6 Ways to Stay Slim and Disciplined This Holiday Season
You know the feelings. Your boss at work is nipping at your heels, you’re watching a devastating newscast or your daughter, husband or best friend tells you they’ve decided to move to New Guinea. As you feel your nerves fraying at the ends or a cringe in the pit of your stomach, your body/mind suddenly signals that you’ve just got to have a bowl of ice cream. Suddenly, no matter what your good intentions, fruit and veggies look about as appetizing as shoe leather, and cookies, ice cream and anything chocolate call to you like a cold glass of water in the middle of a desert!
It’s a fact of life — when we get stressed, we tend to eat and we tend to go for stuff that’s not good for us, like carbs and fat. If you want to know the basic science behind those cravings, here’s a brief explanation:
Along with the adrenaline that gets triggered by stressful situations (that “fight or flight” hormone that readies you for action), the hormone cortisol is also released by your adrenal glands. After about an hour or so, you begin to feel its primary effect — a strong desire to eat (even if you’ve just eaten). It also causes your body to store more calories as fat, especially if the stress is long lasting. Interestingly, cortisol also suppresses the production of testosterone, which for men and women is the hormone that helps you maintain and build calorie-burning muscle mass.
Women seem to be more affected by this than men. Interestingly, some studies have shown that men eat “bad” food as a reward, while women eat sweets to control feelings of stress. The sweet snacks boost serotonin in the brain, which makes you feel more relaxed.
Enter the holiday season. You know, those weeks of low light and high stress, when you’re supposed to be singing songs, sharing memories, celebrating your faith and enjoying your family. But you often end up under all kinds of pressure: buying presents, preparing foods, hosting guests, attending parties, staying up late, having relatives stay overnight or traveling long hours in bad weather.
Here are some things you can do to help yourself avoid tipping the scales in favor of holiday pounds while still enjoying some of the delicious and tantalizing treats of the season:
1. Budget, don’t ban. It’s stressful to cut out favorite foods at this time. And if you do, research shows you’re much more likely to binge than if you allow yourself some of those special treats. Keep a log of your holiday snacking so you have a better idea of what you’re eating.
2. Take supplements. Stress hormones sap the body of essential nutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium, and taking a good multivitamin is important for natural stress relief. Additional B vitamins and fish oil can provide additional stress relief benefits. If you know you’re going to be indulging, consider taking a natural appetite suppressant such as garcinia cambogia or a carb blocker such as fabenol, which can help by reducing absorption of some of those starchy calories that are sure to tempt you.
3. Plan your exercise. Getting a move on is a great way to battle fatigue, especially mental fatigue. You may feel tired after a long day at work, but your body may be craving some oxygen and increased circulation that a brisk walk, a swim or a game of table tennis can give you while provided some relief and distraction from holiday madness.
4. Make time for bedtime. Sleep is very important to reducing stress and curbing cravings. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night can boost cortisol as much as 50%, compared to getting 8 hours. Supplemental melatonin can provide natural relaxation support if you have trouble getting to sleep.
5. Pencil in sanity time. Maybe it’s some stretching or yoga poses in front of a sunny window, or relaxing in front of the fireplace, reading a good book, listening to music or getting a massage. The more relaxed you are, the less likely your body is to be producing those stress hormones. These are also things you can do when a craving hits to distract yourself from food. Time can win out over a stress-related craving, studies show.
6. Rethink your priorities. This may be the toughest solution. Are you doing too much? Do you participate in holiday practices that you really don’t find fulfilling or meaningful, that drain your energy and accelerate your stress? Brainstorm with loved ones, if necessary, about positive changes. Many of us do too much, when a lot less would do.
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” was something Ghandi said. If the commercialism of the holidays annoys or depresses you, detach and rethink. Create new rituals that soothe your soul and connect you to others. Take small steps or sweeping ones if need be. It’s your holiday, too! Make the holiday season a time to nurture yourself and your health.