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Natural Awakenings NYC & Long Island

Holiday Stress Eating

A Recipe to Withstand It

by Heather Shea

Stress can arise around the holidays, even when we are looking forward to our favorite seasonal activities and adventures with friends and family. Despite our best planning, holiday celebrations can bring on anxiety and exhaustion due to the extra shopping, cooking, childcare and hosting. As result, we often turn to food, or stress eating, even when we’re not hungry. Then, after the New Year, if we are brave enough to step on the scale, we are faced with the inevitable—extra pounds and more stress.

During the holidays, we tend to eat for fun, to quell fear or for comfort and distraction—or because everyone else is eating—rather than eating to fuel our bodies. In its simplest sense: we eat to feed our emotions, positive and negative ones alike. When the joy is flowing at a holiday get-together, it can be hard to resist the tempting buffet table. We also might find ourselves downing snacks to hide our feelings when we’re angry or annoyed, and we can’t speak up to maintain the fragile family peace. Or we fill our plates when we are lonely, tired or just plain bored. Hunger, actual physical hunger, is not what drives our eating.

Signs of Stress Eating

Pay attention while eating and make note of any of the following which often accompany emotional eating:

  • Doing other activities such as shopping, wrapping, cooking, driving or doing laundry

  • Munching at night when alone or watching TV 

  • Because a friend or loved one made a special treat just for you

  • You are happy

  • You are not happy

  • A sugar or salt craving screams, “Eat now!” 

  • It’s wonder-full: I wonder what we are having for dinner? I wonder if pumpkin spice mocha caramel marshmallow peppermint will be on the menu?

  • You are already full

 HOME for the Holidays

Consider a new HOME (Health, Opportunity, Mindfulness, Eating) for the Holidays recipe for healthy eating this season: 

Health: Remember to take care of oneself. Self-care is not selfish. Sleep, exercise and laugh. Practice kindness and gratitude. Take bubble baths, listen to music or engage in whatever leads to relaxation.

Opportunity: Focus on what’s important. It’s easy to run around and forget what is of most value in this moment. Put aside the phone and social media addiction and be present to what really matters.

Mindfulness: The book Meditating in a New York Minute: Super Calm For The Super Busy is recommended for anyone that feels a minute is all the time they seem to have. Take a walk, have a cup of coffee, or just take a few deep mindful breaths when riding up the elevator.

Eat. Eat regular meals. Fill up with true nourishment to keep the motor running. Eat for fuel instead of fear. Eat quality not quantity. Or indulge in that glorious one indulgence and avoid one more—one glass of eggnog or one piece of pumpkin pie.

During the holiday hecticness, remember to breathe and practice self-care. Light the lights, connect with Spirit and celebrate the pleasure of being home for the holidays. 

Dr. Heather Shea is a leadership and life coach and certified weight-loss hypnotherapist. For more information, email [email protected] or visit

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