Updated: July 25, 2013

One of the most enjoyable activities of the holidays can also be one of the biggest challenges for your waistline – holiday parties. Here are 9 tips on how to keep those calories under control while you celebrate the season with your friends, family and co-workers:

Eat before you drink

Without food in your stomach, alcohol gets absorbed quickly, which means it will hit your brain in less than 5 minutes. That will lower your inhibitions and up your appetite - a recipe for overeating (Have you ever eaten something while tipsy you wouldn't touch if you were stone sober? I think we've all been there!). Before your first sip, eat a small handful of nuts or a mini babybel or string of cheese - protein and fat both get emptied from your stomach slower, creating a better buffer for alcohol. Also drink a full glass of water between each alcoholic beverage to slow your pace.

Scan your choices before you fill your plate

Generally the more choices you have, the more you'll be inclined to eat. A study from Penn State gave people an assortment of 300 m&ms in either seven or ten different colors. Although the taste of each color was identical, the ones given ten colors ate 43% more candy over the course of an hour. To curb your inclination to try a few of everything, look over all of the food and decide what you can and can't live without. If you don't really love it and won't feel like you're missing out, consciously skip it.

Bring a stealth "safety" dish

Bring a dish to share – nobody has to know that you'll be relying on it as a low calorie fall back to fill you up and balance out smaller portions of high calorie foods like mini quiche or dumplings. A veggie tray with hummus for dipping is a great choice – it's not unusual party fare so you won't feel like a stand out and one cup of veggies, the size of a baseball with a quarter cup of hummus, the size of a golf ball only pack 125 calories, about half the calories in just one chicken finger. The best calorie corralling strategy is this: fill half of your plate with the veggies and a dollop of hummus, fill a quarter with a lean protein choice like cocktail shrimp, a grilled chicken skewer or tofu, then round out your plate with your carefully selected splurge foods.

Turn away from the buffet table

Studies show that the amount of effort it takes you to obtain food and how visible it is greatly impact how much you'll eat. One study found that in a cafeteria, people ate more ice cream when the lid of the ice cream cooler was left open than when it was closed. Another showed that people given a sandwich in a transparent wrap ate more than those who were given sandwiches in an opaque wrap. Out of sight, out of mind really does hold true, so try to not only stand away from the buffet table, but keep it out of your line of vision.

Stall before seconds

It really is true that it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you're full, so if you feel the urge to wander back for round two, keep chatting a little longer, sip a glass of water, or make your way around the room - then check back in with your body to see if you're still hungry.

Dress for success

Wearing tightly fit clothing to a party really can boost your body awareness. Whether it's a slinky dress, slim fitting pants, hose, a belt, or a body shaper, constricting garments can definitely prevent you from overdoing it. That's key because your stomach's pretty elastic. Fully extended it can hold about six cups of food (think 6 baseballs!), so an anti-expansion strategy is a smart preventative measure.

Outsmart the after party munchies

As I mentioned in my blog on alcohol, it can up your appetite, so if you come home from a holiday party a little tipsy, you may be apt to reach for a snack before you go to bed. Before you leave for the party, pop up some healthy, low cal popcorn (Bearitos organic no oil, no salt is my personal favorite – it may sound bland but it's delicious), put it in a bowl and leave it out in plain sight so you'll reach for that instead of a bag of chips. One cup has just 25 calories compared to 150 calories in 13 potato chips.

Get creative about calorie burning

If you have a super busy social calendar this month, fitting in your usual workouts can be a challenge. But you don't always have to change clothes or drive to the gym to feel the burn. Every day, try to build four 5 minute blocks of activity into your routine; make one climbing stairs instead of taking an elevator or escalator, and the others walking briskly, either through the hallways at the office, in the mall, or through parking lots on your way to and from your car. You'll burn an extra 165 calories per day on average. That's enough to thwart a 1.5 pound spike on the scale this month.

Reward yourself in other ways

Food can serve as a source of comfort, pleasure, or reward, which are essential human needs. But building non-food alternatives into your routine can curb your need to use food as an outlet or emotional crutch – at a party or any time. This can be especially important now, when your stress level may be high and food is abundant, so make some pampering a priority. Even 5 minutes a day for "you time" can make a huge difference. Spend it doing something that feels like a mini vacation or pure pleasure, like reading a really good novel or combining aromatherapy with relaxing music.

Have you had any holiday party food mishaps? How are you handling holiday parties?



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