Emotional Eating? HALT the BS

We all, at one time or another, use food for soothing. Eating is a pleasurable experience. The problem lies in using food for comfort rather than dealing with our emotions because food only provides a temporary escape only to have emotions resurface again and again. For may people, they are taught from a young age that emotions are not meant to be expressed, but just dealt with on their own and to move on with a brave face. This is, in most cases, not done in malice, but for the sheer fact that we are uncomfortable with emotion. We are uncomfortable with our own emotions and certainly more uncomfortable with that of others. This begins a dangerous cycle, especially if you are trying to manage your weight. When we eat to soothe feelings while trying to lose weight, it begins a cycle of shame, guilt and self-loathing that pushes us further into the emotional abyss. So, let’s HALT the BS!

H- Hungry. If you are hungry, by all means eat. Choosing a balanced meal or snack rather than something high in fat or sugar, will be more satisfying.

A- Angry.   Deal with the anger directly, if at all possible. Otherwise resentment will build and become overwhelming. If it isn’t possible to deal with the anger in a direct or healthy way, find a physical outlet like a walk.

L- Lonely.   Engage in social activities. When we are lonely, some people have the tendency to withdraw, which just makes the loneliness worse. Call someone or get out of the house even if you don’t have anyone to go with you.

T- Tired or Thirsty.

  • Tired- Get plenty of sleep on a regular basis. If you are tired and aren’t able to nap, get moving. The more physical activity you have, the more energetic you will feel.
  • Thirsty. I add another T here because dehydration often masks itself as hunger. Make sure you are getting plenty of water; yes, plain water every day.

B- Bored. If you are bored, try the distraction technique. Find something, anything to occupy you for 15 minutes and get you away from food. The likelihood that you will still want to eat after 15 minutes greatly diminishes. If at that point, you still want to eat, go ahead, but make it a snack, not a treat.

S- Stressed or Sad.

  • Stressed- So often, the stress and anxiety that accompany stress are soothed greatly by food. The problem is, when you stop eating, the stress comes back. Find something soothing to cope with stress that does not involve food like reading, a bath, talking to a friend, etc.
  • Sad- I add another S here because this is a big one. It is more difficult to cope with sadness than some of the other emotions. Try any of the other coping skills discussed like spending time with others and engaging in self-nurturing activities. In winter months, make sure you get enough sun exposure. Incorporating exercise and laughter can also be helpful. If the sadness continues, seek out a counselor in your area.

While this can seem like an overwhelming pattern to change, take it one step at a time. Even the smallest changes can add up. Just remember that unless you address each of these issues directly, you will continue the same cycle. The more you practice the new skills, the more successful you will be in changing your patterns. It is about progress, not perfection!

Related Articles:
Eating Disorders and the Internet
The Role of Self-Acceptance in Eating Recovery
Vulnerability and Eating Disorders

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michelle Lewis, LCSW Body-Mind Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jan

    January 11th, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    I am an emotional eater and you hit the nail on the head by talking about someone who eats when bored! That’s me! I guess I try to eat to fill my time, never because I am really hungry. Logically I know that there are other ways that I can fill my time, and I have tried the old going for a walk trick. But then all i do when I am gone is to plan what I am going to eat when I do get back home! I need to come up with something that will occupy my mind so that food is not always at the forefront.

  • Jeanne Smith

    January 12th, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Why does everyone always want me to get a glass of water when I am hungry? That never works!

  • Healy

    January 12th, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    Eating to comfort oneself is no less than an addiction isn’t it? I have seen a couple of people who were literally addicted to eating and one of them would go on a rampage when depressed or sad.It was like as long as the eating lasted it provided him with protection or something!WHat is to be done with such people?They are not helping their problems by doing that but are in fact creating newer problems!

  • Lauren

    January 15th, 2012 at 5:55 AM

    I can’t believe that someone who is really addicted to eating emotionally is going to take the time to stop and think about what they are doing, no more than a drug addict would. When they need a fix, then they need a fix and there is rarely anything that is going to stop them from going to all lengths to get it.

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