Managing Holiday Stress (and Diet)
Without fail, right around the holidays, I hear from patients who feel that their stress levels are through the roof. This year, I thought I’d spread some cheer and share my tips for coping with holiday stress.
The first step is to correctly identify the problem. What is the source of your stress? Is it hosting a large family gathering, shopping for that perfect gift or perhaps the feeling of loss that is triggering strong emotions of sadness and grief during this season?
Whatever the reason, I often find that the underlying culprit is the expectations and feelings of needing to have perfection. Managing those expectations can make all the difference in allowing yourself to relax and enjoy.
Focus on loved ones
If your main holiday stress is the obligation of hosting the perfect meal, try taking some pressure off by asking your guests to bring the side dishes. And remember you’re there to reconnect with each other; keep that your priority as you plan to help keep from going overboard on the details.
Also learn to laugh, even at the mistakes, mishaps or other things that didn’t go quite as planned. At the end of the day, as long as a disaster did not occur, those moments are memories too, ones that in the long run can be remember with a smile as well.
For some, the gatherings of family and friends are a reminder of loved ones who are no longer here. The truth is there’s not a way to make that hurt less. However, understanding and accepting that can help people be okay with not being okay.
In this case, sometimes its best to keep it simple without the extra pressure of trying to plan elaborate events. Also, consider taking time to volunteer at a local shelter, food bank or senior facility. One of the best ways to help you get through your grief, is to help someone else get thorough theirs.
Enjoy in good health
Holiday stress also contributes to another common worry, which is weight gain. When people are over stressed, they tend to use unhealthy coping mechanisms, like over-indulging in sweets and alcohol. That said, the holidays pose plenty of temptation for everyone.
Here are four tips to help you eat enjoy special treats without undoing all of your hard work.
Have a plan
Before heading to the party, anticipate that there will be things there that you may want to indulge in. Set up in your mind what you will eat and what you are going to stay away from.
If there is something that you were not anticipating, do what I call “the two bite rule”. Take 2 small bites then ask yourself, “Is it worth my work?” If the answer is yes, then just enjoy it and spare yourself the guilt or feeling of deprivation. If the answer is no, then put it down and move on.
By using this method, you avoid that sense of deprivation that many have when they are undertaking a new diet plan to help lose weight as studies have shown when we deprive ourselves of foods or food groups for extended periods, it will actually lead to more cravings and may even cause you to overindulge when you do partake.
Be honest with yourself
This is something I often discuss with my patients as making any new lifestyle change including trying to lose weight actually requires a tremendous amount of focus and dedication. At times that level of dedication may dip, which often makes people feel guilty.
However, strict deprivation for extended periods of time can actually lead to more cravings and can cause people to overindulge when they decide to treat themselves.
As a result, I often encourage my patients to set reasonable expectations that creates less pressure, recognizing that maintaining a healthy loss is not a destination, it is a journey. There may be times, when someone is able to lose weight at rapid rates, but in others it may be a little slower or not at all. In this season, if trying to lose weight is stressful, you may not want to focus on weight loss as much and focus instead on just maintaining your weight.
Although we know that physical activity alone is not very effective in helping patients lose weight, it is imperative to help maintain weight that they have already lost. When you eat, avoid falling into the trap of the post-supper nap, instead come up with a fun way to keep yourself active and burn some of the calories you just consumed. Go for a brisk walk. Go caroling! Picking something fun not only helps you maintain your weight, but it also creates memories and bonds with loved ones that will last for years to come.
Prior to dinner, enjoy a nice salad, or something that is high in fiber which creates a feeling of fullness. This will help you to enjoy dinner without overindulging and may also help to keep you away from some of the things on the table that would sabotage all of the hard work you’ve put in to lose weight thus far.
There is a caveat to this if you are practicing intermittent fasting. In this case you are intentionally fasting and will consume all of you calories in a set time. This could be a great strategy, as long as you again do it with a plan. When you break your fast, you still have to be conscious of what you are consuming trying to avoid things that are high in concentrated sweets and calories.
About the author
Tiffany Lowe-Payne, DO, is an osteopathic family physician board-certified in obesity medicine. Dr. Lowe-Payne is also the author of A Woman’s Guide to De-Stress for Success: 10 Essential Tips to Conquer Stress and Live at Your Best