Ah yes. Identifying triggers. When I was deep in the eating disorder, pretty much everything triggered eating disordered thinking. Even in early recovery, much of that persisted. A glance at a magazine could trigger a storm of self-loathing. The barest hint of reproach from another person could send me spiraling. And any anxiety-provoking situation would leave me fantasizing about slashing my food intake and increasing my exercise.
Things have improved since then, but there are still any number of situations that amplify the eating disordered thinking and make me ever more vulnerable to relapse. Some of the point of identifying your triggers is to anticipate when you might need extra support. The other point of this is to make what I like to call a "mitigation plan" (it's a term I used when I was working in emergency preparedness, a career move that gave me many ideas into relapse prevention planning) so that you can survive the situation with as little lasting damage as possible.
Here is a (partial) list of my triggers
physical illness that affects eating/appetite
seeing people running/exercising
learning of a friend's relapse or weight loss
feeling like I don't measure up
getting off my schedule (ie, traveling)
increase in depression
increase in anxiety
Some of these triggers can be avoided, many of them cannot. Similarly, some of these triggers can be anticipated, but many cannot. Given that we can't avoid these triggers and we can't anticipate them, what else can we do? Like I did when I worked in emergency preparedness, I had to develop a plan (the mitigation plan) to help deal with them.
I created a general "mitigation plan" for all of my triggers and made certain additions as necessary to fit each particular situation.
My trigger mitigation plan looks like this
utilize support system
increase frequency of therapy appointments
compare and despair: I am doing the best I can at the moment
stay to my specific schedule of meals and snacks no matter what
BE HONEST about urges
relapse is always there for me- I don't need to act on my urges right this second. I can wait and use my wise mind to think it through, and solicit feedback from others
distance myself from negative people
schedule meals and activities with others
my exercise and eating plan are right FOR ME; it doesn't matter what other people are doing
relapse only means more clothes shopping so don't go there
Some of these plans are appropriate in a wide variety of situations while others are more specific to certain triggers. The idea is to have a plan that is flexible and can be adapted to a variety of situations but still provide enough guidance on what needs to be done when the going gets tough.
Knowledge is power, they say, and in the case of relapse prevention this is definitely true. The phrase "forewarned is forearmed" is certainly apropos. If, for example, you can anticipate a trigger (maybe having to meet with a difficult family member) then you can start using your mitigation plan even before all hell breaks loose. Even if you can't totally prevent hell from breaking loose, at least you can contain the damage.