10 ways to battle the holiday bulge — and win!

John Foster Dulles said: “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”

Was getting healthy, dieting, or losing weight on your bucket list last year? With the holidays approaching, and New Year’s right behind, many of us will find ourselves with the same nagging weight problem that plagued us last year.

As we head into 2013, millions of Americans will begin the process of making new resolutions to get in shape. Whether you want to lose 5, 15 or even 50 pounds, you may be overwhelmed at the thought of trying to battle the bulge during the holidays. I found myself in similar circumstances last year when I started a weight-loss program right around Halloween. What was I thinking? I faced the temptation of Thanksgiving feasts, endless holiday parties and dinners, and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Yet, still between October and January of 2011, I lost 20 of my 40 pounds lost for the year. So, I know that it is absolutely possible to stick to your health-and-wellness goals — even during the holidays.

Here are some tips on how I survived:

1. Evade the holiday treat fairy

There is one festive saboteur in every office. In my office, it is the rosy-cheeked administrative assistant who always brought in pumpkin cupcakes, sugar cookies, and s’more brownies in the holiday spirit, of course. When you get the email that there are treats in the kitchen (free!), it can be hard to resist, but bringing in your own healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt, granola or trail mix can help you succeed when the late afternoon munchies come along.

2. Don’t fight the feeling

During the holidays, don’t deny yourself the taste of that delicious once-a-year meal because you’ll end up overeating down the line. At mealtime, simply grab a smaller plate, and practice portion control. Some of the season’s usual menu suspects are nutritionally dense. Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene and iron; cranberries contain two powerful flavonoids; turkey is rich in B vitamins and zinc; green beans are simply loaded with vitamins from all over the alphabet; sweet potatoes provide us with beta-carotene, vitamins C and E; and chestnuts provide hefty doses of fiber, vitamin C and folic acid. The holidays can provide us with wonderful health-enhancing nutritional gifts when eaten in moderation and prepared in a health-conscious manner. Overall, if you’re able to taste some of the season’s best, you’ll feel more satisfied and full than if you deprive yourself.

3. Savor the moment

Hopefully you’re enjoying the time spent with your loved ones, so try not to race through your meal. It takes your brain 20 minutes to signal to your belly that you’re actually full. Furthermore, scientists have found that the brain chemicals signaling “pleasure” actually fire off less frequently as we take in more. By relaxing and eating slowly, you will essentially consume less calories than someone who rushes to clean their plate — and you’ll enjoy it more. One trick that I picked up last year was to put my fork down in between bites, put my hands in my lap and re-engage in happy conversation.

4. Share your goals with your loved ones

Before my holiday visits to my parents’ home, I let them know that my smaller indulgences are not a rejection of our shared loved of good food or our family traditions, but because I wanted to have a healthy holiday season and continue on my plan. My parents proved supportive by cooking with healthier ingredients and by making smaller quantities of our traditional meals. After our meals, we went for walks to burn some calories. For me, it was a family effort!

5. Drinking and dieting don’t mix

Eggnog, pumpkin spiced lattes, wine and hot chocolate are just a few of the traps that almost caught me last year. Many of our meal calories come from those fancy seasonal drinks and liquid calories, so enjoy responsibly and moderately. I actively traded my lattes in for herbal green teas, shared my office party drink tickets with coworkers (which made me very popular) and limited my alcoholic intake in general; a half glass of white wine at Thanksgiving dinner was quite enough. Additionally, sometimes there can be a lot of pressure to drink when out with friends, so I’d order a cranberry juice or lemonade and club soda to give the appearance of a cocktail.

6. Fill up before you go

Holiday parties with the roving wait staff and food trays are dangerous. Who doesn’t love the smell of that crab cake or Kobe beef slider passing by, or the look of that dessert table? My secret was to eat dinner before I went out. And for good measure, I would bring a snack or two with me like an energy bar, so that I didn’t splurge too much.

7. Embrace the empty space

I remember going into gyms and dance studios in November and December and being surprised by emptiness. But it’s normal for people to take a break during the holiday season. So before January ushers in the resolution crowds, plan more gym time to take advantage of the vastness of the space, empty machines and room to move during the holiday season.

8. Carrying extra baggage

When traveling, you might want to take your favorite fitness DVDs, jump rope, yoga mat and running shoes, or look up local low-cost classes, like my personal favorite, Zumba. While you can’t expect to carry on your normal workout routine, in truth, some activity is better than none; so even 15 minutes of calorie burning is worth celebrating.

9. If you bite it, write it

Throughout the year and especially at the holidays, you should use an online tracking tool or a journal to monitor your habits during the holidays. Get in the habit of tracking your weight, measurements, exercise and food consumption. If you see your belly measurements expanding or a consistent increase on the scale, I guarantee that you’ll be less like to go for that extra slice of pie.

10. Have fun and be kind to yourself!

It’s the holidays, so take time for yourself and enjoy the spirit of this season. Create new and active traditions with your family like sledding, ice skating, hiking, building snowmen or surfing if you’re a California girl like me. Finally, enjoy laughter with your family and friends not only because it’s fun but also because laughter is a sure fire way to burn calories.

Just remember, next year you don’t want to lament on the same problem you had the year before, so it’s never too late or early in the year to get in shape. During the holidays, it’s common to struggle with willpower and motivation, but if you can set realistic expectations, you can ensure a successful and early start to your new year and the new you!