(Graphic: ABC News)

Yes, the holiday season is upon us. But that doesn’t have to mean a season of putting health on the back burner. Why not make it simply a time for celebration? Spending time with co-workers, friends and family—celebrating the past year and bringing in the new one?

What I propose is that this year, we all break the vicious cycle. Sure, there’ll be a lot of food, and guess what? You can enjoy it—in moderation. You can be social, go to parties, dine out, travel and still not gain an ounce. But in order to do this, you’ll need to be prepared, both physically and mentally.

Here are 12 tips to help keep you on track.

  1. Stick to a regular eating routine. Don’t skip meals, even if there’s a big event at the end of the day. Saving calories for later is basically saying that you will overeat later.
  2. Before heading out to an event, grab a small snack. You’ll be less likely to eat and drink too much when you arrive. One example: a low-fat yogurt with a piece of fruit.
  3. Schedule exercise into your week, just as you do your dinners and parties. Now is not the time to let your exercise routine slip. If you need to wake up an hour earlier to squeeze in a workout—just do it!
  4. At events, concentrate on being social. Having food in your mouth makes it difficult to talk. Another fun strategy: buy a new lipstick (deep red is in) that won’t look as great after you have been noshing away.
  5. Carry a fabulous clutch to cocktail parties, so you have a drink in one hand and the clutch in the other—leaving no hands free to grab food.
  6. At parties, peruse buffets before getting on line, ID-ing the healthiest choices. Avoid second helpings. And consider wearing a form-fitting dress—it’ll remind you that just about everything on that buffet table is better off where it is.
  7. If you’re a holiday houseguest, try to bring some of your favorite healthy foods with you. Or go food shopping when you get there.
  8. Watch your portion sizes, particularly if healthy dishes are not available. A little bit of unhealthy fare is much better than a lot of it.
  9. Prepare healthy, home-cooked meals on the evenings when you’ve got nothing planned. A veggie and shrimp stir-fry with a crisp green salad can be just what you need.
  10. When dining out, avoid the breadbasket. Start with a salad (dressing on the side) and order fish more times than not. Stick to broiled, grilled, steamed, roasted or baked entrees without heavy cream sauces.
  11. Be careful of increased alcohol intake, since these calories definitely add up.  Stay away from cocktails made with juice, soda or syrup. And remember, the more you drink, the more likely you are to lose control over your food choices.
  12. Make healthy changes now, not later. Forget the New Year’s resolution to get on track and lose weight. Truth be told, it’s probably already overdue. Make the healthy changes now, and you’ll be that much further ahead come January.

Remember: you don’t need to lose weight during the holiday season, but you don’t need to gain it, either. We all like new clothes, so let’s try to keep that dress and pants size the same. With a little planning and mindful eating, you’ll survive the holidays in great shape. Enjoy !

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