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 am 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.
HALT. 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.
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 you chew your food thoroughly, 30+ times per bite. There’s room for delicious treats on your holiday plate, 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!
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, felt 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, kind and gentle to yourself. Allow yourself time and space to feel, 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, here are my two faves that I modified to be low sugar and grain/gluten free; Ginger Cookie and Bird’s Nest.
I wish you all things merry and bright this holiday season!
Published on December 23, 2020
Brigitta Beer, Registered Holistic Nutritionist