Dinners, parties, vacations… many of the things that make the holiday season so magical are the same things that fill us with crippling stress.
Most of us expect to pack on a few pounds around this time of year, but did you know the real reason why? Studies show that 40% of us tend to eat more when we're stressed. And the number one type of food we turn to is comfort food like chocolate, pizza, and chips.
When we're stressed, our brain produces more of the hormone cortisol - which in turn gives us uncontrollable fat and sugar cravings. (Here’s a great article on the facts and science behind stress/emotional eating.)
The good news is, you can get your brain (and your body) back on your side, even if your calendar's packed with dinner parties and buffet dates. Here's a simple 3-step game plan to stop overeating and stress eating, and change your relationship with food this holiday season:
Step 1: Eat Mindfully
Why do we stress eat? According to mindful/conscious eating enthusiasts, one of the biggest reasons is because we're simply not present enough for our food as we eat it.
Mindful eating means making a conscious and multi-sensory effort to enjoy and appreciate your food. Take in the beautiful aroma of that mango. Admire the vivid colors of those strawberries. Feel the texture of that wholegrain pasta in your mouth. And don't ever eat while you're distracted, like in front of the television.
Studies show that eating in this way can make you feel full faster, and eat less - even when you're staring at a spread of your favorite food.
An easy and popular way to accustom yourself to mindful eating is to practice the 'Raisin Exercise':
1. Take a raisin and spend five minutes observing and appreciating it with your five senses.
2. Look at it, noticing the texture and color.
3. Feel it in your hand.
4. Smell it.
5. Taste it, rolling it around your tongue and noticing how it feels between your teeth.
And yes, you won't always have the time to spend a few minutes observing and admiring your food - in which case it's fine to spare just a few short moments with it. You'll still find yourself eating less.
Step 2: 'Trick' Your Mind
Your mind wants what's best for you, but it doesn't always know what's best for you. And so you can often avoid your worst dietary willpower struggles, cravings, and relapses, by simply tricking your mind into believing you've been eating a lot, that you're full, or that you're getting your fix of your favorite comfort food.
For instance, try:
* Using smaller plates: a smaller portion of food looks like a full portion of food, when it's served on a smaller plate.
* Eating healthy food that looks like junk food: try kale chips instead of potato chips, raw dark chocolate bars instead of sugar-laden milk chocolate bars, and wholesome green drinks instead of fruit smoothies.
* Brushing and flossing immediately after dinner: this tells your mind that it's time to stop eating for the night, so you can avoid the bottomless nachos at the party (or if you're at home, raiding the fridge for a late-night snack).
* Eating in front of a mirror: a number of studies have shown that when you see yourself eating, you eat significantly less.
* Smelling vanilla essence when you feel hungry: multiple studies have proven vanilla's effectiveness as an appetite suppressant, which makes you feel less hungry just by smelling it (just remember we're talking about vanilla essence, not vanilla ice cream). Consider bringing a small bottle of some to the dinner party.
* Using blue dinner plates: blue is a natural appetite suppressant, and scientists believe it's because blue is rarely found in natural foods. Red, yellow, and orange plates make you eat more.
Step 3: Know Your Body
Stress eating is caused by stress. And something that causes major stress is: not knowing how to eat healthily for your unique body type and nutritional requirements.
And so one of the simplest ways to reduce stress eating this holiday season is to simply know your body better. For instance:
* Know your macronutrients: macronutrients are a number of key nutrients (protein, carbs, fat) that many experts advise keeping track of in order to eat the right amount for your weight loss (or weight gain) goals. Knowing your macronutrient numbers takes so much of the guesswork - and stress - out of what a healthy diet means to you as an individual. Just take note of yours, and they'll help guide you towards the right food choices at all those parties and dinners.
* Know your cravings: changing your relationship with food takes time, but one thing you can do immediately this holiday season is to become more conscious of your cravings. Do you have a soft spot for potato chips? Then set a reminder (like an alarm on your phone) to not buy them next time you go grocery shopping. And remember to stay away from the chips bowl at the parties. On the flip side, if you know you particularly love a certain healthy food - like broccoli or avocado - then stock up on them and use them to prepare healthier holiday breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
* Know your body type: are you an apple, pear, inverted triangle, hourglass, or pencil? Some experts believe different body shapes have different dietary requirements and weaknesses - which is why that slice of Christmas cake might be far more cruel on your hips than on your friend's.
Need some extra help switching on your brain's "weight loss" mode this holiday season?
Try our free 30-second quiz and discover the no. 1 'weight saboteur' inside your own mind that's trying to keep you from losing weight.
Yes, everyone has one of these weight saboteurs - even when on a conscious level you may be doing your best to watch your diet.
You'll be surprised to discover what yours is; and why it most likely imprinted itself in you back in your early childhood:
Got a healthy eating tip for the holiday season? Help the community, share your favorite one below in the comments :-)
Natalie Ledwell is a best selling author, speaker and successful entrepreneur. She's passionate about helping others to achieve their greatest dreams and ambitions through her personal development programs and her online TV show, The Inspiration Show.