4 Simple Steps Psychiatrists Recommend to Stop Stress Eating

Stress Eating

 

Having a huge work project dumped in your lap at the last second. Getting divorced. Getting into a fender-bender on your way to an important meeting. All of these stressful situations can fire up the emotional centers of your brain and heighten the urge to overeat. Research shows that stress-induced eating is one of the culprits contributing to obesity. To help the patients at Amen Clinics keep stress eating in check, our psychiatrists recommend that they “HALT.”

 

To help keep overeating in check, remember to “HALT.” Don’t get too hungry. Don’t get too angry. Don’t get too lonely. Don’t get too tired. Click To Tweet

WHAT IS HALT?

HALT is an acronym that is commonly used in addiction treatment programs, but it is also particularly helpful for overeaters who have trouble coping with daily stress. HALT has proven to be a very effective way to keep people on track when they are trying to change their eating habits.

HALT stands for:

  • Don’t get too HUNGRY.
  • Don’t get too ANGRY.
  • Don’t get too LONELY.
  • Don’t get too TIRED.

HALT: DON’T GET TOO HUNGRY

Going too long without food lowers your blood sugar levels, which can lead to a variety of emotional issues, including feelings of stress, anxiety, and irritability. These may be the very emotions that trigger your overeating.

Low blood sugar levels are also associated with lower overall brain activity, which is linked to an increase in cravings and impulsivity. Heightened anxiety and irritability coupled with more intense cravings and impulsivity is a recipe for stress eating. Keeping your blood sugar levels even throughout the day is critical to keep you on track.

Here are some tips to keep your blood sugar levels from getting too low.

  • Eat a healthy breakfast—people who maintain weight loss eat a nutritious breakfast.
  • Have smaller meals throughout the day. Eating big meals spikes your blood sugar levels and then causes them to crash later on.
  • Stay away from simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, such as candy, sodas, cookies, crackers, white rice, and white bread. These also spike your blood sugar then cause it to crash later on.
  • The supplements alpha-lipoic acid and chromium have very good scientific evidence that they help balance blood sugar levels and can help with cravings.

HALT: DON’T GET TOO ANGRY

Uncontrolled anger can send you running to the cookie jar to calm your stress. Here are some tips to help keep anger under control.

  • When you feel mad, write down your thoughts and ask yourself, “Is it true?”
  • Practice deep-breathing exercises.
  • Meditate. Just a few minutes of meditation can help you refocus your thinking.
  • Count to ten. When you get angry, count to ten before reaching for something to eat. Sometimes this brief delay can be enough to calm your temper and interrupt the urge to eat.
  • Get moving. If you feel anger bubbling up inside you, go for a walk or a short burst of exercise. This releases brain chemicals that help calm you down.
  • Express your feelings. After you have calmed down, express your feelings in a non-confrontational way. Letting your anger fester can drive you to overeat.

HALT: DON’T GET TOO LONELY

Social skills and a positive social network are critical to your emotional well-being and ability to cope with stress. Working on your current relationships can help you maintain control of your eating habits. Here are some tips to increase your social bonding.

  • Enlist a team of supporters and healthy role models.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • Join a church group, recreational sporting team, book group, or any other type of group that appeals to you.
  • Make it a priority to spend time with your friends and family.
  • Make a list of people you can reach out to when you are feeling sad, anxious, mad, or frustrated.

HALT: DON’T GET TOO TIRED

Your ability to cope with stress depends on getting adequate sleep. A single night of sleep loss leads to amplified feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger in reaction to mild stressors, according to a study in the journal Emotion. In addition, research from the University of California, Berkeley, found that sleep deprivation causes the emotional centers of the brain to become 60% more reactive to negative emotional stimuli. This means your brain simply can’t cope as well with stressful situations, leading to worse moods, more anxiety, greater irritability, increased anger, and more frustration. And when your emotions are running wild, you are more likely to run to the refrigerator for solace.

Lack of sleep also lowers overall brain function, which leads to poor decision-making. Research clearly shows that inadequate sleep leads to higher calorie intake and higher consumption of refined carbohydrates, which causes blood sugar levels to spike and then crash.

Make sleep a priority to boost brain function, moods, and energy levels, and to improve judgment and self-control. Here are 5 ways to make it easier to drift off to dreamland and get a good night’s sleep.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule—going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each day, including on weekends. Get up at the same time each day regardless of sleep duration the previous night.
  • Create a soothing nighttime routine that encourages sleep. A warm bath, meditation, or massage can help you relax.
  • Don’t take naps! This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you have insomnia. Taking naps when you feel sleepy during the day compounds the nighttime sleep cycle disruption.
  • Sound therapy can induce a very peaceful mood and lull you to sleep. Consider soothing nature sounds, soft music, wind chimes, or even a fan.
  • Don’t drink any caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon or evening. Also avoid chocolate, nicotine, and alcohol—especially at night. Although alcohol can initially make you feel sleepy, it interrupts sleep.

When you consistently practice HALT, it increases your ability to cope with stress, make good decisions, and stick with healthy eating habits.

Chronic stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

1 Comment »

  1. Very Helpful, Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Lori — March 22, 2023 @ 7:18 AM

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