The Four-Letter Word That Can End Mindless Eating Forever

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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. 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 (l 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
No matter the trigger, the same rule of thumb applies – HALT.

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LEANJEAN6 5/11/2021
interesting way to remember to eat healthy Report
This was a very helpful read. HALT! A great reminder to stop and ask ourselves if we really need to take that bite. Thanks for the reminders. Report
Thanks! Report
CKOUDSI617 2/9/2021
Anxiety is the biggest trigger for me. I find that a sudden burst of intensive activity seems to tamp this down until the immediate and almost irrepressible urge goes away completely. (I just need to remember that!) :) Report
METAFUKARI 1/14/2021
Love HALT! The Writing Diet by Julia Cameron explains this in great detail! Report
CECELW 1/5/2021
oldie, but goody info Report
DISCIPLINE1979 12/30/2020
So very true. As am emotional eater I needed to read this for sure. (121 lbs down and counting) woohoo!! Report
GEORGE815 11/10/2020
Thanks Report
Helpful! Report
PATRICIA-CR 9/30/2020
I like the HALT ideas! Report
Great article. Thank you. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Good ideas instead of snacking Report
Now that is a four letter word that I can get on board with! Report
Good advice Report
Great article. Thanks Report
Great article, thank you! Report
Nice article Report
Great advice Report
I like the acronym, but when mindlessly noshing, it is unlikely that I will remember to say, HALT until I've satisfied the urge to eat. Report
Thank you Report
Great article Report
Tracking my calories also help me when I’m emotionally eating. By seeing the calories on my page slows me down, and I’m able to eat less. Report
Thank you. I saved this to print for the Inspiration section of my journal. Report
Wisely done! Report
great! Report
Awesome....thanks.... Report
Totally believe every word in this article! Wow! Report
Excellent article. Good need-to-know information! Report
Love this. I have pinned it so I can refere to it again. Report
This is a great idea and gives me one more weapon to use. I definitely could be sabotaging myself with not enough sleep......... Report
Excellent article!! I really needed to read this!! Report
Thanks for the helpful article! :) Report
Lots of good information! Thank you! Report
A great article. When I feel tempted I get out for a walk. if the weather is bad, I hope on the stationary bike or I dance. Dancing makes you feel good and you forget about mindless eating. Report
Very informative! Report
good ideas Report
I needed this big time! Thanks for sharing! Report
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. Report
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. Report
AWSOME IDEA!!!!!!!! Report
Great advice! Thanks! Report
Great advice, more tools to use when I'm reaching for that snack when I'm not hungry. Emotional eating can be a bear. Report
Good advice. Paul McKenna of "I CAN MAKE YOU THIN" has 4 great rules, as well. He has clips on YouTube. Report
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. Report
Thanks for sharing!! I actually laughed out loud as you've described me to a tee! Love the acronym Report
Marissa - This is a fantastic idea. Thanks for the tip! Report