Guest Column: Avoiding emotional eating during the holidays

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By Rachel Gates
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | The holidays are officially upon us which traditionally brings together family and friends, office parties and potlucks filled with all the decadent foods you can load on your plate and not feel guilty about consuming, because, well, it’s the holidays right?! Have you ever stopped to think about the relationship between stress and food? How much of what you eat is for joy or pleasure? Or how much of your indulgence is stress related? Let’s face it, although this time of year has many a magical component, it can also be demanding with anxiety and worries about family dynamics, finances or even work situations which can become magnified this time of year. With an increased level of anxiety and stress, overeating is oftentimes a coping mechanism used to deal with all the highs and lows of the season. According to the US National Library of Medicine, studies show that in times of sadness, people favored eating high-fat, sweet rewarding foods. An increase in emotional distress also caused the intake of “comfort foods” to spike, even when the subjects were not hungry and had zero need for additional calories.
Maintaining optimal health during the holidays may, in fact, have very little to do with food itself. Perhaps the reason is the toxic combination of an overabundance of pleasurable foods coupled with the increased amount of stress that contributes to unhealthy holidays. A recent survey reported that participants from generation X to baby boomers were more likely to resort to food as a means of reducing stress during the holidays. Alcohol consumption also jumped; 30 percent said they are likely to turn to booze as a stress reducer during the season. Carley Smith, a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) suggests that, “Chances are if we are stressed out and eating an abundance of pleasurable foods, we are more likely to experience guilt. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying limit your stress and then eat everything in sight and it will be OK. I am pointing out that perhaps our stress is driving us to eat more (particularly unhealthy) foods that are readily available this time of year. If we are less stressed, we will not feel the need to overindulge.”
So now what? Avoiding all stressful situations may not be realistic, so how can you help mitigate emotional over-eating during this time, or at least, what are some helpful tips to keep in mind before you head for your second helping of deliciousness?
Begin your focus this holiday season with limiting as many stressors as possible:
– Set realistic boundaries for yourself and know your personal limitations.
– Try to get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep is related to an increase in hunger and appetite, as well as stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.
– Don’t go to your event starving! Have a healthy snack or small meal prior to attending to help alleviate overeating.
– If you’re attending a potluck, bring a healthier option to share.
– It is also important to remember to keep a routine exercise regimen, even if it’s moderate activity for 15 minutes a day, this will help alleviate stress and maintain optimal health.

Rachel Gates

Rachel Gates is a guest columnist for the Public Health Department.