With November almost halfway over, it’s safe to say that we’re now nearing the holiday season. With this season inevitably comes an annual struggle as we try to enjoy a range of decadent holiday meals and snacks without hurting our health and waistlines.

Overeating and weight gain are definitely side effects of the holidays. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average person gains one to two pounds every year during the holidays. While this isn’t a major increase in and of itself, many people fail to lose this weight during the following year, which leads to long-term weight gain and potential health problems.

The good news is that with a little planning and a strategy for managing your diet and lifestyle during the holidays, you can stay on top of your health and avoid the extra pounds. To help you with this, we’re sharing seven tips to help you focus on a healthy balance of food, activity and holiday fun this year.

1. Keep track of what you eat. Food journals and calorie counting apps are your best friends when you want to keep from overeating. Recording your meals allows you to see exactly what you’ve been eating and helps you stay in control of what you’re eating (as long as you report your intake honestly!).

2. Plan ahead and control your portions. The number of high-fat, high-calorie and sugary meals and snacks we consume during this time of year tends to add up fast. However, we can avoid this food overload during meals or at parties by planning our meals and controlling our portions. Here are a few tricks you can use to do exactly this:

  • Head to Pinterest or use Google to find tasty, but healthier versions of your favorite recipes. Look specifically for recipes that cut out or use smaller amounts of the most fattening and unhealthy ingredients.

  • Use smaller plates and glasses when eating. By doing this you can trick your brain into thinking you’ve eaten more than you have – you’ll feel fuller sooner and will wind up eating less than you would have otherwise.

  • Eat slowly. This is actually a good healthy eating tip year-round, but is especially helpful when there’s food aplenty during the holiday!

  • Going to a party? Bring your own healthy snack – that way you know at least one snack won’t completely derail your healthy eating efforts!

  • Survey holiday party buffets and snack tables before you begin putting food on your plate – this way, you can decide which dishes are worth indulging in and which ones you’d rather skip.

3. Eat lighter foods first. By eating lighter foods such as salads or soups first, you can avoid eating too much during a heavy main course. Of course this step is useless if you eat enormous bowls of thick, creamy soups or go overboard on unhealthy salad toppings, so it’s still important to pay attention to what you’re eating during these first courses!

4. Don’t skip meals. Thinking about skipping breakfast before your Thanksgiving feast? This might not be the best ideas, as research has shown that skipping a healthy breakfast or lunch can just lead to you over-indulging later on. This can also happen if you skip a meal before heading out to a friend’s party, so you’re really better off eating a light meal or snack before your dinner.

5. Limit the number of drinks you consume. Alcohol, soda or pop products, and sparkling juice cocktails are all staples of the holidays that should be enjoyed in moderation. Each of these contains what’s known as “empty calories” – calories with no nutritional value. Add in a high sugar content and you have a drink that can easily contribute to unhealthy weight gain.

6. Avoid (extra) snacking. Whether you’re at a party or just sitting at home, it’s easy to find yourself snacking for the sake of snacking during the holidays. If you’re prone to over-indulging on snacks, you can do a few things to help avoid this bad habit. For starters, make sure that you stand a good distance away from snack bowls at parties. Then once you’re at home or in the office, lay out a specific number of treats for the day and stash the others out of sight and out of reach – it’s simple but often effective.

7. Carve out time for exercise. Nothing can replace exercise in a healthy living plan! No matter how lazy you might feel during the holidays, it’s important to make time to use an exercise bike, hit the gym or go out for a brisk walk. To find out how much exercise you should be aiming for, we recommend exploring the CDC’s guide to physical activity. Don’t let the numbers you see scare you! While the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week sounds like a lot, once divided up that’s just about 20 minutes a day. And yes, even 10 minutes of activity at a time counts towards your exercise total. That’s not so bad!

8. Continue to follow any dietary guidelines and limitations you personally need to follow. General healthy living guidelines can’t replace a doctor’s specific orders, especially if you have a chronic condition like diabetes or you’re working to prevent a specific potential health problem. Holiday season or not, if you’ve been working with your doctor to get back on track, it’s especially important to avoid over-indulging and to stick to your personalized healthy living plan.

By following these steps and actively working to live a healthier lifestyle during the holidays, you can avoid troublesome weight gain and remain fit and healthy through the end of the year. So go ahead and start taking control of your holiday plans now, so you can enjoy them without any health-related complications!

*Image courtesy of wikipedia.org