The Quintessential holiday scenario—a crackling fire, a plate of cookies, a glittering mantel, and a tower of gifts—sounds both festive and desirable. In reality, though, it can come at a high cost, including a month's worth of stress and anxiety, and a lot of overeating. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reported that 44 percent of women experience increased feelings of stress during the holiday season; in addition, they are much more likely than men to turn to unhealthy behaviors such as emotional eating and drinking alcohol in order to manage that stress.
The effects of such excessive consumption can be especially damaging. A 2000 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that even those who gain small amounts of weight over the holidays are likely to hold on to that weight, adding an average of almost one pound per year.
With all these risks to your health and wellbeing, it may be tempting to opt out of the season altogether, but there is an alternative: You can create a simpler, more authentic celebration. Follow our three-part guide to replace stress, family tension, and weight gain with peace, togetherness, and balance.
Party after party can make even a normally sensible eater consume pounds of refined sugars from cookies, candy, and desserts. Indulging once in a while can be fun, but when you're overdoing it daily for the two or three weeks leading up to the holidays, the result is often sluggishness, weight gain, and indigestion. But how can you turn off holiday gluttony when it seems so, well, normal ?
Pinpoint the cause
Ask yourself if you use food and drink to cope with social anxiety at parties or the stress of family tensions. Or perhaps you view the holidays as a license to eat, like Sarah Houghton (a pseudonym) did. A mother of two in Johnson, Kan., she says she managed to lose 21 pounds in eight months "by learning to eat more reasonably, cutting portion sizes, and going easy on the sugar, carbs, and empty calories." But she still considered the holidays an opportunity to reward herself. "I'd go crazy eating a whole bunch of whatever I wanted because I 'deserved' it, and then I'd have a lot of weight to lose afterward." Last year, Houghton decided to see if she could eat moderately throughout the holidays-and found it wasn't as hard as she feared. "I didn't deny myself the treats I wanted, but by taking it slow, I found that I actually wasn't hungry for the quantity of food I might have rewarded myself with in the past. And I managed to maintain my weight-almost."
When tempted by another cookie or a second helping of stuffing, pause just long enough to place a hand on your belly and take a deep breath, says Kate Hanley, a yoga instructor in Brooklyn, N.Y., and founder of msmindbody.com. "This shifts your awareness away from your thoughts and into your body, which has a much better grasp of whether or not you are truly hungry," she explains. Pay attention to the feeling of your hand and stomach moving outward as you inhale and falling back in toward your spine as you exhale. As you do this, ask yourself, "What am I hungry for?" "If the answer is that you're really hungry for food, go ahead and eat, and savor every bite or sip," says Hanley. "But don't be surprised if you realize that what you're craving is a little comfort, a hug, or some quiet time." Watch for cues. Be on the lookout for triggers that send you to food-the awkwardness of arriving in a crowded room and not knowing anyone, for example, or the smell of the gingerbread you used to bake with your grandmother- so you'll be able to deal with them better.