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Your Christmas Cookie Survival Guide

Don't beat yourself up over a cookie or two. Indulgence is fun for a reason, and a day or two of binging won't have you looking like Mrs. Claus.

"If there's something or a day where you really want to indulge, you might be willing to do a little extra activity to make up for it," says Sandra Carpenter, RD, Senior Program Manager for Weight Management and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

You don't have to spend all winter on a treadmill, though. Use these strategies to satisfy your cravings without overdoing it.

Satisfy What You're Really Craving
Don't let magazines or naysayers tell you that certain flavors and textures are complete no-nos, says Devon Metz, founder of Fit Health Into Life in Boulder, Colorado.

"You could love chocolate, but think you can't eat it. You might eat 20 oatmeal cookies and not be satisfied because there's no chocolate fix," she says. "If you're in touch with what flavors you really want, you'll satisfy that craving and eat less."

Fantasize about food a little and discover what you really love—is it chewy? Crispy? Chocolate? Fruit?

"Stick to the ones that are satisfying, and eat them slowly," Metz says. Savor the flavors you enjoy, and give your body time to let you know it's satisfied.

Not All Chocolate is Created Equal
If you crave chocolate, opt for a cookie that's made with cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate or studded with chunks, Carpenter says.

"Cocoa powder will have less fat than a cookie with milk chocolate," she says. Try something like a chocolate crackle cookie instead of a Hershey Kiss cookie, and you'll satisfy your craving for fewer calories. (If you do use Kisses, opt for dark chocolate, she says, for a kick of antioxidants and less fat than the original drops.)

Stay Away from Two-for-One Treats
Cookies like the Reese's Peanut Butter cup blossoms—a peanut butter cookie stuffed with a chocolate cup—are like two treats in one. And that complexity can make you stuff yourself silly, says Jennifer Ventrelle, R.D., lifestyle program director at Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago.

"You have to use more of your taste buds to detect all the flavors, which activates more pleasure centers in your brain," she says. This can trigger many of the same hormones associated with addiction to drugs, gambling, and sex. "So your brain is wired to continue to eat those things."

If a treat has chocolate and nuts and cranberries all in one… it's a slippery slope. Choose simpler offerings—you'll be able to eat more cookies for fewer calories, and you won't eat like an addict.

Party Hearty, Not Hungry
Lots of dieters starve themselves throughout the day in anticipation of a party binge. That's a mistake, Metz says.

"Having regular meals and snacks throughout the day will help you make better decisions at the party," she says. And start with a glass of water before your first drink. The water will help fill you up faster, while the alcohol will stimulate your appetite.

If you take a plate of leftover goodies home, don't replace a healthy snack habit of fruit with a handful of treats, Ventrelle says.

"Think of them as a dessert after meals," she says. "Cut back on carbs a little bit during the meal—have just a half-portion of rice or skip a slice of bread."

This Snicker Won't Satisfy
Snickerdoodles may seem simple and safe, but they're hiding a fatty secret: This classic cookie is made by taking sugar cookie batter, adding some cinnamon, a little sugar… and a whole stick of butter.

If they're your favorite holiday cookie, don't abstain completely. But satisfy your craving with a lower-calorie classic sugar cookie if you can.

Make Smart Subs When Baking
If you're baking your own cookies, you can cut a few calories and fat grams without affecting flavor or texture, Carpenter says.

"You can use apple sauce or pureed pumpkin in place of some of the oil, butter, or margarine in the recipe," she says. To add some filling fiber to the mix, swap half of the recipe's all-purpose flour for whole wheat, she says. "You don't have to swap it all, because some people won't like the nuttier flavor."

If you're not starting from scratch, check the packaging to save a calorie here and there—Betty Crocker's sugar cookie mix is 160 calories for 2 cookies, while Krusteaz's mix is only 140 calories for the same amount of finished product.

The best bet? Two of Pillsbury's "ready to bake" reindeer cookies are 120 calories—and they're pre-cut, so you won't have to worry about portion control.

Watch Where You Stand
Avoiding overindulgence can be as simple as where you stand, Ventrelle says. Choose a table where you're further away from the food at your next holiday party, and you won't be as likely to graze aimlessly.

Science backs her up: In a study involving a candy dish, participants ate 1.8 more candies per day when the dish was placed on their desk as opposed to 2 meters away.

"Be social," Metz says. "Engage in conversation. You're keeping yourself occupied, and the event isn't just about eating."

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