The holidays can be a great time of joy for many. But for others, they are filled with anxiety and stress. Sometimes, even for those that love the family get-togethers, the stress of holiday shopping, finances, and hosting relatives can tear them apart. When stress hits at this time of year, it’s easy to turn to that tray of cookies for moral support. After all, cookies won’t criticize you about your life choices the way your family will.  But you can prevent stress eating this holiday season.

Eating the tray of cookies (stress eating?) is not healthy and you know it. Plus, you’ll feel even less joy when you realize you’ve undone the whole year’s worth of fitness you’ve worked so hard for. If you find the holidays cause you to gobble down more than you should as a way to cope with the stress, we present to you these 5 ways to stop the stress eating this holiday season before the first tray of cookies is trotted out to the company break room.

Be active

When your boss announces there are no bonus checks this Christmas or your mom says you should hire a housekeeper before the guests arrive,  instead of reaching for the holiday goodies, get outside in the fresh air for a walk, hit the gym, chase your kids (or dogs) in the yard, or just do something physical that appeals to you. You’ll release the stress and the exercise will help release the proper chemicals in your brain to make you feel better.

Plus exercise helps with the calorie balancing.  Watch how much sugar you intake each day so that your exercise is sufficient to offset additional calories you might be sneaking in.
One Chocolate Santa has 105 calories = 30 minutes of light strength training to burn off.
One serving of Christmas Pudding is 410 calories = 1 hour of boxing to burn off

Workout your mind

The brain needs exercise too. Instead of letting it harp on the negative things that cause you to stress-eat, give it something constructive to do. Take 10 to 20 minutes to yourself to read something you want to read, work on a crossword or sudoku puzzle, write a note to a friend, doodle a present gift tag, do a happy dance to a favorite Christmas tune, or do something else that stimulates your mind in an enjoyable way. It will help you feel refreshed.  You can even do this multiple times per day.  In the end, short refreshing breaks keep us engaged and thus more productive.

Focus on healthy eating

While it’s true that the holidays are certainly a time for more indulgent meals, when you focus on your healthy eating prior to the big family dinners, it won’t be such a shock to your waistline. Make sure you’re eating meals as you would normally without skipping them.   If you starve yourself all day because your job or your family (or both!) is making you nuts, you’re more prone to stuffing yourself at dinner with things that aren’t very healthful.  Start with a healthy breakfast.  Find recipes for baked egg casseroles or oatmeal dishes.  Both can be put together in minutes and once cooked, have multiple servings.  For lunch, make extra a dinner time and the leftover is the next day’s lunch.  Batch cook soups and store in lunch size containers.  Stress eating during the holidays is so very common but with a little planning, you can be prepared and in control.

Practice moderation

Yes, there are certain foods we only get to enjoy during this time of year like holiday cookies and cakes and pies. But again, eating all of them isn’t going to do any good. So indulge mindfully and moderately. If you always look forward to your sister’s famous pecan pie, then focus on eating that when the time comes and say no to treats that aren’t as delicious like boxed cookies.

This time of year it is especially important to watch portion distortion.  Food and drink portions have increased dramatically since the 1980s. Even recipes list larger serving sizes than ever before. In a 1960’s version of The Joy of Cooking, a brownie recipe served 30 – now the exact same recipe serves only 16!  Think bite-size with respect to sweets.  And even with a smaller serving, make it last for several bites.  Stop for a moment and let that cookie take you 4 bites to finish versus only 2.   Speaking of serving sizes, remember that drinks of all kinds can be packed with calories too.  Those grande lattes can have as many calories (or more) than any meals.

Limit Alcohol

Watch your alcohol consumption.  Yes I know, one glass of wine sure feels like it would ease the stress.  But need I remind you, alcohol is empty calories.  More importantly to this discussion, alcohol often leads to less self-control.  We are more likely to throw caution to the wind or “what the hell” effect and next thing you know you’ve eaten a lot more than you planned on.

Here are a few tips:

  1. set your drink limit before you start
  2. share your intention with a friend
  3. keep a 1:1 ratio of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks throughout the evening
  4. enjoy a full meal before you start drinking alcohol.

Know your limits with alcohol and enjoy alongside other beverages like water.

Forgive yourself

No one is perfect so if you find you caved into peer pressure at work and ate treats you promised yourself you wouldn’t, forgive yourself and move on. Make the next thing you eat healthy and get moving on your exercise. But above all, keep your head up because that is the key to getting through the stress of the holiday season.  Stay focused on what you truly want this season and fill it full of positive memories.


“Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

– the Grinch


Do you still feel like sugar cravings are going to control you this holiday season?  Check out my guide to Control Sugar Cravings.