Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and for many of us this signals the beginning of a month-long event where the diet goes out the window and the calories don’t count.

Of course... The calories DO count.

Statistically, Americans tend to gain between 5 and 9 pounds over the holiday season.

This is also the time of year when it gets colder outside and there’s more socializing going on inside. As a result, you’re more likely to put off or suspend much of your workout routine.

Stress further complicates matters, slowing your metabolism and driving you to indulge in readily available comfort foods. Stress can also drag down your immune system, opening you up to a variety of cold-season maladies.

Put succinctly, if you’ve been struggling with your weight the holiday season can feel like a knock-down drag-out war, rather than the joyful time other people around you seem to think it is. 

If this sounds like you, keep reading – we’re about to outline a foolproof plan to survive the holidays!

Step 1 – Exercise Planning

The holiday season can be one of the busiest times of the year. Unfortunately, a lot of the things keeping you busy will be doing nothing to help you maintain your weight.

That’s where good planning comes in. 

Getting regular exercise tends to be the biggest battle during the holidays, so start by marking down all of the events, gatherings, activities on your schedule. Now mark down regular exercise routines in the empty days. Finally, figure out what exercise options are going to be possible on the days when you’re out of town or out with friends and family. 

Do this now, and you won’t have to worry about it (pronounced “ignore it”) when those days roll around. 

Step 2 – Meal Planning

The second battle is eating right. There will be many sweets and holiday foods available, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your diet is working.

By working, I mean keeping you satisfied so you don’t feel the need to over-indulge.

You don’t need to plan every detail about each meal at this stage, but it’s important to plan on HAVING meals at specific times each day. Your goal is to eat every 3-4 hours, and to keep that meal light. This will keep you feeling satisfied throughout the day so you can walk past the cookies, cakes and other temptations. 

There will of course be days where your meal plan includes a get together or meal out with family and friends. In these cases, it’s helpful to plan smaller meals around the event so you will enjoy your meal out, but not feel the need to eat excessively.

Step 3 – Stay Aware and Enjoy!

Once you’ve got your plans worked out, keep up with them. Having and sticking to a plan will make the battle far easier. 

Keep your motivations close. 

No matter how well you plan your holiday season, there will be moments when temptation seems too great. The deceptive thing about moments like these, is that if you withstand the temptation for several minutes it will often go away. Remember why you’re doing this. Remind yourself of your goals and reasons. This will give you the extra push to get through the tough spots.

Spend your calories wisely.

Treat your appetite like a checking account. A checking account with a very limited amount of cash in it. Whenever you’re out with family and friends, choose the items you eat as if each one has its’ own price tag. 

When you’ve spent your allotted amount, that’s it – so plan for desserts before you even begin to munch on appetizers, and stay within your calorie budget. 

Remember the 20 minute rule.

We’ve long known that the body sends hormonal signals after a meal, making us feel full and satisfied. Recent research has shown that the bacteria in the gut plays a role as well. Approximately 20 minutes after eating, microbes in your intestinal tract release proteins that tell your brain you’re satisfied. 

So eat slowly and deliberately. Enjoy your food thoroughly. Give your body a chance to feel satisfied and full naturally. You’ll get just as much enjoyment from your meals, and spend far fewer of those precious calories doing so.

Order Smart

If you’re out to eat at a sit-down restaurant, remember the 50/50 rule: Have whatever you’re ordering divided in half, and the second half brought to you already in a to-go box. The servings at restaurants are usually far larger than they need to be, and having half out-of-sight up front will help you avoid over-eating.

If you don’t love it – don’t eat it.

Buffets can be tricky – especially since they give you a subconscious desire to “get your money’s worth”. Large meals at home or with family can evoke a competitive instinct as well, where you eat quickly to ensure you get your portion before it’s gone.

You can subvert these desires by judging your food on its’ quality rather than its’ quantity. Only select the foods you desire most, and spend your time really enjoying the flavors rather than simply wolfing it down. In family groups, start with very small portions of all the foods you wish to taste and then pick your favorite for an additional sampling. Buffets have the added bonus of being able to put down something you dislike and go get something else. Never eat anything you hate – it’s just burning up more of those precious calories.

Remember, the world is your gym!

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, there are always ways to be more active and get more exercise. This goes beyond just your daily exercise plan – look for opportunities to get up, get out and move around at every turn! 

Drink lots of water.

If you're inclined to eat or drink habitually – especially while socializing – keep a bottle of water perpetually in hand. This serves a several purposes – drinking plenty of water is healthier and will help you to eat less over all, and having a bottle in your hands will keep you from grabbing unhealthy alternatives around you like Christmas cookies, candies or other kinds of drinks.

Finally, manage your stress.

Do everything you can to avoid getting stressed out this holiday season. Stress can do more damage to your body than the extra cookies and cupcakes you might consume to help you cope. 

Stress puts your body into a type of survival mode where your metabolism slows, your immune system weakens, your blood pressure rises, and all of your senses go on alert. It’s a fight-or-flight response. It’s designed to help you flee danger. 

Plan downtime. Go for walks. Find healthy ways to relax and let go of the cares of the season without burying yourself in cookies, brownies and fudge.

Remember what’s truly important, and enjoy your holidays this year!