The Four-Letter Word That Can End Mindless Eating Forever


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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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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  • 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
    Thanks - 1/10/2010   11:27:07 AM
  • 168
    I love it! Thank you. - 1/10/2010   10:20:51 AM
  • 167
    Great idea! Thanks for the reminder. - 1/10/2010   10:02:36 AM
  • 166
    By the time I remembered to think HALT, the chicken was gone. That's why I had lapband surgery. - 1/10/2010   10:00:49 AM
    This was a grest post!! I absolutely have certain triggers particularly at work that send me to the cookie stash ever present in our office. I'll try next week to put your HALT system into play! Thanks!! - 1/10/2010   8:17:21 AM
  • 163
    I will remember this when I start to mindless chew on snacks at work. - 1/9/2010   11:28:17 PM
  • VENGE7
    HALT so simple, yet, easier said than done for emotional eaters. I will definitely be applying this in my life! - 1/9/2010   9:39:46 PM
  • 161
    Thanks for the advice, will have to remember these items when I am really stressed out. - 1/9/2010   9:20:57 PM
  • 160
    I like the acronym it is simple and easy to remember, thanks. - 1/9/2010   8:22:50 PM
  • 159
    Thanks! - 1/9/2010   8:13:14 PM
  • 158
    I plan to put this up on the frig and also make a sign at work also. Thanks for the advice. - 1/9/2010   5:27:55 PM
    This article really woke me up, and now I am paying attention, HALT is a great way to do it. Thanks - 1/9/2010   4:24:14 PM
  • 156
    Love this! I'm going to type and print it right now and put it on the fridge. - 1/9/2010   4:09:47 PM
    I am an emotional eater, as well as someone who loves word association, making HALT an easy and fun way to help me change my habits and reach my goals! Thank you! - 1/9/2010   2:50:24 PM
    OMGosh!!! Thanks for the info and it is going to be printed and taped on my frig!!! - 1/9/2010   1:37:52 PM
  • 153
    We need to use this tecnique any time we are tempted to eat. - 1/9/2010   1:35:37 PM
  • 152
    Great acronym! I'm going to post this on the fridge :) - 1/9/2010   1:20:03 PM
    Wow! You really hit the nail on the head! Thanks for a great article. - 1/9/2010   12:21:19 PM
  • 150
    Great advice. You've touched on some sensitive issues. Thanks - 1/9/2010   12:05:21 PM
    great advice,In the evening when I'm tired but want to stay up and watch a show,I'll eat to keep awake.I'm learning to just go to bed,they always have reruns or I record. - 1/9/2010   10:05:23 AM
  • 148
    Great blog! Thanks also for the link to the VacationConstipation blog - I'm flying to Colorado for a one-week training in February and the tips on the site are very useful. - 1/9/2010   10:04:00 AM
    Thanks so much for the blog...I know I am an emotional eater, I know what to eat it is just let myself eat when I'm not hungry...I read something on spark that has helped as well "if hunger is not the problem, then food is not the solution", now I will add the HALT to this..thanksssss. - 1/9/2010   7:24:39 AM
  • 146
    I love this acronym; i learned it in AA but haven't thought of it in ages. Also, i know a therapist working in the recovery field who says HALTS. The "s" stands for "stress" or "sick." I love that too. - 1/9/2010   4:09:23 AM
  • 145
    Great accronym. I'll try to remember ... only hunger qualifies as justification for eating. - 1/9/2010   1:29:40 AM
  • 144
    I'll need to remember HALT. I eat for all these reasons but probably the least out of hunger. Anxious, lonely , or tired or more often the reason for my eating. thanks for the article - 1/8/2010   11:48:45 PM
  • 143
    this is a great article with important, helpful tips - 1/8/2010   10:22:02 PM
  • 142
    Thank you. Very helpful to know. - 1/8/2010   9:40:19 PM
  • 141
    Great article - I can only add one more thing of things to do - drink water, Many times I confuse hunger for thirst..... - 1/8/2010   9:11:43 PM
  • 140
    I tried this today, it worked! - 1/8/2010   6:52:25 PM
  • 139
    Awesome tips will share blog with team members Thanks - 1/8/2010   6:40:41 PM
    Awesome Tips, Will remember them tonight . - 1/8/2010   6:18:05 PM
  • 137
    Great tip to remember and use. I also like to brush my teeth when I am thinking I should eat more than I need. - 1/8/2010   4:54:46 PM
    This is a common acronym alcoholics and addicts do when they start craving alcohol and drugs. It would make sense to use when you are craving bad foods. - 1/8/2010   4:16:45 PM
  • 135
    Brilliant. Really struck me when I read it. Printing it out right now.... - 1/8/2010   4:13:42 PM
  • 134
    Marissa, as a guest blogger, love this blog and love the acronym....I will be using this on my 2010 Motivation poster. Thank you!!! - 1/8/2010   3:31:25 PM
    This article is amazing! I find it very interesting because I am a compulsive eater. I usually eat without been hungry and that is one of my major problem, when it comes to loose weight. I am trying to stop that, but sometimes I just cannot help it, but now with the advices thatI got from this article i will be able to stop this eating disorder, i will put them all in practice..Thanks!! - 1/8/2010   3:25:09 PM
  • 132
    I am used to hearing HALT used with a recovery program but I guess it can apply to eating as well. - 1/8/2010   3:20:47 PM
  • 131
    HALT is a long time recovery acronym; never thought of using it in this context before.

    -Ralph - 1/8/2010   2:35:31 PM
  • 130
    Great article. I will definitely start using this acronym! - 1/8/2010   2:27:56 PM
  • 129
    This is good to remember for any vice...... overeating, drinking, smoking, etc. etc. - 1/8/2010   1:20:57 PM
  • 128
    I had been aware of things like emotions triggering binge eating but was surprised about being tired causing eating. I also agee about another T being thirst. Such good information here. Thank you so much for all you folks do to help those of us who struggle with weight issues. - 1/8/2010   12:24:13 PM
  • 127
    Being tired is what always gets me. I totally start craving carbs when I'm sleepy. Unfortunately, I'm often sleepy, especially at work in the afternoons. - 1/8/2010   12:14:44 PM
  • 126
    This is such great advice. I've been having a problem with throwing all kinds of food down my throat when I miss lunch or eat a later lunch. - 1/8/2010   12:13:40 PM
  • 125
    never thought about the T- tired reason for eating. Needed to read that this week! - 1/8/2010   12:08:24 PM
    Wonderfull advice!!! - 1/8/2010   11:49:14 AM
  • 123
    I will use H-A-L-T - thank you! - 1/8/2010   11:41:25 AM
    LOSERD - I like your idea. I am also going to tape this on my bathroom mirror. I've heard of HALT before and thought it was a good idea. But out of sight out of mind. This time will be different. - 1/8/2010   11:37:38 AM

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