From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Ten Ways to Stop “Holiday Stress Eating”

In Holiday Eating Strategies on December 10, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Even though the holiday season is full of heart-warming and energizing excitement, it is inevitable that most people will experience pressure-induced stress from all the activities, preparations, and commitments.  Both positive and negative stressors can lead to aberrations in your normal eating and lifestyle behaviors:  you sleep less, skip meals, eat more high fat/high sugar “comfort foods”, neglect exercise, etc. etc.  Sound familiar?  To help you stay focused and healthy this holiday season, I will remind you of ten ways you can cut stress, thereby giving you more energy and focus as you enjoy time with family and friends:

1.  Get plenty of sleep: 7-8 hours per night is ideal.  Recent research studies have determined that people sleeping less than 7 hours a night produce less of the hormone that diminishes appetite (leptin) and more of the appetite stimulating hormone (ghrelin).  Therefore, sleep deprivation will likely lead to a bigger appetite and subsequent weight gain.

2.  Make time for exercise:  short on time?  Even 20 minutes of activity a day can make a difference.  Aerobic exercise, such as walking, ice skating, cross country skiing, Zumba, and stationary cycling, naturally reduces the volume of stress hormones circulating in your system (adrenaline and cortisol), while increasing levels of “feel good” hormones (endorphins), which leads to feelings of contentment and relaxation.  AAAAAHHHH….

3.  Do not skip meals:  you need the energy now more than ever!  Eating small, frequent, nutritious meals throughout the day keeps you  energized, prevents comfort food cravings, and will keep you from getting overly hungry.  Christmas cookies and chocolate truffles are even more tempting when you are famished from a long day of shopping at the mall without a lunch break!

4.  Eat a variety of foods:  eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, such as meat, dairy, and eggs to help fill you up, keep your body energized, and your metabolism humming along.  It is O.K. to include a cookie or two, a piece of chocolate, or a Peppermint Mocha coffee (sans whip) in your healthy eating plan.  Depriving yourself makes the goodies all the more appealing.  Enjoy enough to please your palate but not disturb your waistline.

5.  Set aside some time for yourself:  self-care is an important part of stress management: read a book, take a bath, meditate, get a manicure, attend a yoga class, or take a 15 minute “time out” to just sit and relax with your feet up at some point during the day.  Nurturing yourself gives you more energy to nurture others without the overwhelming feelings of stress.

6.  LAUGH!  Laughter can help you feel better emotionally and physically by lowering your blood pressure and revving up your immune system.  Don’t have amusing friends to share your time with?  Then tune in to your favorite comedy show or movie—watching “Christmas Vacation” (starring Chevy Chase) is one of my favorite ways to get in the holiday spirit while laughing my head off!!

7.  Spend down time with a friend:  there is to be no purpose to this meeting other than just sharing some quality time together and RELAXING: grab a coffee and chat, catch a movie together (preferably a comedy), or share a glass of wine by the fire listening to soothing music.  Peaceful social interaction and bonding is good for the heart, body, and soul.

8.  Do NOT think about weight loss:  there is no worse way to induce stress (and guilt) than to try to drop pounds while tempted by so many holiday goodies.  Be mindful of what you are eating (keeping a food diary may help) but aim for weight maintenance over the holidays instead.  You can resume your weight loss efforts come January 😉

9.  Set priorities:  you don’t HAVE to say yes to every invitation this month.  If your social calendar is too demanding, plan to meet with friends in January or February instead.  Something to look forward to after the start of the new year will keep you in the holiday spirit for longer too!

10.  Focus your energy and time:  choose activities that exemplify what the holidays mean to YOU.   Don’t be tied to traditions that feel more like chores than joys—-despise baking cookies for the entire neighborhood? Then skip the homemade goodies this year and offer cheer by caroling in the neighborhood together.  Cooking the holiday meal is more overwhelming than enjoyable for you?  Choose a nice restaurant to gather at for dinner and return to your home for dessert and opening presents afterwards instead.  Don’t be a slave to your “to do” list.  Do things you WANT to do.  Don’t like writing lengthy updates in your Christmas cards?  Reach out to your long distance friend to catch up by phone instead.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

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  1. Hmm stress? What is that? I sure have plenty of that and I’m not teaching. I do exercise every day for 40 minutes. Of course doing the holiday cookie baking and tasting doesn’t help. So where were you this AM when I had to shovel snow? I promised you coffee or hot low fat no sugar hot chocolate and Christmas cookie. Hope all is well with you.

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