Stress about holiday food can backfire — so eat the damn cookies

We’re charging full steam ahead for the holiday season. And between family dinners, festive libations, and indulging in comfort foods to combat holiday stress, it’s easy to overdo it this time of year.

But worrying about your food choices can fuel your anxiety—as if you needed to extra This puts pressure on the already busy season. And over time, all that stress can mess with your body and actually contribute to weight gain.

Here’s why: When you’re dealing with chronic stress, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Not only can cortisol increase fat storage, but research suggests it can make you more likely to consume more calories.

So while it’s a good idea to follow a few simple tricks to avoid completely derailing your healthy goals over the holidays, it’s also important not to obsess over every bite of peppermint bark.

Here are three reasons why you should stress less about holiday cheer sometimes.

1. A big meal can’t undo all your hard work

Maggianos Thanksgiving Dinner |  Where to buy Thanksgiving dinner

Worried about how many calories are in your grandma’s sugar cookies? Feeling guilty that you grabbed seconds of your aunt’s sweet potato casserole? Cut yourself some slack on special occasions.

“The occasional treat shouldn’t sabotage your progress toward your fitness or weight-loss goals,” says Trevor Thimay, CSCS, executive director of fitness and nutrition content at Beachbody.

True, research suggests that holiday weight gain is fairly common – but the typical holiday weight gain is about 0.4 to 0.9 kilograms (about a pound or two). Tighten up your nutrition, stick to your normal workout routine, and you’ll be able to get back on track pretty quickly.

2. Your willpower needs an occasional rest day

Woman enjoying sweets  eat cookies

“Willpower is like a muscle that can get tired over time,” says Krista Maguire, RD, senior nutrition manager at Beachbody.

The more mental energy you spend avoiding certain foods, the more you will crave those “forbidden” foods. But allowing yourself to say yes to a favorite treat now and then can give that “willpower muscle” a much-needed chance to recover.

So go ahead and enjoy some stuffing or mac ‘n cheese at a family dinner — but Maguire recommends engaging in a mindful eating habit to fully savor and appreciate each bite.

3. Treats make your diet worth it

Woman eating cookies

can you really Stick to a diet that rules out hot cocoa forever? Probably not. For a healthy diet plan to work, it must be sustainable.

Unless you’re eating mashed potatoes and gravy and pecan pie and eggnog every day, don’t worry about enjoying them at holiday dinner. Sometimes cheat meals or mindful indulgences can leave you feeling deprived or frustrated and giving up.

“When you indulge, you should do it consciously, mindfully, and enjoy it thoroughly,” says Michelle Pramalaiko, author of Sugar free 3.

So instead of completely cutting out sweets and comfort foods during the holidays, focus on enjoying a few bites of your favorite foods (and maybe a hot toddy, too). So get back to your healthy-living game tomorrow.

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