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Follow this food plan to celebrate in good cheer.

Let's face it, the holidays are stressful. With all the demands we place on ourselves during the holidays -- endless festivities, shopping, entertaining, decorating, family gatherings -- it's no wonder we feel exhausted. And every year we promise to do better, but we don't. So what to do?

How about a little pre-holiday nutritional training?

Yes, you can fight stress with food -- just as food can cause stress. Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which raises blood sugar levels. That's great if you're fleeing a saber-toothed tiger, but too much cortisol on a regular basis gives you that achy, irritable, screamy feeling. This can lead to pie and eggnog abuse at the buffet table, and those fats and sugars you gobble can lead to more stress on the body. It's a damaging cycle that sends your liver and gallbladder into overtime, and socks away unburned fat in funny little pudges around your middle.

"Food is often used to remove stress, yet more often, it creates it," says Roberta L. Duyff, RD, a food and nutrition consultant and author of the American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide.

Obviously, you'll feast occasionally during the holidays, but you'll feel calmer if you create an anti-stress diet routine for the times in between. Remember, the key to avoiding stress is to anticipate it and counter it going into the holiday season. Ready? Begin by posting this training plan on your refrigerator door:

Stock Your Training Table

  • To keep calming brain chemicals such as serotonin on an even keel, eat colorful foods full of vitamins, suggests Bruce S. McEwen, PhD, head of the Laboratory of Endocrinology at Rockefeller University in New York. Look for red, green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables -- melon, berries, peppers, and winter squash.
  • Make sure you get some protein, preferably from rich fish chock full of omega-3 oil. Salmon and caviar are loaded with it.
  • Stick with whole grain breads, crackers, and pastas. Load up on oatmeal.
  • Always have a bottle of water at hand.

When you're the last one standing after that shopping marathon, you can attribute it to your nutritional training regime. For inspiration, check out this menu plan:

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