A little planning can help those looking to keep from packing on the pounds this holiday season.
"If you think about it, we have a lot of holidays starting with Halloween, and they're all focused on food," said Shanell Jones, a registered dietitian at the Decatur Memorial Hospital Wellness Center.
With the abundance of rich, fatty foods available during the fall and winter months, it's important to have a plan for continuing one's healthy eating plan, health experts said.
There is a common misconception that holidays are so infrequent that eating done only on special occasions doesn't matter, Jones said. But the celebrations can add up with parties, work events and family gatherings.
"Being mindful at all of those meals can really help cut the calories and cut the fat that you're eating," she said.
On Thanksgiving Day, the average American consumes 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat, Jones said, citing statistics from the Calorie Control Council. That's at least several times what one needs to eat in one day.
Portion control is key to continuing to eat in a healthy manner throughout the holiday season, said Sallie Fischer, a registered dietitian at St. Mary's Hospital. It's still possible to eat foods traditionally associated with holiday celebrations and to maintain a weight-loss plan.
"Don't deny yourself any food that you truly desire," Fischer said. "Make those special, holiday-only foods manageable by enjoying and tasting that food and controlling the portion size."
Jones advised having smaller portions for breakfast and lunch before going to a dinnertime celebration.
"Even if you're mindful of the dinner, what you can do outside dinner will help with the calories that you eat," she said.
Don't go to an event or gathering without eating, the experts advised.
"Have a snack prior to take the edge off and reinforce your control as you decide what to eat, because you truly want that food and not because you are really hungry and can't make a good choice because you are hungry," Fischer suggested.
Jones recently prepared a mock Thanksgiving meal with food models used for health education. She included turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, corn, macaroni salad, cranberry sauce, a green salad, a deviled egg and two slices of pie with ice cream to represent the average person's meal. Even with accurate portion sizes, the meal still racked up about 1,700 calories.
"That's what you're supposed to have for the whole day," she said.
Jones advised people to think about their eating tendencies and to try to shrink down the portions of the foods they tend to overeat. Fischer suggested that diners put all the food they plan to eat on a plate so they can visualize the amount they are consuming. Multiple trips through the buffet line or appetizer table can lead people to take too much.
"Standing close to the buffet table and grazing is dangerous," said Fischer.
Avoid keeping tempting foods around, the experts advised. Prepare a healthier item to serve or take to an event. Look for recipes that incorporate lower-fat alternatives.
"Ultimately, fat's going to be a big player in the holiday meal, so reducing the fat can really help in a lot of your recipes," said Jones. "Think about what you're going to bring home because ultimately your dish is coming back with you."
Alcohol provides empty calories and can decrease one's resolve to stick to an eating plan, Fischer explained. Use moderation when it comes to drinking, the experts advised. The clearer the liquor, the lower it is in calories, Jones said.
She recommended going into the holiday season with a clear idea and plan regarding weight loss goals. Don't slow down or stop physical activity during the winter months. Instead, do the opposite, Fischer suggested. She advised those working to fight against holiday weight gain to maintain or increase their activity and exercise levels to compensate for additional caloric intake.
Don't let small setbacks completely derail progress, Fischer advised.
"Failure will make you more successful if you are willing to learn from those mistakes and make changes to turn a failure into a success," she said. "Remember, the time frame between New Year's and Halloween is more important than the time between Halloween and New Year's."