As 2016 draws to a close, the holiday celebrations are about to begin, starting with Thanksgiving. Many of us will be celebrating at home, at work, at church, basically everywhere from now until mid-January. You’re probably getting full just thinking about it!

At this time of year, Chef Marshall and his team often hear from people who ask, “how can I survive the holidays without feeling horrible or gaining unwanted weight?” We’d like to help you craft your plan to survive from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

For starters, you need to consider your personal eating style. Can you control yourself and eat only small quantities of high-calorie celebration foods? If you can control what you eat, you are a Moderator and you can enjoy small quantities of foods that aren’t as nutritious. If you find you just keep eating till the dish is empty, you need to be an Abstainer and avoid these foods altogether or eat them in a group so you get only a small portion.

Next, think about times when you have a plan and are in control of your meals and snacks, such as meals eaten at home or packed and taken to the office. These are your “safe zones”, because you control what is purchased and cooked and you have a plan for what and how much you will eat. Any eating you do outside of these times and places is unplanned, “unsafe zones”, where you are likely to overeat or eat the wrong foods. The holiday season has a very large number of unsafe experiences, with parties, potlucks, holiday dinners, etc.

To succeed, you must put together a plan for your unsafe zones. For example, if you volunteer to bring food to a major meal, such as Thanksgiving dinner or a holiday party, then you will have something available that fits your plan and is tasty. Try our delicious holiday recipes, Rainbow Salad, Honey Roasted Apples and Carrots, or Butternut Squash Wild Rice Pilaf, that you can take to parties to create a safe zone for yourself.

Holiday festivities are usually accompanied by all kinds of alcoholic beverages. Most people want to enjoy some holiday cheer, but remember that a regular drink (5 oz. of wine – not 8 oz.), a beer or hard liquor with water is 100-150 empty calories. Specialty drinks, with their added sugar, can have up to 500 calories. A good plan is to alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. You will consume fewer empty calories and feel better the next day because you will be better hydrated.

The holidays should be a time to relax, reflect and enjoy family and loved ones.  Remember as you go into the holiday season that it should start with a plan: portion control is key, plan for unsafe zones, and beware of mindless eating. It is all about baby steps. Every day is a fresh start, so don’t fret if you eat or drink too much at a party—just try to get back on track the next day. Use these tips and enjoy yourself this holiday season without the guilt!