On Nutrition

Baking for friends and family during the holidays can be a pleasure and a joy. Except when it’s tainted by shame and guilt. A confession I often hear is, “I love to bake, but I’m afraid to, because I’ll end up eating it all.” Those fears can become heightened around the holidays.

Certainly, eating so many cookies, pieces of fudge or slices of pumpkin bread that you get a stomachache and are too full to eat an actual meal is uncomfortable and distressing. But it’s really the canary in the coal mine. Yes, you might be objectively eating “too much” of your baking, but why? Let’s look at a few possible reasons.

Exhibit A: Baking for a crowd when there’s no longer a crowd

Did you use to fill the kitchen with baked goodies for big family celebrations, but now you celebrate the holidays more quietly — while still producing just as many cookies and cakes and pies? There could be many reasons why you’re baking more than your current household and guest list can reasonably eat.

  • Habit (and muscle memory) has you pulling out every baking sheet, baking pan and mixing bowl you own, as if on autopilot.
  • You’re feeling nostalgic for the big, bustling celebrations of the past, perhaps with some sadness and grief.
  • You can’t decide which holiday favorites to cull from your baking list.

If you miss the days of a packed house at the holidays, accept and honor those feelings. Then, can you relax your expectations and accept that two types of cookies are enough … not six? Maybe this means putting some favorites on a rotating schedule: This year you make A and B, next year you make C and D.

Exhibit B: Baking as stress relief

While baking can be art, it’s also chemistry, so there is a need for precision and focus if you want your cake to rise, your pie filling to set, or your cookies to not spread out into a flat mess. Having something outside yourself to focus on can have a calming, steadying effect — or serve as a distraction — when you’re under stress. And let’s face it, the “happiest time of the year” can also be one of the most stressful.

Of course, if you feel like you’re eating “too much” of what you’re producing, it’s not the act of baking that’s causing you concern, it’s the act of eating. There’s no shame in using food to feel better, but if your use of food is causing you physical discomfort, or if food is your only means of coping, then that warrants some self-inquiry. What other coping tools do you have? Many people who use food to self-soothe tell me that they never put much thought into what else they could do, because food always works for them.


Exhibit C: Baking as a hobby

I sometimes wonder how many more dedicated baking hobbyists there are now than there were before we ever heard of “The Great British Bake Off.”

Hobbies are great, because we need leisure pursuits that are fun, engaging and perhaps even meaningful. But if a hobby has a negative side — your shopping hobby leads to crammed closets and credit card debt, your baking hobby leads to eating enough sweets that you don’t feel well — then perhaps you would benefit from diversifying your hobbies, similar to how someone who’s only emotional coping tool is food might want to diversify their coping toolbox.

Last Supper eating

If you spend most of the year dieting or otherwise restricting what you eat, then embark on a holiday baking spree — maybe with the mindset that it’s for your family, your guests, maybe your co-workers, but not for you — that’s a recipe for rebound or “Last Supper” eating when you’re in the presence of foods you don’t typically allow yourself.

The solution to this concern isn’t “don’t bake,” because food restriction can turn you into something akin to an overstretched rubber band that is destined to snap at some point. If not homemade cookies, it will be something else.

Both intuitive eating and mindful eating provide road maps to making peace with food, allowing yourself to nourish yourself in a balanced way that stops the pendulum swing between restriction and rebound eating. This is a longer-term solution to enjoying baking at home while also enjoying a balanced and peaceful relationship with all foods — vegetables, desserts and everything in between.

Three tips for calming your inner Cookie Monster

  1. Make sure you’re eating actual meals. If you spend all day in the kitchen baking without taking time to eat proper meals (and snacks, if you need them), then of course you’ll end up eating a lot of cookies — you’re hungry!
  2. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, enjoyable movement and downtime (which isn’t the same thing as sleep). If you are stressed or sad or dealing with other big feelings, think of what might help you cope besides food. Slipping out of the house for a walk? Talking to a trusted friend? Re-watching a favorite movie? Journaling?
  3. If you were raised to be part of the Clean Plate Club, or generally feel guilty about wasting food, when faced with extra goodies you might be tempted to eat more than you truly want. Can you give away or freeze the surplus for later? I recently cracked open a #10 can of pumpkin (6 pounds, 10 ounces worth) that had been sitting in my pantry for five years and baked until I used it up. Most of the fruits of my labor went into the freezer. Note: If you decide to give away your goodies, make sure the beneficiaries you have in mind really want what you’re offering. Otherwise, you risk becoming a food pusher.