Nutrition and Health

Holiday Stress and Over-Indulging

By Amy Bartels, Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, MU Extension

Shopping, cleaning, cooking, baking, traveling and socializing – not to mention, bills, taxes, end of the year deadlines. The holidays can make the last two months of the year a stressful time, and for many of us, it is easy to turn to food to relieve our anxiety.

Emotional eating is a way to suppress or soothe our negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.

Eating to relieve stress, rather than when you are hungry, can lead to unnecessary weight gain and can worsen existing medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Paying attention to your body’s cues can help you avoid many of these holiday pitfalls.

Four Ways to Lighten Your Holiday Load:
1. Find a stress relieving activity—You will feel better if you do something physical rather than eating to relieve stress. Activities like taking a walk, bike ride, play games (pets and kids), or maybe something that is more soothing such as, getting a massage, yoga, meditation, deep breathing.
2. Engage your brain--Choose an activity that requires brainpower to refocus your thoughts on something else besides food. Read, do a crossword puzzle, watch a movie, putter in your woodshop or do some sewing. You might consider talking with a close friend or family member.
3. Eat healthy foods and stay on a schedule--Go to bed at the usual time, get up at the usual time, eat breakfast, fit in some time for exercise and try to avoid the temptation to overindulge. If you skip meals, you will most likely be tempted to overindulge later in the day. Stick to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as healthful snacks. High-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, and veggies can help keep cravings at bay.
4. Enjoy comfort foods in moderation-- Most of us approach the food table at a party as if it is the last time we will ever see those items. When in reality, we will most likely have another opportunity within the month for our favorite dishes. Also, be aware of emotional triggers to holiday foods such as the eggnog that reminds you of being at your favorite grandma’s house, etc. When we feel stressed, it is easy to turn to comfort foods. They often link us to happy memories and may even affect neurotransmitters and hormones, giving us a temporary sense of euphoria. Of course, these feelings are short-lived and we may end up feeling more stressed afterward, especially if emotional eating affects our health or weight. By keeping track of things like your food intake, sleep, and exercise from Dec 1 through Jan 1, you will be more aware of areas where you need to improve in the coming year. Think New Years’ resolutions.