If it’s the holidays, it must be time for good food — special meals with family, treats in the office and baking for family and friends.

It’s no wonder many people gain weight during the holidays and that many make New Year’s resolutions to lose it.

But even if you feel tempted by tasty food, there are ways to avoid a big holiday weight gain.

One way is making sure to pay attention to what, when and how much you’re eating. A few simple tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can help.

  • Don’t skip meals during the day. You might make up for it later.
  • Have lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to keep you full.
  • Choose small portions, even of healthy foods. They have calories, too.
  • Try using a smaller plate.
  • Start with the healthiest foods on the buffet when filling your plate.
  • Eat slowly. Chew each bite fully.

You can also add some physical activity to burn some of those extra calories. If the weather is good, get outdoors for a walk or game. You’ll get to visit with your family and friends while working off a few calories.

A Little Defense Goes a Long Way

A bit of extra food adds up. Just having an extra 200 calories — like a latke, small piece of pecan pie or tiny glass of eggnog — each day can mean adding some pounds over the holiday season. It’s a small gain, but most people don’t wind up losing it later.

If you practice “defensive eating and cooking” to enjoy the holidays, you may not need to welcome the new year with a diet, says the Harvard Medical School health blog.

Defensive eating might mean taking a 10-minute break after you finish your first helping. This gives you time to talk a little, and you could realize you’re not hungry for more after your food settles. Drink some water, too, especially if you’re having a drink with alcohol in it.

If you’re out doing some holiday shopping, eat first so that you can pass up that sample table at the warehouse store or walk on by the food court at the mall.

Defensive cooking could mean using a bit less butter or adding milk instead of cream. You can still honor the holiday and show your family and friends that they matter with a healthier meal. Even if food is a big part of the celebration, it’s really about the people.

Avoid Distractions

Watch out for mindless eating, during the holidays and all year long, says the American Heart Association. That’s eating food just because it is there or eating while doing other things, like looking at your smartphone. Not paying attention can lead to overeating, and eventually weight gain.

Small changes matter. Try these tips:

  • Have small portions.
  • Eat only when you’re hungry.
  • Plan a healthy snack.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV.
  • Try using a food diary or smartphone app to help you track what you eat.

icon_balanced_dietSkip holiday weight gain.

Focusing on family and friends makes a holiday. So still serve those favorite holiday foods, but eat small portions and look for ways to make them just a bit healthier. And finish off a festive meal with a walk around the block.