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Easy ways to cut calories during the holidays

Close up of Santa Claus weighing himself with thumbs up, at home, horizontal composition

FARGO — The end of the calendar year marks the beginning of "season's eatings" and the beginning of many people's guilty trips to the gym to work off those few extra pounds that seem to stick to them during this time each year.

Here's some good news: when it comes to holiday weight gain, the amount really isn't as much as one would think. In fact, the average weight gain during the holiday season is only about one pound.

Julie Garden-Robinson, food and nutrition specialist with the NDSU Extension Service, says that going on a weight loss diet during the holiday season is pretty tough.

"Everyone is aware that we have a tendency of gaining a couple of pounds over the holidays, just because the goodies are around us all the time," Garden-Robinson says. "I think it is a good idea to set some strategies ahead of the holiday season to kind of stave off that potential weight gain."

With the holiday season comes holiday parties — Thanksgiving with the family, Christmas celebrations at the office, New Year's Eve with friends — all of these can make it difficult to maintain your weight.

However, here are some tips and tricks to help avoid that pesky pound this holiday season.

Serve food on smaller plates

According to a Cornell University research study, switching to smaller plates can help reduce the amount that people serve themselves. This will lead to less food being consumed because there is not as much room to put it on the plate.

Use smaller utensils

When setting out the dishes to be served, provide a smaller serving spoon; that means guests may serve themselves less food.

"Using smaller serving spoons can decrease the amount of food served by 14 percent," Garden-Robinson says. "Setting items on side tables instead of larger buffet tables can help too, because people who serve themselves off of a smaller side table tend to reduce the amount of food they consume by up to a fifth."

Step away from the food

Gardner-Robinson suggests when you are a guest at a party, stand away from the buffet table. By taking a few steps away from the food, you are less likely to sneak a cookie (or four) from the spread. Stand near friends and family and visit to prevent yourself from walking away from the conversation to snag another treat.

Enlist a napkin's help

It sounds odd, but a napkin could help mitigate weight gain. "Use a napkin to gather your goodies," Garden-Robinson says. "You are less likely to grab the higher-calorie sticky items on a napkin, unless you like to have a little tissue paper as a condiment."

Abstain from alcohol

Or at least choose your beverages wisely. A good way to avoid these extra calories from drinking is to have your beverage and switch to water or other calorie-free beverages after. That way you can still wet your whistle, without consuming all those empty calories.

Eat before you go

"Another strategy that seems to work is having even a bowl of soup — like chicken noodle or other broth-based kind," Garden-Robinson says, "so that you sort of fill yourself up before you go out."

Even eating something small, such as a salad or plate of vegetables, can help take the edge off of hunger when surrounded by delicious treats. If you're not as hungry, the temptation to take one of the treats won't be as strong.

Just eat it

When it comes down to it, just eat it. When all the family-favorite recipes make their appearance for the first time since the last holiday celebration, refraining from eating just to keep the pounds off is not the way to go.

When it comes to nostalgic recipes, make it exactly how you remember it and have only one piece and freeze the rest.

"Most things we can have a little taste of and be satisfied, but it's the amount that becomes the issue," Garden-Robinson says.

Maintaining your weight during the holiday season doesn't have to mean drastic changes. It also doesn't have to mean restricting your diet until the holiday is no longer fun. In this season of eating, moderation is key.

Garden-Robinson says that even though there can be bad days, don't give up just because of a little slip.

"I think for some people it can be a real challenge," Garden-Robinson says, "but I think the thing to keep in mind is that it's all doable, and if you cheat on one day by having a lot of treats, then you just start over the next day. Don't give up because you went to the world's best party and you ate too much. Just start over the next day, and get some exercise — that's really important too."

Being mindful of what is going into your body and slowing down and enjoying the food when eating will help keep maintaining weight on an even path. And maybe make those new year trips to the gym a little less guilt-ridden.

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