Skip to main content

Holiday-StressHoliday season left you feeling chubby, tired, and stressed out? Just imagine how Santa must feel.

Chelsi C. Wolz, a nutrition research associate, offers some diet and fitness tips to help the jolly old elf—and other holiday revelers—ring in the New Year with a new attitude.

Wolz works with Hollie Raynor, associate professor and director of public health nutrition in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Raynor oversees UT’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory, which conducts research aimed at preventing obesity.

Holiday stress

The holidays are a breeding ground for stress.

“Negative feelings, such as boredom, anger, anxiety, frustration, guilt, sadness, stress, or tiredness, may prompt overeating or inactivity,” Wolz said.

And if that’s not bad enough, “positive feelings, such as happiness or relief, also may prompt eating and inactivity,” she said.

“For many people, stress gets in the way of a healthy lifestyle and can make it more challenging to stick your eating or activity goals and maintain your weight loss,” she said. “It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll be able to eat healthier and be more active when I’m less stressed.’ But think, when was the last time you had several weeks in a row in which you had no stress, and life was carefree and easy?”

Try to minimize stress: practice saying “no,” delegate some of the work to others, set realistic goals, plan ahead, and try to stay organized.

When stress hits, don’t medicate with chocolate or second helpings.

“A better response would be to go for a walk—not only does this contribute to a person becoming more active, but it is well known that physical activity can help relieve stress.”

Eating at other people’s houses

You may not visit millions of houses as Santa does, but you may be attending holiday parties or enjoying meals somewhere other than home.

“To help control your intake around the holidays, come up with a plan for how you will handle being around foods that may tempt you,” Wolz said. “Those who have a plan ahead of time are more successful than those who do not.”

When eating at restaurants, peruse the menu for low-calorie options. If you can, plan what you’ll order before you get to the restaurant. Request foods be prepared without added oil, butter, or salt. Ask if foods can be cooked in a different way. Don’t be afraid to ask for foods that aren’t on the menu.

To reduce the amount you eat, split a main dish or dessert with someone. Order an appetizer or choose something from the senior or children’s menu. Most restaurant portions are larger than the optimum size, so stop before you clean your plate and take the leftovers home for another meal.

When attending a potluck, take a low-calorie dish to enjoy and share.

It’s possible to stay on your diet with grace, even when dining with family.

“If grandma offers you pie, say something that will still make her feel needed, such as ‘Thanks, but I am full. But I would love a glass of water.'”

Late nights

While Santa pulls the ultimate late-nighter on Christmas Eve, you might also find yourself caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season.

Don’t sidestep the fun, but do try to get some Zs.

“Sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain,” Wolz said. “When you’re lacking sleep, your body has a decreased ability to regulate hormones that help the brain determine hunger and fullness. Thus, it is just as important to get adequate rest as it is to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.”

More about HEAL

The Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory recruits volunteers to participate in studies on a variety of weight-related issues. Current studies include examining the effectiveness of online weight loss programs, appetite and eating frequency, healthy eating patterns, eating habits after bariatric surgery, weight loss maintenance, and the use of active video games in weight management.

For more about the lab and how to enroll in one of its studies, visit the website.