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The holidays are upon us again, a time meant for happiness and celebration. It can also be a time of stress and frustration surrounding family, finances and, of course, food. Food equals comfort and togetherness for some. For others, however, it’s an area of complete frustration due to an excess of calories and sugar combined with a lack of self-control. Research suggests that one-third of all holiday stress derives from food-based overindulgence! Here are some tips to help counteract some of the anxiety around eating during the holiday season.
Right now, the grocery store is stocked with all your favorite holiday treats: that one peppermint ice cream your mom used to buy, those cookies with pumpkin icing everyone is talking about and other baked goods. If you know that those “limited edition” holiday goods will tempt you to overeat, do yourself a favor and leave them on the shelf. You’ve gone without them all year long up until now, so keep going.
If you know you’re going to attend parties with tons of unhealthy food choices, keep safe options on hand for yourself. What is a safe food? It means foods you and your body are comfortable with. You want to aim for safe food that includes a complex carbohydrate and protein so that you don’t starve and end up overindulging at the party. This could be a full meal beforehand, like some lean chicken, veggies, and sweet potato, or a light snack like half a whole grain peanut butter sandwich. You could even carry your favorite protein bar to munch on if it helps keep you from feeling hungry at an event.
Another way of having control over your food choices at parties and social events is by making something of your own and bringing it to the party. It’s a great way to guarantee that there will be something on the table that works for you. It could be a large veggie tray with hummus, an elegant fruit bowl or a creative homemade dessert or entrée you feel good about eating.
When you scarf down your food, your cortisol levels increase. And when your cortisol levels are elevated, your metabolism slows and signals for the body to store more fat. Why does that happen? Because when you’re stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight mode” and cortisol signals for the body to store fat in case it is needed for energy later on. Relax, slow down and enjoy your food. Chew it thoroughly so it’s easier to digest. When you spend more time chewing and enjoying your food, you metabolize it better.
People have different ideas about food rules, what you should and shouldn’t eat and when to eat. This takes away from the pleasure of eating. You feel full from something you didn’t really enjoy, then you feel deprived, and then you want to rebel against this feeling, so you binge. Allow yourself this time to enjoy the foods you want. Most of the time, if you allow yourself to have those “forbidden” foods and use the previous tip where you relax and enjoy your food, you will be more satisfied without overindulging.
You find yourself at yet another holiday gathering where there are large tables of festive foods. Go catch up with friends or strike up a conversation with someone new. If you’re at home, get up and go do something non-food related, like taking a walk, doing a festive activity, calling a friend or reading a book. The holidays should be about people and spending time together, not worrying about food.
By making small changes and smart choices, the holiday season can be a tad less stressful for you and your body. Be extra mindful of what you eat, but don’t completely deprive yourself of what makes you happy. Find a good balance of healthy eating and small, controlled indulges so you can spend less time stressing over your diet, and more time celebrating the holidays with loved ones.
Carrie Gabriel studied nutrition at California State University-Los Angeles and got her RDN through the Coordinated Dietetics Program there. She works as a dietitian for different corporate wellness companies, creating recipes for cooking demos and content for nutrition seminars.
She created her company, Steps2Nutrition, in 2012 in hopes of working more one on one with busy professionals and their specific nutritional needs. She has an advanced certification in weight management and specializes in gluten and dairy free meal preparation for various clients.
You can find some of Carrie’s healthy and delicious recipes and meal tips on her website, www.steps2nutrition.com, and on her Instagram and Twitter account, @steps2nutrition.