It seems so harmless at the time… a stick of chocolate here, a cookie there. But the fact of the matter is that those calories can really add up and get in the way of your health goals. More often than not, I see people mindlessly snacking with no concept of how many calories they’re truly consuming. And while you might be reaching for that cookie due to physiological reasons—like having low blood sugar levels—I bet there are countless times where you’ve reached for that snack just because. This post is dedicated to helping you stop yourself from eating those “just because” snacks so you can become your healthiest, most glorious self.
Tell Yourself to HALT ✋
As some of you might know, I'm currently attaining my Master of Science in Couples & Family Therapy, so I love blending the world of psychology with the world of health and nutrition. HALT is an acronym that incorporates both realms nicely since it's actually used to help recovering addicts understand the emotional reasons behind why they reach for drugs or alcohol. However, it applies to food really well, especially since food addiction is a very real thing for some people.
HALT involves asking yourself the following question whenever you feel like eating an entire bag of Smartfood: “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H, A, L, or T)?” Let’s go through each one of these step by step.
1. Am I hungry?
A lot of people snack simply because their blood sugar levels are low. In an attempt to bring them back up, they’ll grab something like a chocolate chip muffin or potato chips, which break down effortlessly and send glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream and cells super quickly. The problem is that because this glucose enters and leaves your bloodstream at such a fast rate, it won’t be long until your blood sugar levels dip again and you experience yet another craving. AND, keep in mind that refined foods also tend to be extremely nutritionally depleted, meaning that you aren’t giving your body anything that it can actually use for fuel.
If you find yourself reaching for cookie after cookie after cookie, you might just need of a good meal. Opt for one that consists of healthy fats, slow-burning complex carbohydrates, and a healthy protein.
MY PICK: Try a piece of 100% whole grain toast with 1/4 of an avocado spread on top. Add some raw spinach or arugula and top with a freshly-poached egg. Once your body has the nutrients it needs, you will feel much less of an urge to eat that fifth cookie!
2. Am I angry?
Some of us choose to snack simply because it is a distraction from what we are feeling, especially when it’s an uncomfortable emotion like anger. However, this truly isn’t the healthiest way to handle our feelings from both a mental and physical standpoint. Instead:
Acknowledge and accept that you’re pissed off. Anger is a natural human emotion so give yourself a moment to actually feel it without feeling guilty about it.
Try and pinpoint the root cause of the anger and take note of if your reaction is on par with the situation. Do you seem to be blowing up about something that is actually kind of insignificant? There might be a bigger, underlying problem that needs to be addressed then.
Diffuse the anger without using food.
MY PICK: Go on a walk away from the source of anger, call up a friend to vent to, listen to a really angry/calming song (whatever works), and communicate your concerns when you’ve calmed down.
3. Am I lonely?
This is very much related to eating out of anger since it involves snacking to distract yourself from a painful emotion. The thing about packaged foods is that they are consistent and dependable. Whenever we open a can of Pringles, we know exactly what they’ll taste like and they never disappoint… unlike a significant other, friend, or family member sometimes. But instead of distracting yourself from the emotion, try the following:
Acknowledge why you are feeling lonely and who you might be feeling lonely from.
Go to a cafe to do some work or run some errands—anything that will have you surrounded by people.
Call up a friend or someone you can confide in to remind yourself of who’s in your support network.
Never forget that your number one cheerleader and supporter is yourself.
4. Am I tired?
Food is a source of fuel and energy. We know this, which is precisely why we turn to high-sugar foods when we’re tired—because we know for a fact that they will make us feel more energized… temporarily. But having lots of caffeine or sugary foods when we’re tired is like only bringing AfterBite to a camping trip: it will help after the fact but it’s not going to stop us from being bitten in the first place. You might not feel like it, but the best thing to do when you’re tired is eat super nutrient-dense foods.
MY PICK: Juice 4 celery stalks, 1 cucumber, 2 green apples, 1 lemon, some fresh ginger, a bunch of kale, and some fresh aloe vera juice (if you have it on hand). This mineral-rich juice will give you an amazing all-natural pick-me-up. You could also try adding spirulina, macha, or ginseng to your morning smoothie as these are all natural, caffeine-free energizers!
NOTE: If you are able to, take a nap! A study by the journal Behavioural Brain Research concluded that a daytime nap generally improved performance across three different learning paradigms—perceptual learning, procedural motor skill, and verbal memory—while caffeine actually impaired performance in some cases!
And a Few Others…
If I could add two others to the list above, they would be THIRST andBOREDOM. Sometimes I’ll have an entire bowl of grapes before realizing, “I was just super thirsty!” When you’re feeling extra snacky, try chugging a bottle of water and see how you feel after that. You might be surprised that you suddenly feel quite satisfied!
Boredom also plays a huge role in our eating habits. How many times have you walked to the fridge and found nothing there before walking back five minutes later to check again? We sometimes do this because we are simply bored, antsy, and looking for something to do. If this is you, the answer is to find ways to keep yourself busy. Pick up a new hobby, get out of the house, go to the gym—anything that will just keep your mind off things.
The Bottom Line
I like the HALT tool because it helps you figure out why you’re eating in the first place. And the more you learn to eat when you’re hungry—and hungry only—the quicker you’ll achieve your health goals!
You Tell Me!
Is there a certain emotion that seems to always trigger you to snack? Tell me about it in the comments below!