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Americans gain one to two pounds between the Thanksgiving feast and the New Year countdown. Some do not lose those extra pounds and continually gain weight every year. Simple, smart selections can help avoid this annual obstacle and set up a positive start to 2015.

The best strategy for the holidays is to aim for weight maintenance. You can enjoy your traditional favorites, stay fit and not have the added stress of a strict diet during this hectic season.

Weight loss initiatives fail most at this time of year. If you need to shed pounds, save it for the New Year. Focus on maintenance which is a success in itself. Having a plan will increase success and make the holidays more special.

Consider the following tips for healthy holidays:

1. Build in time for exercise most days.

Research shows that 150 minutes per week will change your life! Make time for exercise and you will be better prepared for any festivities or stress. The benefit list of exercise is extensive:

  • Can help you achieve a healthy weight
  • Increases immune function and longevity
  • Builds muscle and bone
  • Improves flexibility of soft tissue and joints
  • Improves sleep and mood

2. Eat when you are hungry.

Be mindful of what - and why - you are eating. Plan for the food festivities by eating a salad or chopped vegetables before a party. It will curb your hunger and keep you from diving into all the rich dishes. Practice self-control and know your limits. Eat slowly to give the brain a chance to register "enough". As we eat slowly and savor the flavors, we become satisfied. Enjoy small portions and the loving atmosphere of family and friends.

3. Tweak recipes to contain less fat and sugar.

When hosting or bringing a dish to pass, add a few simple vegetable and fruit options to the menu, instead of all rich and saucy choices. Serve healthy appetizers like whole grain crackers and cheese, vegetables with yogurt-based dip, and shrimp cocktail.

  • Choose to roast or grill meats, seafood and potatoes.
  • Cut sour cream bases with plain yogurt to add nutrition and remove empty fat calories.
  • Read labels to compare products and use chicken stock, fat-free dairy products and light cream cheese to reduce fat and salt.
  • Use dry, unsalted nuts for flavor and texture, they pack nutrient power and contain healthy fats.

If you serve alcoholic beverages; offer wine, beer and light mixers such as soda water, tonic or diet sodas. Remember, alcohol reduces inhibitions and can promote overeating.

The holidays mean extra time with loved ones and taking care of ourselves in preparing for the upcoming year. Keep in mind that overeating is sometimes inevitable. If it happens, push guilt away and start a new day. As you explore new alternatives and adopt healthier habits, you will look and feel better over time.

This post was written by Laura Barr, MS, Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties.