It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or the most insane. Haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet? Living off hors d’oeuvres? Cramming yourself into yet another little black dress that fit perfectly last year? You’re not alone. Everyone is busy, stressed and running out of time before the holiday break. So we asked an expert how to deal. Fitness pro and personal trainer Dave Smith gave me the inside scoop on how to manage stress and weight gain this time of year. Thinkstockphoto.ca Q: Is it true that stress contributes to weight gain? If so, what can we do about it? Dave Smith: Stress has so much more to do with weight gain, and successful weight-loss, than most people realize. While a healthy diet and regular exercise are both key ingredients to weight management, stress can be a limiting factor that prevents even the best diet and exercise plan from producing the results we are looking to achieve. Whenever we encounter stress, whether it be at work, in our relationships, or physical stress such as being over-tired, our bodies do their best to help us cope. The typical response happens in our adrenal glands where the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are produced to provide us with extra energy and mental alertness. So what happens when we’re stressed out? Every time this stress response is triggered, it takes priority over other processes that our body would typically be taking care of. Things like digestion, our immune system, and the repair of body tissues all take a back seat to our bodies dealing with stress. As a result, we become more tired, more susceptible to sickness, and often gain weight due to poor eating habits and interrupted digestion. Stress can make us tired, sick, and fat! How do we de-stress? Here are 4 simple ways to reduce the stress in your life: 1. Teach your body to sleep better. Regular sleeping patterns can go a long way towards reducing stress. Choose a consistent bedtime and stick to it as best you can. Prepare your body for sleep by dimming the lights and turning off electronics an hour or so before going to bed. 2. Exercise every day. Your body is built to move and it can develop physical stress when you sit still for long periods of time. Even a few quick exercises done at home can stimulate your muscles and relieve physical tension. 3. Stop, breathe, and meditate. Slowing down your mind and relaxing your thoughts is a great daily practice that can alleviate mental stress. Again, it doesn’t take much to reap the rewards: Try a 5-minute guided meditation or simply take a few minutes to sit still and breathe deeply. 4. Feed your body what it really wants. Your body wants to be nourished, not just fed. Eating a mix of fresh vegetables and fruits each day, along with lean protein and other unprocessed foods relieves many of the chemical stressors caused by an imbalanced diet. Not only will this help your body de-stress but it will also help reduce your food cravings! These simple practices can help reduce the number of stress responses triggered in your body each day. As a result, your body will have more energy to focus on processes that will help your body stay strong, healthy, and ready for weight-loss. Dave Smith is a certified personal trainer who was recently named Canadian Fitness Professional of the Year. He specializes in bodyweight exercises and interval training that can be done anywhere. Check out his work at makeyourbodywork.com. Share your fitness and health questions with us on Facebook and Twitter! You might also like:Are you eating too much sugar? Nutrition guidelines: Do you know what to loo... Nutritious and delicious Oscar party snacks Matthew McConaughey's extreme weight loss hea... Can exercise help prevent cancer?