The Four-Letter Word That Can End Mindless Eating Forever

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
1/7/2010 2:16 PM   :  217 comments   :  36,648 Views

by Marissa Beck, M.S., R.D.

Imagine this. You’re home after a grueling day at work. You kick off your shoes and drop your bags. Without hesitation, you walk into the kitchen and swing open the ‘fridge like Tarzan on a vine… Last night’s leftovers taste great. You should be enjoying yourself—maybe sit down and use a fork—but instead, you’re hunched over the counter dipping cold chicken into congealed rice, smacking your lips with every bite. Before you know it, you’ve already dug into the Halloween stash. Too bad those skittles were for the kids…

Mindless, robotic, munching—it happens to the best of us. You know what you should do, but sometimes you don’t listen to yourself. Luckily, there are some techniques that have been shown to curtail mindless eating before it gets scarier than the grisly trick-or-treaters.

HALT before the first bite

Stop yourself by say the word, “HALT!” Halt is an acronym that will help discover the reasons why you might be turning toward food. Halt stands for the following:

H = Hungry

Before biting into the food, ask yourself: “Am I really hungry?” It may be that you haven’t had food in over five hours and are feeling ravenous because your body needs the calories. On the other hand, reaching for food if you are not physically hungry means that you are about to eat for a different purpose.

A = Anxious or Angry

Stress has a significant impact upon appetite. Ask yourself if you are feeling upset, stressed or anxious about something. What are the problems or anxieties that you would prefer erasing with food?

If you are anxious, the best thing to do is to try some breathing and relaxation techniques, such as the exercises found here. After you have taken at least 10 minutes to de-stress, ask yourself again if you are in the mood for “x” treat. If so . . .

L = Lonely

Loneliness can cause people to turn toward food. Because food is pleasurable and contains properties that increase the “feel-good hormone” serotonin in the brain, many people find that food is physically comforting and oftentimes, a distraction from feeling lonely. When you feel the urge coming on, ask yourself if you are feeling alone. If so, calling a friend or a family member can help. Online social networking arenas (like SparkPeople) have a built-in support system to help create connections with others. Walking a pet or visiting a neighbor or relative can also relieve loneliness. What else can you do?

T = Tired

Sometimes, people confuse tiredness for hunger. This is because sleep deprivation leads to changes in specific hormones that control appetite. According to the American College of Physicians, adequate sleep helps regulate appetite through the two hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin decreases hunger, which means that you are less hungry when leptin levels are high. Ghrelin increases hunger, which means that you will feel hungry when ghrelin levels are high.

With sleep deprivation, ghrelin and leptin levels are altered and they increase appetite, according to the results of a brief randomized study published in the 2004 Annals of Internal Medicine. This is good news. By getting adequate sleep (at least 7-9 hours per night), you can help better control your appetite!

The bottom line is to know if you are hungry or simply tired. Try to do relaxation exercises; if you need more rest after deep breathing or a nap, then you are probably tired and should sleep!

Tips & Advice
What can you do instead of chowing down?

  • Exercise
  • Do yoga
  • Call a friend
  • Get some fresh air and take a walk
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Listen to music or play an instrument
  • Take a shower or bath
  • Start a new hobby
  • Play with a pet
  • Knit and other crafts
  • Work on puzzles and brain-teasers
  • Connect on SparkPeople
No matter the trigger, the same rule of thumb applies – HALT.



Marissa is a registered dietitian and has her Master of Science in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is also a freelance writer, certified personal trainer and former collegiate athlete. She also writes the blog VacationConstipation.


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Comments

  • 217
    Thanks for the great way to stop my mindless grazing. I can remember that simple word too. I plan on sharing this blog with my sons. I think they will enjoy reading it too. - 4/19/2011   7:09:42 AM
  • 216
    Wow, That was pretty enlightening. Seeing every reason I ate the wrong things today will in the future help me to HALT, move on to something more constructive or rethink my actions. - 4/17/2010   11:26:27 PM
  • 215
    AWSOME IDEA!!!!!!!! - 3/9/2010   2:23:38 PM
  • 214
    Great advice! Thanks! - 3/8/2010   12:16:49 AM
  • 213
    Great advice, more tools to use when I'm reaching for that snack when I'm not hungry. Emotional eating can be a bear. - 2/26/2010   2:59:07 PM
  • 212
    Good advice. Paul McKenna of "I CAN MAKE YOU THIN" has 4 great rules, as well. He has clips on YouTube. - 2/24/2010   1:36:59 PM
  • 211
    Love this blog! Halt is easy to remember...In essence, stop & be mindful...If hunger is not the problem, then food isn't the solution. - 2/21/2010   9:16:32 PM
  • 210
    Thanks for sharing!! I actually laughed out loud as you've described me to a tee! Love the acronym - 2/13/2010   2:23:57 PM
  • 209
    Marissa - This is a fantastic idea. Thanks for the tip! - 1/27/2010   12:00:19 AM
  • SUSIELYNN71
    208
    Thats fantastic! I love it:) - 1/24/2010   12:11:22 PM
  • 207
    I PUT HALT ON MY PHONE SO I NEVER FORGET TO GO BY THIS!! - 1/20/2010   6:42:04 PM
  • 206
    Thanks for sharing. It certainly makes us think before we eat. - 1/19/2010   8:41:04 AM
  • COOKIES101
    205
    I will try to use this Acronym from now on. I find when I over eat it is usually for one those reasons. I am trying to get out of the loop of eating healthily until the weight comes off and then resorting same bad habits again. - 1/17/2010   11:32:31 AM
  • 204
    I USE A PICTURE OF A STOP SIGN - ITS POSTED ON ALL MY CUPBOARDS AND FRIDGE WITH THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE - IF YOUR NOT HUNGRY WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS "NOT" HERE. I FIND THIS VISUAL VERY HELPFUL FOR ME.

    I ALSO USE ANOTHER STRATEGY THAT I LEARNT FROM THE BOOK LOVE WHAT YOU EAT EAT WHAT YOU LOVE - SPEED BUMP. WHAT YOU DO IS WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR PLATE, TAKE ALL YOUR FOOD AND DIVIDE IT IN HALF, EAT THE FIRST HALF BUT WHILE EATING BE MINDFUL OF YOUR "SMALL" BITES AND REMEMBER THERE ARE NO TASTE BUDS IN YOUR CHEECKS OR BACK OF YOUR MOUTH. THEY ARE IN THE FRONT AND ITS ONLY FOR THE FIRST FEW BITES THAT YOU ACTUALLY TAST THE FOODS. WHEN I AM DONE THE FIRST HALF, I ASK MYSELF HOW HUNGRY I AM USING A SCALE OF 1 TO 10. 1 IS STARVING, NOT GOOD, 10 IS STUFFED ALSO NOT GOOD. I STRIVE FOR 4 - BEING SATISFIED. I FIND THAT THIS HAS HELPED ME TO UNDERSTAND I AM EATING TO LIVE NOT LIVING TO EAT. LINDIE - 1/16/2010   9:38:11 PM
  • FITFORLIFE039
    203
    Having a HALT sign posted in the kitchen will help as a reminder to HALT before eating that evening snack. Thanks! - 1/15/2010   10:05:53 PM
  • BEALIEVE
    202
    This was a great BLOG ... Thank You! - 1/15/2010   12:17:25 PM
  • 201
    I feel like this is me in a nutshell. Thanks, Halt will become a part of my everyday thoughts. - 1/15/2010   1:26:40 AM
  • 200
    Thank you for the wonderful info. I am sure I will benefit greatly from it. - 1/14/2010   5:55:49 PM
  • 199
    I too will use "HALT." I tend to notice that many times when I want to eat something, I really just need a nap! - 1/14/2010   3:35:21 PM
  • JOANPATRICIA2
    198
    Thanks. Great info, I will be giving this a try. - 1/14/2010   2:48:43 PM
  • VEGGIE_GIRL8
    197
    This is really great for awareness. I have always bit my nails and not realized it (wearing fake ones now to try and break the habit) perhaps I am doing the same thing with my eating habits...HALT will definitely help - 1/14/2010   12:54:29 PM
  • 196
    we had this acronym in Sunday School this week..it was used as the devil tempted Jesus in the desert. Same meaning. Where I fall off is when I am at work and you have been at your desk for an hour, nothing to do you have really done some of the things on the list but you are restricted to others, instead of eating the M&M's that are supplied by the manager what should you do? Yes I have brought in healthy snacks but I still have at least 6 more hours to go....I don't want to get fat again... - 1/14/2010   8:44:28 AM
  • 195
    I think the T should also stand for TV. It's so easy to eat mindlessly when the TV's on, especially Foot Network. - 1/14/2010   1:02:15 AM
  • 194
    I love this acronym. Thank you. HALT - 1/13/2010   11:17:58 PM
  • 193
    I belong to a group that has changed HALT to PHALT. The p is for pain which can cause us to eat mindlessly. - 1/13/2010   3:54:43 PM
  • SHARONSMEOW
    192
    Halt! I will definitely try it. Thanks. :) - 1/13/2010   2:20:55 PM
  • CUTIE1231
    191
    I"m an acronym person so I really like what " HALT" means and I will be implementing this ASAP. - 1/13/2010   10:47:45 AM
  • 190
    Wow-this should help me--I am an emotional eater lots--so I can get to do other things instead of eat! - 1/13/2010   10:42:49 AM
  • 189
    good idea will try - 1/12/2010   5:39:24 PM
  • 188
    thanks, I needed this. From now on when I am mindlessly eating, I will HALT. - 1/12/2010   5:05:42 PM
  • 187
    Thanks for that simple word reminder. I plan to incorporate it into my internal dialog as appropriate. - 1/12/2010   1:11:27 PM
  • 186
    Halt! Yes...this I will try ....I should have read this article sooner!..:D
    ..................mindless eating is a habit that you(I) don't even realize until it is pointed out to you. .............. and if you can start to rely on yourself and trust that little voice that knows best...you'll get stronger and resist those too easy temptations! Thanks! - 1/12/2010   12:52:57 PM
  • 185
    Great idea. - 1/12/2010   10:14:40 AM
  • 184
    I'll definitely add "HALT" to my vocabulary. Most of my mindless munching occurs when I'm tired. The willpower just seems to fly out the window. - 1/12/2010   9:59:38 AM
  • OBLIVIOUSME
    183
    Great Article! Definetly going to drinking water before meals too like many of you have suggested :D! - 1/11/2010   11:21:11 PM
  • 182
    very helpful, especially the "t" part. Maybe this is why so many of us shift workers have issues with weight? - 1/11/2010   10:55:02 PM
  • 181
    This is awesome! I'm definitely going to be using this tip. I find I eat more when I am alone, so I am certain this will help, as will the comment about sitting down with a glass of water - and seeing if 5 minutes later you REALLY are hungry. Thanks!!! - 1/11/2010   8:44:55 PM
  • 180
    I am really going to try this. Not just for eating healthy but I am trying to quit smoking too. I am sure it will help a lot!!!! - 1/11/2010   7:41:45 PM
  • AUTUMNFIRE3
    179
    This is great info. I plan on using this, not only with myself, but on my husband and sisters too. I have some friends that I will share this info with and I bet we all think twice before we hit the fridge. Thanks! - 1/11/2010   1:23:18 PM
  • 178
    I learned about HALT in a totally different context many years ago -- and have shared it with many others. It can apply to any situation which could lead you to making a choice that goes against what you really WANT to do! Glad to see it here on SparkPeople! Give it a try -- you'll find yourself making wiser choices!!! - 1/11/2010   11:48:00 AM
  • 177
    The "T" should also stand for THIRST. Before you eat, try a nice, cool glass of water while sitting down. Stay sitting for 5 min if you can. Sometimes this will show that you're not hungry, but thirsty instead. Otherwise, it can help curb your hunger so you eat more wisely. - 1/11/2010   10:42:43 AM
  • MISSROO
    176
    thanks! def will try. - 1/11/2010   3:39:18 AM
  • 175
    HALT. I will remember that! Thank you. :) - 1/10/2010   8:48:26 PM
  • 174
    Love this advice. Thanks!! - 1/10/2010   8:26:34 PM
  • 173
    Another thing to do instead of chowing down: drink a glass of water!! Often I think I'm hungry, when it turns out I'm simply thirsty. - 1/10/2010   7:28:20 PM
  • 172
    VERY GOOD...THE FIRST H AND SECOND ONE IS WHAT I HAVE TO DO ..FOR AT 8PM SOMETIME I THINK I NEED TO BE EATING... SO I GET UP AND GET ME MY GLASS OF CACTUS JUICE HAS A LOT OF HEAL/PAIN HELP IN IT...SIPPING IT KEEP MY HAND/MIND FILLED. - 1/10/2010   5:59:38 PM
  • 171
    I'm pretty sure you wrote this just for me. I'm gonna try this starting now. Thanks. - 1/10/2010   5:57:56 PM
  • 170
    Great blog. For me, the H could also stand for "Habit". It is simply habit for me to grab something mindless to eat when I walk in my front door. I've become aware of that in the past few weeks and I'm trying to beat it.

    Thanks for the entry! - 1/10/2010   11:45:04 AM
  • GOLDENCLOUDS
    169
    Thanks - 1/10/2010   11:27:07 AM
  • 168
    I love it! Thank you. - 1/10/2010   10:20:51 AM

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