7 Reasons why we’re prone to stress eating during the holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and sure there’s plenty to be grateful for, plenty to look forward to, and plenty of reasons to celebrate and be happy; but the holidays do come with a generous side-order of stress – or even a full buffet of the stuff!

Because of all the stress associated with holiday time, we are far more prone to stress eating: eating as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress. And at its heart, stress is a feeling of being out of control.

And let’s be honest: very few of us go rushing to the salad bar when we’re in need of comfort food… We eat all the fast food, the sugary treats, and can’t turn down a second helping of pumpkin pie.

This leads to a whole host of unwanted consequences – bloating and tummy problems, headaches and bags under the eyes, a feeling of lethargy and even depression, and of course, those extra few pounds carried into the New Year.

But these consequences don’t have to be inevitable. In fact, this holiday season, I’d like to challenge you to choose a different path, which I’ll walk with you. Let’s look stress eating in the face and tell it to be on its merry way, shall we…?

The first step in combatting stress eating is to figure out where it's coming from. That way, you can stop it in its tracks.

So, here’s a list of seven reasons why we are prone to stress eating, particularly during the holidays.

The abundance of sugary treats

Pumpkin pie, Christmas cookies, mince pies, eggnog – it seems that wherever you look during the holidays, you’re faced with the temptation of some delicious treat with the principal ingredient of SUGAR.

One of the problems with sugar (and there are many) is that it causes an artificially high secretion of the hormone dopamine, which makes us feel happy.

On the surface – that’s doesn’t seem like a problem – after all, we all want to feel happy. But then, in response to this dopamine overdose, the body reduces its dopamine secretion to way below normal levels, and we are left feeling sad – or even depressed.

In the long term, this means that we reach for sugary treats every time we feel sad or stressed. And I’m sure that you can see that this is a recipe for disaster during the holidays, when we are faced with many stress triggers, and plenty of sugary treats to choose from!

The assumption that to have fun,
we’ve got to eat – a lot

There are so many good thoughts associated with gathering for a family meal, catching up with friends at a cocktail party, or celebrating the year’s achievements at an end-of-year office party.

These are happy times, so we have every right to enjoy them.

But I’d like to challenge the assumption that to have fun we have to eat. There are plenty of other ways to connect with family and friends – a spa day, a hike, or going to the beach together are just a few of many options.

And then when we do all get together for a meal, it doesn’t have to be an excessive and unhealthy one.

Parties, parties, and more parties

During the holidays, it feels like parties are more the norm than the exception.

Have you managed to resist temptation at the office party, only to eat and drink to excess at your friend’s cocktail party?! Or turn down the cake at your grandkid’s concert, but then take a third helping of dessert at your family dinner?

We’ve all been there! It’s really tough to rely on willpower all the time, isn’t it?

We’re out of routine

During the holidays, we’re out of our usual routine. Many of us – myself included – take comfort in routine because it helps give us a sense of control and predictability over our days. When the holidays come, our routines are interrupted with family visiting, time off work, or going on vacation. And while this brings a lot of fun and excitement, it is also stressful.

On a practical level, I also find it challenging to plan healthy meals, and make sure that my refrigerator is stocked with fresh ingredients. Usually, this is just part of my regular routine, but during the holidays, I have to be a lot more intentional about planning.

We’re travelling

Following on from the point about being out of routine, the holidays almost always involve travel.

So, you’re coping with the stress of keeping your family safe on the road, making your connecting flight, or trying to get a good night’s sleep on your friend’s sleeper couch made out of rocks…

And then on top of all of this, your only food choices are a burger and fries, a chocolate bar, or a packet of cookies. It’s easy to see how the stress of travelling can very quickly lead to stress eating.

Social stress

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love that during the holidays, I get to connect with people I haven’t seen in a while. But all the socializing that happens during the holidays does sap our energy – especially for the more introverted among us.

Of course, the holidays will often bring up old family feuds or cause new conflicts between friends.

Conflicts will inevitably occur when a group of people spend a lot of time together, and this will cause stress, which can very easily lead to stress eating.

The stress of expectation

Do you put the holidays on a pedestal? Do you feel like the holidays are your one and only chance to celebrate, connect with family, and finally rest after a long year of work? Are you expecting too much of the holidays?

I ask these questions because I’ve found that many of my clients have had such high expectations of the holiday season, and if their expectations are not met, then they become extremely stressed out.

Often, as a way of coping with this stress, they take back control by stress eating.

Ditch stress eating and take the power (and control) back

So it’s true - the holidays are a stressful time, and if you’re battling with stress-eating at this time of year, you are certainly not alone.

But there are better strategies for coping with this stress than by stress eating. And the good news is that you can still have fun and enjoy all the good parts of the holiday season.

If you’d like a different type of holiday season this year – one which doesn’t involve putting on extra weight, tummy problems, or feeling tired and lethargic – then I’d like to invite you to join my Holiday Survival Guide 5-Day Challenge.

It’s happening from Monday, December 3 to Friday, December 7.

By the end of the Challenge, you’ll be equipped with five easy strategies you can use to have a healthy holiday season, and have a whole lot of fun too!

Are you joining us? It’s absolutely free!

Join the Holiday Survival Challenge