Avoid seasonal stress-based eating

Avoid seasonal stress-based eating

Everyone knows the holidays can be stressful. But it’s not just the effort to stay on budget or the dinnertime antics of your oddball uncle that make this time of year challenging. Healthy eating can take a nosedive at this time of year, too. End your year on a high with proactive measures to avoid getting caught in the food trap.

Plan ahead

Joan Ifland, PhD is the chief executive officer of Food Addiction Training, LLC, and is a leading innovator in the field of recovery from food addiction. She shares some insights about how to prepare for the holidays and its associated overindulging.

At this time of year, the holiday gathering, with its lavish edible spread, is often the culprit. Simply saying you won’t indulge may not be enough to spare you from getting sucked into that vortex of stress and indulging, Ifland warns.

“You get [to a party] and after an hour or two, you’re eating [unhealthy foods],” she says. “It’s because cravings and loss of control build up over time.”

Instead, take your own snacks—think crudités, healthy proteins, or other foods that are as close to their natural, unprocessed shape and form as possible—and keep it near you. If that’s not possible, avoid standing in a place with a clear view of the hors d’oeuvres table.

Drink water

Be sure to get a glass of water as soon as you arrive, and hang onto it. It keeps one hand busy, and reduces the chance of someone passing you a cocktail chock full of simple syrup and alcohol.

Be easy on yourself

Whatever happens, go easy on yourself, Ifland advises. Changing our behaviors to break the processed food addiction cycle can take years.

“There are so many foods that have been deliberately processed to make them addictive. It can take a couple of years to get off all of them. When people know it’s a long, slow process, they give themselves permission to celebrate their wins.”

What about alcohol?

Getting into the holiday spirit, for many, often means getting into the spirits. But pouring yourself a tall cold one to make things merrier might actually make the season far less bright.

Binge drinking increases around the holidays, which is often related to social or financial stress that comes with celebrating at this time of year. Stress and alcohol can create a toxic cocktail for our brains, no matter how much we might think we’re being released from our inhibitions when we imbibe.

“Alcohol [can be] highly addictive,” says Ifland. And it can have potentially serious consequences that include impairing cognitive skills and our self-control. While that might feel fun in the moment, any feelings of comfort and joy experienced while tippling are fleeting, Ifland warned. If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, chat with your doctor.

How do you respond to stress?

The impact of stress on people’s health can vary greatly depending on their gender, age, and life stage. What’s more, stress is a matter of science and perception—and then some.

Defining stress

Stress can be defined as a real or perceived threat to a person’s physiological or psychological well-being. Physiological effects include chest pain, exhaustion, jaw clenching, digestive problems, and weakened immune system, while mental symptoms can include anxiety and depression.

What are some of the factors that affect our response to stress?


Women are more likely than men to report having a great deal of stress. Women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men, such as headache, feeling as though they could cry, or having an upset stomach or indigestion. Women are also more likely to experience depression, insomnia, autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain.

Men experiencing stress have a higher risk of acquiring infectious diseases and hypertension, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular conditions. Men are also more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol.


  • Early-life stress in some infants has been associated with greater susceptibility to the effects of stress later in life and the development of stress-related psychiatric disorders.
  • Puberty plays a role in the stress response. For example, youth aged 15 to 17 have been shown to display higher cortisol levels in response to stress than those aged nine to 13.
  • In adults, chronic stress can lead to structural and functional changes in the brain that can result in impairments in learning, memory, and decision-making.

Life experience

Stress that exists throughout the lifespan, such as sustained economic hardship—and cumulative adverse life events (which include death, divorce, being laid off, and trauma, among many others) can significantly hamper physical and mental health.

Cumulative stress across a lifetime increases the prevalence of hypertension, physical disability, pain, chronic diseases, depression, and alcohol and drug use.

Take action to manage stress

  • One way is with emotional regulation: acknowledging rather than denying negative emotions.
  • Consider an attitude adjustment. Appraisal is the practice of becoming aware of which filters you look through at the world.
  • Finally, there’s acceptance.

Some helpful strategies to break up routine and enhance mental flexibility include

  • mindfulness meditation
  • physical activity
  • social interaction
  • new experiences

Take care of yourself over the holiday season when stressful situations might pop up or you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Take breaks from group activities—go for a walk by yourself or steal away for some meditation or relaxation breathing. Reach out if you need support. Keep a regular schedule of sleep, meals, and exercise and limit alcohol intake.

Photo by Nicole Michalou :

Article copyright 2022 by Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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