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As much as I love the holidays, I've come to almost dread one aspect of them: the internal struggle I go through at parties and dinners. Something about the festive atmosphere-and the people around me munching freely-makes me give in mindlessly, and I end up scarfing down favorites like mini quiches and chips and dip. A few years ago, right after we moved to Minnesota, I gained 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's!

Now that I've been on my diet plan for close to a year, the stakes are even higher, and part of me wants to simply skip the shindigs altogether. I really do enjoy seeing my friends, though-plus, just avoiding the problem isn't a long-term solution.

Best-Laid Plans

My registered dietitian, Heather Wallace, suggested a big-picture plan. It's not just about what you do at a party, she pointed out, it's what you do all day long. She advised exercising in the morning, which research shows can help you eat better throughout the day. One study found that women who worked out first thing were more active the rest of the day and were less responsive to pictures of tempting food.

Since many of the parties I go to are potlucks, I could also consider preparing and bringing a dish that's on my plan; that way I'll know there's something healthy to eat. And while I've already learned to snack a little beforehand so I don't arrive ravenous and to seek out veggies, fruit, and lean meats when I do hit the food table, Heather added another great strategy: "Fill up on one well-balanced plate," she said, "and then put it down and physically move away from the food. Concentrate instead on circulating and socializing with friends."

I've already made one change that will come in handy this season: I haven't had alcohol in months (and I've never felt better!). Not only does it add a lot of calories, but as my life coach, Kate Larsen, pointed out, "Drinking is very correlated with overeating because it lowers your inhibitions, making it harder to resist goodies." I love sipping soda water with raspberries or lime, or some sparkling apple cider.

My 10-Percent Solution

All that said, I was relieved that both Heather and Kate felt that pleasure plays a role too. In fact, you can't succeed without it. "Pick out the best dessert of the bunch," Heather said, "just keep it to one." She advised sticking to my nutrition and exercise plan 90 percent of the time and leaving 10 percent for wiggle room.

Indulging a bit will keep you from having an all-or-nothing mentality, Kate said. "It's the biggest mistake people make, because then once you slip, anything goes." Instead, have that piece of pastry or luscious appetizer, but if you find yourself reaching for a second, ask yourself what means more: satisfying a momentary craving, or maintaining your progress toward a new shape? I choose the latter-with one mini quiche on the side.