How to Use the acronym HALT to help with weight loss
Many of us eat for reasons unrelated to hunger or good nutrition. We eat because we are sad, frustrated, anxious, bored, or just plain exhausted, among other things. While this isn’t always an issue if you’re trying to change your eating habits to lose weight, investigating these potential causes can be key to sustained weight loss. Using the acronym HALT can provide a smart starting point for this journey of self-discovery.
What does STOP stand for?
Addiction specialists and recovery program professionals have used the acronym HALT for many years. Each letter represents a different condition that a client may be experiencing.
In some clinical settings, HALT is used as a tool to guide addiction recovery and prevent relapse. For example, a person struggling with alcohol addiction can examine whether they feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired when they have the urge to drink. Finding the true cause of the discomfort can help them meet their needs without compromising their sobriety.
But some weight loss professionals also use HALT to lose weight. Often we eat mindlessly, overeat, or consume unhealthy foods because we have allowed ourselves to become overly hungry, exhausted, isolated, or overwhelmed with fatigue. While some of these cases require us to eat to feel better, in other cases our bodies simply need rest rather than absorbing more energy from food. Whether you are addicted to food or not, using the acronym HALT can help you find healthier eating habits.
How can HALT help with weight loss?
If you find yourself frequently overeating certain foods, take a minute before each meal to assess your physical and emotional needs. Ask yourself a few questions to find out if food is what your body really needs right now. In many cases, food will not eliminate your condition – sometimes food can help.
Are you hungry?
It’s a normal biological response to get hungry. And it’s healthy to satisfy your hunger with nutritious food. It’s also normal to eat low-calorie foods every now and then. But if you find yourself getting overly hungry and as a result overeating (or eating mostly junk food), then taking a closer look at your schedule and food choices may help you better assess your eating habits. Ask yourself a few questions when you feel the signs of hunger.
- When was the last time I ate?
- What was my last meal or snack?
- How much did I eat at my last meal or snack?
If you find yourself eating every three to four hours and still getting hungry, you may be choosing foods that aren’t keeping you full, or you may not be eating enough. Try to choose snacks and meals that contain more fiber to help you feel fuller for longer. Foods with protein and a small amount of healthy fat can also increase feelings of fullness. A meal that includes a combination of all three — a high-fiber carbohydrate, a source of protein, and healthy fat — will help keep you full for the longest time.
Are you Furious?
Feelings of frustration, irritability, and anger often lead us to the refrigerator, grocery store, or vending machine. Eating offers comfort and a brief respite from feelings of helplessness or irritation.
If your anger stems from a feeling that your needs are not being met or that you are falling short, food can help you address or value your concerns or that you are getting what you deserve.
Though comforting at times, eating won’t solve the problem you’re really angry about. And if you overeat because of your anger, you may also become angry at yourself — which can lead to more unintentional eating.
If you use HALT before meals and find yourself feeling angry, try a quick stress reliever to calm your emotions. Deep breathing, mindful meditation, and journaling can provide relief. In some cases, you may be able to release your anger by confronting her directly. If anger becomes a common problem, you may benefit from guided therapy with a counselor.
Are you lonely?
It’s not uncommon for people to eat to cope with loneliness. Those working to lose weight may also be more inclined to keep to themselves, especially since eating with others may be less appealing if you watch what you eat. Studies have shown that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to withdraw socially, feel isolated, and have less emotional trust. Eating when you’re lonely can make the problem worse.
Alternatively, overweight and obese individuals who have social support are generally more likely to lose weight. In fact, studies have found that getting support from family members, co-workers, and even children can help people stick to a program of healthy eating and exercise.
If you don’t feel any signs of hunger, aren’t angry or tired, and still feel the urge to eat, take a few minutes to connect with a friend or loved one. Make a call, visit a co-worker’s cubicle, or use social media to reach out to someone you know, especially someone who makes you feel good and/or is likely to put a smile on your face. Getting (and giving) a bit of social connection might turn out to be just what you need, and you might find that mindless eating decreases as a result.
Are you tired?
Fatigue is likely to occur when you reduce calories. When you reduce your energy (calorie) intake, it’s only reasonable that you might feel a little tired. While it’s important to make sure you’re meeting your individual calorie needs, there are ways to increase your energy levels without eating more than you need.
First, make sure you stay well hydrated throughout the day. It’s not uncommon to mistake thirst for hunger and reach for food when your body is actually craving water. Also, dehydration causes fatigue, so drinking enough water throughout the day will nip it in the bud.
Next, examine your sleeping habits. Researchers are increasingly finding a link between lack of sleep and poor eating habits. Some researchers believe that lack of sleep can affect your hunger hormones. It’s also possible that fatigue is simply causing us to be less concerned about our healthy eating goals.
Finally, strive to incorporate more physical activity into your life, such as B. walking or cycling, attending a fitness class, or jumping on a trampoline. Studies show that people who spend more time doing physical activity have more energy — and just generally feel better — than less active people.5
A word from Verywell
We eat – and overeat – for many different reasons. Taking a few minutes to examine the emotions behind your eating behavior before enjoying it can help you make wiser food choices. The HALT method can provide you with a structured guide to explore these feelings. Use HALT as a resource, along with the guidance of your doctor and/or registered dietitian and the support of friends and family, to help you achieve your weight loss goals.