HALT: A tool to head off emotional eating

by | Well Balanced Wisdom

Monday, June 5, 2017

It’s Friday night, you made it through another busy week… Time to celebrate.

So often our celebrations include food and maybe an adult beverage or two. Nothing says “happy birthday” like cake, “thank you” like a bottle of wine, or “I love you” like chocolate candy. For many of us, food is our love language and as the saying goes, the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? 

We are emotional creatures and we have to eat. Sometimes those feelings – or “all the feels” as Kristen and I say – cause us to eat emotionally.

The birthday cake incident

After a particularly unique week, I found myself in celebration mode last Friday night. It was my nephew’s birthday and naturally, we had cake to celebrate. As my clients will tell you, I practice abstinence when it comes to baked goods with frosting, but my rebel brain decided “it’s an ice cream cake so what’s the harm?!” I had one spoonful from my generous boyfriend, and that’s when the sugar dragon started to roar. I followed that one bite of cake with a large spoonful of marshmallow fluff, potato chips, and hot fudge (a real bedtime snack of champions).  Secretly, after everyone was done eating the cake, I went into the freezer and had several more spoonfuls. Looks like I’m human and face the same temptations as everyone else. Luckily, the next morning I was reminded I don’t need to make up because There’s nothing wrong with indulging sometimes and I got right back to practicing the well-balanced way

In retrospect, I would have used my new handy mindful eating tool, HALT. This acronym – HALT – stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired and is sometimes used in addiction counseling. The research shows we are more vulnerable to make our worst decisions when we are responding emotionally. Some of us experience more than one at a time (hello, hangry).

What I didn’t mention before, we started the birthday celebrations at 10:45 PM. That is 15 minutes after my bedtime and not surprisingly I was pretty tired. In hindsight, I realized if I had been true to my self-care I would have graciously said goodnight at 10:30 and prevented the whole sugar binge episode.  As I often remind my clients, when our brains are tired they tell us to eat sugar because it’s a quick source of energy. 

The solution 

First, identify vulnerable moments. Many people I speak with identify as emotional eaters. I would argue that we are all emotional eaters. Some of us turn to food when we are happy, others when we are sad, and some eat food for comfort if we’re lonely. It can turn into a problem when you find yourself doing it often and habitually. Are you making less healthy choices when you get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? 

Food for thought:

Next time you find yourself tempted to grab food outside of a regular meal or a well-balanced snack, consider this handy tool and ask yourself “am I really hungry or am I angry, lonely, or tired?”

Tell us in the comments below, how do you choose to give yourself loving-kindness in place of using food?


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