What Does HALT Stand For?

How to Use the Acronym HALT to Help With Weight Loss

Mixed race businessman eating and working at desk
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Many of us eat for reasons that have nothing to do with good nutrition. We eat because we're sad, or we're frustrated, anxious, bored, or simply exhausted. If you're trying to change your eating habits to lose weight, examining these possible causes may be the key to weight loss success. Using the acronym HALT may provide a smart starting point for that journey of self-discovery.

What Does the Acronym HALT Stand For?

Addiction specialists and professionals in recovery programs have used the acronym HALT for many years. Each letter represents a different state that a client might be experiencing.

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

In some clinical settings, HALT is used as a tool to guide addiction recovery and prevent relapses. For example, a person struggling with alcohol addiction may examine whether they are feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired when they feel the urge to drink. Finding the true source of the discomfort may help them to satisfy their needs without compromising their sobriety.

But more recently, some weight loss professionals have begun to use HALT for weight loss. Many times, we mindlessly eat, overeat, or consume unhealthy foods because we are have allowed ourselves to become overly hungry, exhausted, isolated or overwhelmed with fatigue. Whether you are addicted to food or not, using the acronym HALT can help guide you to healthier eating practices.

How Can HALT Help You Lose Weight?

If you frequently eat or overeat unhealthy foods, consider taking five minutes before each eating occasion to examine your physical and emotional needs. Ask yourself a few questions to find out if eating will help you to feel better. In many cases, food will not eliminate your discomfort, and in some cases, eating may add to it. 

Are you hungry? It's normal to get hungry. And it is healthy to satisfy your hunger with nutritious food. It's even normal to indulge in empty calorie foods now and then. But if you find that you get overly hungry and binge eat (or choose junk food) as a result, then it might be helpful to examine your schedule and your food choices to lose weight. Ask yourself a few questions when you feel the signs of hunger.

  • When is the last time I ate? 
  • What did I eat at my last meal or snack?
  • How much did I eat during my last meal or snack?

If you find that you are eating every 3-4 hours and still getting hungry, then you might be choosing the wrong foods or not eating enough. Try consuming snacks and meals that provide more fiber to help you to feel full longer. Foods with protein and a small amount of healthy fat can also boost satiety. 

Are you angry? Feelings of frustration and madness often lead us the refrigerator or to the vending machine. Eating provides comfort and a brief respite from feelings of helplessness or irritation. If your anger comes from a sense of entitlement or a feeling of being shortchanged, eating can help you to feel as if you are getting your needs met or that you are getting what you deserve. But food won't solve whatever problem you're dealing with. And if you overeat as a result of your anger, you may end up feeling angry with yourself as well.

If you use HALT before eating and realize that you are angry, try a quick stress-relief method to calm your emotions. Deep breathing, mindful meditation, and journaling may be able to provide some relief. In some cases, you may be able to resolve your anger by confronting it directly. If anger becomes a frequent issue, you may benefit from guided therapy with a counselor.

Are you lonely? It is not uncommon for people who are overweight or obese to keep to themselves. Studies have shown that people who are obese are more likely to be isolated and have low emotional trust. If you eat when you are lonely, you may compound the problem.

Alternatively, overweight and obese individuals who have social support are generally more likely to lose weight. Studies have shown that support from family members, coworkers, and even from children can help dieters stick to a program of healthy eating and exercise.

If you don't feel signs of hunger, you're not angry or tired, and you still feel the urge to eat, take a few minutes to connect with a friend. Make a phone call, visit a coworker's cubicle, or even use social media to reach out to a friend. Spend a few minutes getting (and giving) support to see if that curbs the urge to eat.

Are you tired? Fatigue is likely to hit when you cut back on calories. If you cut back on your energy (caloric) intake, it is only reasonable that you might feel a bit tired. But there are ways to increase your energy levels without eating more than you need.

First, make sure that you remain well-hydrated throughout the day. It is not uncommon to mistake thirst for hunger and grab food when your body needs water. Also, dehydration causes fatigue, so you'll nip it in the bud if you drink enough water during the day.

Next, examine your sleep habits. Researchers are increasingly finding a link between lack of sleep and poor eating behavior. Some researchers believe that lack of sleep may affect your hunger hormones. Others believe that exhaustion simply causes us to be less disciplined in our food habits.

What we do know, however, is that a good night's sleep is risk-free and provides other health benefits. So if you use HALT and find that you are tired often, it might be worth your while to take steps to sleep better at night.

A Word From Verywell

We eat—and overeat—for many different reasons. Taking a few minutes to examine the emotions behind your eating behavior may help you to make smarter choices around food. The acronym HALT can provide you with a structured guide to examine those feelings. Use HALT as a tool, along with guidance from your health team, and support from friends and family to reach your weight loss goals and stay healthy. 

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