‘Tis the season for holiday temptations. It can begin as early as Halloween, when miniature candies seem to be on every kitchen counter top, at every bank teller’s window, and in the break room of every place of business. Next comes Thanksgiving, as we celebrate the joys of our life by feasting – and feasting, and feasting some more – with our friends and family. By the time Hanukkah, Christmas, and finally New Year’s Eve come around, we’ve eaten more sugar cookies and creamy side dishes than we’d care to remember. It’s no wonder that we’re all so ready to start fresh with lofty goals and resolutions on January 1st.

If larger clothes aren’t on your wish list this year, there are simple and practical steps you can take to have a guilt-free but glorious holiday season. These tips will help you to enjoy the special treats of the season in moderation, while avoiding the less-than-desirable gift of a few extra pounds by the end of the year.

1. Shift Your Holiday Thinking

What do the holidays mean to you, in terms of your eating plan? Do they signify a “break” from your usual healthy habits, or a time to temporarily flip the “off switch” on your normally healthy diet? This kind of all-or-nothing thinking can cause us to go overboard with our eating choices, as we try to get as many guilty pleasure foods onto our plates as possible before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. It can take just a week or two to gain ten pounds, while it can take many months to lose this same weight. Your safest bet to avoid overindulgence is to treat the holiday season as you would any time of year, where the majority of food choices that you make are healthy, and the minority are deliciously decadent and worth the extra calories.

If this seems like a daunting task during this treat-filled time of year, it might help to employ the three-to-one rule. This means that, for every one thing you’ve overindulged in, make the next three choices healthier and better balanced. For example, a meal that’s over the top needs to be balanced with three moderate meals. A food choice that’s high in calories and fat can be balanced with three more healthful options. If the majority of your diet is healthy, you’ll be on the right track for maintaining your current weight.

2. Start with Healthy Holiday Travel

Many of us have to hop in a car or on a plane to arrive at the doorstep of our nearest and dearest for the holidays. This travel time can be challenging to our diet, as sitting in one place for a long period of time can lead to boredom eating, and our healthy choices are often limited at roadside stops or airport food courts. If you’re traveling by car, keep a bag of healthy, non-perishable snacks and drinks within arms reach. Munching on almonds, dried fruit, or pretzels can stave off the temptation of the less than healthy choices that you’ll find at most rest stops. The same goes for airplane travel. Most airports now have some healthy choices within their restaurants or stores, but if you pack what you need ahead of time, you can choose whether to use your own snacks or save them for later in your trip.

3. Don’t Get Guilted into Second Helpings

It’s not always a plate of warm brownies that derails our healthy intentions, it’s often the people around us who make us feel as though we “should” eat a certain way during the holidays. Most of us have at least a few friends or relatives who show their love and affection through the food that they prepare for us. In order to spare their feelings, we feel that we can’t say “no” when they offer an extra serving of stuffing or a giant piece of pie to cap off our meal. Instead of overeating just to please our hosts, we can use a few simple phrases to fend off well meaning “food pushers” while letting our hosts know how much we enjoy their food. When the pie plate comes your way, you could keep it simple and say, “I’ve been looking forward to your incredible apple pie all day, so I’ve saved room for just a taste.” Or if a tray of home-baked cookies is offered with coffee, you might say, “I couldn’t stop eating those delicious mashed potatoes, and now I can’t possibly fit in another bite. Would you mind if I wrap a few to take home for later? They look incredible!” Of course it’s then up to you whether you actually eat them later or choose to skip those extra calories.

4. Only Eat It If It’s Special

When we sit down with our family for a big holiday meal, we’re typically passed serving bowl after serving bowl of main and side dishes, all of which we’re tempted to scoop onto our plates. Of course we can feel free to pile on the healthy sides, like steamed peas or Brussels sprouts. But this year, we might leave the table without feeling uncomfortably stuffed if we follow one simple rule: only eat it if it’s special. For example, if you’re deciding what to eat at a holiday dinner, and you’re eyeing a spectacular stuffing and a pile of piping hot rolls, think about which food is special and unique to this holiday. Since you might have a roll at any given meal, skip these calories and indulge in a taste of the savory stuffing. This way, you won’t feel deprived of your favorite holiday dishes, and yet you won’t need to slip into sweatpants before dessert is served.

5. Drink Water – And Lots of It!

This is more of a year-round weight management tip than a seasonal one, and yet it’s an incredibly effective tool in staving off hunger cravings and keeping your metabolism moving along at a good rate. Many people mistake thirst for hunger and end up eating to quench their thirst. This results in more calories than your body needs, which leads to excess pounds. Drinking a glass of water just before you head to a holiday party, and another when you arrive, will make you feel slightly full when you’re faced with appetizer trays or dazzling buffets. Choosing water throughout the party, instead of either alcoholic drinks or sweet treats like eggnog or punch, can result in hundreds of saved calories by the end of the night.

6. Exercise in the morning

Once the holiday season gets really busy, workouts are sometimes the first thing to go. This is a big mistake, as working out can burn 200 to 500 calories per session, and burning the additional calories you are sure to consume is necessary to maintain your weight. The best way to keep working out during the holidays is to switch your workouts to the mornings. Most holiday parties happen in the evenings. Morning workouts will ensure that you are free to accept invitations and have a good time without the guilt of skipping a workout.

By putting some simple strategies into place now, we can enjoy the holiday season without guilt, discomfort, or extra, unwanted weight. If you’d like to share your own tips for preventing holiday weight gain, please feel free to add a comment below.