Holiday stress and weight gain

I love the holidays, don’t get me wrong.

holiday stress and weight gain

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 😉

holiday stress and weight gain

Do you suffer from holiday stress and weight gain?

Tell me your favourite way to relax and enjoy the holidays!



  1. I hope this doesnt sound terrible 🙂 but I LOVE ME SOME BEING JEWISH.
    It really strive to steal lots of christmas day for our family.
    a bunch of quiet frazzle free hours.
    and only after that do we go visit friends.
    MIz recently posted…A day in the life of a misfitMy Profile

    • This year we are all alone Christmas day and the focus shall be unplugged time together. I have yet to tell the children; easier if they don’t know what’s coming 🙂

  2. The holiday stress seems to have started this weekend with all of the extras on my to-do list. And as usual the cravings for salty snacks was intense. If I’m not careful I will search for relief from the stress in salty snacks. My stress busters are physical activity and extra family time. Maybe an extra 15 minutes sitting at the table after dinner just chatting and laughing. Or, as long as the weather cooperates, we will for an early evening walk. Love the holidays but it’s so easy for the stress to ruin the festive season.
    Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted…What’s For Dinner Menu PlanningMy Profile

    • Jill, it really is ironic isn’t, it? We work so hard to make the holidays happy and end up feeling stressed about our efforts.
      Family walks are a great idea! When my kids were little, we used to walk the neighbourhood every evening looking at the Xmas lights. Maybe they’re not too old to still enjoy?

  3. First, I love your pics!!!! And YES, I know stress can make one gain weight & all that cortisol stuff! 🙂 I love how you described it & got all those points down for the readers – YES! I should be rolling with my stress & plus I am not the most easy going person. 😉 Good thing I work out like a crazy person!!! 🙂 Sept – Dec are crazy with holidays & lots of bdays/other events for our family so it is tough & with money an issue – even tougher. Plus 2 holidays to enjoy with me Jewish & the other half not… 😉

    I am sticking to my workouts for sure. Sleep is a tough one for me – I have a weird schedule but it works for me if the hormones don’t get in my way. 😉

    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Thanksgiving WeekendMy Profile

    • Yes, you do get a double whammy don’t you! I know that you won’t let the holidays get in the way of your exercise routine; you’re the queen of consistency, Jody!

  4. I love wrapping presents when I have all my wrapping paper, ribbons, boxes, tapes, and related crafts out and accessible. Nothing like a marathon wrapping session to make me happy and holidayish!
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Thanksgiving: Family, Food and FitnessMy Profile

  5. Wrapping gifts would be my stressor…I’m terrible at it! lol

    I’m lucky that I have time off during the holiday season because that way, I can still do what I do without stressing that I don’t have time to do it. Although, if that were the case…I’d make sure I had a plan in place…know me 🙂
    Kierston recently posted…#RECIPEFRIDAY: Join The Club!My Profile

    • Ha! You and my hubby! He likes to stick things in present bags; the older and more recycled the better!
      I like the creative aspect of it, but only if I’m not rushed…

  6. Great post! I think it’s so easy to just focus on the food or no time to workout instead of other improtant factors like sleep and stress levels.
    Tina @ Best Body Fitness recently posted…A Sisterly TraditionMy Profile

    • Recently, a fellow trainer at my gym lost 20 pounds by just cutting back her workload (from 60 to 40 hours per week) and upping her sleep (from 6 to 8 hours per night). No change to eating or exercise!

      That alone convinced me of the power of reducing stress!

  7. Boy, the holidays can be super stressful! Add to that a sick kid and a teenager and WHAMMO- weight gain! I’m going to try and relax more- or at least take some “me” time.
    Wendy recently posted…Let’s Turn Black Friday RED, WHITE and BLUE!My Profile

    • Wendy, so sorry to hear your kids are sick. Perhaps they’ll have it all out of their systems before Christmas (and hoping that they don’t make YOU sick; the best gift of all…)

  8. Great post! Every time I feel myself getting stressed I try to take deep breaths and I remember one single word: cortisol. Is being upset right now worth the weight gain? nope!
    Nellie recently posted…BAM Book Review: Falling TogetherMy Profile

    • Thanks Nellie! Deep breathing is so important! It’s a great way to calm ourselves down when we’re upset and angry!
      Taking 3 deep breaths right now as my children ignore my requests for them to brush their teeth…

  9. It’s weird, but short periods of high stress actually make me LOSE weight. I get stressed out about what I need to do and then I forget to eat. Probably not the best way of doing things, but I count on those high-stress months sometimes. 😉
    Calee recently posted…#WIAW — a random act of cupcake-ness.My Profile

    • Calee, I think the really importance negative effects of stress are when it’s chronic. I agree, if I have just a few days of stress (studying for exams, anyone?), I don’t eat as well and tend to lose weight. Longer periods of time (we’re talking weeks or months here) and the hormonal issues kick int.


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