HALT Emotional Eating

It’s 9 p.m. and the kids are finally in bed. You finished a paper, you’re worried about how dirty the house is and the exam you have tomorrow. Suddenly you have a massive craving for potato chips. If you think your body is truly hungry, think again. More likely your sudden desire for a salty treat has nothing to do with needing calories and everything to do with needing soothing.

Emotional eating is so common we don’t even know when we’re doing it. We use food to try and fill an emotional need we may not even know that we have. We’re programmed to do it. How many times as a kid did you fall down and Mom gave you a cookie to make you feel better? Or did you dive into a pint of ice cream when a teenage romance fizzled?

While some “Chunky Monkey” ice cream might make us momentarily forget the pain, there’s a different kind of pain we have to confront when our jeans no longer button as a result.

“Emotional eating is self-soothing and the behavior needs to be replaced rather than eliminated,” said Arlene Perry a certified health coach and PhD student in health psychology at NCU. “You need to distract yourself with more positive activities. One idea is to make a list of positive distractions. Write each one on a small piece of paper and place in an empty cookie jar. Draw one each time you want to reach for a poor food choice.”

Perry suggests that to stop mindless eating, you have to examine what is going on behind the craving by using the HALT technique. Are you Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Or Tired? Usually, one of the four is behind hunger, and that’s when you should eat.

Here are some other tips to help put a stop to emotional eating:

  • Pamper yourself. Don’t forget to take time for you in your crazy busy life. Instead of grabbing a donut, draw a bubble bath instead. The idea is to give your body other ways besides food to feel good.
  • When you are hungry, eat whole, real, nutritious food that will make you feel satiated. Eating a bag of chips has no nutritional value and consequently you will feel real hunger soon after eating them.
  • Know your triggers ahead of time. If you know that being alone on a Friday night causes you to hit the fridge, plan ahead. Decide to talk to a friend on the phone, write in your journal or watch a movie so you won’t be sitting alone dwelling on not having a weekend plan.
  • Drink black tea. A study in the journal of Psychopharmacology found that subjects who drank black tea experienced a 47% drop in their cortisol levels, the stress hormone that makes you crave food, compared to 27% among the subjects who drank a placebo.
  • Breathe. To get your emotions back in check, take several deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed out and ready to eat.
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