanie talking, she immediately felt her chest tighten and her shoulders tense up.


Your moods and emotions can vary and cover a wide range. Were you sad in that moment? Angry? Perhaps you felt anxious or depressed. The interesting thing is you’ll likely find a correlation between your moods and your physical reactions.

Example: Becky’s first emotion was unworthiness. She also felt insecure, sad and defeated.


Behavior and choices are your reaction to the environmental change or life situation. Ask yourself what you did in that moment. What did you say? What were your facial expressions? What did you do with your body? What did you do? Break it down step-by-step.

Example: When Becky overheard Linda and Stephanie, the first thing she did was stop in her tracks. She had been on her way to eat lunch, but instead she turned around and went back to her desk. The rest of the day, she found it difficult to focus on her work, turning over what happened again and again in her mind.


Your thoughts in each situation can be the most challenging to pinpoint. What did the situation trigger for you? What, specifically, was going through your head when it happened? What were your beliefs? What about your desires? What were your values? All of these play a role in defining your thoughts.

Example: When Becky overheard Stephanie and Linda, she felt unworthy because she was reminded of times in high school where she often felt like she wasn’t included in social circles. She felt insecure because she thought she didn’t look as thin as Stephanie and Linda, and that they wouldn’t like her as a result. She felt defeated because she didn’t think she could do what it took to lose weight and eat healthier. She walked back to her desk because she thought it would be easier to do that then walk in the kitchen and face Linda and Stephanie in that moment. And she spent the rest of the day feeling sad and unmotivated because she continued replaying the moment in her head.

Ultimately, understand ourselves and our triggers comes down to filling in the blanks:

I feel [___physical/emotions/choice___] because I [___attitudes/beliefs/desires and wants/thoughts/values___].

What is a situation that you recently experienced? Break it down using the process above to learn something about yourself!


Author: Caitlin H
Diet-to-Go Community Manager

Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about engaging with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key, and people will have the most weight loss success if they engage in common-sense healthy eating and fitness.


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