“More Than Two Thirds of Americans Are Overweight or Obese,” screamed the headline on a recent Time Magazine article.
Statistics like these are attention getters for me. As a health and wellbeing coach, I guide busy professionals and women over 40 to find their trimmest, most positively aligned and empowered selves. Often that requires a little investigation into what is keeping these otherwise successful people from achieving their health goals—which, for so many, include weight loss.
We talk about cravings and trigger substances—you know, those treats that magnetically pull us to eat, even though we know “it might not end well.”
Unfortunately, take a trigger food, add a few stressful situations during the day, and an unwanted eating event begins. Next comes that internal voice berating us for giving in to the trigger food. The cycle then escalates because our favorite “bet you can’t eat just one” go-to treats may seem even more irresistible once we’re caught up in the emotion of self-criticism.
It’s almost as if someone else is in charge of our mind and actions, especially at night or when we’re home alone, at the mercy of our habits—and feeling emotions more strongly because we’re fatigued from the day and “decisioned-out.”
But wait…I have a solution. And to make this work, you only need to remember one 4-letter word.
When the urge to nosh strikes, a quick self-assessment of your personal state can help you recognize and break a negative eating cycle—or even prevent it from starting. Ready to take control? Just think HALT.
H-A-L-T stands for a question that starts with, “Could I be….”
It sounds a little obvious, but yes, it could be real hunger that’s making you run to your refrigerator. Here’s how to discern it:
- Did you miss a meal earlier in the day, or are you trying to diet radically? Either way, chances are you do need good fuel now. For optimal function, your body needs regular, healthy, balanced meals.
- Have you eaten in the last hour or so? If so, some other feeling is masquerading as hunger. But if it has been 2 to 4 hours since your last meal, don’t just grab an empty junk food snack. Eat mindfully.
- Could you be thirsty? So often our bodies confuse hunger and thirst. Have a glass of water or herbal tea—it just might hit the spot.
Not sure? Try asking yourself, as I do, if you could have an apple instead. If that sounds great, by all means, dig into some crunchy, nourishing fruit or veggies. But if you answer no, then chances are, you’re not truly hunger. Proceed to A, L, or T to continue your assessment.
Action step: Plan your next day’s meals so you never go more than 4 hours without giving your body good-quality fuel.
Grrr….are you angry, frustrated, or even just quietly annoyed? Maybe something happened at work and you can’t stop thinking about it, or you’re in the midst of an unresolved conflict with a family member. Perhaps a friend let you down. Any of these common scenarios can send you looking for food to soothe raw feelings of injustice.
If this sounds familiar, then stop and recognize your emotion. Food won’t solve this kind of problem.
Action step: Plan to have a conversation with the person or party involved and tactfully verbalize your feelings. Too much, too soon? Then write a letter or email expressing yourself to the other person instead. (Remember, sending is optional.)
Do you feel a little sad, or even extremely blue, to find yourself alone? Treating food as a companion is a common remedy. After all, who sees what you’re eating anyway? Even though this solution is a trap (and even though you know that), it’s all too easy to use food to soothe yourself when you’re by yourself and unhappy about it.
The trouble is, loneliness can be hard to fix since it’s not always obvious. Sometimes we feel alone even while surrounded by other people. Maybe you see friends having meaningful connections and know yours don’t match. Maybe you’re even in a relationship yet feeling misunderstood.
If you’re feeling drawn to food in these situations—or even just because you’re bored—recognize that you’re probably not hungry. (Remember the trick: Apple, anyone?) And food won’t help get you to a real solution.
Action step: Make a plan to connect again with those you know—or even find new friends who are like minded. Start with the activities you love. Yoga? Painting? Hiking? Clubs and classes are out there for almost any interest. Look for them—you’ll be glad you used your insights to move your life forward.
Studies have proven that a lack of sleep can lead to food choices that are less than rational. When we’re tired, we often reach for sugary foods (e.g., muffins or candy) to quickly pump up energy. But the problem is that these high-caloric foods are usually packed with simple carbs and lacking in other nutrients. Unlike smart snacks that contain energizing protein and satiating fiber, those sugary choices will send your blood sugar soaring and then plunging again, requiring you to refuel in a very short time. That pattern eventually translates to added weight and stress—all without providing any of what you really need: rest.
Action step: It’s time. Give yourself a break and let your body recover and repair. Chances are, your eating patterns and choices will begin to normalize almost as soon as you get that needed break.
Are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired—that’s the HALT test. The challenge, of course, is that when you’re faced with a stressor and a trigger, you only have a few seconds, literally, to decide what action to take. After that, it’s anyone’s guess whether that trigger will be just the first in a series of binge foods.
Eating when we’re stressed is the negative reaction. But you can instead meet stress with decisive, effective action that doesn’t include snacking for the wrong reason. Here’s my suggestion: Grab a pen and paper and make a HALT sign to post on your refrigerator as a reminder that you have the power to make an important choice for yourself.
Now that you have your sign prepared, consider some other action steps. First, assert your resolve by removing those tempting foods that are triggers for you. Feel better already? Great—you’ve now set a perfect stage for giving yourself a total body reset using nourishing, energizing foods. My free, easy-to-follow 10-day no-juicing detox plan is a terrific way to shed the built-up substances (and often, a bit of built-up bulk at the waistband) that those sweets, fast foods, and starchy snacks may have brought in.
Your next action step should address your emotional and mental needs. Create a “menu of activities” that give you sound, quick choices for dealing with stress, like going for a walk, calling a friend, or picking up a hobby. Finally, take a refreshing drink of water as you quickly decide to halt the habit of emotional eating. You can do it!