Top 10 Ways to De-stress and Eat Less

Or how to have splendid holidays without splurging

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Is anxiety creeping into your holiday spirit? Do visions of sugarplums cause you nightmares? Many weight-challenged people dread this time of year because of all the food and alcohol temptations that seem to be everywhere. In addition, the incredible demands associated with the holiday season make it a very stressful time of the year.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Start Eating?

Break free from the habit of turning to food for comfort and stress control with a better understand of the things that trigger stress in your life. If you face your temptations before they arrive, you will be better prepared to handle the situation. For example, the office party -- you need a strategy to be able to enjoy the festivities and camaraderie without diet sabotage. Unless you are equipped with a plan to control your intake, you will leave the party feeling guilty and stressed out. When you have a plan, you feel less vulnerable.

Impact of Stress on the Body

Stress takes a nutritional toll on your body ranging from depleting vitamins to depressing your immune system. Under conditions of high stress, several nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and the B vitamins, are easily depleted in your system, making you more vulnerable to illness and fatigue.

Comfort foods such as mom's apple pie, ice cream, candy, cookies, and chips are the types of foods reached for in stressful situations. Not only will these high-calorie foods pack on the pounds, but stress can also disrupt normal bodily functions, particularly the gastrointestinal tract and appetite.

Stress not only affects your choice of foods but also how fast you eat and the frequency of meals and snacks. That's because stress can refuel the body's appetite by releasing the hormone cortisol. There is no doubt that stress can cause a vicious circle of eating that can wreak havoc on your weight-loss efforts.

Fight Back

For starters, make sure you get adequate rest each night and limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume. The American Dietetic Association also recommends that you eat regular meals; it is crucial to make time for a healthy breakfast to prepare for the day. In addition, skipping meals only heightens stress; find the time to eat healthful snacks if you are low on time.

A well-nourished body is your best defense against stress. You are what you eat, and this is especially true during stressful times. Focusing on eating the foods in your eating plan can help you deal with daily issues while keeping stress in check.

Be Proactive

Part of mastering control over the food that you eat is learning how to cope in stressful situations. Stressors such as anger, sadness and depression often lead people to seek comfort from food. Our mission at the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic is to teach you how to handle stress so that you learn how to de-stress without reaching for food. Adopting behavioral skills that empower you and give you strength to resist temptations is a huge step toward gaining control over food. There will be times that you give in to the temptations, but hopefully, they will occur less often and as a result of a choice, not an out-of-control moment.

Stress-related food behaviors can be changed; here are 10 tips and techniques to help you find better ways to deal with stress this holiday season.

  • Fit in fitness every day. Getting regular physical activity works wonders in coping with stress. Give your stress to the pavement or the treadmill and let it go from your body. Staying active in winter elevates your mood and reduces stress.
  • Enjoy natural sunlight, especially in the winter. It can be depressing to be stuck indoors during the shortened days of winter, but a brisk walk in the sunshine can be a real mood enhancer.
  • Keep up your journal every day. Self-monitoring your food, fitness, and emotional feelings is an excellent way to become more aware of your triggers and behavioral patterns.
  • Don't deprive yourself of enjoying the foods you love, for this only leads to bingeing. Instead, plan to eat a small portion of the desired foods, eat it slowly, and savor every mouthful.
  • Set some ground rules about eating (i.e. only eat while seated, no food after 9 p.m., no second helpings, etc.).
  • Visit our community boards regularly and let your friends and professional staff help you. Research has shown that staying connected is one of the most important aspects of dealing with stress and sticking to your eating plan.
  • Identify the holiday situations that cause overeating and develop a list of how you will handle these challenges. Be realistic. Talk it over with your buddies that face similar stressors to find realistic solutions that will help you manage the stress.
  • Relax. Give yourself 15 minutes each day of peace and quiet, a time to be reflective, meditate, or simply unwind. Soaking in a hot bubble bath can help release your troubles into thin air. Breaking free from the family, a breath of fresh air, or escaping to a quiet room will energize and empower you.
  • Be good to yourself. Have a list of motivational sayings that inspire and strengthen your resolve. Use affirmations daily to help you feel good about yourself and your mission to lose weight.
  • Eat healthfully. Proper nutrition promotes health, well-being, and rejuvenation, which in turn enhances your resilience to stress.

The more aware you become of your stressors, the more likely you will be able to change the way you respond to them. Raising awareness is the first crucial step in developing behavior change. One day at a time, one small step in the right direction will lead you down the path of self-control. Do your best and don't beat yourself up when trying to change a lifetime of habits. Remember, there are better ways of reducing the feelings of stress other than with food; your mission is to find the alternatives that work best for you.

Originally Published December 5, 2003.
Medically Updated November 17, 2006.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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