Even if you have superhuman willpower, the holiday season is challenging for everyone. Staying on track can seem so daunting, you feel like swan-diving into the eggnog and sending your sensible routine into hibernation until the New Year. But, as we all know, excess pounds don’t disappear along with the decorations. And nobody wants to start the new year in the hole, body-wise.
Turns out, there’s no need to. “You can have fun without throwing away your healthy habits,” says Elisa Zied, RD, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. Check out our 15 rules for a no-gain season. You can indulge and still wake up the same size (or less!) come New Year’s Day.
1. Weigh yourself twice a week
That’s often enough to make sure you stay on track, but not so often that you take all the fun out of holiday noshing, says Michael Dansinger, MD, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine. Step on the scale first thing in the morning when your stomach is empty.
2. Start your day with a bang
Exercising in the morning can help ensure better behavior all day long, according to a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Using brain scans, researchers found that when women worked out in the a.m., they not only moved more the rest of the day, but they also responded less to pictures of tempting food compared with the days they didn’t do a morning workout. The upshot: fewer cravings for high-fat fare.
Health.com: 7 Proven Ways to Keep Off Holiday Pounds
3. Be picky, picky, picky
Peruse the buffet before you load your plate to avoid foods you don’t really want, suggests obesity expert Tim Church, MD, a professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. If, for instance, you could take or leave sushi but adore sliders, don’t start with the tuna rolls hoping to be able to resist the two-bite burger.
“If you pick the stuff you really want and have it in moderation,” Dr. Church notes, “you’ll stave off those cravings that can get you in trouble later on.”
4. Just say no—everywhere
Willpower is like a muscle: Work it and you get stronger. What’s key is to practice keeping yourself in check in non-food situations, too. “Whether you’re driving in rush hour traffic or dealing with a temperamental kid, there are challenges that require self-control,” Dr. Dansinger says.
Succeed in not honking at that rude driver, he explains, and you’ll be better able to resist dessert at the party.
5. Avoid banking calories
Cutting back all day so you can indulge at an event that night only sets you up for a pig-out.
Why? You’re freaking starving! “It’s easy to get out of control when you’re faced with high-calorie choices,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet.
Be sure to eat your three squares and a couple of snacks. Aim for lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein.
6. Concentrate your workouts
So what if you can’t get to your favorite yoga class or find time for the treadmill? “Even just 15 minutes can help you maintain your fitness level,” Dr. Church says. For example, jumping rope for 15 minutes torches about 190 calories; a quick yoga sequence at home can help you stay flexible.
7. Don’t swear off desserts
But practice the three-bite rule to keep your sweet tooth in check. “You’ll get that amazing first taste, a satisfying middle one, and then a lingering third bite,” Zuckerbrot says.
8. Avoid morning-after food
Have the night of your life, then send guests home with food-filled Tupperware. “It’s the leftovers that do you in,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, founder of Foodtrainers in New York City.
Repeat after us: Out of sight, out of mind…
9. Drum up some willpower
Under the spell of that peppermint bark you co-worker brought to the office? Before you succumb, try this simple trick: Place the thumb and fingers of one hand on your forehand, a half inch apart.
Tap each finger one at a time, once per second, telling yourself, “Hold on.” Wait 15-20 minutes (return phone calls, check email), and the craving will disappear, according to Tufts University Research. Sounds crazy, but it works.
10. Cut back on diet soda
In fact, any bubbly beverage can lead to belly bloat, explains Zuckerbrot. “The carbon dioxide trapped in the bubbles of fizzy drinks causes a buildup of air, which can lead to gas.
11. Eat your H20
Instead of trying to down eight glasses of water (near impossible when you’re busy), have a green salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette and a few slices of avocado. “These water-rich foods help keep you hydrated, so that everything moves through your system faster,” Zied says.
12. Brew up a pot of peppermint tea
Research shows peppermint can help calm stomach muscles and reduce gas. Not a fan? Try chamomile, suggests Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It.
13. Chew slowly
We know: When your to-do list is never-ending, it’s hard to make yourself downshift, even at mealtime. But eating fast is a quick recipe for an expanded waistline.
Here’s why: “The more air you swallow, the more bloated you’ll get,” Taub-Dix notes.
14. Get plenty of potassium
The nutrient counterbalances sodium, so you retain less water, Zuckerbrot explains. Our favorite potassium possibilities: bananas, papayas, kiwis, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
Or serve up some asparagus or dandelion greens to get the bonus of a natural diuretic.
15. Keep calm and kick cravings
Stressed by the sight of that holiday spread? Take deep breaths before you grab a plate. Research suggests that women who practice stress reduction techniques are able to prevent weight gain.
Close your eyes and focus on your reaching for 30 seconds. Then reevaluate whether you really want to fill your plate; chances are you don’t.