Did you know that we can gain an average of 7 pounds between November and January? Holidays can be stressful, due to long travel times, long lines at busy stores, time with family members that may push our buttons, loneliness, or financial stress. And when we’re stressed, we tend to eat for comfort and not because we’re physically hungry. We also tend to crave comfort foods, which are high in fat and carbohydrates. The combination of emotional eating, increased stress, and an abundance of high-fat foods can make for unhealthy eating patterns around the holidays. Here are some tips to resist the cycle of holiday stress:
1. Manage your stress. When we are stressed, we tend to crave foods high in fats and carbohydrates, the ‘comfort foods” instead of healthier foods that have less fats and sugars in them. When you manage your stress, you are less likely to stress eat. Managing your stress can also keep your cortisol levels in your bloodstream stable. High stress can produce high cortisol levels in the body, which can lead to increased abdominal fat, creating risk for heart disease and stroke. There are a variety of ways to reduce your stress. Something as simple as slow and deep breathing can help. Getting exercise and making time to meditate are also great stress reducers.
2. Get plenty of sleep. Getting plenty of restful sleep is one of the most important ways to combat stress and weight gain. When you lack sleep and feel tired, you tend to crave foods that are high in simple carbohydrates like sweets, since they give you a quick rush of energy. Unfortunately, the rush doesn’t last long and then you become fatigued again. These foods don’t have much nutritional value, they affect insulin and can cause weight gain. Another reason that sleep is important is that our leptin and ghrelin hormones that are regulated while we sleep get out of balance when we don’t get enough sleep, and this can cause us to gain weight. Also, when we are tired, we often don’t have the energy or desire to exercise, which can also lead to weight gain and increased stress.
3. Use the 3-bite rule. The 3-bite rule works great for not only using portion control, but also enjoying each bite of food and being aware of what you are eating. Studies show that we tend to remember only three bites of particular food. We remember the first bite since it is new to our palate, and we remember the last bite since it we want to savor it. We also tend to remember a bite somewhere in between. Often, we are distracted while we are eating, either by talking to others, by watching TV, or just mindlessly eating. Practicing the 3-bite rule allows you to enjoy a food that you like and saves you a lot of empty calories in the process. Take time to be aware of each bite, closing your eyes if you choose and feeling the food in your mouth, chewing it slowly and savoring its taste, temperature and texture. Not only will you better remember eating it, but you’ll also be more satisfied and feel better about limiting your intake of a high fat or sugary food.
4. Be selective with attending parties. Just because you are invited to many gatherings doesn’t mean that you have to attend all of them. Take time to evaluate which gatherings you prefer to attend. Ask yourself, whose company do I enjoy most? Is it a good time or travel distance for me? Will I feel comfortable there? When you choose wisely, you can avoid a lot of stress. Running around and trying to attend all of social gatherings can be stressful, and chances are that you’re not going to fully enjoy all of them. Instead, try picking just one and relax, knowing that you are completely focused on that social event, without thinking about others to attend that day.
5. Eat something healthy before going to a party. Before attending a party, it’s good practice to eat something healthy before going, or even drinking a big glass of water to fill up. Going to a party hungry is setting yourself up to eat a lot of potentially non healthy foods. So, plan ahead and take time before the gathering to eat something nutritious. By doing this, you can limit the amount of other foods that are available to eat.
6. Step away from the table with a small plate of food. This prevents grazing at the food and not even being aware of how much you may be eating. Walk around the table and see all the food available before choosing which ones you prefer to eat. Pick your favorites and limit yourself to those, then put the food on a small plate and step away from the table. Distract yourself by talking to others and focusing more on the company than the food.
7. Plan ahead. Meal planning is a great way to reduce the temptation of eating out often or choosing unhealthy foods because of convenience. Choosing a day of the week to shop for meals makes for a more enjoyable week of eating healthy and saving time waiting in line at restaurants. It’s also easier on the budget when you plan ahead for travel or buying gifts. Look for sales throughout the year for purchasing gifts, so your spending is spread throughout the year, instead of having a big bill to deal with at one time. Plan your travels during less busy times to avoid heavy traffic and running late for social activities.
8. Keep your exercise routine. Holidays can be a time when we can get out of our habit of exercising. Because we are typically not in our routine, things can get in the way of our physical activity. Remember, it takes at least 30 days to develop a habit but only 7 days to break it. So, it’s important to keep your regimen of exercising, even if you need to adjust the time of day you work out, or the length of time you exercise. Exercise not only helps with weight management, but it is also a great de-stressor.
9. Be comfortable using your brake pedal. Always know that you have a brake pedal to use every time you feel the need to use it. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, you can use your brake pedal by leaving the situation. For example, if you’re uncomfortable with a lot of drinking at the social setting, you can politely excuse yourself from the setting. You don’t even have to give a reason. You are worthy of feeling safe and comfortable, and you can always choose to leave a situation that doesn’t feel right to you. Remember, your feelings and needs are important. By practicing using your brake pedal, you can reduce the stress in your life as well as reduce calories you don’t even want. So, enjoy the spirit of the holiday season by surrounding yourself with healthy people, healthy foods and healthy memories.