PhotoIt's a sad fact. Just as retailers make most of their profit for the year around the holidays, that's also when most of us put on a few extra pounds.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Just by following a few simple rules you can enjoy the holidays without gaining weight. Vanderbilt University Medical Center dietitian and certified personal trainer Jessica Bennett says you can even sit down to large family dinners and attend holiday parties.

“It’s a good idea to eat in a healthy way all year-round, but for a lot of people it’s especially challenging during the holidays,” Bennett said. “Fortunately, with a little planning and thought, it’s possible to have a good time, eat well, and still maintain a steady weight through the holidays.”

Rules to live by

Bennett offers up 10 tips for avoiding holiday weight gain:

  1. Don’t skip meals before a party or family dinner—the “saving to splurge” strategy doesn’t usually work in the end. If you go into a feast hungry, you can do some damage.
  2. Avoid going to a party hungry—have a snack, such as an apple or a handful of nuts. Denting your appetite won't dampen your enjoyment but just might prevent you from over-indulging.
  3. At a party or buffet, assess all the food options first and take small servings of food that you really want. Don’t just load up on whatever is there.
  4. Taste foods before adding salt—most foods already have plenty of salt. Besides, most Americans get all the salt they need – maybe even more – from their normal diet. Seasonal goodies, unfortunately, are usually loaded with both sugar and sodium.
  5. Choose a smaller plate if you have a choice. This is a dieter's trick that has been shown to work. If you fill a small plate, you are likely to feel just as full as if you loaded up a regular dinner plate.
  6. Avoid eating standing up. For some reason, it’s a lot harder to keep track of how much you’ve eaten while on your feet and moving around.
  7. Make it a point to eat slowly – even put your fork down between bites. The slower you eat, the less you eat.
  8. Watch out for high-calorie beverages. A good way to do this is have water or sparkling water between drinks, and also to dilute juices with water. Remember, a glass of wine and a small cocktail have at least 100 calories.
  9. Don’t think you have to eat all the leftovers yourself; share them with family and friends.
  10. The day of a party or family meal, make it a priority to do something active. Whether you go to the gym or take a two mile walk, some exercise will not only make you feel better, but help compensate for a little holiday indulgence.  

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