Your mind is racing, heart pounding, and you find yourself with one hand in a potato chip bag and the other reaching for ice cream in the back of the freezer – HALT! Are you about to stress eat? If left unchecked, stress-induced emotional eating can lead to unwanted weight gain, habitual self-soothing through grazing, and sluggish energy. Awareness of your internal and external triggers is key to reversing the unwanted effects of stress eating.
Stress invokes the body’s fight or flight response, flooding the nervous system with hormones. Our bodies spend large amounts of energy fueling this reaction – making wellness the last thing on our minds. Fitness, nutrition, and self-care fall behind and resolving the triggering stress event become our bodies’ priority. In this mindset, food and drinks with high sugar, fat, salt and alcohol content become highly palatable and provide a sense of release when consumed. The reward center in our brains lights up, signaling that this behavior is pleasurable.
Our bodies’ first impulse is to soothe these unwanted feeling of stress. This intention expresses itself through a variety of unhealthy behaviors – including stress eating. Kate Hannon, Director of Integrated Wellbeing at Skyterra Wellness offers insight into this common stress-induced reaction, “Emotional eating is an attempt to self-soothe. It’s unwanted behavior driven by unwanted feelings. It often is driven by cues and triggers (both internal and external) that result in overeating, binge eating, grazing, and eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. This behavior is usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame.”
The HALT Method
Luckily, habits are not set in stone. With dedication and patience, you can reverse the negative effects of emotional eating. The HALT method may aid you along your journey. Kate explains the history and purpose of the HALT Method, “This method has been historically used in the treatment of addiction and is known as a relapse prevention skill. HALT is an acronym standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When you feel anxious, restless, agitated or irritable chances are higher that you will relapse into an old behavior (stress eating, drinking alcohol or using drugs for example) if you are feeling one of those states.”
Putting the HALT method in action is the next step. Next time you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired and your cravings soar through the roof – ask yourself if this sudden urge to snack is an emotional response or if the craving is connected to an emotion. Kate advises, “This method can remind you several things at the same time: stop and pause and break the reactive and impulsive mind that is probably dominating your body and choices at that moment.”
Follow these tips for best practice with the HALT Method:
- Honor your Hunger – When you are truly hungry, honor this sensation. Chew slowly and lengthen your usual meal time by 5-10 minutes. Drink plenty of water between bites and stop when you are full.
- Connect to your Emotions – Take a deep breath and connect with yourself in the moment of decision making. Pinpoint the emotion behind your impulse. Are you sleepy? Go to sleep! Angry? Go for a run to release pent up energy or call a close confidant to vent. Sad? Get some fresh air and go for a walk! Tend to your physical and emotional wellbeing – this is the perfect opportunity to do so!
- Find an Alternative – Stress management can take on many forms. Kate advises, “Once you begin to learn what role food plays in your life, you can begin to get those needs met in healthier ways. The practice of self-care is essential, not indulgence. Begin to find ways to comfort and soothe yourself that end with feeling empowered, relaxed and peaceful.”
In need of a lifestyle change? At Skyterra Wellness, we help our guests maximize their potential with wellness consultations. Our professional staff works with each individual to determine a path that best suits their priorities. This plan may include meal planning, fitness coaching, and overall guidance for total body wellness.