The holiday season is a joyful time of year to celebrate with friends and family. But with the celebrations come lots of party foods at holiday gatherings. If you’re trying to eat healthy, lose weight or maintain your weight, those holiday goodies can be awfully tempting.

Here are some simple strategies to avoid overeating and packing on the pounds. By planning ahead and sticking to your resolve, you can follow a healthy diet and still be part of the celebrations.
1.    Eat regularly. Holidays are busy, which can disrupt our healthy eating plan. Grabbing meals on the run while shopping or grazing the buffet at social events only encourages you to eat unhealthy or more than usual. If you must skip a meal or eat at an abnormal time, keep healthy snacks nearby, such as oatmeal, almonds, cereal, fruit or string cheese.

2.    Get your sleep. Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain and stress. Aim for at least 7 hours of shut eye in order to keep your stress and hormone levels in check.

3.    Prep yourself before the party. Don’t skip a meal or arrive at a party hungry. No – if you skip breakfast or lunch – you cannot save up those calories to consume later. However, skipping meals can make you cranky, tired and may even cause a headache. Plus, when you are hungry and surrounded by high-calorie foods, it’s easy to overeat. Always eat a light, healthy snack, preferably with high fiber, before leaving your house. Fiber helps you feel full, so you might not eat so much at the party. Choose foods like crunchy vegetables, a salad, a piece fruit, or a small bowl of oatmeal. Foods with Fiber will help you stay full longer.

4.    Make smart choices at the buffet or dinner table. Being health conscious doesn’t mean that you can't enjoy the season and have a little bit of the foods you love.
•    Rather than depriving yourself of a certain item, eat small amounts – say, two to three bites – of the foods you can’t resist. Try to just have one small cookie, or two chips with dip. Just make sure to fill the majority of your plate with healthy vegetables and fruits, whole grain crackers, cheese and lean meats.
•    Eat slowly and chew each bite thoroughly. It takes a few minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is getting full. Put your fork down between bites and sip some water.
•    Limit rich, sugary foods. They have a way of making you crave more of the same. If the craving hits you, try a piece of fruit or a small bit of dark chocolate. If that doesn’t help, simply take half of a serving of that chocolate or pecan pie you can’t resist.

5.    Those sneaky beverages. Avoid beverages high in sugar and calories, or at least limit your intake to a single drink. Also, alcohol adds extra unwanted calories and, if too much is consumed it lowers inhibitions and can lead to overeating. Try consuming water with a lemon or lime, or diet/sugar-free beverages. Or have a glass or two of water before you start drinking alcoholic beverages, and have one in between drinks, to slow your alcohol consumption.

6.    Remain active. Regular physical activity is even more important during the holiday season. Physical activity reduces stress – which usually comes with the holidays – and gives us more energy. If you know you will indulge a bit, increase your exercise time a bit every day. You'll burn off those holiday indulgences and avoid extra weight gain. Remember, if you increase your exercise, that splurge won’t ruin you.

7.    Drink lots of water. Adequate water intake keeps your metabolism humming along at a maximum rate and staves off hunger cravings as well. Mild dehydration can mimic hunger. The best way to avoid becoming dehydrated – and that hungry sensation and excess pounds – is to drink plenty of water. Being active increases your water needs, drink at least 100 ounces of water a day.
It's difficult to avoid overeating during the holidays. If you do slip up, don't be too hard on yourself. Just exercise longer the next day and make sure your next meal or snack is a healthy one. By taking a few precautions, you can enjoy the holidays without overdoing it and gaining extra pounds.
Why not kick off 2013 by learning learn how to eat healthy year-round. Harris Hospital offers the Healthy Woman program that provides free seminars and health education for women, including weight management and healthy cooking for their families.  To join Healthy Woman and receive invitations to local events and free educational newsletters go to or call 870-512-3081. To learn more healthy eating tips, visit and click on “Health Resources.” Type “Strategies to Fight Holiday Weight Gain” in the search box.
About the Author: Tina James, Director of Dietary at Harris Hospital, received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics from Harding University, Masters in Family and Consumer Sciences with a specialization track in Nutrition from University of Central Arkansas.  She also attended Bowling Green State University for her Dietetic Internship.