Ways to Avoid Stress Eating During the Holidays
Put down the cookie! Get simple ways to not eat your way through stressful situations this holiday season.
Woman thinking about eating cake
Do you love holidays but secretly dread the stress? Are you worried that you'll gobble up pumpkin pie and munch on sugar cookies to cope with holiday worries? If so, you aren't alone. With the troubled economy, this holiday is likely to be more stressful than past years for many people. Learning how to cope with holiday stress in calorie-free ways is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this season.

The good news is that there are many easy, inexpensive things you can do in less than one minute to calm and soothe your nerves. We'd all like to go to the spa to help us relax, but that isn't realistic or accessible the moment you are craving cornbread stuffing or hot apple pie.

The next time holiday treats are seductively calling your name, identify the true source of stress and try out one of these calming techniques. Keep in mind that emotions are like backseat drivers. They can steer you toward the refrigerator. Respond rather than react to emotional holiday triggers.

Woman holiday shopping
Last-Minute Shopping
Does holiday shopping totally stress you out? Too much time on your feet at the mall? Struggling with anxiety over what to give and how much to spend?

The One-Minute Fix: If a foot rub would hit the spot better than a snack, try self-message. It can be as simple as sitting down, taking off your shoe and placing your foot over a tennis ball. Rub your feet, one at a time, over the top of the ball until they feel relaxed and soothed.

Woman deciding between eating healthy or bad
Does your mouth water just thinking about pecan pie and sweet potato casserole? Strict dieting and trying to steer clear of delicious holiday foods can cause a lot of stress and needless pressure. Instead of dieting this year, commit to mindful eating.

The One-Minute Fix: Let "Eat, drink and be mindful" be your motto. Don't swear off holiday treats. Instead, give yourself permission—with a caveat. Focus on eating special holiday foods mindfully. Before you get started, sit down. Put aside whatever you are doing. When you eat, just eat. If you are distracted, you can eat an entire plate of fudge and not taste one bite. Savor. Tune in to the texture, temperature and flavor of each spoonful.

Couple fighting
Family Drama
Are you torn between going to your parents' house and your in-laws' for Thanksgiving? Fearful that someone will be hurt? The impossible task of trying to please everyone can lead to excessive mindless munching. Spending time with relatives who know how to push your buttons is another infamous trigger of emotional eating.

The One-Minute Fix: Holiday comedies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation are popular for a good reason. These movies depict, in a humorous way, the not-so-jolly aspects of the season. Instead of making a beeline to the kitchen when your mother calls for the fifth time, close your eyes for a moment. Picture yourself sitting in a movie theater watching your personal holiday comedy play out in front of you. Observing the situation from a distance can lessen the intensity of your feelings. It can also help you detach from the situation. Call a friend. Share your holiday comedy. It is sure to bring mutual laugher and distraction.

Stressed out woman
Too much to do and not enough time? Wrapping gifts, mailing cards, stuffing the turkey and making travel arrangements are just a few things on your holiday to-do list that can leave you feeling frazzled and craving chocolate.

The One-Minute Fix: Mindless eating soothes raw nerves by numbing out emotions. Munching gives you a moment to zone out from all the holiday commotion. Instead, actively choose a healthy way to clear your mind. Try a quick breathing exercise. Mindful breathing deters you from eating because it is a natural way to bring down your cortisol levels, the stress hormone that makes you crave food. Cortisol levels are elevated when you are under a lot of stress. But you can help get your hormones back in balance by slowing down your breathing, which in turn relaxes your body. Close your eyes. Stare at the blackness of your eyelids. Slowly breathe in and out. Count each time you inhale and exhale. Continue until you get to 10.

Grieving woman
Anniversary Effect
Specific dates can bring up memories of lost loved ones and happier times. It's easy to get buried in sad memories from past holidays.

The One-Minute Fix: When you find yourself inching toward food to soothe your woes, try "laughing yoga," a form of yoga from India. It's based on a simple concept. Laughter releases positive, feel-good neurotransmitters throughout your body, even when it is created artificially. Consider how canned laughter on sitcoms can prompt you to smile or laugh even when things aren't funny. Also, laughter can relieve tension in your shoulders and abdomen. So, give a big jolly ho-ho-ho Santa laugh. Repeat until you find yourself smiling, even if it is just from the silliness.

Happy couple
Holiday Cheer
Mindless eating isn't just caused by stress. It's a little-known fact that good feelings can also prompt you to overeat. Holiday nibbling may actually be a way of holding on to blissful emotions like watching your kids' faces light up as they decorate the tree. Eating, unfortunately, can quickly turn from pleasure to discomfort.

The One-Minute Fix: If you love decorating the tree or hanging wreathes, buy an evergreen scented candle. Save it. Only light it when you have a food craving. Smelling, unlike your other senses, directly taps into the brain structures that mediate emotions. Thus, a pleasant holiday scent is your best bet for creating calorie-free good feelings.

Holiday stress is like airplane turbulence. It's inevitable, sometimes the ride is bumpier than others, and you have to find a healthy way to cope with it while it lasts. This season, help yourself truly enjoy the holidays by conquering emotional overeating with a few simple, one-minute techniques.

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Dr. Susan Albers is a licensed psychologist who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. Albers conducts mindful eating workshops internationally. She has written many books, including 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.

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