Weston Psych Care Blog

Food Mood and Holiday Stress

Here we are in the middle of the holiday season. As Charles Dickens famously said, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” We all have expectations for the holidays. We tend to think of all the things we hope for such as taking time off, being with our families or with our friends. We have fantasies of how the holidays will be. Many of us start to think about what we are going to do differently in the New Year.

Many of us are invited to holiday parties. There are smells and food that are at both times familiar and triggering. Whether they are happy memories or painful, they all can cause additional stress. There are ways you can reduce your stress through the things you say to yourself and the food you eat.

One of the first things you can do is to remind yourself that the party, the gift, the outfit you choose to wear doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it is highly unlikely anything will be perfect. Give yourself permission to be kind and gentle with yourself. Try to engage yourself with friends or activities you enjoy. Remember that what we say to ourselves impacts our thoughts and attitudes.

Whether we go to parties or stay at home there are usually special foods and additional treats that we don’t have during the rest of the year. For many of us this is a battle. We want to have what is familiar, or that special treat. Sometimes we try to deny ourselves saying that we “shouldn’t” eat the food or that the food is “bad” for us. There are others of us that feel blue because the holidays did not meet up to our expectations. Those people often use food to self-soothe.

It is possible to find a middle ground. There are several ways to navigate having some of what you want and not over doing it.
First and most importantly, THERE ARE NO BAD FOODS. We can eat and enjoy all foods. It’s just a matter of how much and how frequently. If you know you are going out to eat or to a party remind yourself that you don’t eat some of these foods often. If you decide to eat something that you wouldn’t normal eat, allow yourself to fully enjoy it. Stay in the moment. Savor every bite.

If you know you are going to eat something that simply tastes good, remember to eat other food that you enjoy that have greater nutritional valve. Perhaps have a salad, some yogurt or fruit before you go so you will not be as likely to over eat.

For some people splurging on food becomes a set up to continue to splurge. One meal does not mean you are a failure, a bad person or weak. It is simply one meal.

For other people the foods become a method to self-soothe. Unfortunately, it is a very temporary solution. If you are feeling alone or blue, reach out to a friend. Do something to get you out of your house. Volunteer to help someone else.

The foods we eat can impact our moods as well. Fat dense foods cause us to become more lethargic. Foods high in protein tend to give us more energy.

Foods that can improve our mood:

  • Dark chocolate
  • High protein foods (i.e., eggs, cheese, almonds)
  • Bananas
  • Lean meats
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes and some nuts
  • Low fat dairy
  • Purple berries
  • Foods rich in Omega 3 fats (salmon, herrings, sardines, tuna)
  • Dark green vegetables
  • Vitamin D
  • Eating breakfast regularly

Foods that can negatively impact us:

  • Sugar
  • Fat
  • Simple carbohydrates (processed flour, white rice, packaged white pastas) although you need to be sure to get enough complex carbs.
  • Caffeine (can make you irritable and cause sleep difficulties)
  • Skipping meals or not eating regularly
  • Alcohol

Go ahead. Relish the holidays. Find things that are familiar and that you enjoy. Let yourself have that special meal or family dessert. And as you do, remember there are ways to change a recipe to include more mood positive foods, or to negate some of the negative effects of some of the foods you have indulged in.

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