Holiday Weight Gain: Stress, Not Food, is Primary Cause

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 by: Elizabeth Walling
Tags: holidays, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) There's no question that traditional holiday foods like pumpkin pie and Grandma's gingerbread cookies are a strong temptation to overeat during this time of year, but they aren't the main source of traditional holiday binging. Holiday stress–over work, family or the economy–may be what's packing on those unwanted pounds this season.

Most stressors are exacerbated during this time of year. Giving gifts, taking time off from work and traveling are particularly stressful this year due to job losses and a weak economy. Add in time for shopping, deadlines for sending gifts and cards, and attending endless parties–it's a recipe for a waistline disaster. With both stress and unhealthy foods bombarding us at every turn, it's not surprising that so many people simply give in to stress eating.

Madelyn Fernstrom, founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Weight Management Center, says it's not unusual for stress eating to rise dramatically during the holidays. Stress eating usually takes the form of mindless binging, where you consume large amounts of unhealthy food very quickly. One simple method you can use to reduce this kind of eating is to pay more attention to what you're eating and why.

The next time you're feeling stressed, instead of diving for the box of chocolates you got at the office try taking a deep breath first. If possible, remove yourself from the immediate presence of food until you have a chance to regain your sense of control. Identify the cause of your stress and then make the decision to let the stressful feelings go.

Stress, however, doesn't simply cause you to overeat. It also causes you to store more fat. Cortisol and epinephrine are released during periods of stress, both of which encourage the storage of fat, especially around the mid-section. These hormones are meant for short-term release, but constant stress causes excessive cortisol release and therefore weight gain says Dr. Sasson Moulavi, a bariatric physician in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

If stress and travel are interrupting your sleep this season, that holiday buffet may be even more tempting. Lack of sleep increases cortisol and sugar cravings, which means you're more likely to give in to temptation and then store all of that extra food as fat.

Exercise can counter holiday weight gain in more than one way. It's true that staying active will help you burn off those extra calories, but it can also help reduce your stress levels. Exercises like yoga, which promote deep breathing and mindfulness, can be especially helpful in counteracting holiday stress eating.

Any time you take to relax and unwind has a positive impact of your stress levels. Listen to your favorite music or play an instrument, read for pleasure and focus on the things in life that bring you happiness. Instead of reaching for your favorite comfort food, minimize your stress this holiday season, and you'll really be treating yourself.

Scott, Megan K. (2008) Stress About Your Finances Could Cause Holiday Binging. Associated Press.

Diamond, Stuart. (2008) How Stress Causes Weight Gain. The Washington Times.

Covey, Steven. (2008) Experiencing Holiday Stress? Money, Gift-Giving, Workload and Health Are Top Causes This Year According to FranklinCovey Products' Fourth Annual Holiday Survey. Business Wire.

About the author

Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more:

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