Can stress and anxiety on holidays make you gain weight?

Did you know that there are more causes for weight gain than poor nutrition and lack of physical fitness? Stress and anxiety play a huge factor in weight gain. I know that might sound crazy, but how can something besides food and exercise affect weight gain? Believe it or not, there is a link between stress and cortisol levels that can lead to weight gain. Stress and anxiety can drive you to want to engage in certain unhealthy behaviors. And we all know the holidays are a STRESSFUL time for most. Some appear jolly through Thanksgiving and Christmas, effortlessly dressed, arriving with all the kid’s homemade baked cookies, and serving fresh vegetables at all the meals. But maybe that just isn’t you! You haven’t even started Christmas shopping on December 20th, the tree just went up on December 19th, there are 4 Christmas parties in one week, and you haven’t made it to the store to get ALL THE THINGS. You are STRESSED. 

Let’s dive into three unhealthy eating behaviors and the crucial steps you can take to STOP them when you are stressed this holiday season.

Emotional Eating

Maybe you are experiencing the holidays without a loved one this year for the first time. When we feel sad or stressed, we typically want to turn to food for comfort. But why? Since stress causes an increase in hormone and cortisol levels, this can cause you to crave unhealthy foods. Increased cortisol levels can cause you to overindulge more than you usually would. Overindulgence in foods feels like a dopamine hit and temporarily distracts your mind when snacking on foods which can cause unhealthy weight gain.

Not Sleeping

Late parties, late-night Christmas plays, NFL football games, and more. We all know those nights when we do not sleep well around the holidays for the sake of schedule, but your lack of sleep could also be your anxiety.  Unfortunately, less sleep slows down our metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. In addition to being tired, it makes us less likely to have the motivation to work out or take the time to prepare healthy meals. Sleep is the time our bodies take to recover; without it, we cannot function properly, much less have the mental capacity to want to eat healthily and exercise.

Skipping Meals

With stress comes a time crunch. When stressed, it is usually because we have obligations piling up too high and a huge to-do list with insufficient time to do it. Gifts need to be wrapped, shopping needs to be done, and Sally has a dance recital in 2 hours and doesn’t have her makeup done. This extended to-do list bumps eating meals (especially a healthy ones) to the very bottom of our priorities. Getting the nutrients, we need from whole foods is essential to maintain a healthy weight. You are more likely to overeat later when you take the time to sit down and eat after skipping meals throughout the day. Planning is KEY. 

So what do I do if I implement these unhealthy eating habits due to stress and anxiety?

If you know that your stress and anxiety are out of hand and play a significant role in your everyday life, it could be time to seek professional help. If you feel like your stress and anxiety revolve around food or eating habits, I would love to chat about ways to combat food-related stressors. Your health is extremely important not only physically but also mentally, so seeking help in these areas will make a considerable impact on forming healthier behaviors and mindsets.

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