The holidays are all about cherishing time with our loved ones, but too often our tables are filled with foods that compromise our health. Learn what you can do to keep from derailing your year’s healthy habits.

For those who celebrate the traditional festivities this time of the year, the winter holiday season can topple even the most well-intentioned of health goals. The reasons are many: overindulging a copious amount of sugary, calorie-dense foods and devouring desserts, sweet drinks, and alcohol all while sleeping less, emotionally stressed, and physically sedentary. For many, the holidays are also a time for feeling carefree, letting down their guard and resigning themselves to filling their bellies with all the unhealthy foods in their midst.

Gaining weight during the holidays: the good news and bad news

For years it has been believed that most people gain around five pounds during the holiday period from Thanksgiving through New Years Day. Given the fact that the Thanksgiving meal alone can clock in around 3,000 calories, it is easy to see why. The good news is that this assumption seems to be overblown. One study followed the weight patterns of 165 subjects over a 12-month period and found that the weight gained during the six-week holiday season amounted to only 0.7 lb. The bad news? The subjects gained 1.3 lb total over the 12 months, which means that the 0.7 lb gained during the holidays were more than half of the weight gained for the year.

The holidays during the COVID-19 era

Millions of Americans have been quarantined for months as a result of COVID-19, and being confined at home for an extended period of time is presumed to significantly contribute to yearly weight gain for many. Interestingly, researchers have drawn parallels between quarantine-related and holiday-induced weight gain. In both cases, a regular routine is often abandoned, weight is gained within a short period of time, and changes in eating patterns are mostly to blame. Fortunately, the same strategies recommended to combat holiday weight gain can similarly be used to control weight gained during quarantine.

Tips for staying on track during the holidays

Culinary temptations are real this time of year – as is the threat to your waistline. Curbing your cravings is not always easy, but with some preemptive planning, gaining back control is achievable and well worth the effort.

Þ   Lighten up the menu. Prepare lower-calorie adaptations of your family favorite dishes. Some believe it is possible to reduce fat, salt, and sugar by a third without your guests even noticing. For example, slash calories by substituting skim milk for whole and applesauce in place of oil. Thicken liquids using flour, cornstarch, or potato flakes instead of adding fat. Skip the cream of mushroom soup and fried onions with your green beans and top them off with olive oil, herbs, and slivered almonds instead. Replace the sausage in your cornbread with mushrooms or nuts, and offer a raw vegetable platter or salt-free popcorn to snack on in place of chips.

Þ   Shop smart. Resist the urge to bring home the seasonal sugary, high-calorie treats lining the grocery shelves and stick to healthy foods like fresh produce, grains, legumes, and lean dairy and meats.

Þ   Go heavy on the vegetables. Make vegetables the star of your meal. Starting with salad as a first course alongside vegetable-based appetizers and soups will ensure you are filled with the good stuff before the higher-calorie main course arrives. Tasty side dishes starring greens and other colored vegetables should share the spotlight on the table.

Þ   Avoid overeating. Eat a healthy snack before big meals to keep from overindulging, and drink water, coffee, or tea to keep you feeling full. Choose a smaller plate to reduce your portion size and only take one trip through the buffet line. Eating dessert? Enjoy half or less of a normal serving size to savor the taste but still save on the calories.

Þ   Find enjoyable ways to distance. The holidays may look different this year, with many of us celebrating without the company of our loved ones. Stay busy with meaningful activities to lift your spirits and keep you from overeating, like getting lost in a new book, starting a meditation practice, going on a hike, organizing your living space, or working out at home.

Þ   Ramp up your exercise routine. Exercising during this hectic and often stressful season is more important than ever to release feel-good endorphins, keep you relaxed, and burn off those extra calories, so make it a priority.