I love the holidays, don’t get me wrong.
But with all the (1) additions to my to-do list (buy presents, wrap presents, mail presents, plan menus, buy groceries, bake expected holiday treats, clean house) and (2) extra social outings (class and work parties, Cubs and soccer get-togethers, concerts at two schools, community tree trimming, Carol ships viewing and family celebrations) December always ends up being the most stressful month of the year.
While I’m fairly good at limiting my intake of high sugar-high fat foods (which make me feel crappy) and maintaining my usual workout schedule (which makes me feel good), it’s the holiday stress and weight gain piece of the equation that I struggle with.
Did you know that chronic stress can actually make you gain weight?
It’s true and you have your hormones to blame for it!
Hormones are chemicals secreted by glands in the body. They circulate in the bloodstream and control the actions of target cells or organs. When everything is working as it’s supposed to, hormones are your friends. Start making too much or too little of them? That’s when the trouble begins.
Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland. It’s primary function is energy provisioning. It stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism when you need a quick burst of energy and alerts your body to release insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
During times of physical or psychological stress, cortisol secretion increases (think ‘fight or flight’), hence it’s nickname the “stress hormone”. While our bodies are equipped to handle short, intermittent bouts of stress, chronic stress and and prolonged periods of cortisol secretion can contribute to weight gain in a number of ways:
- metabolic disruption; elevated cortisol levels can slow down the rate at which your body metabolizes food. Slower metabolic rates lead to increased weight gain, even without changes in the amount of food you’re consuming
- cravings; chronic stress tends to result in increased cravings for sweet, salty and high fat foods. Often these foods are ‘triggers’ for overconsumption and binge eating
- elevated blood sugars; remain under stress for too long and blood sugar levels may be altered, causing mood swings, hyperglycemia and even metabolic syndrome
- fat storage; not only do elevated cortisol levels lead to weight gain, they also affect where we store fat. High levels of cortisol are linked to abdominal fat deposition; the very fat that’s associated with higher risk of heart disease and stroke
My holiday stress busting activities?
- knit a lot. Knitting forces me to sit down, relax and focus on something totally unrelated to the holidays (if you’re expecting to receive a knitted gift for Christmas this year, you’re bound to be disappointed; knitting on a deadline is anything but relaxing)
- add an extra 30 minutes of physical activity each day to my regular routine. Exercise not only burns calories, it also reduces stress, moderates blood sugar levels and makes me feel happy. Plus, when I do indulge in a holiday treat or two, I’ll rest easily knowing that movement will keep them from settling on my hips!
- sleep more. Getting too little sleep also contributes to cortisol production. I aim for 8-9 hours every night and ensure that it’s restful by avoiding alcohol in the evenings and turning off electronic devices at least 2 hours before bedtime (sorry Tweeps!)
- play with my children. Their noise and constant whirlwind of activity causes me much less stress when I’m part of the fun (rather than sitting at the computer trying to write amidst the chaos, which interestingly, may cause weight gain in and of itself!).
- pay more ‘attention’ to my husband. ‘Grown up’ time is a great stress releasor
Do you suffer from holiday stress and weight gain?
Tell me your favourite way to relax and enjoy the holidays!