HALT Principle

HALT Principle

Have you ever heard of the HALT principle? HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. This acronym is frequently used in mental health and recovery-oriented fields. These feelings or conditions leave you most vulnerable to negative circumstances such as relapse or treatment-interfering behaviors.

HALT can also be applied to the general public. Being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired can lead to overeating, skipping meals, not following a workout regimen, drinking excessively, and many other unhealthy behaviors. Being aware that these four conditions can leave you vulnerable to undesirable behaviors will help you to limit or avoid circumstances that may lead to HALT.


How to avoid falling into the HALT trap

Hungry: Eat within an hour of waking up and every 3-4 hours subsequently. Research and clinical experience has shown that following this meal pattern has been most effective for the general population. By eating within an hour of waking up, your body is provided energy to get started on the day. Eating every 3-4 hours after breakfast allows for small and frequent meals and snacks throughout the day. This stability optimizes your blood sugar control, which is intricately linked to a stable mood. It also provides your body with macronutrients consistently throughout the day, which keeps you from having a lag in energy or getting overly hungry (which then typically leads to overeating).

Angry: Anger can be a very healthy emotion, if handled in the right way. If handled in the wrong way, it can lead to damaged relationships, stress, and overeating. Some tips on dealing with anger include:

  • First identify that anger is what you are feeling. Figure out why you are feeling this way.
  • Let a trusted someone know how you are feeling and why.
  • Find a creative outlet or way to show some of this emotion. Ideas include using a punching bag, drawing, journaling, or running.


Lonely: Building connections with others, either in person or virtually, is essential in emotional and physical wellbeing. It is also important to note that loneliness can occur when physically alone or when emotionally alone, yet surrounded by people. If you experience loneliness on a regular basis, it is important to let your loved ones know what is going on as they may not realize this is an issue. Some tips regarding this vulnerability include:

  • Skype or Facetime family or friends near or far. Watch the same television show with them, workout at the same time, or eat dinner “together.”
  • Run errands or read at a local coffee shop. These are good distractions that get you out of the house and interacting with others.
  • Join a virtual community or support group. There are countless online forums on practically any subject imaginable. You can find free online support groups at http://www.dailystrength.org/support-groups.


Tired: It is vitally important to your health to get adequate sleep each night. Seven to nine hours is the ideal range, however the quality of sleep has been shown to be more important than just the quantity of sleep. Individuals are different in what sleep routine works for them, but the important thing is to develop a sleep routine and stick to it, even on the weekends. Some tips to develop a healthy sleep routine include:

  • Limit caffeine sources in the afternoon and evening
  • Shut down electronics and screen time 1-2 hours prior to heading to bed. This will likely be the most difficult part of the routine.
  • Use essential oils, lotions, or decaffeinated herbal teas to promote sleepiness. The scent of lavender has been shown to be effective in those suffering from insomnia.
  • Rid your bedroom of all light. Try dark or blackout curtains on your windows. Remove all electronics that emit light from your bedroom.
  • Purchase cozy sheets and pillowcases to make your bed as comfortable as possible. Save up for a new mattress if your current mattress is causing pain or discomfort each night.


Everything is connected

In time, you will find that hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are interrelated, so much so that the experience of being “hangry” is now being scientifically studied. In a 2014 study, researchers found that the lower the blood glucose of the subject (the hungrier the subject), the more aggression he/she displayed towards his/her spouse. Furthermore, being alone for extended periods of time can lead to anger, which is an exhausting emotion. Being hungry for extended periods of time, which then leads to overeating, may also lead to feeling tired as your body tries to digest and deal with the larger food intake. Being angry, lonely, or tired can lead to overeating in those struggling with emotional eating. Fortunately, the more you can work to resolve one emotion, the more likely it will be that the other vulnerabilities will begin to resolve.

“Slangry,” the combination of being sleepy and angry, is another condition that has been studied. Without sufficient sleep, the brain is unable to process emotions properly. It also affects the body’s ability to metabolize serotonin, which can result in depression and anxiety.


Enlist the help of technology

There are many great apps that you can employ to keep you accountable on your HALT-less journey. Just a few of the numerous options include:

  • Am I Hungry?® Virtual Coach: Let the app guide you through the hunger scale to determine if you are truly hungry or if other emotions are present.
  • In the Moment – Mindful Eating: Answer questions on decision trees to learn specific coping skills to deal with HALT-related emotions.
  • Headspace: Follow 10 different mindfulness videos and voice-overs to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Stop, Breath & Think: use the app to select the emotion you are feeling; the app will then provide a tailored mindfulness recommendation to follow.


Bottom line

Your body and mind function best when you eat regularly, deal with emotions effectively, find support in others, and get adequate sleep and self-care time; the more you can do to limit the above vulnerabilities, the happier your mind and body will be.

References and recommended readings

Bushman BJ, Dewall CN, Pond RS, Hanus MD. Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(17):6254-7. doi:10.1073/pnas.1400619111.


HALT: The dangers of hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. Bradford Health Services website. https://bradfordhealth.com/halt-hunger-anger-loneliness-tiredness/. Accessed April 1, 2016.


Carroll H. How losing sleep can turn women into monsters. Daily Mail website. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3398358/How-losing-sleep-turn-women-MONSTERS-s-known-sleep-anger-slanger-mothers-confess-toll-family-devastating.html. Published January 13, 2016. Accessed April 1, 2016.


Lavender. University of Maryland Medical Center website. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lavender. Reviewed January 2, 2016. Accessed April 1, 2016.


Worked up from lack of sleep? You might be ‘slangry.’ Health website. http://news.health.com/2016/02/16/hungry-and-sleepy-you-might-be-slangry/. Published February 16, 2016. Accessed April 1, 2016.


Contributed by Alex Lewis, RD, LD

Review date: 3/26/16

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