Armed with a few savvy strategies, you'll be able to eat well and still fend off those unwanted holiday pounds. Here's your guide to healthy holiday eating.
Santa on scale
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Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean your healthy eating habits have to be.

The season for savory dishes has arrived, but maintaining nutritious eating habits shouldn't be daunting. Take these ideas from Elisabetta Politi, R.D., nutrition manager at Duke University Diet and Fitness, and you might find the happy medium between being a diehard dieter and a guiltless gorger.

Say so long to strict rules. Politi says people who are ultra-strict about their diet during the holidays generally don't enjoy the celebration and tend to rebound later. "When January comes and everyone starts their New Year's resolutions, those people who have done really well through the holidays tend not to be highly motivated."

Prepare and set goals for gatherings. Eat a snack before you head to Aunt Betty's infamous afternoon feast. If you take the edge off of your appetite, you'll be less likely to overindulge on the mouthwatering dishes. When you get there, try to keep track of your calorie intake. One goal Politi recommends is limiting alcohol intake to one beverage and drinking sparkling or seltzer water during the event. Think in terms of calorie comparisons, too. A serving of eggnog packs 251 calories, while a serving of spiced cider has 128 calories. Choose the cider, and with just one beverage serving, you've cut 123 calories from your day's caloric total.

Remember portion control. At celebrations, especially those with buffets, Politi advises, "take a look at what's being offered before deciding what to put on your plate." When making your plate, Politi suggests this ratio: 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 grains. "Most of the volume on your plate is taken by vegetables, which tend to be lower in calories. Of course, you want vegetables that are not cooked with a lot of fat," Politi says. If you'd rather not make a heaping plate of food once in the day, she also recommends the alternative of eating small portions frequently to avoid being overly hungry at any point.

Learn from Volumetrics. This theory, established by Dr. Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, found that people tend to eat the same volume or weight of food every day. "If you want to cut down on calories and not be hungry, eat more food with low calorie density," Politi says. "Food that has low calorie density has a lot of water bound to it." So, vegetables, fruit, and puffy grains such as rice or couscous are perfect choices to help you feel full.

Choose wholesome and healthy over high-fat and processed. When the holiday season draws near, it will bring with it the temptation of delectable (read: high-fat and high-sugar) dishes, which could mean disaster for your health. Fear not, Politi says. "If you want to enjoy food that has high calorie density, just try to choose something wholesome." Nuts and dried fruits are flavorful and nutrient-packed alternatives to highly processed foods that offer no healthy benefits.

Put things into perspective. The upcoming annual weekful of feasting shouldn't get you down about your diet. Remember, Politi says, that you have 51 more weeks in the year to eat healthy, so it's OK allow yourself flexibility. "I think it's important to enjoy the spirit of the holidays and not focus on food so much; it is not the main point of the gathering. By doing that, you will make healthier choices."

Amanda Gavlik is a Contributing Editor. This story was originally published on in November 2005.