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.

Samantha Spain looks at her computer.
Samantha Spain, a Novant Health registered dietitian.
Samantha Spain, a registered dietitian at Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Kernersville, North Carolina, offers 7 approachable ways to keep your diet on track this holiday season. And when the scale reads the same – or something even better – come January, that’ll really be something to celebrate!

1. Don’t skip meals to gorge later.

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. “We often end up eating more total calories when skipping meals earlier in the day,” Spain said.

2. Choose wisely.

Spain recommends a “balanced plate” approach. Aim to fill one-half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth of your plate with lean protein and one-fourth of your plate with a healthy whole grain or other complex carbohydrate, such as a sweet potato, she said.

“And bring your own healthy dish to holiday gatherings so that you know there is at least one healthy option to choose from,” Spain added.

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3. Consume fewer liquid 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.

“Continue to reach for zero-calorie beverages, such as water and herbal teas. And opt for low-fat milk or nut milk in your coffee,” Spain said. “If you plan to indulge in alcoholic beverages, remember to do so in moderation and alternate with water.”

Also, aim to drink your daily recommended amount of water.

4. Make holiday meals healthier.

Chances are you aren’t the only person around your table trying to stay healthy this year. Good health is the best gift you can give your loved ones. Make it a family affair by putting a healthier spin on family-favorite dishes.

“Offer a vegetable tray to start the meal,” Spain said. “That way, you can start to fill up on low-calorie vegetables instead of higher-calorie appetizers and dishes.”

Try a side like roasted Brussel sprouts or a salad with spiced pecans. And instead of cooking with salt and butter, use olive oil with fresh herbs and spices for flavor.

5. Keep moving.

You don’t necessarily need to hit the gym during the holidays but stay active. Enjoying a game of touch football or going for a walk can be fun way to interact with the whole family.

6. Have a plan.

It’s easy to fall into the habit of stacking food on your plate when going around the buffet, but it can cost you.

“I usually suggest to my patients that they look over all of the food offerings first, before starting to put food on the plate,” Spain said. “Remember to include lean protein, fruits and vegetables and a small serving of starch.”

7. Get enough sleep and zap stress.

Both lack of sleep and excess stress can dominate over the busy holiday season, and both are enemies to weight loss. Poor sleep can make it difficult to manage hunger and satiety, Spain said. And high stress or lack of sleep both contribute to higher levels of cortisol, which can cause cravings and increased appetite.

“Most importantly, be honest about what you eat and don’t be too hard on yourself. I think being realistic is key during the holidays,” she added.