It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or is it?
The holidays can and ideally should be a wonderful time of year, but they can also quickly turn stressful in the hustle and bustle, pressure to find the perfect gifts, navigating family dynamics and events, or particularly this year, dealing with financial stress and loneliness as we are under social and business/work restrictions.
When things get intense it often leads to emotional or “stress” eating. Add in the typical abundance of holiday goodies and it’s easy to fall into unhealthy end-of-year habits that affect our mental and physical health, sending us into a vicious cycle!
Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays and I love food, and I fully intend to enjoy a few indulgences. I’m all for celebrating and feasting, just trying to do that in an intentional way with full enjoyment, zero guilt, while avoiding a physical or mental “food hangover”.
To help manage stress eating during the holidays and practice more mindful eating and living, follow the suggestions below.
H A L T. Recognising the stress response is the first step to managing the habits that go with it. When reaching into the cookie jar or snack cupboard, ask yourself the following questions.
- Am I Hungry? Prepare a nutritious and balanced meal or snack. Make sure you include a source of protein and healthy fat, and a glass of water or herbal tea. Then enjoy that cookie or treat if you still want it!
- Am I Angry or frustrated? Grab a journal and write it out. Hit the mat and sweat it out. Grab a box of tissues and cry it out. Take your pillow and scream it out. Close your eyes and breathe it out. What is your best release? Do that. Then eat when you are feeling calmer. Your body can’t properly digest food when it’s in fight or flight mode anyway!
- Am I Lonely? This is such a prevailing emotion during the holiday season, even more so this year! Try to connect with people, not food. If you live with others prioritize family or community meals whenever possible – love and connection is one of the most important ingredients! If you live alone (or feel alone) then prioritize calls or Facetime with friends or family member that “gets” you and that fills your cup, and if possible, plan regular meet ups for a walk or coffee/lunch date for in person contact.
- Am I Tired? When we lack sleep our body produces a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite and causes us to crave carbs, salt and sugar. Sound familiar? When we get enough sleep, our body produces a hormone called leptin instead, which suppresses appetite. So, before you binge out and enter a food coma, maybe you just need a nap or some couch time with a fuzzy blanket and mug of tea, or a funny movie. If you have some time off, now is great opportunity to catch on some sleep deprivation to help balance those hunger hormones.
Plan ahead and slow down. If you have nutritious food in your house, you will eat nutritious food. If you fill your plate with healthy things, you will eat healthy things. Fill ½ of your plate with veggies, add a serving of quality protein and healthy fats, and a side of starch if you wish. Then be thankful and take your time when eating. Meals should take 30-45 minutes when we chew your food thoroughly, 30+ times per bite. There’s room for delicious treats on our holiday plates, just make sure you nourish yourself first!
Exercise. Try to move for at least 30 minutes a day to clear your head and burn some stress, making you less likely to make poor emotionally driven decisions. You don’t need a gym; as a matter of fact, exercising in nature has so many benefits!
- Fresh air has more oxygen
- Greenspaces raise serotonin levels
- Triggers primal regions of our brain and psyche
- Increases feelings of well-being and lowers depression
- Sun exposure increases Vitamin D levels and helps optimize hormones and mental health.
Watch the alcohol. No, I don’t mean watch yourself pouring glass after glass… well, ok, watch that too so you don’t make a mess! We all know alcohol isn’t exactly great for our mental or physical health, but it also lowers inhibitions and increases appetite. The more we drink, the more we eat. If enjoying some alcoholic beverages over the holidays, try mixing extra sparkling water into the drinks, or alternate glasses of water with the drinks.
Give back. Have a purpose. Not out of guilt or duty but out of intrinsic motivation! Studies show that people who consistently serve/volunteer over a 6-month period are 25% happier, fell less stress, and have improved immune health. So, help your neighbour shovel the driveway, bake those holiday goodies and drop some off at a friend’s home, or write Christmas cards or notes of encouragement or appreciation to people who could use a lift. These activities will help you and them while keeping your hands from reaching for the 12th sugar cookie of the day.
Most of all enjoy the holidays and enjoy the extra indulgences that come with it! If stress eating wins, let it go. Zero guilt, zero shame, zero restriction or trying to exercise off the excess. Be good and kind and gentle to yourself. Allow yourself time and space to feel and process and connect to the emotions that may come up, instead of shoving those feelings down with food.
If you are looking for some holiday treats, Spritzgeback is my all time favourite, that I don’t dare mess with, and here are some other traditional ones that I modified to be low sugar and grain/gluten free; Ginger Cookie , Bird’s Nest Cookie , and Eggnog – boozy or not!
I wish you all things merry and bright this holiday season!