What Does HALT Stand For?

How to Use the Acronym HALT to Help With Weight Loss

Businessman eating and working at desk

JGI / Tom Grill / Getty Images

Many of us eat for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger or good nutrition. We eat because we're sad, frustrated, anxious, bored, or simply exhausted, among other reasons. While this may not always cause a problem, if you're trying to change your eating habits to lose weight, examining these possible causes may be the key to sustained weight loss. Using the acronym HALT may provide a smart starting point for that journey of self-discovery.

What Does 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 some weight loss professionals also use HALT for weight loss. Many times, we mindlessly eat, overeat, or consume unhealthy foods because we have allowed ourselves to become overly hungry, exhausted, isolated, or overwhelmed with fatigue. While some of these instances do require us to eat in order to feel better, other times our bodies are simply in need of rest versus more energy intake from food. 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 find yourself overeating certain foods, consider taking a minute before each eating occasion to examine your physical and emotional needs. Ask yourself a few questions to find out if eating is what your body actually needs in that moment. In many cases, food will not eliminate your discomfort—sometimes, eating may add to it. 

Are You Hungry? 

It's a normal biological response to get hungry. And it is healthy to satisfy your hunger with nutritious food. It's also normal to indulge in empty calorie foods now and then. But if you find that you get overly hungry and binge eat (or choose primarily junk food) as a result, then taking a closer look at your schedule and your food choices might help you assess your eating habits more closely. 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 three to four hours and still getting hungry, then you might be choosing foods that don't keep you full, or you may not be eating enough. Try choosing 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. A meal that includes a combination of all three—a high fiber carbohydrate, protein source and healthy fat—will aid in keeping you satisfied longest.

Are You Angry? 

Feelings of frustration, irritability, and anger often lead us to the refrigerator, convenience store, or vending machine. Eating provides comfort and a brief respite from feelings of helplessness or irritation.

If your anger comes from a sense of your needs not being met or a feeling of being shortchanged, eating might help you feel as if your concerns are being cared for or valued or that you are getting what you deserve.

While sometimes comforting, food won't solve whatever problem you're truly angry about. And if you overeat as a result of your anger, you may end up feeling angry with yourself as well—which can cause more unintentional eating.

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 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 to eat as a way of coping with loneliness. Those who are working on losing weight may also be more prone to keep to themselves, particularly as eating with others may less appealing if you're watching what you eat. Studies have shown that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to withdraw socially, feel isolated, and have lower 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. In fact, studies have found that support from family members, coworkers, and even from children can help people 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, consider taking a few minutes to connect with a friend or loved one. Make a phone call, visit a coworker's cubicle, or even use social media to reach out to someone you know, particularly a person who makes you feel good about yourself and/or is likely to put a smile on your face. Getting (and giving) a bit of social connection could turn out to be exactly what you need and you may find mindless eating decreases as a result.

Are You Tired? 

Fatigue is likely to hit when you cut back on calories. If you reduce your energy (caloric) intake, it is only reasonable that you might feel a bit tired. While it is important to be sure your individual caloric needs are met, 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 actually craves 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. It's also possible that exhaustion simply causes us to be less mindful of our healthy eating goals.

Lastly, aim to incorporate more physical activity, such as going on a walk or bike ride, taking an exercise class, or jumping on a trampoline, into your life. Studies show that people who spend more time engaging in free-time physical activity have more energy—and generally, just feel better—than less active people.

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 indulging may help you to make smarter choices around food. The HALT method can provide you with a structured guide to use to examine those feelings. Use HALT as a tool, along with guidance from your doctor and/or registered dietitian and support from friends and family to reach your weight loss goals. 

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesityMed Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012

  2. Rotenberg KJ, Bharathi C, Davies H, Finch T. Obesity and the social withdrawal syndromeEating Behaviors. 2017;26:167-170. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2017.03.006

  3. Hwang KO, Etchegaray JM, Sciamanna CN, Bernstam EV, Thomas EJ. Structural social support predicts functional social support in an online weight loss programmeHealth Expectations. 2014;17(3):345-352. doi:10.1111/j.1369-7625.2011.00759.x

  4. Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brainNat Commun. 2013;4:2259. doi:10.1038/ncomms3259

  5. Kline CE. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvementAm J Lifestyle Med. 2014;8(6):375-379. doi:10.1177/1559827614544437

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.