Now that the holiday season has begun it’s hard not to feel stressed and overwhelmed with all that there is to do and turn to unhealthy stress eating.
You may think of stress as something that is normal but it’s a well known fact that it can play havoc with our health, both mentally and physically.
One area of our health that is impacted by stress is our eating habits and weight. Many people who have become overweight claim that the stress at work or at home is making them fat.
When stress is persistent and regular it becomes chronic stress. With chronic stress the mind and body are in constant survival mode. Cortisol, the hormone that is put out by the adrenal glands to help the body withstand stress, remains elevated for a prolonged period resulting in continued bouts of food cravings.
Part of cortisol’s job is triggering hunger to replenish the fuel that the brain assumes has been used in dealing with a threat. This can result in non-mindful eating. Being exposed continually to stressful tasks and situations means that they find themselves turning to foods for comfort and distraction.
The holiday season is deemed one of the most stressful times of the year. You know the score; there’s all the arrangements, the inviting and the visiting of friends and families, the shopping for gifts and for food, maybe travelling, the cleaning, the preparations and decorations, and then of course, the eating!
There’s eating to celebrate, eating to share sustenance with loved ones then there’s the eating for pure enjoyment. On top of that there may be some eating to stuff down and avoid the unpleasant feelings of stress and anxiety that inevitably come as part of the package of the festive season.
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Stress Causes Poor Food Choices
Although some people claim to love gift shopping and planning and preparing for parties, dinners and relatives coming into town, others find that they get very stressed from all the extra chores that come with the holidays.
It’s at times like these when it’s more tempting than ever to forget all your healthy eating resolutions and turn to unhealthy food as a source of comfort. These so called “comfort” foods trigger the release of chemicals that provide a pleasure response, temporarily dulling the pain caused by the stress.
Unfortunately, because of the feel-good response to these foods, they are continually sought after and can become addictive. The food is stored as fat rather than being expended for energy requirements.
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So what can you do to reduce that holiday stress so you don’t turn to the cookie jar or finish off that bucket of gourmet ice cream, or take that last slice of cheesecake?
The first thing you can do is take a moment to breathe deeply. Really stop everything, and just before your hand reaches the door of the refrigerator, focus instead on your breathing. Breathe in deeply using your diaphragm and feel it in your abdomen, beneath your lungs.
Hold the breath in for a second or two and then focus on the air as you breathe it out through your nostrils, warm from your body and and feel your belly cave inwards as the air goes out. Focus on this process for ten complete breaths and you will feel much calmer, your anxiety will have subsided and your cravings will have diminished in intensity.
Make sure you get your daily dose of fresh air and exercise, even if it is just a walk around the block, but not in a high traffic area where you will be breathing in pollutants.
Related reading: Detox Your Body From Environmental Pollutants With Broccoli Sprouts
Being at a family gathering can get very warm and stuffy and all those people breathing out carbon dioxide and using up the available oxygen can make for an atmosphere that can build up feelings of stress and cause irritability. Getting outside can help clear the head and calm the mind. It takes you away from the source of food and gets you participating in some healthy exercise.
When you do eat, eat mindfully. That is, instead of zoning out and just eating without paying attention until you suddenly feel your waistband tightening and then have to reach for the antacids , eat with awareness. See the food, smell the food, and really savor the food.
Focus on the food as you take a bite, the sweet or savory tastes, the unique textures, and the different colors. Enjoy the very experience of eating for pleasure. That way, you will slow your eating down, you won’t rush, you won’t eat quite so much, you won’t feel guilty about it, and you’ll taste each and every morsel. You’ll feel full sooner and you won’t be as inclined to reach for more.
Experts have found that being grateful increases your feelings of contentment and this in turn reduces your stress and lowers the temptation to eat for comfort. Be grateful for all the goodness you are receiving: the company of friends, the warmth, and good cheer, the wonderful food.
Dr. Emmons who is considered by many to be the world’s leading authority on gratitude says “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.”
Finding other ways than eating to soothe yourself is much healthier and more beneficial. Just like causes of stress differ from person to person, what relieves stress is not the same for everyone. Have you discovered what works for you? If so do share them with my readers in the comments below.