December 18, 2019

Managing Holiday Food Stress (& a holiday cookie recipe!)

by Lauren Hoover, MS RD

For many people, the holidays can create unwarranted stress around eating. While everyone has a different relationship with food, anxious thoughts when eating stereotypical “holiday foods” are common this time of year. Some of these thoughts may include:

             “I really shouldn’t be eating this.”

            “I might as well finish them off because this is the only time of the entire year that I can enjoy it.”

            “I should probably not eat anything else all day so that it’s okay for me to eat the holiday foods.”

The pressure around what we should and shouldn’t be eating during the holidays can be overwhelming during an already stressful time of year. At SHIFT, we encourage our Members to focus on moderation and intentionality when it comes to holiday treats rather than restriction and avoidance. In most cases, restriction and avoidance lead to obsessive thoughts about food which then lead to overeating and/or bingeing. Overeating and bingeing, in turn, lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and wanting to make up for it by restricting again. This vicious cycle can affect our mood and mindset during the holidays and can even trickle into our behaviors once the holidays are over.

Restriction can take many forms, from abstaining from certain foods altogether or substituting your favorite foods with a diet or “healthified” version. (For example, eating baked apples with cinnamon when you really want that piece of homemade apple pie). Often, the result hardly resembles the recipe you were “fixing” in the first place and it definitely doesn’t satisfy the craving. As dietitians, we support creativity in the kitchen and inventive ideas on how to make meals more balanced and nutrient dense. However, changing up a holiday favorite to cut calories, fat grams, etc. also likely changes the satisfaction value of that food and leaves us craving even more.

This holiday season, take a moment to ask yourself what you really want and what really tastes good to you on that particular day. Sometimes you may want a big salad with crunchy vegetables and sometimes you crave a slice of homemade apple pie. A great practice of intention is also skipping foods you feel indifferent about. Instead, focus on the Balanced Plate philosophy a majority of the time and incorporating the foods you truly desire. This practice will leave you feeling satisfied and content at the end of the day without resorting to disordered food behaviors.

Below are a few tips on how to manage food stress and promote balance around holiday eating. Remember that each person is on a different path and in general, give yourself a break trying to meet certain standards or expectations. After all, it is the holidays!

  1. Take the overall focus of the holiday away from the food. Enjoy time spent with family, friends, and catching up with people you may not see very often. Play a game, take a walk and step away from the appetizer table.
  2. Stay active, but not obsessively. You can’t “work off” a day of overeating in the gym the next day. Work out because it makes you feel good, gives you energy, and helps keep you progressing towards your goals. Don’t work out as a punishment to yourself.
  3. Avoid the ‘Last Supper’ mindset. Moderation is still important when eating on holidays. But this can be easier if you reinforce to yourself that you can have these types of foods whenever you want them, not just this one day each year.
  4. Set yourself up for success. Rather than heading into a large holiday meal feeling ravenous because you didn’t eat all day, eat regular, balanced meals/snacks that you typically would any other day.
  5. Give yourself permission to eat foods without judgment. Remember, judgement likely leads to guilt and can throw you into a downward spiral. Honor your fullness level, but if you end up overeating, be gentle to yourself. Accept it and move on. The worst thing you can do is let a negative mentality roll over to the next meal, day or week.

We encourage you to reach out to a SHIFT Dietitian to further discuss strategies and/or create an individualized plan that focuses on reducing stress around holiday eating.

In closing, in honor of the season of giving, I am sharing my mother’s snickerdoodle recipe. Butter, sugar, white flour and all. Enjoy!


Classic Snickerdoodle Recipe

Makes 18 cookies

Ingredient List

2 cups flour

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ c. unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

3 Tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp. sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Stir together flour, cream of tartar, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl
  3. Beat butter until smooth, about 30 seconds
  4. Add 1 cup sugar and beat until fluffy
  5. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and beat until smooth and fully combined
  6. Add dry ingredients and beat until combined
  7. Mix together cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. sugar in small bowl
  8. Form dough into 18 1-inch balls and roll each into cinnamon sugar mixture
  9. Place on baking sheet, flatten slightly and bake for 8-10 minutes

Nutrition Breakdown

Nutrient Amount per cookie


Energy 150 calories
Total Fat 5.5 grams
     (Saturated Fat) 3.4 grams
Total Carbohydrates 23 grams
     (Dietary Fiber) 0.4 grams
     (Sugar) 12.5 grams
Protein 2 grams



balanced plate, holiday food, Recipe of the month

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