HALT Your Snacking

Lately it has been hard! Who is with me? I have actually never had an issue like this before but I know that many of you are struggling along right beside me……late night snacking! UGH!
Seriously, for myself, nutrition has ALWAYS been a 100% priority for me and I rarely waiver. My friends and family can attest to this, especially anyone that has ever travelled with me (pssst you know who you are)! Ordinarily, I remain consistent no matter what the circumstances.

So, this brings us to the past couple of months... time to get honest... I don’t really seem to care right now. That is actually hard to admit out loud. Call it fatigue from our current world status because my strong walls have come tumbling down and I cannot help but sneak into the kitchen at night to get a snack. Now for all intents and purposes, my late snacking might look like someone else’s version of health food but it is not necessarily about the “what” that I am eating but rather it is about the “why”.

I have been reflecting on this and have come up with a few reasons for my change in behavior. I am a STRONG believer in knowing your “why” behind the decisions that you are making- are they good or not so good? I am intimately connected to the “why” behind my years of consistently eating well. These reasons are what grounds me and prevents me from wavering when there is temptation in my path.

These are my reasons “why”:

  1. I refuse to be a hypocrite - I cannot sit on my perch and preach the good nutrition news to my patients and not be living in the trenches with them.
  2. My mental health - when I do not eat well, I take a major hit in my moods and experience depression, low energy and then my motivation hits a low.
  3. I need to keep my weight in check - many of my patients come to me for my expertise in weight loss and I would not be a motivating example if I did not live my truth.
  4. Health! I know WAY too much about the importance of nutrition and health and once you know- you cannot unknow. I know for a fact that each nutritional decision we make will either prevent or increase our disease risk.

Ok so there you have it - sounds pretty good right?! So why would I waiver over the past few months from decades of stoic decision making?

Here is where it all fell apart and I only now know this after weeks of reflecting and trying to figure it all out.

  1. I am tired. Honestly, I feel bone and soul tired. This is different than feeling tired from a poor sleep because I actually have lots of daily energy to get me through all that I do. But this is the type of tired that has settled into the deepest part of my soul. Why? Many reasons- my cup is not getting filled with many of the things that I relied on in the past like attending Church, being with friends whenever I wanted or watching my boys play their sports (this is the highlight of my life). I now occasionally watch Church online but it is not the same. I very rarely go for a socially distanced walk with a friend but there are no hugs (tears streaming down my face as I write this). I sit for hours in parking lots as my boys are inside facilities with double masks as they play a modified version of the sports they love. I now have a virtual office set up in the back of my car and I work for hours each week into the late hours of the night while I wait for them.
  2. I need something to look forward to - this ALWAYS helps! We all need something to work towards, a trip, a family vacation, a wedding or some type of event where you know you will want to feel your best. I am not someone who needs big, extravagant holidays but I do really need small escapes from regular life that have always kept me motivated and on track with my health decisions. Right now, crickets chirping…. there is nothing on the horizon.
  3. I am virtual. This one is totally vain and I own it! For years, I have been working with patients in person. Each morning I would take the time to get ready - hair, make-up, clothes…the works! I LOVE fashion and have the closet to back up that claim. There is nothing better than looking and feeling your best. Well, now I sit behind a video and help patients virtually for the most part. It really does not matter what I wear so I choose comfort each day. Slippers, Lulu’s on the bottom and a halfway decent shirt on top…. but this is not the same. I can get ready in no time flat now. I have no idea how my “real life” clothes would even feel because everything I wear is stretchy. This is dangerous territory as we really cannot keep ourselves in check when our pants have the grace to expand with our decisions.
  4. I have nothing to do! Ok this is a bit dramatic but I have much less to do than I would normally have in my “previous life”. Just over a year ago, I would feel so blessed with my one night a week that I did not have an activity to get my kids to on time. Now, I have many nights a week with no activities. I find myself lazier as I have less to do. This is how I am made- the more things I have to do, the busier I make myself. The opposite is also true- the less I have to do, the less I want to do. I am in my pj’s by 5pm. I am in bed by 7pm watching Netflix or some soul sucking series that has no fruit in my life. But what else is there to do? And then I mindlessly add in a snack because why not?!

I know that many of us are living parallel lives. Don’t get me wrong, none of this is tragic! I 100% know in every cell in my body how very blessed I am! But this is all about recognizing a shift in behaviour and looking to find the “message” in the “mess”.

Here is the message…I choose to not be hard on myself. My goal will not be to get 100% back on track- that never works. I will leave room for a “snack night” at first because reverting back is hard. I have formed a habit and now I need to undo that same habit!

Habits are formed when you have a trigger which then causes a behaviour, and you get some kind of reward when you execute that behaviour. Trigger →Behaviour →Reward. It’s really that simple. It is called the “Habit Cycle” because every time you engage in the behaviour when you are triggered and every time that behaviour gives you a reward, you cement the cycle.

Once that cycle is established, you will do it on auto pilot without a second thought or a pause for concern.

Most of our day is spent acting out our habits (getting up, showering, brushing our teeth, pouring that blessed cup of coffee…. you get what I mean). Many of our habits are good and serve us well but on occasion we will end up creating a habit cycle that is not in our best interest like my late-night snacking.

Most food TRIGGERS are born out of this acronym- HALT
H - Are you hungry?
A - Are you angry or stressed?
L - Are you lonely or bored?
T - Are you tired or thirsty?

Here is the REWARD depending upon how you respond to your trigger:
A sugar rush and a jolt of temporary energy, an endorphin release of feel-good hormones- also temporary, a “shove down” of negative emotions as the food buries it deeper or it may simply be something to do and bide your time!

The BEHAVIOUR is the actual snacking
In order to correct a bad habit, you need to continually interrupt the habit cycle until it’s no longer an automated stimulus and response. This can be done by intervening at any point along the way in the trigger to rectify the behaviour or to revise the reward.

Here’s how:
Answer the HALT question for yourself-

  • Are you hungry- legitimately hungry? When did you last eat? Was it enough? If you are actually hungry, then make yourself a healthy snack and reflect on why you did not get enough nutrient dense calories in the day to fuel your body.
  • Are you angry or stressed? Why are you angry? What has caused your stress? Recognize that the stress hormone Cortisol is blasting through your body and you are in “fight or flight”- going for a brisk walk, hopping on the treadmill, the bike or just doing high knees or jumping jacks which is a much better way to “spend” the Cortisol that is flooding your system. Eating during those times will automatically end up as massive weight gain on your mid section!
  • Are you lonely or bored? YES! We all are right now. Sure, you can zoom a friend or Facetime a family member but for many of us on video ALL DAY, that is actually the last thing we want to do. This is where it might be better to intervene at a different point in the journey- keep reading.
  • Are you tired or thirsty? If you are tired, for goodness sakes, go to bed. Have a relaxing bath or shower, get in your coziest pjs and climb into bed and go to sleep- your body is BEGGING you for it. If you are thirsty because SO often thirst is mistaken as hunger so drink a massive glass of cold water and then download a Water App so that you do not repeat the same mistake again.

Other ways to have a trigger intervention:

  • Don’t hang out with that person that makes you want to eat junk food! If that is your spouse, then have an honest conversation and let them know you need their help.
  • Stop going to whatever coffee shop you are going to on the way to work that has that way too tempting breakfast scone that you always end up getting after you keep telling yourself it will be the last time- just stop going. Make your coffee at home where there are no delicious scones to taunt you.
  • If one drink leads to another and that leads to more and then the nacho chips come out because at that point, who really cares- then don’t even have the first drink. If you can’t have a drink, then we need to have a longer conversation.
  • If you always snack on the couch in front of the TV- change it up and read a book in bed or watch your show in bed. Just change your scenery and reinvent yourself.
  • If you always get cravings at 3pm, get up from your desk and go for a walk. Or if you need something sweet after a meal- brush your teeth (it works every time).

Interrupt the Behaviour
Each time you are triggered, and you don’t succumb to the behaviour and there is therefore no reward, you are severing the habit cycle until eventually, you are re wired! This does take time - in fact, many experts agree that it takes approximately 42 days of conscious effort to fully overcome a bad habit. Don’t lose heart though because it only takes an initial 3 days for the intense “effort” phase to pay off.

Some tips to get through it would be to distract yourself and make the behaviour inconvenient or less desirable. You could also employ a ‘cross-addiction’ method by supplementing the ‘bad’ snack with a good snack.

Interrupt the Reward
You can switch your reward for something different but it still needs to be something that you enjoy otherwise you are just inviting misery into your life. You can swap your unhealthy treat with something much more healthy and still tasty (this is my plan for now and then phase 2 is no snack because I am not a child who needs a bedtime snack! Although a special treat on family movie night is a must and I will continue to enjoy my organic popcorn with nutritional yeast).

Once you really understand why some of your behaviour feels so hard to let go of, you will begin to see that these habitual cycles can be broken without too much effort.

So, for me, I plan on having an apple with cinnamon sprinkled on top for my late-night snack until I am so sick of crunching apples that I am ready to move into phase 2 of being all grown up with no snack needed.

In the meantime, you can download my free healthy snack recipe book to make some healthy snack swaps and remember to HALT whenever needed!