By Lisa Godhardt

It’s that time of year again. Although while I write this it happens to be 65 and sunny, winter will be here before we know it. With that come the joys of time spent with family and friends, a break from work or school, the fun of giving gifts… and cleaning and stress and cookies and cookies and, “oh is that some cake”? You get the point.

As many good things as the holiday season brings with it, it may also bring some potential obstacles. But don’t despair! There are simple ways to make the holidays fun, healthy, and as low stress as possible.

First things first, don’t get caught up in the myth that you will gain ten pounds. While it’s true that a majority of annual weight gain occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years, the average adult only gains around one pound during the

However, just because you won’t need to go up a pants size come January, that’s no excuse to eat with abandon. This slight weight gain can have long-term complications if retained throughout the rest of the year, which is the case more often than not. Of course indulging comes with the season, but there are ways to minimize the negative effects while maximizing the cookies.

First, don’t skip meals. It seems logical that if you don’t eat lunch you’ll have more “budgeted” calories for later. However, arriving starved often leads to overeating.

Second, monitor your pre-meal intake by filling a small plate with appetizers. It’s easy to lose count of what seem like harmless bites, but many appetizers run about 60 calories a bit, which can quickly add up.

Third, make it a point to partake in the most special holiday treats, while avoiding those that are available all year. Importantly, get rid of the “all or nothing” mindset when it comes to healthy eating. Be willing to forgive yourself for slips in your eating plan. One high-calorie setback is far more likely to lead to continued bingeing if you are unwilling to show self-compassion and instead throw in the towel.

Of course, keeping the eating under control is only half the battle. Remaining physically active can also be challenging while balancing all the other demands of the season. Reflecting this, regular gym attendance is lowest in December, meaning you’re not alone in prioritizing grandma’s perfect gift over getting that run in. Luckily, there are many other ways to remain active.

Turn the annoyance of congested parking lots into the opportunity to get in a power walk by parking further away from the entrance (pretend you had no other option). Take advantage visiting family and friends and have a snowball fight or build a snowman. Running through the snow can burn around 320 calories an hour. Choose to take the stairs (10 calories a flight) and go for a walk before large meals (100 calories per mile). Take a day to deep clean your house, something that will probably need to happen if you’re entertaining anyway. All the bending, squatting, and running around allow a sneaky way to burn some extra calories.

Aside from difficulty maintaining some semblance of physical health, the final months of the year bring with them the struggle of a few weeks of stress and constant motion for many. Before things get too hectic this year, take a moment to identify what you and your family want out of the holiday season and plan accordingly.

The expectations of others are a powerful draw, often leading to over-commitment. Be deliberate in choosing holiday activities that will bring you closer to those goals and don’t worry about saying yes to every event you’re invited to.

When the time comes to play host for holiday celebrations, set realistic expectations. Meals don’t turn out right, kids get crabby, travel plans go awry, and before you know it disappointment starts to set in as you realize things may not turn out as planned. Unless you’re a family from a magazine spread, accept and embrace that perfection is not possible. Endeavor to see the small imperfections as memories made, and learn to smile as these memories unfold.

The holiday season doesn’t have to be a time of gluttonous eating, but it certainly isn’t a time for deprivation. Strive to find balance and peace as the excitement of the season picks up and have a safe and joyous holiday.