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Women prone to stress-eating during holidays

/ Source: The Associated Press

Emi Fujiwara’s holidays can hardly be called that as she juggles a full-time job and evening studies and tries to find money and time to buy presents, organize parties and cook for family and friends.

The 26-year-old trainee nurse, who works at a children’s hospital, says she indulges in comfort eating during what she describes as the most stressful time of the year. The seemingly endless invitations to parties and dinners make it easier to overeat, she said.

“Well, I am a cracker-and-cheese and wine kind of girl. Once I see all that out there, it is trouble for me,” she said after going to the gym for the first time in weeks, seeking to burn off excess calories.

Nearly half of all women in the United States suffer from increased stress during the holidays, a condition that contributes to rising levels of comfort eating, drinking and other coping mechanisms that can lead to weight gain, according to a survey conducted in October by the American Psychological Association.

A national stress survey the association conducted in January showed one in four people in the United States agrees that “when I am feeling down or facing a problem, I turn to food to help me feel better.” The October survey showed that the proportion increases to one in three people during the holidays.

Comfort eating and unhealthy drinking increases among men too, but is more common among women.

Forty-one percent of women in the survey agreed that they eat for comfort during the holidays, compared with 31 percent during the rest of the year. Among men, 25 percent report holiday-season comfort eating, compared with 19 percent during the year, according to the survey.

Others may not even notice gaining weight, said Russ Newman, the association’s executive director for professional practice.

The holiday season is the most emotional time of the year for many Americans, particularly for women who often feel pressured to make it special to those they care about, said Sharon Gordetsky, a psychologist who specializes in children, families and issues of female development.

'I end up doing it all'

Even in families where fathers play a bigger role in parenting, child caring and household work, “women tend to often still do more of the planning, do more of the nurturing, do more of the social and family organization” for the holidays, said Gordetsky, an assistant professor at the Tufts-New England Medical Center’s Comprehensive Family Evaluation Center.

Too true, said Sissy McPhearson, who teaches while working on a dissertation at Harvard University’s Divinity School.

McPhearson says the stress of preparing for holidays, plus increased invitations to go out, makes it easier for many to reach out for that extra drink.

“I go out a lot more now, maybe three or four nights a week ... and have a couple of drinks. Usually I just go out maybe once a week,” she said.

Women have to take care of themselves if they are to be able to take care of others, Gordetsky said.

Among the healthier methods experts recommend to cope with the holiday stress are opting for less elaborate festivities and saying no to that serving of delicious roast beef, lasagna, chocolate or chilled glass of white wine.

“Exercise helps. I work out ... and I am getting a massage Tuesday,” McPhearson said.

The holiday stress survey was conducted Oct. 2-5 by the Washington-based Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner Research. The telephone poll, with a margin or error of plus or minus 3.5 percent, reached 369 men and 417 women and was weighted by gender, age, race and education.