Christine Sloat, MS, RD, CDN

The holidays might be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but not for dietary habits! Between shopping, decorating and traveling many healthy food choices are compromised. And, in fact, most people blame stress, not celebrations, for unwanted weight gain during the last few weeks of the year. Instead of falling into dietary traps, check out these tips for reducing stress-eating during the holidays:

Stress Eating Tips:

  • Pre-portion items: Divide that bag of snack food into smaller plastic bags using the serving size listed on the nutrition facts panel. This will prevent you from eating the whole bag in a moment of panic!
  • Stay hydrated. Thirst and hunger are closely related; without enough water your brain may actually get the wrong message and seek out food.
  • Eat foods rich in protein to keep you full longer as start your busy day. Don’t allow yourself to get hungry; you are less likely to make healthy choices when your stomach is growling!

Did you know there are also nutrients that can help you fight stress? Protein, B vitamins and magnesium work together to combat stress and keep you energized:

Protein: Aside from keeping you full, protein is also a source of serotonin. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, appetite and sleep, is an important factor in managing stress. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy and nuts are the best sources of serotonin-rich protein.

B Vitamins: The body needs B vitamins in order to process and utilize the serotonin found in protein. Sometimes referred to as “anti-stress” nutrients, the B vitamins play a large role in stabilizing mood and memory. B vitamins are used up quickly this time of year; look for them in dairy foods, eggs, cereals and other whole grains, as well as in meat and nuts.

Magnesium: This essential mineral activates B vitamins and begins the process of utilizing serotonin. Magnesium also works to relax muscles and nerves, in turn, reducing stress. Inadequate magnesium consumption is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the American diet; fill up on milk, beans, whole grains and peanuts to keep you calm.

The best characteristic about this trio of nutrients is that they are often bundled together in foods. For example, one cup of milk or a serving of almonds will provide all three! Do your best to add these foods in, while also staying hydrated this holiday season!