A Holiday Gift for You: Healthy Eating with Less Stress


Don’t let overeating and unrealistic pressures dampen your holiday cheer.

The winter holiday season is supposed to be filled with joy. But for some people, the holidays can mean too much food and too much stress. A few basic measures can help you keep the cheer in your holiday season.

“The holidays are filled with joy and good food, but they also bring emotional stress for many,” explains Candace V. Love, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at North Shore Behavioral Medicine. Dr. Love is affiliated with Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. “Many people mistakenly try to comfort themselves with food.”


Watch What You Eat

According to Dr. Love, there’s no need to hibernate from holiday parties and tempting foods. “Don’t completely leave out the foods you love to eat, or you’ll feel deprived,” she says. “If you want something special at a holiday meal, eat it and don’t feel guilty — but eat it in moderation. And in the event that you overdo it, try not to beat yourself up about it.”

“This time of year, you can find many articles and information about healthy eating. I’ve pulled some of the most practical tips to help moderate your holiday eating,” says Love.

  • Plan ahead. “Develop a strategy of how you’ll address a festive occasion, whether it’s a holiday dinner, a party or simply avoiding extra sweets around the workplace,” she suggests.

  • Eat a healthy snack before you leave the house so you’re not hungry when faced with holiday food temptations.

  • Bring healthy snacks like fruit or nuts when you go shopping. “These nutritious snacks will help you stave off hunger and you’ll be less tempted to hit the food court,” says Love.

  • Drink water. According to Love, sometimes people feel hungry when they are actually dehydrated.

  • Eat slowly. “It takes about 20 minutes for your hormones to signal your brain that you’re full,” says Love.

  • Control your portions. Love recommends dividing your plate into thirds by food groups: one-third for proteins including dairy, one-third for fruits and vegetables, and one-third for carbohydrates. “The carbohydrate section has to fit any dessert carbs you choose as well as your meal carbohydrates like breads or potatoes. Fitting all these items into just one-third of your plate automatically reduces the total amount you eat.”


Dr. Love also recommends eating the proteins first, followed by the fruits and vegetables, and saving the carbohydrates for last.

“High-sugar foods cause your blood sugar to go up and then drop off dramatically, which makes you feel hungry again,” she advises. “So it’s best to limit the sugar and make sure you have some proteins, too.”

  • Don’t eat standing up. “Don’t stand by the buffet table at a party and graze,” says Dr. Love. “Take a plate of food, and then go sit down.”

  • Help pass out food and serve yourself last to keep your hands busy and eat less.

  • Be assertive and say “no thank you” to foods you don’t want. If your host insists that you try something, take a small portion to be polite but do not feel obligated to eat it all.

  • Exercise regularly throughout the holiday season. “Exercise is good all year around. But during the holidays, it’s especially helpful for burning calories, helping with stress or depression, and increasing your energy level.”


Lessen the Stress

Holiday cheer can mean holiday stress for many people. “Around the holidays, many people have high and somewhat unrealistic expectations about relationships and social interactions,” says Dr. Love. “The reality can lead to disappointment when the situation doesn’t live up to your ideals.”

Love emphasizes the importance of acknowledging your feelings and setting realistic expectations. “Instead of feeling happy all the time, many people feel a myriad of emotions during the holidays, including sadness or even anger. Identify your feelings and set realistic expectations,” she says. “For example, if your extended family always argues when together, don’t expect everyone to get along perfectly this year. Instead, think ahead about how you will deal with it.”

Financial limitations coupled with gift-giving obligations, family responsibilities, and too much to do in too little time can aggravate stress even more.

“Sometimes stress may show through physical symptoms, so be alert to these changes and get medical help if needed,” says Love. Common symptoms of stress include muscle tightness, headache and stomach ache.

“Make sure you take time to relax, even if it’s just a few minutes of watching TV, listening to music, calling a friend on the phone, or putting your feet up and reading,” says Love. “It’s important to exercise, get enough sleep, and take good care of ourselves during this time.”