Eating during the holidays can be stress. And in stressful times like these, you have the ingredients for what I call the trifecta of an eating disaster.

So what’s the trifecta I’m talking about?

  1. Eating is a necessity. It’s called survival. (I know, duh right?!) So this means we can’t just skip it.
  2. During stressful situations, eating seems to be the new common “go to” for escape, numbing, distractions, or to simply feel good again.
  3. And the holidays (which happen every year by the way) always seem to come fully loaded with food, emotions, added responsibilities and expectations, not to mention the all too often financial stressors.

See what I mean? THAT’S the trifecta.

What results when you put these three into the blender of November and December and mix them all up?

Emotional and stress eating at it’s finest. 

But all is not lost. There is a better way. It takes some practice and a mindset shift along the way, but it’s worth the effort in the end. Because remember, holidays come around every year. Do you want to keep doing them the way you’ve been doing them? Or do you want something better for yourself?

If you’ve decided to keep reading, then I’m assuming you’ve said yes to a better way. I have boiled this “better way” down to three steps. They are:

  1. Recognize that restricting food, aka dieting, triggers you to feel more out of control around food in stressful situations
  2. Understand and accept your stress for its purpose
  3. Manage the source of the stress, not the stress itself

Dieting Triggers Stress

Recognize that restricting food, aka dieting, triggers you to feel more out of control around food in stressful situations. Your body needs food on the regular. Dieting, especially dieting for the purpose of losing weight, places your body in a state of inadequate food. Keeping in mind that your body has at its core a design and desire to protect you and keep you alive, when it finds itself in this lack state, it will do everything in its power to prevent devastation and destruction (because that’s how it’s reading the situation).

First, your body is going to try incredibly hard to get you to eat by dumping higher amounts of hunger hormones into your bloodstream. Second, it slows down your calorie burn as a means of conserving energy. And third, your body will start storing the energy it does have access to, meaning it will become harder for you to burn off stored energy (fat), and it will actually pack on more energy storage (also fat). 

But let’s jump back to that first part where your body is dumping more hunger hormones out into your bloodstream. This is going to amp up all those hunger signs like growling tummies,, thoughts of food,, lowered concentration, and weakness or dizziness. So basically, if you thought you had a hard time working through or ignoring these signals before, you’ve got a real battle on your hands now.

Can you feel your stress growing yet?

Now factor in the stress load from your job (or maybe from a lack of having a job right now), holiday finance woes, and family demands like distance learning with the kids and aging parents needing care (as well as normal things like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and Covid stressors alongside holiday expectations and responsibilities). And there may be more if you’re experiencing any relationship challenges or already deal with things like depression and anxiety.

My point is not to make you feel worse here. My point is to help you understand that the stress you have is only going to feel worse when you add the out of control feelings that come alongside food and calorie restrictions. 

One way to stop adding to your stress is by stopping the dieting.

Pass The Gratitude, Please!

Stress Has A Purpose

Stress, like all emotions, has a purpose. Understanding and accepting this can help you view stress differently and lessen it’s impact.

Long ago, stress had the purpose of self-preservation. It was important to help us run from a tiger and seek out food when hungry. Stress enlists our fight-flight-freeze response, which are all natural actions that happen in your body when you are faced with a situation that needs your attention. 

You most likely know all about the fight and flight portion of this. But how often do you hear about the freeze part?

Freeze Happens

Freeze happens when we either feel overwhelmed by the situation or when we don’t know what to do (our brain isn’t able to process a response with the information it has available). 

Most stressful situations of today will land you in the freeze response. You are stressed by your job but you can’t quit because you have bills to pay. You’re stressed in your marriage but divorce (flight) feels too drastic and fighting doesn’t work/just adds more stress. Your family life demands are more than you feel equipped to handle but you can’t exactly run away…you wouldn’t want to do that anyway, you love them.

Now insert the diet culture backdrop. Our diet culture world has taught us that food can be a source of escape and relaxation. And while it certainly CAN be, you might find yourself relying on it far too often and it’s leaving you feeling uncomfortable and not well. 

So what do you do?

Let’s take a moment to further understand stress. Stress actually has two parts, a stress response (fight-flight-freeze that we just discussed), and a stressor, or the thing that elicits the stress response. 

Most of the time we think about our stress response (fight-flight-freeze) and what we can do to “fix” that. But what if we were to shift our thinking and instead address the stressor, or the situation that causes the stress response. 

Experts tell us that it’s not so much the problem (Stephen R. Covey said ““The way we see the problem is the problem.”), but the way we think about our problems that is our problem.

So perhaps what we really need to do is shift how we think about the stressor.

When you can lean into this concept of stress having a purpose, and you take the time to understand the source of the stress (the stressor), you will have armed yourself with a way to shift your thinking. 

How do you shift your thinking?

When you can lean into this concept of stress having a purpose, and you take the time to understand the source of the stress (the stressor), you will have armed yourself with a way to shift your thinking. 

Let me give you an example.

You’re looking at your calendar trying to find time to add in holiday work parties for both you and your spouse, your kids school holiday program, making cookies, getting the shopping done, wrapping gifts, visiting your aunt in the nursing home (albeit covid style this year maybe), cleaning the house, taking the dog to the vet, writing and sending those Christmas cards complete with a family newsletter, and planning what the next clever situation that elf on that shelf will get himself into.

I honestly felt a little stressed writing that.

No worries. First, I want you to recognize that you’re feeling stressed when you’re looking at everything all at once. You recognize that the stress response means something. It’s there to get you to put the breaks on. And while I realize you may at first not think that anything on that list of “to do’s” can be removed, your stress level is telling you otherwise. 

Here’s where the mindset shift comes in. You have to ask yourself:

  • What are your priorities?
    • Is your priority to get all of that done, or is it to lower your stress level and perhaps enjoy the season? 
  • Is your list set in stone and not editable, or is it amenable to changes that might reduce your workload? 
  • How do you feel about the items on your list? 
    • Are you looking forward to them or are you dreading them? 
    • If you didn’t feel so stressed right now, how would you feel about these tasks? 
    • Are these tasks you used to enjoy? 
    • What was different when you enjoyed them?

What did you get for answers? It may not be as easy as simply telling yourself or deciding to look forward to each and every item on your list, but with this final step in the process, you may lighten your load enough to allow yourself to do just that.

Manage the source of the stress, not the stress itself

And while shifting the way we think about our stressors can be a valuable tool to help us stop stress eating, there are times when we need to recognize that the situations causing us to feel stress may need to change.

Like I said previously, most often you will find yourself reaching for ways to manage and handle the stress you’re feeling. You’ll reach for the cookies or wine or Netflix (or all of the above) to help you relax and/or zone out for a bit. This numbing and distraction approach doesn’t change anything though.

And if you’re finding yourself doing this often and it’s impacting your life in negative ways (relationships are suffering, your physical health is suffering, or your job and work life is suffering), it means you need to do something about the stress.

Specifically the stressor.

I’m talking about removing the stressor or removing yourself from the stressor. That’s right. Get out. Put a stop to it. Move on. Change something. Stand up for yourself. Address it head on.

While it’s impossible, and irresponsible, of me to tell you exactly which stressors to address, it’s important to not overlook this aspect of your approach to reducing your stress eating.

So from your new vantage point, what items on your list can be:

  • Removed?
  • Delegated to someone else?
  • Edited to make them simpler/shorter/faster/less?
  • Have their timeline changed?

By removing the unnecessary stress of calorie restriction and dieting, adjusting how you think about the stresses you’re facing, and by changing or removing what you can, you will be able to move through the holidays feeling less like gorging on those sugar cookies for the sake of numbing yourself and more like eating a cookie or two mindfully for enjoyment.

Gratitude is another great way to adjust your thinking and reduce your stress. Join us Saturday December 5th 2020 for a workshop on growing your gratitude and tuning into your joy! Click the image below to sign up.

Pass The Gratitude, Please!

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