Data indicates that the average American gains between 5 and 10 pounds over the holidays, so it's going to take some planning and effort to beat these odds. However, the holidays are indeed special, so if you don't want to enjoy them at the expense of your health, it's worth this extra effort. It can also be great training for staying on track with good nutrition and fitness the rest of the year.

1. Be realistic.
If your traditional approach has been to say "all bets are off" and then to follow your tongue through the season (and perhaps beyond), be content with a few small steps, solidly and successfully taken, which you can build upon. Try to use one or two of these tips a couple of times, and enjoy what success you may have. Even if you end up gaining weight, avoid beating yourself up at all costs! This can not only spoil your holiday experience, but might also cause you to stick your head in the sand for the rest of the year. Instead, see what you can learn from the experience. Ask yourself questions like these. What could you realistically do better the next time? Are you ready to do this? If not, why not and/or what would it take for you to be ready?

2. Treat these special holiday foods as the delicacies they are and not as the main caloric source in your diet during this period.
Let a little go a long way. Remember to eat slowly and that the effect of food eaten on appetite is not felt for about 20 to 30 minutes after eating it. If you forget this last fact, there is a good chance you'll feel bloated and uncomfortable instead of deriving the comfort that you may have been looking for. "It lies in my stomach like a rock!" to quote an old friend of mine.

3. Do not starve yourself to compensate for eating holiday goodies, especially in anticipation of an upcoming event during which a lot of rich holiday food will be served.
This can create a hungry beast in you to be unleashed by the first tasty morsel of holiday cheer and which will then pig-out as if there is no tomorrow. You might even lower your metabolism during the starvation periods. Instead make sure you eat enough so you don't get hungry and eat plenty of high volume/low calorie/low fat foods as recommended below (see 5 & 6).

4. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Shoot for at least a half-gallon per day. That's approximately four of those half liter bottles that are so handy to carry around. If you have a good water source, you can buy four or more bottles at once and then refill them daily. I find that having the day's water already pre-measured really helps keep me hydrated. There are a number of good reasons for drinking more water than most people do. The reason I have in mind here is that it helps curb hunger. When you feel hungry, you may just be dehydrated. Remember food is often more than 90% water.

5. Eat more fresh fruits and veggies, especially prior to eating any holiday goodies.
This helps in two major ways. The foods themselves are healthy and most people eat far less of these foods than even the most conservative recommendations. Most of these foods are high volume, but low in fat and calories. This means you can literally fill up on them before eating any holiday goodies and thereby eat less of these foods, which are, for the most part, dense in calories, fats and simple sugars.

6. Eat plenty of high fiber food.
This group includes whole grains and legumes (e.g. beans). The fiber will absorb some of the fats and also cause the sugars to be released more slowly, thus stabilizing blood sugar levels and cravings. Additionally, drinking all that water will cause the fiber to swell up and you'll feel more full (and you will be) and less hungry. If you want more information on high volume and high fiber foods, send an e-mail to

7. Increase your exercise.
Start an exercise program. Increase the one you've got or at least keep it on track. This will burn off some of the extra calories, keep your mood elevated and your appetite down. A fast walk with the right music can work wonders.

8. Understand that increasing one's knowledge about nutrition and exercise, planning and journaling are the cornerstones of positive healthy lifestyle changes that last.
This of course presumes one is ready and willing to attempt such changes. Due to limited space we can only say a few words about these important steps. You can start by simply writing down what you eat, when and where you ate it. You could also keep track of what was going on and how you felt at the time. Later you could look up the calorie content and other nutritional values of what you ate. Also write down what exercise you did. After doing this journaling for a while, one's knowledge increases rapidly and soon one's ability to plan also improves.

9. If you do overdo it with fatty foods, follow it up by making the next day a low fat day (that doesn't mean starve yourself).
There is research indicating that this will minimize the negative effects of the previous day's fat intake on the cardio-vascular system.

10. Remember to feed your spirit too.
May sound corny, but with all the commercialism, it's easy to forget that part of the holidays. I mentioned above that you may feel hungry because you are actually thirsty (see point 4). Similarly, you may overdo it with the calories, but feeding your spirit is what will really satisfy you. As an old song goes, "When you take what's second best, it's hard to get enough." The holidays are all about spirit and, obviously, you must decide what that means for yourself. Maybe it's the joy that comes from fellowship, being with friends and family or just sending out a few greeting cards to people you care about. A good part of holiday spirit for me is to again realize that when all is said and done, the world can be a good place. At the end of our last holiday season, Stacey Brice gave a copy of Desiderata to her subscribers as her gift. I'm going to close with the last few lines of it:
"... whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Happy Holidays and when you do eat some holiday goodies enjoy and savor every bite!

Author's Bio: 

This piece was originally submitted by Tony Weaver, Ph.D level biologist (Stanford Univ.), and Nutrition & Fitness Coach, who can be reached at, or visited at