It’s time to make the rounds at holiday parties where you know you are going to come face to face with way more calories than you should be eating. Appetizers and cookies and cocktails, oh my!

So before you dive into that abyss of overindulgence, heed a little advice from the experts about how to enjoy yourself while keeping it under control. Just as during any other time of the year—make good choices, watch portions, find balance and enjoy it all in moderation.

Plan well

It’s all about planning, said Kelly Devine Rickert, Franciscan Wellcare registered dietitian. “Try to get in a good 30- to 60-minute workout beforehand, eat healthy prior to going to the party and try not to go to a party hungry,” she said.

Plan your menu for the day and go healthy and light. Devine Rickert suggests oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, a grilled chicken salad for lunch and yogurt or a 100-calorie pack of nuts for snack. “Eating a yogurt or an apple with 16 ounces of water beforehand can help curb hunger,” she added.

Making sure you aren’t hungry when you step out the door can make a big difference in how much and what you consume when you get to the party. “Try to have a nice base before leaving the house, such as a half sandwich or cheese and crackers, a piece of fruit or a protein shake,” said Kim Kramer, Ingalls Wellness dietitian and certified diabetes educator.

Scan and choose wisely

“Survey the land before taking a plate, seeing every option available and only picking the things that mean the very most to us,” said Kramer. She suggested giving each item a rating as you take a look—on a scale of 1 to 10. If the food doesn’t score as an 8, 9 or 10, pass it up. “If something is a ‘5’ where we can eat it or leave it, don’t eat it,” she said. Pick your highest-rated foods and then fill up the rest of the plate with fruits and vegetables.

She also said that positioning is important. As you chat with friends, do so away from the food. “Try to stay busy and not within arm's reach of the appetizer or dessert tables,” she said.

Though the appetizers can be tempting, try to hold back. “Don’t fill up on appetizers. Pick one or two to sample and then wait for dinner. Try and balance your plate with some salad or cooked vegetables,” said Devine Rickert. “Save room for your favorites you don’t get too often and skip the items that you can have anytime, like potatoes and rolls. You don’t want to deprive yourself of your favorites. It’s all about portions.”

Be beverage conscious 

It’s hard to hang out at a holiday party without a cocktail, but you really do have to make choices: Do you want to spend all your calories on beverages or food or can you scale back on both and enjoy a reasonable amount of each?

“Mixed drinks tend to be higher in sugar, so I would stick with a lower-calorie beer, glass of wine or if you choose a hard alcohol, combine with a calorie-free mixer, like club soda,” said Devine Rickert. “Try drinking some water in between alcoholic drinks to cut down on how many you have and make sure to exercise and drink plenty of water the next day to decrease the bloat.”

Kramer said that saving the calories for food instead of beverage will be more satisfying. “Holiday punch can have a lot of calories and will keep us full, so doing a low-calorie beverage and saving our calories for food would be best,” she said. “If it is going to be an alcohol-based beverage, try to go with a low-calorie mixer—like a gin and diet tonic, a rum and Diet Coke or vodka and diet cranberry—and make sure to drink plenty of water, as well.”

Keep up with exercise

Figure that you’ll skip the gym for a while and make up for it after the new year? Not a good idea, say the experts.

“Staying on an exercise routine would be ideal during the holidays, and it can be a stress reliever,” said Kramer. “It can help with those extra calories we might be consuming during the holidays.”

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