The Holiday Pitfall - Overeating and How it Can Make You More Depressed

We all know that the holidays are a dangerously likely time that we will overeat.  I’ve even heard that the week of Thanksgiving some people re-calibrate their scales, subtracting ten pounds.  Many of us come to some internal understanding that we will gain weight through November and December and unwillingly accept that.  However, there can come a problem when our holiday overeating leads to unintentional side effects, one of them being depression.

Food is obviously a way that people connect with their family and friends during the holiday season, but when your family time becomes stressful, one of the ways people deal with that stress is through overeating.  The problem here is that using food for comfort will not help, but only hurt.  Using food to self-medicate around the holidays to avoid the stress, negativity, or discomfort that your family can bring on can easily add extra pounds.   For some, this stress does not come from family, but from loneliness during the holidays.  Whatever your initial reason for overeating, using food as a comfort source is unproductive for your waistline.  So we all know that overeating during the holidays is not the best idea, so why do we give in when we know better?  Eating comfort foods during the holidays makes sense, the sugars found in high carbohydrate holiday goodies does, temporarily, increase the level of serotonin in your brain, which elevates your mood.  However, this elevation is short-lived and leaves you wanting more to sustain the happy feeling. 

The other danger about our eating habits around the holidays is that there is suddenly an increase in treats available.  Whether that means cookies at the office, holiday parties, or your mom/grandma’s holiday staples, there is significantly more food available than is normal for your regular lifestyle.  This will increase even mild levels of depression as these festive snacks will be convenient, but not necessarily nutritious.  The significant problem here is that the month-long eating rut that is December will be hard to break out of come January, particularly if you notice that shift in your mood that was mentioned earlier.  Although it may seem challenging, the following are things you can do throughout December to manage your eating patterns and potentially any resulting depression:

  • Find other ways to soothe yourself during the holidays instead of using food.  Aromatherapy, massage, warm baths, or sipping hot/lower calorie drinks are some healthier ways to be mindful of and connect with your senses in a way that does not involve food.

  • Be aware of your hunger.  When you get the urge to eat a sugary snack, ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are attempting to eat to fulfill another need.  Asking yourself this question could help you to realize that you are experiencing a certain emotion, am in need of some support, or maybe even just thirsty and dehydrated.  Giving your mind and body an opportunity to answer you honestly before instantly reaching for the fudge might be useful.

  • Work to eat a varied diet outside of your holiday festivities.  If you are over focusing on sugars and nutritionally deficient in other areas, depression can actually worsen.  Visit our nutrition page, or any other reputable internet source, for information on how to make a balanced diet a lifestyle.

  • Boost your energy by engaging in exercise or any other self-care technique.  Activities such as going for a walk, reading, listening to music, or interacting with a friend will work to improve your outlook, making healthy food choices seem easier in the moment of temptation. 

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD