It’s officially the season of cookies and candy canes, sugarplums and savory pies. But a festive holiday spirit doesn’t mean you have to reach for the sweatpants.

The occasional indulgence is always OK. It’s when the ‘occasional’ becomes a daily habit that it can trigger holiday weight gain, about 5 pounds for most Americans.

Sandi Hamilton wears a white coat and smiles.

Sandi Hamilton, a registered dietitian at Novant Health WomanCare in Winston-Salem, takes a creative approach to nutrition. By designing a personalized eating plan for patients, Hamilton makes healthier habits seem more approachable.

She shared 7 ways to avoid gaining weight with advice on what to do instead:

1. Don’t skip meals to 'save' calories.

If you skip meals with the idea of ‘saving’ those calories for a big meal later, you are more likely to make less healthy choices, eat too quickly and overeat.

“Holiday foods can easily be triple the fat and sugar of our usual diets,” Hamilton said. “Help prevent your calorie intake from skyrocketing by eating healthy meals before a gathering where you’re likely to indulge.”

Another tip to prevent overeating is to slow down and savor each bite. And stop when you are full – even if your plate isn’t empty. This can make “a huge difference” in lowering how many calories you eat.

If you don’t have time to prepare a balanced meal, consider a healthy snack instead. Here are dozens of healthy snacks to keep in your kitchen. They can also be grouped together to make a small, portable meal that you can take with you on your dash out the door.

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2. Think twice before you load up on carbs.

As with the previous tip, this one requires us to slow down. At buffets and family style dinners, where there is an abundance of options, look at all the options before you put food on the plate.

From sugary desserts to potatoes, bread and pasta, most holiday favorites are loaded with carbohydrates. Don’t deprive yourself entirely, just indulge in smaller quantities to avoid that ‘stuffed’ feeling. And remember to include a lean protein, fruits and vegetables.

Things to keep in mind as you build your plate:

  • Be choosey with what to include and what to pass up.
  • Locate your favorites and have a small serving of each, maybe two or three, but not all of them.
  • Put a bigger portion of vegetables on your plate than usual. Hamilton recommends a 2:1 ratio of vegetables to carbs. That means you’d have 1 cup of greens but only half a cup of potatoes.
  • Lean proteins like poultry and fish should also be on your plate, but limit their portion sizes to about 4 oz.

“If this seems like a very small plate, then what you are used to eating is likely two times what you should,” Hamilton said.

You might consider preparing a large vegetable tray with hummus or a low-fat dip for festive occasions, as well. Filling up on veggies can help you feel fuller before getting to the heavier foods.

3. Don't drink your calories.

Everyone loves a good eggnog, Christmas beer, cider, hot chocolate or festive cocktail.

But all those peppermint mocha lattes add up to a lot of extra calories. The good news: There are a lot of great-tasting drinks without all the extra sugar. Try an herbal tea or zero-sugar sweet tea.

Hamilton said, “Milo’s has a sweet tea that tastes identical to the real thing." Try these swaps, as well:

  • Swap out the mixer in your holiday cocktail with diet cranberry juice. Or drink it on its own as a juice substitute.
  • If you drink coffee, use a sugar-free syrup (or omit that completely) and replace the creamer with a low-fat milk or nut milk.
  • And don’t forget the holy grail of all drinks – water! Needs vary, but the daily recommended amount for most adults is at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.

Pro tip: Calculate your daily recommended water intake by multiplying your body weight in pounds by .6 to get what your body needs in ounces.

4. Do your potatoes really need an extra stick of butter?

Chances are you aren’t the only person around your table trying to stay healthy this year. Make it a family affair by putting a healthier spin on family-favorite dishes.

“You can usually reduce the amount of fat in your dish by half without even noticing it,” Hamilton said.

Try swapping out the salt and butter for a heart-healthy olive oil and use fresh herbs and spices for flavor. You might consider these options, as well:

  • Try using an air fryer in place of deep frying.
  • Save hundreds of calories by using cauliflower in place of potatoes and rice.
  • Swap out regular potatoes for a sweet potato recipe that has more fiber.

Another tip: Bring your own healthy dish so you know there’s at least one option to choose from. Try roasting Brussel sprouts or make a broccoli salad with toasted pecans.

And when you're tired from all the holiday hosting, take a night off from cooking. Learn how to choose a healthier order at an Italian or Chinese restaurant.

5. Don’t skip your steps.

The holidays are busy, so getting to the gym on a regular basis may not be realistic. But you can still stay active by taking a quick walk at home.

Get the whole family involved by suggesting games like football or tag instead of more, inactive screen time.

Hamilton also enjoys flow yoga, which is good for stress relief, posture, balance and flexibility. If yoga isn’t for you, try browsing YouTube's huge selection of free workout videos.

6. Stress and sleepless nights won't help.

Too little sleep and too much stress are twin forces of weight gain. If you are tired and stressed, Hamilton said it’s even harder to control your appetite and make smart choices.

“You can also get stuck in a cycle of eating or drinks for reward or stress release,” she said.

Here are 3 ways to de-stress your daily routine with mindfulness and meditation. And try your best to get a good nights’ sleep, which for most adults is between 7 and 9 hours.

7. Know when to hit reset.

Enjoy your favorite foods but savor them in smaller portions. And don’t be too hard on yourself. If you notice the occasional splurge has become a daily occurrence, hit the reset button and get back on track.

“Good health is the best gift you can give your loved ones,” Hamilton said. “Try setting a good example this holiday season with the suggestions above. By using even a few of them, you can enjoy a healthier holiday season.”