Holidays, Stress and Your Weight

by | Jan 5, 2024

Today we’re talking about the six letter word, stress.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or not. It is or it isn’t. I do think stress seems to be at an all time high around the holidays. It’s amplified. There’s lots of expectations, lots of pressure. 

There are; 

  • Extra events
  • Social obligations, 
  • Holiday parties, 
  • Special days, 
  • Traditions, 
  • Shopping, 
  • Spending, 
  • Baking, 
  • Eating. 

I think what goes into that is our want or need to make people happy or to do it right or that we’re supposed to just be happy, festive and fucking perfect. We’re supposed to like it, we’re supposed to have fun, it’s supposed to be great. 

It is okay to feel stressed about it all.

It is okay to not like it or to feel sort of obligated and/or resentful about it all. I think some of that comes from feeling like we don’t have control, that our schedules, our calendar, our wants, and our needs are secondary to everybody else’s. I think that’s a very female kind of thing. Stress is very normal, to a certain point. Fortunately our bodies are built for stress, but it will take a toll if left unchecked. If you have unmitigated stress, it’s going to show up in a lot of ways. 

You’ve heard this idea of fight or flight, this sort of stress expression is when I am facing a stressful situation. Picture this in your mind’s eye of primitive times. You can imagine I am a cavewoman being chased by a wooly mammoth. I have to go hunting for food or I’m freezing cold and I need to build a fire. I’m in life or death moments all the time. The primitive mindset.

Where in today’s life, I could be freezing cold, but I could get a coat. I could be freezing cold, but I could turn up the heat. I could be hungry, but I could find food. I could get an annoying email, but it’s not going to kill me. I had a not so pleasant interaction with my boss. But again, it’s not it’s not a bear attack. Although our bodies and brains don’t necessarily know that. If left unchecked if we’re not taking care of the stress and being able to manage stress, it is going to be a bear attack all the time. Your fight or flight mechanism will be turned on, and stay on. 

I read something really interesting about fight or flight, some of the studies were looking at the difference between men and women. Men go into fight or flight with anger. Women have more of the need to appease, more like people pleasing.I think they gave an example of like, if you’re being held up at gunpoint, a man is going to react more in a violent way. His reaction might be to punch or kick, or try to match the violence. A woman would be like, Hey, are you sure you really want to do this? 

When women, myself included, get into situations where we feel stressed out, or we feel like we have no control. It’s because we’re not just in fight or flight all the time but highly amped up. It leaves us kind of snappy, irritable, always kind of displeased. The other side of that is this constant feeling like we have to make everybody else happy even though we are stressed out, or we are feeling like we’re at the end of our rope. We feel like we don’t have time. We’re overwhelmed. We’re anxious. We have to make sure everybody else is happy. It’s very interesting, actually. 

You’re probably here because you want to lose weight. 

You want to not only lose the weight but you never want to f*cking find it again. You want to keep it off. I don’t want to lose it just to find it again, I really want to have the strategies to keep it off. This is not super sciency because I’m not a scientist but understanding how stress works and how it shows up for us is helpful, because then we can get ahead of it. Then we can at least avoid stress related weight gain because yes, stress can cause weight gain. Not just because you’re maybe not maintaining the same level of exercise or typical healthy eating as you’re moving through stressful times. It’s not just because the month of December is super busy with lots of parties and things like that there’s more to it. 

When we are stressed out our bodies kick into that fight or flight mode I mentioned and it causes us to release the hormone adrenaline to help us fight off the perceived threat. Remember, the wooly mammoth, your boss, the email, the phone call, the bill, the kid screaming in the backseat? Our bodies and brains, at that moment, aren’t really able to say, Yo, wait a minute, your kids having a fight in the backseat is not the same as being chased by a bear. But it feels like it. We go right into, oh my god, something terrible is about to happen. I’m going to snap if you kids don’t stop arguing, I’m going to crash the car into a tree, I’m going to pull over and yank you guys out or what have you. I’m not saying I’ve ever done that. 

To have enough energy on board for our bodies to be able to run from the bear or to deal with the kids or to deal with the boss or the email. In order to have enough energy to deal with the threat our body will also release glucose, otherwise known as sugar, into our bloodstream. Where do our bodies get the glucose? Here’s the cool thing, we have stores of glucose in our muscles and our liver. Sidenote, when this is all happening, I’m not burning fat, but you probably already figured that out.

The adrenaline gets released. Body also releases glucose. Then the adrenaline will wear off. If you’ve ever felt an adrenaline dump, it’s almost like your stomach hits the floor or that feeling of, I’m about to make a speech or a presentation. It’s the right moment, you have enough adrenaline to get through. Then when you’re done you feel really depleted. 

Adrenaline doesn’t last forever. It’s like a shot of adrenaline just to get you through. So the adrenaline wears off, blood sugars are going to drop back down, and the hormone cortisol will rise to provide you with more energy to continue to address the threat.

You’ve seen those commercials on TV where they show somebody with a big belly, and they talk about belly fat, stress, and cortisol, then they try to sell you a supplement of some sort. The commercial isn’t wrong, it has some truth to it. When we have cortisol that’s constantly high, or it goes so high that eventually it drops down insufficiently we can get excess belly fat. That’s not where it ends. 

Cortisol rising stimulates the release of insulin in order to maintain your blood sugar level. That process triggers sugar cravings, salt cravings, and an overall increase in your appetite. It makes sense that if I have a lot more cravings, and I give into those cravings, I would be eating more. That could lead to weight gain but I think it’s more than that. I think not only can increasing cortisol levels make you hungry, but they can slow it down. That whole process can slow down your metabolism so that you can conserve energy to deal with the perceived threat. 

It makes total sense. There is no way my body is going to tap into fat stores. That’s not fast enough. There’s plenty of energy in fat stores but because I need it instantaneously it won’t. Our human body is built for this. Over time, you could see that this could be a problem. Stress also will impact the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, which give us those signals about am I hungry? Am I full? Have I had enough? When all of this gets screwed up, you can imagine that we can become very unaware of when I’m hungry, when I’m not hungry. Why am I constantly wanting sugar or salt or sweets or fat and things like that? 

I wanted to talk about stress because I do think a lot of the hormone imbalances that women in their 40s and 50s are experiencing are not just from perimenopause and menopause. It’s like perimenopause and menopause laid on top of stress creates the issue of weight gain, and especially that feeling where the fat accumulation is more in your midsection. 

I do think right now is the time to talk about it because if you think about it, the holidays are really ripe with lots of opportunities. Opportunities to over eat, over drink, over consume everything. Over consume more, more, more, and then skimping on sleep, skimping on workout. Or if you are trying to not overdo it, then trying to willpower through it or just suffer through it or just get through it or just wake me up in January. 

What is the problem with stress specific to women in their 40s and 50s? 

Stress can also be exacerbated by perimenopause and menopausal hormone changes. Of course, you’re going to have changes that affect your emotions. You’re going to have physical symptoms that are going to create more fatigue and less resilience distress. If you are someone who’s already having hot flashes, night sweats, not sleeping through the night then your ability to withstand stressful situations goes down, that’s also going to affect those cravings that you’re experiencing. Chronic stress can elevate cortisol, keep it elevated, and make your estrogen decline even lower. 

I get it right. As soon as I hit 39, 40 41, I start to notice that weight loss is harder. There are many reasons why if you’ve been dieting your whole life, if you’ve gained and lost a lot of weight. We’re probably also gaining and we’re mostly right losing muscle mass and so our metabolism is slowing down. When you aren’t really able to manage or not aware of stress, you’re obviously slowing down your metabolism as well. It’s kind of like a one two punch. 

I want to point out that there are things you can do to really address stress. Cortisol that goes high or cortisol that goes low or insulin that goes up and down or unmetered, if you already know you’re A1C is too high. If you have high triglycerides, or cholesterol. If you already have some idea that some of your health markers aren’t where they need to be. It does take time to bring those in line. 

I also want to tell you, hormone balance isn’t a thing that is achieved and then kept. Just like the weight, the number on the scale, you don’t arrive at that number and stay there. It is about fluctuations. Hormones will fluctuate, they will respond, and that’s a good thing that our bodies are that resilient. 

There are a lot of things that do cause us stress. There are good stresses. People who are; 

  • Getting married,
  • Planning their wedding, 
  • Moving into their dream house, 
  • Got their dream job, 
  • Having a baby or trying to have a baby 
  • Just had a baby. 

Lots of different situations will cause that same level of stress.

You’re doing new things that take more time. There’s a lot of pressure on you to get it right. Do it right. Be Right. Obviously my clients are in their 40s and 50s. A lot of this centers around; Work, 

  • Having high level jobs,
  • Jobs with a lot of expectations, 
  • Jobs with a lot of responsibilities, 
  • Managing a lot of people, 
  • Managing a lot of money, 
  • Managing other people’s businesses, 

It’s stressful. We can’t say it’s necessarily bad stress, but it is stress.

Our brain isn’t able to say, this is a good stress. Our bodies are just programmed to respond. It is important to recognize that some of the things that stress us out, are outside of us. We can’t control what other people think. If your business is not successful, is that really all on you? You work for someone else. You have somebody in your family who was sick, you have somebody in your family who’s getting divorce, or you’re getting a divorce, you’re starting a new relationship, you’re moving out of town, some things that are not necessarily always in your control. What we can do is figure out how we want to respond. How we can coach ourselves to essentially manage our minds and figure out what is in our control and what is not in our control. 

When it comes to the holidays. 

It’s December and there are holidays. You can decide how you want to celebrate them, what you celebrate, when you celebrate. You really can. I know there are beliefs about no this is the way it has to happen. But if you really think through it, what are things that you personally want to control? Want to have a voice in? How do you want your holidays to go? I think it’s important to know you’re not powerless. 

You’re in your 40s and 50s so what can you do when it comes to managing stress and not having this sort of stress related waking? Essentially that’s what we’re talking about. It’s stress, it’s the holidays, it’s women 40 and over and being in that sort of unique situation. Your body is not the same as it was when you were 20 or 30. But it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to be suddenly 20 pounds heavier, to not be in the body that you want, that you can’t get to where you want to go. 

I know plenty of women, just like you just like me, who can lose weight and keep it off. One of the key essential things is not diet harder, workout more, and all of that. That’s really going to be part of the problem. I have seven things for you to think about. You don’t have to do them all. We don’t need to add more. I’m trying to de-stress and I have to do all of these things. I’m not wanting to add more stress, I’m looking at ways to help you create less stress. 

It doesn’t mean that you have to meditate. You don’t have to do yoga unless you want to. Write if you want to. Meditate if you want to. Do yoga. I am all for those things. 100%. But let’s start with walking.

1) Walk.

Not running, sprinting, jogging. You’ve heard me say it a million times, that is added stress. It is. I know your Apple iWatch tells you that you burn more calories. But we’re trying to get activity steps. You know, blood flowing, functional exercise that does not create more stress. 

You don’t have to walk with a weighted vest. You don’t have to walk with weights in your hands or weights on your ankles. You don’t have to walk a 14 minute mile. You don’t have to just walk the same hill over and over. You can but you’re probably going to get better fat loss results when you can walk and not run. 

2) Lift, but don’t HIIT. 

What does that mean, lift but don’t HIIT? Lift weights. Definitely lift. You don’t have to get into powerlifting or Olympic lifting, unless that’s an interest of yours. We’re not trying to hurt ourselves. Every workout is not supposed to be your personal best. Again, we’re trying to give our bodies enough stress, but not too much.

When I think about lifting, and especially from the lens of I’m a woman in my 40s or 50s and I want to lose body fat, I want to mitigate stress. What would I do? I would strength train, probably. It depends on where you’re at. But I would probably strength training three or four days a week, no more. 

I’m not talking to a competitor. I’m not talking to someone who’s an athlete training for a sport. I’m talking to someone like myself. If you don’t do any type of strength training, then we’re going to try for twice a week. Think about your strength training session being under 45 minutes, definitely not an hour. Taking rest between the sets.

Not doing high intensity interval training aka HIIT. I would not do HIIT workouts. That means I’m not going to do a lot of box jumps, burpees, running, sprinting and that I need to get my heart rate up as I lift. I’ll be able to actually lift more with more rest between sets and when I’m not trying to add that cardio component.

3) Eat food.

Eat food on a regular basis. Stop trying to push it off. Stop trying to not eat all day long, because our bodies don’t know what is actually happening. You’re going to have a similar situation with insulin and cortisol all cascading because we’re running out. 

First of all, I don’t have any glucose for my brain. So my body has to provide glucose for my brain to think. I’m going to go home and I’m going to be starving. I’m probably going to overeat. 

It’s kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I don’t want to eat too much, but I don’t want to eat too little. I want to eat just right. I want to eat just enough. Somewhere in between and it takes practice. Also, I will not need or want the same amount of food every day. If you are strength training, you might be consuming more food. You might have that protein shake, or that extra meal. If you are not working out, you’ve been busy, you’ve been sick, you’ve been tired, you’re resting, you actually might not need more food. So it’s not a one size fits all formula, even for yourself. 

It is about listening to your hunger cues. They might be a little screwed up or skewed or you’ve never actually checked in with yourself to see if you’re really hungry. I get it busy, busy, busy, don’t have time to eat, but that’s going to backfire on you in the background. Your hormones are messaging each other. The more you’re not eating, the more coffee you’re drinking, that is going to be a problem. 

Caffeine is something that a lot of women will use. They will be drinking coffee, energy drinks, and things all day long to keep going. That’s actually feeding into this hormone disruption. The amount of cortisol and insulin that is going up and down is not going to help you lose weight.

4) Your Plate.

Your plate will have protein. It will have fiber. It will probably have starchy carbs and some healthy fats. I would probably start with protein and fiber. I would make sure I have at least 25 grams of protein or more for a meal. Really, fiber should probably be around the same. Looking to do different vegetables. You could obviously do a baked potato, you could do a lot of different things to get that in. 

5) Sleep. 

Sleep probably is the hammer that hits all the nails. If I solve my sleep issues, then I will also have less cravings. I will probably have more energy to go for the walk and to lift the weights. I will be less moody and less hateful. I’ll have less brain fog, I’ll need less caffeine. 

How do I do that? I’m not shy about supplements in my own life. If you’re not taking supplements, I’m not urging you to take all the things. I think there’s a lot of different ways to address what is actually going on with your sleep. I know a lot of women just don’t go to bed. Nine o’clock hits and they’re like, now is Me Time. Now I have to watch my TV shows, I have to get a snack, do the laundry, and I have to finish up work. 

If you work from home, the work never ends. Literally, the work never ends, you can just log on any time and our to do list is never done. There’s always something else. That just adds more stress. Just sort of accepting that you’re not going to get it all done. You’re not. Figuring out what is an actual emergency, what is on fire, what is not on fire. Fixing your sleep is something that will make you feel better, help you lose weight and probably help you live longer. 

6) Managing your mind. 

This one. It’s hard to manage your mind. It’s like a runaway train. Sometimes it’s just going and going and going and dwelling and ruminating. 

  • I’m so overwhelmed. 
  • I’m so stressed out.
  • I can’t do it all. 
  • I have to do it all myself. 
  • Nobody’s helping me. 
  • I have no support. 

And that’s just the G rated version. 

You know, there could be other things going on in your mind. Like;

  • I hate the holidays, 
  • I love the holidays, 
  • I wish it was different, 
  • I wish so and so was here 

all the things. 

It’s okay to have all of those thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think what is more helpful though, is to get them on paper. Even if you write them down, and then crumple the paper up, throw it away, burn it or keep it just see what’s going on. Sometimes we’re unaware of consistent thoughts that we have that are making us feel more stressed out and more overwhelmed. 

The more stressed and overwhelmed we feel, the less likely we are to take action. I’m not going for a walk, lifting weights, or concentrating on eating a balanced meal, when all I can think about is how stressed I am. I’m in fight or flight mode. I can’t even think straight. Sometimes it feels like what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Or how do I break the cycle?

Managing your mind is sometimes just enough to just say, okay, it’s normal to be stressed. A lot of people feel stressed around the holidays. It’s a crazy busy month. We feel like we have a lot of obligations. We have to show up to all of these parties. We have to shake all the hands, buy all the gifts, all the things, and it can be very stressful. 

Giving yourself grace is part of managing your mind. Being compassionate with yourself is part of managing your mind. What would you say to your best friend, to a loved one, to your 12 year old self who’s freaking out? Baby steps, right? Managing your mind is not jumping to the worst case scenario. That’s feeding the fight or flight. That’s making the threat a real thing.

Figure out what is actually going on. Why are you stressed out? A very simple question. Why are you stressed out and go from there? 

7) How about supplements?

Especially ones with adaptogens. You might have heard of adaptogens. You might have heard of something called ashwagandha, or Relora. These are different types of herbs. They’re completely natural. I haven’t met anybody who’s overdosed on ashwagandha. They’re in a lot of different supplements these days. 

It can be very helpful to have the supplements in your house, and then subsequently in your mouth and in your body. It doesn’t help to buy supplements and not take them is what I’m trying to say. 

Do I have a favorite supplement? I do. I’ve mentioned it here and there. I don’t get paid to talk about it. I don’t make money from you buying it. It’s from a company called Metagenics. It’s called serenity. People will take it throughout the day. I usually take it at night. It really just calms your mind down from ruminating, intrusive thoughts. Sort of the saint when we’re just swirling and spinning on the same stuff. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so stressed out. I can’t get it all done. When you wake up at one in the morning or two in the morning, and you’re like, I forgot to do this. 

I bought my husband a bottle of it and in a Sharpie marker I wrote “calm down” on the bottle. Not because I’m telling him to calm down, although I am. But it was like in case you’re wondering what this is for. It’s to calm down. It’s great for people who road rage, freak out, and are constantly irritated with people. I think it’s worth getting. Then you could let me know how you like it. 

8) Get some help with hormones.

If you are somebody who is experiencing issues, symptoms, problems, upsets with peri menopausal and menopausal symptoms, I would get some help with that. I read an article that had 36 symptoms of menopause. One of my daughters came over and was like, what’s menopause? Meanwhile, my kids are now becoming tweens and we’re talking about things like puberty. I’m like, oh my god between puberty and menopause, that is stressful. 

There are a lot of symptoms of menopause. Lots of them, and they can be unpleasant or they could interrupt the quality of your life. Getting some help with your hormones. You could also decide on more supplements. You could decide if you’re going to talk to a physician about hormone replacement therapy. Bioidentical hormones would be my go to. If you’re looking at that there are things you can do. Mostly it is being patient with yourself. 

We’re not going to overcome stress and we’re not going to overcome our weight in one day or one month. It is a process. I think awareness is very key. The more you can understand what happens in your body when it is stressed then the more we can get on top of it and be aware. I could go down the road of feeling stressed over every little thing or I can look at ways to work on it. 

When you are more well rested, more hydrated, you have more quality food on board, you’re going to feel better and be able to handle more stress. When you’re overtraining, under-eating, under sleeping, and pushing yourself to the edge, you will eventually hit the wall. That is definitely something that is in my own personal story is just pushing the edge hormonally, especially around cortisol. I don’t want that for you. I want you to have a wonderful holiday season. 


Bonnie Lefrak is a Life & Body Transformation Expert and Founder of Self Made, a program designed to help you tackle the physical aspects of health and weight loss as well as the beliefs and thoughts that drive our habits and behaviors. It is her goal to help women create certainty in their own lives, their own results, and their own abilities.

Weight loss is not about the one “right” diet – it is about MUCH more than that. Weight loss is not about the one “right” workout. Weight loss is not about being positive and putting a big smile on.

Weight loss is about FEELINGS. All of them. Not trying to bury them or hide from them but knowing and allowing the full human experience. Weight loss is not about grinding hustling and will powering your way to some end line. Transformation (when done well) is done from the inside out.

By addressing both the physical and mental aspects of dieting and weight loss, she has coached thousands of women ages 30-55+ from all over and helped them ditch the mindsets that are holding them back, achieve permanent weight loss, and get the bangin’ body of their dreams.

Bonnie is an expert at Demystifying weight loss. She helps you u****k your diet brain. She is on a mission to help women love themselves, to find PEACE in the process of losing weight, taking care of themselves, and leveraging the power they do have to become who and want they want right now.

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