Many of us think that once the holiday season hits, there is no way we can win against an 8-week barrage of holiday feasting from Halloween until the New Year. So we resign ourselves from the start and let go of all our good habits. But don’t give up on yourself or your waistline! We can be in the spirit without packing on the pounds. 

The strategies and tips I have for you are ones that apply on a daily basis and not just once a year.

I don’t want to just give you a list of do’s and don’ts, nor take the fun out of the season, so I’ll remind you to enjoy the holidays, remember the reason for each celebration, and eat mindfully. It’s not so much about the food as it is about our behavior. The holiday season is meant to be one of joy and family, not dread and deprivation. Staying aware of behavior, triggers, and habits helps us stay on track. 

Make yourself a priority.

Commitments increase and free time dwindles during this time of year. How do we normally react to this hectic schedule? We forgo things that provide us life balance and good health—including exercise—in order to attend to other people and tasks. Try to stick to your fitness routine as much as possible by scheduling it in your calendar like you schedule a hair or doctor’s appointment. On days when your social calendar is full, keep moving with daily life activities to stay active. This includes taking stairs, cleaning, squats during commercial breaks, lunges down to the mailbox (who cares what the neighbors think?), and seasonal sports/activities (Mommy and Me ballet anyone?). Physical activity helps weight management and lessens stress, which many of us may experience during this time of year. Stay motivated and actually schedule exercise as “me time” to pamper and take care of yourself. Making time to exercise is a reward, not a punishment, so change your view of exercise. It is not an excuse to eat more because you deserve it; it is the actual treat.

Lighten up your traditional favorites with smart substitutions in your recipes. 

Here are some substitution suggestions from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

Fill up on fiber

Along with the many health benefits of fiber, it is linked with satiety and weight control. Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grain breads and cereals. This satiety boost is good all year round and not just before a party. High fiber foods tend to be nutrient dense, rather than calorie dense, so fill up on these foods first and focus on color.  

Our Eyes are Bigger than Our Stomachs 

Believe it or not, the plate or container we eat from can make a huge impact on how much we eat. Brian Wansink, head of Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, is known for his famous experiments with food behavior. Time after time, he has demonstrated that the more we are given to eat, the more we will eat. This means that we do not know when we are full. We think we are full when a plate is empty or when a TV show is over. Instead, be mindful of portions and actually eat from smaller plates. It has been shown that our plates now are 30 percent larger than the plates from 30 years ago. This just translates into more food and calories when we are not necessarily hungry. 

Socialize more, eat less 

It’s noteworthy to mention here that another reason for overeating on the holidays has to do with the pre-meal nibbling. As it turns out, nine percent of calories consumed on Thanksgiving are eaten before the main meal. So don’t linger around the food. Socialize away from the kitchen or buffet to avoid the nibbling. Maybe just skip the appetizers. Literally face away from the food and dessert, or go to another room. The proximity and visibility of food increases you chance of eating that food. 

One way to combat this is to eat a small snack before you go to a gathering and avoid skipping meals during the day to make overeating less of a temptation. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to feel fuller and eat less. 

Watch out for Liquid Calories

As we know, alcohol contributes a large amount of calories with no nutrition value, so keep your consumption in check. Alternate with nonalcoholic beverages, preferably water or seltzer, or choose lower calorie options. Another reason to keep tabs on intake is that alcohol decreases inhibitions to overeat. 

Information adapted from Calorie King 2012,

Be a Picky Eater

On this point, I take cues from my husband. For him, food is an art and a celebration every day, not just on holidays. Yet, he only eats until he is just full, not past the point; and refuses to eat something if it does meet his standard of good taste or quality. I admire this so much because too often we tend to eat out of boredom or because something is placed in front of us, i.e. mindless eating. I try to be more like him in terms of being choosy with calories and only pick the foods I really want to eat. So when going to an event, take your time and get comfortable with your surroundings. Ease your way to the food table and take inventory of the foods available. Pick the ones that are worth eating before diving in. Don’t waste calories on foods that you don’t enjoy.   

Bottom Line 

In the end, portion control is what it all comes down to in weight management during the holidays and it is not about deprivation. These feelings just set us up for failure due to over-restricting ourselves. Set yourself up for success. Stay happy and in control this holiday season with conscious eating, planning ahead, having a strategy, and focusing on your goals and health just like any other time of year.

Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information