Navigating the Stress of Holiday Eating

Are you eating because you're hungry or because you're stressed out? Learn the difference and get tips for avoiding holiday stress eating.
holiday stress

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Christmas Stress

Photo by: Erik Reis

Erik Reis

The holidays are upon us and the joy of the season is often paired with a good amount of stress. Managing everyday life can be stressful enough so the hussle of the holidays can send some people over the edge quite quickly. It’s a known fact that many people use food to medicate many emotions, including stress. Add to that the abundance of decadent foods around the holidays and the well understood desire not to gain weight this time of year and you have, yes, more stress.

So how can you break the cycle? How can you decrease the amount of stress in your life and become more mindful about your food choices during the holidays and throughout the year? The key is slowing down and asking yourself a few questions.

Are you eating because you are feeling stressed or because you are actually hungry and need nourishment?  Paying close attention to your satiety signals and hunger cues is the first thing to learn when trying to avoid emotional eating. Allow your body to tell you when and how much to eat rather than relying on your emotions to do so. Below are some ways to identify emotional eating behaviors, as well as tips to break those habits and manage your stress in a healthier way.

You may be an emotional eater if…
  • Your hunger comes on suddenly and it feels urgent.
  • You crave a specific food -- typically not healthiest food.
  • Your hunger is often paired with an emotion such as anger, frustration, sadness, stress, etc.
  • You are eating unconsciously and are unaware of how much you are actually eating.
  •  You don’t stop eating when you feel full.
  • Your hunger is not in the belly. You are eating to please the mouth with flavor or texture.
  • You feel guilt or regret after you satisfy your hunger.

If any of these statements resonate with feelings or thoughts you have had, you most likely have eaten for an emotion before. If this is something that occurs often and you feel that your stress has more control over your diet than you do, then try some of tips below to help you overcome your emotional eating behaviors.

Tips to avoid emotional eating and manage stress:
  • Practice mindful eating.  Constantly ask yourself the following questions:
  • “Am I hungry?” vs. “Am I stressed, angry, frustrated, tired etc.?” Only eat if you are feeling hungry.
  • “How does my stomach feel?”  Full? Empty? In the middle? If it feels full, you are likely not hungry.
  • Write down the emotion(s) you’re feeling before you eat. By doing this, you can discover, for example, if you eat cookies every time you feel stressed out.
  •  Find another outlet for your stress, such as running, cooking, yoga, reading or listening to music.
  •  Take control of your environment. If possible, avoid or eliminate the cause of your stress.
  • Time management: Write down your schedule to help you accomplish your daily goals.

It might take trial and error before you find out what works for you, but don’t give up! The stresses of life are year round, not just around the holidays. Don’t let stressful emotions dictate your diet. Learn how to manage it in a healthful way to live a more peaceful and happy life.

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