11/24/2012 10:37 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season

It's about that time when every week is filled with a work party, cocktail hour or special dinner to celebrate the holidays. When you're faced with nostalgic foods and drinks at every turn, it's easy to veer off a healthy eating path during the holiday season. But that isn't a reason to completely give up hope on your diet. Instead, learn to make the best decisions you can in any tough situation so that you can stay on track toward your goals while still enjoying the foods you love.

Before the party starts

What you do all day affects how successful you'll be at making healthy choices at a holiday get-together. A common mistake is to save your calories or be extremely rigid about your diet around the event. This often backfires and results in overeating or ignoring all of the options available to you at the party. For example, perhaps there's a crudité platter set up, but since you didn't eat much that day and arrived at the party very hungry, you may rationalize that you've earned those five pigs in a blanket. Instead, eat regular meals throughout the day. If you've gone more than four hours without eating, grab a snack before even going to the event, such as a piece of fruit, string cheese, or a handful of nuts. That way, you'll be more likely to scan the foods you have available to you, make a healthier choice, and choose a smaller portion of your favorite hors d'oeuvres.

Swap smart

If you're the hostess, you have more control over how dishes are prepared and can choose clever recipe swaps to lighten up heavy holiday favorites. This includes swapping out low-fat milk or low-fat cheese for full-fat products, using pumpkin puree or avocado instead of butter to save on saturated fat, and flavoring dishes by using olive oil and herbs instead of excess sugar and salt. You can also offer up healthy options like white meat turkey in lieu of dark meat, whole wheat rolls instead of white bread, and low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream as a topping for sides and desserts. When you're the guest, don't despair. Why not bring a dish you know is within your healthy eating guidelines as a contribution for the party? Also, you can still have a serving of your mom's famous stuffing. Try to stick to one small scoop and pair with a side of roasted sweet potato or steamed green beans with sliced almonds to help satisfy you so you're less tempted to go back for seconds.

Mind your drinks

It wouldn't be the holidays without a celebratory specialty cocktail like egg nog, but be mindful of the fact that just one cup can potentially cost you 400 calories, which is the size of a smaller meal. Drinking alcohol, especially going in on an empty stomach, tends to lower your inhibitions so you're less likely to pay attention to what you're eating. If you must have your favorite holiday cocktail, stick to one, and then choose wine, champagne, or liquor with non-caloric mixers. Remember that holding a drink can be a good thing at a cocktail party to keep your hands from grabbing every snack that's served. Try alternating your alcohol with glasses of water to stay hydrated and alert while still enjoying the conversation.

Rising above "willpower"

Willpower is this mythical quality that people often blame for actions like giving into a slice of apple pie or that extra glass of eggnog. But the truth is that making decisions about food is much more complicated than either having willpower or not having it. Instead of blaming willpower for your lack of control around the holiday season, consider the real issue at hand, such as going into the event too hungry or not having the support you need from family and friends. Stop blaming yourself; the holiday season is overwhelming enough. Because negative self-talk can make it even more difficult for you to reach your goals, give yourself the gift of a positive attitude so you can enjoy the holidays and have a healthy year ahead.

For more by Rachel Berman, click here.

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