Holiday Stress, Depression, and Overeating

Holiday Stress, Depression, and Overeating

Food can have addictive qualities — especially delicious snack foods high in fat, sugar, and carbs that give your body little to no nutrition. It may be tempting to lean on unhealthy snacks when you’re feeling depressed or stressed during your recovery. However, constant binging can have adverse effects on your body and make your depression and stress levels worse. 

While the holidays can be a jolly time of year, they can also be incredibly stressful. Many people celebrate the holidays by consuming chocolates and other desserts, which could make binging food exceptionally tempting. However, you can use certain tools when you feel the urge to binge that could help you get through the holidays.

Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder is described in the DSM-5 as uncontrollably eating for at least three days a week over three months. However, you can experience uncontrollable or absent-minded binging without having a binge eating disorder. During the holidays, you may feel the need to use food as a way to cope with unsettled emotions.

Consuming food gives you something to do in an uncomfortable situation. Whether you’re avoiding talking to your uncle who constantly makes inappropriate remarks about your past substance use, or if you feel some social anxiety when you are in a crowd of people that you only see a few times a year, you may be looking for a source of comfort around the holidays. Eating food that is delicious and high in carbs may give you temporary comfort, but the long-term effects can cause you to create bad eating habits, worsen your depression, and increase your stress.

Binge eating is the most prominent eating disorder in America. While it’s more likely to affect women, about 0.42% of men have been diagnosed with a binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorders can be caused by or be the cause of severe obesity. This may lead to other chronic physical or mental conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression, or anxiety. People with binge eating disorders may be embarrassed about their eating habits, causing them to be self-conscious around others. Some people end up binging when they’re alone to hide their disorder.

Stress and Depression

Your stress levels and depression may be higher around the holidays. Your feelings surrounding the holiday season may vary based on who you spend the holidays with and how you’ve celebrated the holidays in the past. Do you have good memories associated with them? 

If the holidays make you feel particularly lonely, be a little extra kind to yourself. Prioritize time for self-care and reflection so that if you believe your depression is worsening, you’ll have given yourself the time and space to think about the healthy coping mechanisms that you’ve learned throughout your recovery journey. This could help deter you from overeating and make it easier for you to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

You may be the type of person who becomes stressed around the holidays because you keep adding more and more “to-dos” to your list. The holidays require both mental and physical preparation, but you still only have 24 hours in a day. If your “to-do” list feels too intimidating, then cross something off. That something doesn’t have to be holiday-related if you’re afraid of missing out on some Christmas caroling or tree cutting. Think realistically about projects you may be able to put on hold. Re-prioritize your list with the holidays in mind. You don’t have to participate in all the holiday activities, but a few may lift your spirits.

Mitigate Overeating

The best way to mitigate overeating during the holidays is to mentally prepare yourself for uncomfortable situations that you may encounter and practice using your emotional management tools. Write down worries that you may have surrounding the holidays and potential triggers that you think you might encounter. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for you to use healthy coping mechanisms and not overeat.

However, if you already have a habit or tendency to overeat, it might be harder to negate this coping mechanism without a specific habit to replace it with. Be aware of your hunger. Ask yourself if you really are hungry or if you’re just looking for comfort. You can also put smaller portions of food on your plate. This will force you to think about your hunger in between plates of food. In general, being more conscious about your feelings towards hunger will help you manage binge eating symptoms.