5 Tips for Preventing Stress Eating During the Holidays
Avoid stress and stay on track with these techniques this season.
The South Beach Diet
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Generally considered a time of merriment and good cheer, the holiday season can also be stressful for many people. How you're feeling around the holidays can directly impact how well you're eating. If you're stressed out about money or time, or in a bad mood for other reasons, you may find yourself mindlessly nibbling on those tempting, sugary, starchy, and fat-laden holiday treats to ease your stress. If you're following the South Beach Diet lifestyle, you know that filling up on sugar cookies, eggnog, or too many potato latkes can cause swings in blood sugar and cravings for more of the same — and ultimately derail your weight-loss goals.
Pre-empt your stress
Let's face it: The holidays can be overwhelming. Contending with crowds at the shopping malls, managing family gatherings, and spending money in a bad economy all contribute to stress. And if stress is the trigger that causes you to make unhealthy food choices, your best bet is to pre-empt it. Be vigilant about managing your time during the holiday season. Plan your activities ahead of time and be realistic about what kinds of obligations you can and cannot uphold. Carve out time for work, family, and personal needs. Stick with a healthy meal plan — and don't forget to eat a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack to help keep you energized and reduce your cravings for sugary and starchy carbs. Set limits on the amount of time you spend shopping. Don't say yes to every invitation. Make an effort to balance the time you spend socializing, running errands, and doing holiday prep with quiet periods that allow you to relax and reflect on the joys of the season.
Keep temptation out of your home
Don't stock up on ribbon candy, baked goods from the holiday bazaar, or any other tempting holiday treats. It may also help to give friends hints that you'd prefer they didn't send food-related gifts. Having tempting holiday sweets staring you in the face can really test your willpower, particularly when you're stressed, so if you're trying to make healthy changes in your life, the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy is the way to go. It'll make it easier to stick with your healthy choices and maintain a healthy diet throughout the season. If you do want to have desserts on hand for parties, keep cookies, pies, and cakes in the freezer until just before meal time, and when there are leftovers, send them home with your guests or cut them into bite-size pieces and store them in individual freezer bags.
Keep healthy snacks at the office
It's inevitable that some of your co-workers will be in the "giving" spirit this season, and as a consequence, they'll leave a bounty of holiday treats around the workplace (a few of them may also be unloading unwanted temptations of their own). It'll be easier to "pass" on the array of holiday cookies, chocolates, and tins of caramel popcorn if you fortify yourself with your own healthy holiday alternatives. Consider the following: Enjoy half a dozen dried apricot halves with an almond in each (tastes like marzipan); have a tangerine or Clementine with a little reduced-fat goat cheese; or graze on a handful of holiday spiced nuts. Simply coat 2 cups of unsalted walnuts, pecans, or peanuts, or a combination, with a large egg white that has been whisked with 2 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. ground cloves, and 1/4 tsp. cayenne. Bake in a 325° oven on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet until the nuts appear dry, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt, if desired, and store in an airtight container.
With all the extra holiday engagements, keeping up with your exercise routine may be challenging this season. However, there are some really good reasons why you shouldn't let physical activity lag, especially at this time of year. Exercise revs up your endorphins — your feel-good hormones — and reduces the level of your stress hormones. Staying on track with your fitness regimen will also help keep you in line with your weight-loss goals, and this is particularly important if you're doing a little splurging on occasion this holiday season. Remember, it's best to do 20 minutes of cardio-conditioning interval exercise (in which you alternate short 15- to 60-second bursts of intense activity with easier recovery periods) with core-strengthening exercises that target the vital muscles in your back, abdomen, pelvis, and hips on different days of the week. If you have a gym or "Y" membership, use it, and round up your family for a game of touch football or a brisk walk around the neighborhood before or after dinner. When the New Year dawns, you'll be glad you stayed active throughout the holidays.
Don't get derailed by the occasional indulgence
It's the holiday season after all, and as with any other special occasion, it's okay to enjoy a little splurge now and then. If you want to treat yourself to a macaroon, rugelach, a gingerbread man, or a small serving of pie or cake, go for it. Just do your best to make sure it doesn't become a daily stress-relieving or mindless ritual. If you stay on track with your healthy eating and your exercise routine throughout the holiday season, a little indulgence every now and then won't derail your weight-loss efforts. If you do feel out of control, don't adopt the "Oops, I guess I blew it" attitude and give yourself permission to fully fall off the wagon. Try to think of your occasional splurge as deserved, a pleasurable detour, not a derailment, and resume your healthy eating (and exercise) habits at the next opportunity.
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