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Holiday stress can impact eating habits

December 27, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Most of us feel as if we are stretched to our limit with our daily activities. Add the hustle and bustle of the holidays to that list, and it is easy to become overwhelmed and stressed.

Stress during the Christmas-New Year's season is a common occurrence, but we can react in ways that can actually help us be healthier and more productive.

Many of us eat to relieve stress. There is a physical reason for that. As stress rises in our body, so does the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol causes an increase in our desire for carbohydrates and fat. The carbohydrates and fat we reach for are the ones in high-calorie, rich foods such as ice cream and some of our favorite baked holiday treats. These foods do produce a feeling of calmness, but keep in mind the feeling is only temporary.

Another thing we might reach for in times of stress is caffeine. Like sugar and fat, caffeine also provides something we desire - a jolt of energy. But too much caffeine can prevent you from getting good rest. Without proper rest, it's hard to accomplish all you need, and the stress cycle continues.

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Healthy eating can actually help your body withstand stress. Stress weakens the body's immune system, and a healthy diet can help combat stress-related illness. The body needs larger amounts of magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins in times of stress. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables can provide these needed nutrients.

It is also easier to maintain a healthy weight when whole grains, fruits and vegetables are eaten instead of some of the high-fat, high-sugar foods.

You'll feel better and be more productive if you will listen to your body's cues for hunger: Slight stomach discomfort, growling and feelings of fatigue.

Some people find it helpful to eat small, frequent meals to keep their energy level up. Keep things like cheese, peanut butter, whole-wheat crackers, whole or dried fruit, nuts, yogurt or carrots handy as quick, healthful snacks.

Also, foods with protein can help you to feel full longer and help curb the carbohydrate cravings.

Exercise can help boost your energy level, and that can help you be more productive during the holidays. Exercise helps your body to relax and release emotional tension, which can help you fall asleep faster and promote better-quality sleep.

In addition, people who exercise describe feelings of psychological well-being. Establish these healthful habits this holiday season and maintain them throughout the next year. What a great gift to give yourself.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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