By Ben Kallen

The Thanksgiving-to-New-Year's holiday season can be a fun time of celebrating with friends and family . . . But if you're not careful, it can also turn into a 5-week festival of overeating. Not only is this period associated with heavy winter comfort foods, but seasonal treats and big holiday meals can be a minefield for people trying to stick to a fitness plan. It's no wonder so many people end up dieting in January just to make up for their recent excesses.

But as someone committed to developing and maintaining a fit body, you should know that it's possible to enjoy the season without feeling deprived or looking like a party pooper. Follow these tips, and you can have a fun time and maintain your weight—or end up even leaner than before.
  • Forget the preemptive diet. A new British study has found that lots of women crash-diet before the holidays in preparation for the overindulging they'll do during the season. But your goal should be to learn healthy eating habits that you can stick with over the long term, not to lose weight now just so you can gain it back later. That's likely to lead to a yo-yo dieting cycle, which could lower your metabolism and make fat loss more difficult than ever. Instead, make the decision now that you'll eat reasonable portions later (even on Thanksgiving), and you won't have anything to make up for.
  • Stick to your workout program—or start one. We recently gave you some tips on how to keep up with your fitness plan over the holidays (see "Stay Fit This Holiday Season" in the Related Articles section below). Here's another reason why you should stick to your plan: exercising and eating right go hand in hand. When you're working out, the food you eat is used for energy and muscle gain, not fat gain. So you'll naturally want to eat foods that fuel your body, instead of junk that detracts from your performance. And if you do indulge in occasional treats, your regular workouts will help prevent them from doing much damage.

    Remember, you're building a habit of fitness that will last you a lifetime. When better to work on it than during the busiest period of the year? You'll learn how to devote time to your own well-being every day, even when you have a lot of other things to do. (Use your fitness program's workout calendar or WOWY SuperGym® on for scheduling support.) And when your friends and family see you getting leaner and fitter while they're poking new holes in their belts, you'll be an amazing inspiration.
  • Stick to your food plan, too. Eating right isn't just a matter of avoiding too many junky foods. It means getting enough healthy foods, too. That's especially true if you're doing a high-intensity workout program like P90X. Your muscles require plenty of protein and other nutrients to grow, so missing meals can make your workouts less effective and cause at least some of your hard work to go to waste. To get through the more hectic periods during the season, make sure you have all the foods and supplements you need on hand, and plan your daily schedule so you're never too busy to eat when you should.
  • Be careful with comfort foods. When it's cold outside, you may be tempted to cocoon indoors with hot, hearty meals and snacks. This isn't necessarily a problem if you make fitness-friendly choices. But if lousy weather or a lack of sunshine makes you crave carb-heavy dishes, prepare them with healthier carbs like root vegetables and whole grains, not macaroni or mashed-potato flakes. And make them part of a balanced meal, not the whole meal.
  • Moderate your treats. More than any other time of year, the holiday season is associated with lots of "special" foods—turkey and stuffing, pumpkin pie, candied yams, green-bean casserole, latkes, Christmas cookies, etc. Some of these could put you way off your food plan, even if you managed not to stuff yourself the way so many people do. But others are just fine when eaten in moderation, or can be made much healthier—in fact, you couldn't do much better than a meal of turkey, baked yams, and fresh green beans. For everything else, make your mantra "just a taste," and stick to it. (But you can make Cranberry Relish Surprise a daily habit.)
  • Plan ahead for parties. Cocktail parties can be the downfall of any food plan, but they don't have to be. First, if you're expecting to be served treats or hors d'oeuvres instead of healthful food, have a protein-rich snack before you go. It'll prevent you from gobbling up appetizers or sweets out of sheer hunger, and it'll help keep your blood sugar steady even if you do have a few cookies or crab puffs. If there's a buffet, watch your portions carefully—it's easy to pile on the food, especially if there are a lot of choices you want to try. And if it's a potluck, bring along a dish that's both tasty and healthful—it'll guarantee there's something good for you to eat, and others will probably appreciate it, too.
  • Don't stress out. A recent study at the University of California, San Francisco confirms what you already know: You're more likely to eat high-calorie comfort foods when you're under chronic stress. And the holidays can be a perfect storm of stressful conditions and treat availability.
  • You probably can't avoid the annoyances that come with holiday crowds, too little time or money, or lengthy family get-togethers, but you can keep them from getting you down. If you're working out regularly, you already have a leg up on the average person, because exercise helps you reduce tension and keep your mood upbeat. In fact, a recent study at Princeton University found that exercise may actually create new brain cells that are more resistant to stressful experiences. Help yourself even more by doing something relaxing for a few minutes each day, whether it's yoga, meditation, or simply listening to calming music. And if you do start feeling stressed, stop for a few seconds and take slow, deep breaths instead of reaching for an extra snack.
  • Don't abuse the booze. Yes, a glass of wine or champagne can be a nice way to celebrate the season, and it's pretty much obligatory on New Year's Eve. But too much drinking has all kinds of negative effects: extra calories (which your body will burn while storing carbohydrates), lowered inhibitions (which can lead to overeating, or behavior that will require an apology later on), and a feeling of sluggishness or worse the next day that can derail your fitness plan. As long as you're an adult and don't have problems with alcohol, an occasional drink or two is fine. But if your cheeks regularly get as red as Santa's, your belly may eventually resemble his too.
  • Avoid the food-gift trap. You could stay away from heavy sweets all year and still find it hard to resist Grandma's special fudge, even if the box contains 2 full days' worth of calories and enough sugar to fuel an army of hummingbirds. So what should you do with food gifts? Store-bought baskets of fatty sausages and "cheese food" are fine to regift (or donate to a food bank), but homemade goodies are trickier. You'll have to be polite and enjoy a little, preferably in the giver's presence. Leave the rest out for the family to share, or bring it to work (where it'll probably be devoured quickly). If it's a treat you really love, divide it into small pieces and freeze them in individual baggies, so you won't be tempted to eat it all at once.
  • Give yourself a break. If you do overindulge at some point, don't beat yourself up about it, or decide to give up entirely and start over in January. As long as you have a consistent fitness program, you're unlikely to lose the progress you've made. Just keep Pushing Play every day, go back to your food plan, and look forward to your healthiest holidays ever.