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The winter holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the once-a-year opportunity to join with friends and family in celebrations steeped in deep tradition. ‘Tis also the season when exercise routines are put to rest and replaced, instead, with plans to cook, shop, decorate and pass plate after plate of sugar cookies, walnut balls and coconut macaroons.

The exact definition of the winter season varies from culture to culture, but in the United States it is generally considered to be the period beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year’s Day. Within that period of nearly six weeks exist far too many opportunities to overeat in the name of celebration. In fact, the average U.S. citizen gains five pounds during these festivities, and a majority of people fail to take this weight off from year-to-year.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a Grinch this season. It is a time to celebrate, so deprivation is not an option. Instead, make a few concessions and be realistic with your goals. By making better choices this year, you may only have to lose a pound or two- instead of five-before spring. Here’s how:

1. Eat a light, healthy meal before the big celebration-fruits and vegetables are high in soluble fiber, so they make you feel fuller for a long time. Try an apple or carrots as a snack before heading to the big party.

2. Limit your use of sauces or gravy-though yummy, they are often loaded with calories and fat. Take a pass and enjoy the nuances of the food on your plate.

3. Cut down on sugar-if you keep the cookies, replace the eggnog with a tasty selection of reduced-sugar juices or teas. Try Old Orchard Healthy Balance brand of juice for a balance of flavor and low-calorie value.

4. Bring a healthy dessert to pass-this way you can count on at least one dessert that you know you can enjoy guilt-free. Go to healthybalance.com for healthy dessert ideas. You can share your recipes with others there, too.

5. Take a walk after dinner- even a little exercise will help. Take in the sights, sounds and smells of the season, and burn some of those calories before going to bed.

The holiday season presents the biggest challenge of the year to your waistline. Try to make smart choices, and remember that moderation is the key to calorie control. If in the end you know you’ll overdo it at the buffet line, make a plan to spend extra time on the treadmill so that you don’t carry that extra holiday weight throughout the year.

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