Screens, Stress, and Expectations

Because we eat to escape stress and achieve comfort, the holiday season is a notorious obesity villain. One of the contributing factors is that other obesity villain, screen time. When they combine, Christmas is by far the overachiever. Television shows pour out powerful reminders of what a celebration of materialism the holiday has become, and that’s just the content.

The commercials that support the content are even more dangerous. In these pandemic days, many American families experience a shaky financial situation. The last thing we need is for the children to absorb constant reminders of all the stuff they are entitled to (according to the voices and pictures emanating from an electronic device).

In this situation, the clear winners are any parents who have been listening all along to the warnings about screen time. If this form of entertainment is limited throughout the year, as a routine healthful habit, it is much easier to maintain those strictures at holiday time. As a result, kids don’t sit around all day munching on snacks, burning zero calories, and salivating over tantalizing food and drink ads. Consequently, they are far less likely to become obese. Plus — bonus prize! — they receive less information about toys and other items that corporations hope to convince them they cannot live without.

Fantasy land

A website about body-focused repetitive behaviors issues a gentle warning:

Sometimes, our expectations for the holiday season do not match our reality. Hollywood, and our own memories or daydreams from childhood, leave us with images of friendly family get-togethers…

Examine your expectations for the holidays. Are they realistic? Perhaps some readjustments are necessary in order to meet your reality.

Many people will defend their presumed right to have their expectations fulfilled, a right that does not really exist. An expectation is a fantasy about something that has not happened yet. It is very similar to a wish, and there is a rather crude old saying about that: “Spit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one fills up first.”

An aware person will self-interrogate: “Why am I more privileged to have expectations, or more worthy to have my expectations met than anybody else?” Usually, the realistic answer is, “I’m not.” When the talk turns to worthiness, pretty soon it strays into the thorny territory of entitlement. Like it or not, our wishes are no more precious than other people’s, and it is doubtful that, on any given day — even a holiday — the whole world will conspire to fulfill our desires. Dr. Elizabeth Scott wrote,

[E]ven the most close-knit families can overdose on togetherness, making it hard for family members to maintain a healthy balance between bonding and alone time. Many families also have roles that each member falls into that have more to do with who individuals used to be rather than who they are today, which can sometimes bring more dread than love to these gatherings.

Sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves, in terms of how much stress we are willing to put up with from difficult relatives. We can love them in our hearts without necessarily feeling obliged to endure their company often, or for long periods. Maybe a new tradition could be started, like getting together in the even-numbered years, instead of every year. We are allowed to set limits. We don’t need to announce them in a cruel or intolerant way, but we can set them. How? This might be a topic to explore with an in-person or online therapist, starting well ahead of time, to prepare for next year.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “10 Tips to Manage Holiday Stress and Avoid Pulling or Picking Overwhelm,”, undated
Source: “Managing the Seemingly Inevitable Holiday Season Stress,”, 01/15/21
Image by guldfisken/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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