Tis the season to be jolly! Jolly? Or is it rushed, stressed, and stuffed? Even if you don’t celebrate a holiday this time of year, you can likely feel the busyness in the air. You may also hear people talk about how much they have to do…or how much weight they gain.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things you can do to feel less stress and gain less weight. Finding ways to relieve stress is important for your health. Feeling stressed for a long time makes it more likely that you will gain weight, have high blood pressure, get ulcers, and more. When you deal with stress in a healthy way, you may be able to feel better all year ’round.
Being careful with how you eat during the holidays can help you avoid gaining too much weight. You don’t have to diet or follow a strict meal plan. You also don’t have to try to lose weight. There are simple tips you can try instead. These tips are ways you can be more mindful of what you eat. In other words, being more aware of why you eat and how you feel when you eat may help.
Rise Above The Stress!
- Think positive! The power of positive thinking is real. It can be hard to manage when you have a lot to do or when nothing seems to go right. When you feel stressed out, take some time to think of 3 things you are grateful for that day.
- Breathe. Take a few minutes during the day to practice deep breathing. Check out this website to learn how to start. You could also try the app “Take a Break” if you need some help with relaxing.
- Exercise. Think of ways you enjoy being active. If you like to walk, try to fit in 20-30 minutes to walk during the day, even if it’s while you’re running your errands. If you live or work in a building with multiple floors, try to take the stairs! You can also break your exercise up into a few 10 minute chunks per day. Any safe form of exercise will work, as long as the exercise itself does not make you stressed.
- Take one step at a time. Make a list of what you need to do and how you will do it. Having a plan you can manage in bite-sized chunks, one chunk at a time, can make tasks easier to manage.
- Limit alcohol. Having a drink (or two for men) a day may be ok. Just make sure not to use alcohol to cope with your stress. If you expect alcohol to be around a lot during the holidays, and believe you may have trouble limiting your intake, form a plan so you’re prepared, instead of managing that temptation on the fly. Check with your doctor to see if you need to avoid alcohol completely.
Manage Your Weight the Mindful Way!
- Listen to your body. Learn about how you feel when you are hungry. Signs of hunger can be feeling your stomach rumble or having trouble focusing. Headaches are usually a sign that you are too hungry—try to eat before you get a headache. A good rule of thumb is to avoid going more than 4-5 hours without eating.
- Know when you are satisfied. Eating just enough food is key. Pay attention to how your body feels when you eat “just enough.” This is a different feeling from when you eat “too much” or “way too much!” Many people learn that they don’t like how they feel when they overeat, and try to do it less. Making sure not to go too long without eating helps with this.
- Slow down and enjoy your food. Focus on your food when you eat it. That means no eating when you are watching TV or sitting in front of a computer or other device. Eat at a table while you are sitting in a chair. Take time to pay attention to how food smells and how it tastes and feels in your mouth. If you do this, it will be easier for you to know when you have had “just enough” food. You may also enjoy your food more this way!
- Ask yourself “Why?” Knowing why you are eating can be helpful. Is it because you saw an ad on TV? Does the house smell like cookies? Are you worried or stressed about something? As much as possible, try not to eat when you are not hungry. It is OK to enjoy a special treat every once in a while, but make sure you eat healthfully overall.
- Consider checking your weight every morning. Keep in mind, this is more to remind you to make healthful eating choices than anything else. The goal is not to lose weight, but rather to remember to make healthful eating choices.
- Exercise! As we already learned, exercise can help us manage stress. It can also remind us to eat more healthful foods, improve our mood, and burn more calories during the day.
- Allow yourself to enjoy a treat…but try not to go too far. Eating one or two cookies will not make you gain 10 pounds…but eating 5 treats every day might. When you see tempting foods all around, take some time before you reach for something to eat. Before you grab a plate, take a look at all of the food offered. Then, choose 1 or 2 pieces that you really want to eat. Savor them, and then throw away your plate.
Kaylan A. Baban, MD, MPH is an Assistant Professor of Medicine, and Medical Director of EMR Optimization for The GW Medical Faculty Associates. She specializes in preventive and integrative care to optimize all levels of wellness, and digital health with a focus on access and patient empowerment.