HALT Emotional Eating
Let's talk about emotional eating.
We are emotional and social beings and while we need food for energy, we also eat for pleasure, social connection, celebration and sometimes to avoid feeling strong emotions. And, note the emphasis here, there is nothing wrong with this! We are also one of the few animals that have sex for pure pleasure and I don't think anyone is going to complain about that one now are they? 😊
However, problems can arise when food is our go-to source of relief for emotional discomfort. Bringing awareness to the reasons we are experiencing a craving or choosing to eat can help us identify if we are eating because we are truly hungry, or if an emotion is at play.
HALT is an acronym that can help you pause and determine why you might be reaching for food. The acronym is formed from the following words: hungry, angry, lonely and tired.
Let's look at each letter and corresponding word along with a few questions you can ask yourself to bring awareness to your current state and explore whether or not your needs can be met with something other than food :
H - Am I hungry? Has it been longer than 3 or 4 hours since I last ate? Can I notice physical sensations related to hunger - shakiness, low energy, a rumbling tummy? If you answer yes to any of these, then it's probably time to eat.
A - Am I angry? Or frustrated, disappointed, stressed, grouchy, edgy? If this resonates, ask yourself if there's another way to relieve the tension and release the anger. How about getting outside for some fresh air? Or listening to music really loud and dancing it out? Talking with or confiding in a friend?
L - Am I lonely? Or sad, overwhelmed, blue, discouraged? Ask yourself, how can I find comfort other than with food? Can I phone or connect with a friend? Practice some self-care?
T - Am I tired? Or exhausted, fidgety, bored, blah, low-energy? If this is the case, consider a nap, or if it's 9 pm or later, just go to bed! If that's not an option, ask yourself, what can I do to rejuvenate myself? Maybe some movement - 10 jumping jacks or a walk around the block? Can I switch tasks or activities to something I find more interesting or invigorating?
Angry, lonely, and tired are just some of the possible emotions or states that may be driving the desire to eat. Other common emotions might be sadness, anxiety, overwhelm, hurt, or insecurity. For me, it's usually boredom or restlessness.
Perhaps you can't identify a specific emotion, but rather it's a circumstance or situation. You had a long day at work, a fight with your spouse or significant other, a late night or a restless sleep. I often find myself in the pantry seeking a snack when I'm procrastinating.
If hunger is not the primary driver for wanting to eat, take a moment to pause and identify the emotion or situation at play. Then from that place of awareness, you can choose. You can eat, mindfully. Or perhaps you choose to explore other options to meet your needs and soothe your emotions.
And remember, I can't stress this enough, there is nothing wrong with choosing to eat. The goal is not to avoid emotional eating altogether. Rather, do so consciously and mindfully from a place of awareness.