How often do you eat for some other reason other than being hungry?

At the ACSM Health and Fitness Summit, I encountered the acronym H.A.L.T in a session called Eating Behaviors: Why and How You Eat Are More Important Than What by Dr. Kara Mohr.

Hunger: This is the reason we should eat but we rarely do. We eat for so many other reasons other than true hunger that have lost touch with what hunger really feels like.

Anger: Angry is the catch all for many types of emotional eating. It could be sadness or anxiety that sends one reaching for food as a way to self medicate. It can be the fear of anger, the desire to keep others happy. It can be about the fear of rejecting someone’s loves or hurting someone’s feelings.

Loneliness: This was and is my biggest eating issue. Food can be used to fill a hole, a place of emptiness that can grow when we are alone. My life is so full and busy now vs the extremely dark and lonely times I experienced before my fitness journey began. I thought I had this one conquered only to confront it again when Brian started traveling. Thankfully I have developed other ways to cope and can be honest with myself about why I am craving something that will probably make me feel worse instead of better.

Tired: Being tired brings both mental and physical changes that drive your desire to eat. If you try to starve yourself all day by dieting, your energy will drop because you’re running on empty. At the end of day the fatigue and ensuing hunger will win out. You’ll eat whatever is put in front of you with little care for portion control. There are also hormonal shifts that take place when you are sleep deprived. If you’re only sleeping five or six hours a night you effect two important hunger hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Sleep deprivation stimulates production of ghrelin (which signals your body to eat) and suppresses production of leptin (which signals you to stop eating).

This is why food is the hardest part of the fitness journey. Not only is about so much more than hunger, we’ve often lost touch with what true hunger feels like. Our fitness journey is about more than counting calories and prepping meals (although that helps!), but it’s about reframing our relationship with food.

How do we begin?

Get familiar with what true hunger feels like.

Dr Mohr discussed using a hunger scale of 1-10 and having her clients rank their feelings of hunger over a 24-hour period. While Dr. Mohr did not specifically mention fasting, and I am not an advocate of fasting, some practitioners do suggest a 24-hour fast as way to reconnect with true hunger. Getting in touch with how our body signals the need for food will help to move away from external eating cues like eating food at the morning meeting even though you are still full from breakfast. Click here for a good example of the hunger scale. DO NOT try to undertake any kind of a fast before consulting your doctor.

Short circuit the reward cycle.

What is your cycle of cue, habit and reward when to comes to food? Is it setting down to watch your favorite show? Maybe you reach for the ice cream after the kids go to bed? What it is about your habits that is setting you up to make the wrong choice. Figure this out and you can change change the cue. Change the cue and you change the habit.

Ask yourself WHY?

Dr. Mohr called it the behavior chain. I revert back to my Six Sigma training and the 5 WHYs. The next time you take a food action that doesn’t support your goals stop and ask yourself why. That first answer is rarely the real reason. Keep asking why (which usually takes about 5 times) to get to the root cause. Here’s an example:

Instead of eating the dinner at home I had planned, I picked up a pizza on the way home. Before I realized it, I had eaten half of it.


I left work later than planned and I was exhausted.


I kept having to rework a spreadsheet for my boss over and over again. I had to get it done before I left but it seemed like the more I worked at it the more mistakes I made.


I couldn’t concentrate. I was hungry and shaky.


I was trying to save time so I skipped lunch.


It started perhaps as a conversation about willpower or fast food choices. What the real issue is having healthy foods handy in the desk drawer when you’re crunched for time. It’s realizing that you are more productive when you take breaks and fuel your body properly. Find what starts the chain and you find the real answer to your problem.

Be flexible. Deprivation is the quickest path to overdoing it. Dr. Mohr says 90/10; I say 80/20 when it come to eating (and perhaps life in general). Whichever you choose, it’s about allowing yourself to color outside the lines on occasion. Life is meant to be lived. Cheesecake on your birthday or crusty creme brulee on date night are special and should be enjoyed.

What may be the most important is something Dr. Mohr said that wasn’t in her presentation. It was the answer to a question I asked after the session. Many times I hear about lack of support from family members, particularly husbands. They simply refuse to support the new eating habits of their wives, insisting on meat and potatoes meals or going out for pizza. They bring home the trigger foods. I asked Dr. Mohr if she had any tips. I may be paraphrasing a bit but what I remember her saying was,

Ask them why they are giving up their power. Ask them why they are choosing to be the victim.

It was a light bulb moment for me and I hope it is for you too. Every time you let someone else decide your path, make your choices, ask yourself why you are giving up your power. It may be painful, but it’s an important part of the process to find your power again. You can choose your response. You may willingly accept the donut some mornings, which is what being flexible is about. But don’t accept it out of a desire to please someone else or follow someone else’s agenda. Taking your power back can be done with kindness. It may change the nature of your relationship with a spouse or friends. It will be hard but it must be done to reclaim your relationship with food. Explore your reasons. Own your choices. Don’t be a victim.

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