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by Dana Rigby, NASM, Fitness Research Lab program director, Icon Health and Fitness

The holiday season has arrived! For most people, this means eating — lots of eating. With family obligations, traveling, parties and delicious meals, it’s no surprise that belt lines tend to expand during this time of year.

Want to avoid the tradition of gaining weight over the holidays and setting a New Year’s resolution to lose it? With the proper planning and a program in place, you can maintain your fitness levels and still enjoy the season. Here are five tips to help you do it:

Keep your carbs well balanced and your portions under control: Especially during the holidays, you will have opportunities to eat festive snacks, desserts and side dishes. You don’t have to deprive yourself, just eat smaller portions less often. And, just because you’ have had dessert doesn’t mean you’ve “blown” the entire day; get back on track with your next snack or meal. To keep your carbs in check, make your meals mostly proteins and vegetables and save the carbs for reasonable snacks. Replace common holiday carbs with healthy alternatives like mashed cauliflower or sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes.

Plan ahead: If you know you will be going to a holiday party or out for a treat later in the day, be mindful of your eating the rest of the day and the following day. Prepare healthy snacks to help control your hunger.

Avoid mindless eating: Mindless eating is consuming food just because it’s there. It’s eating while distracted — watching TV, working at a computer or texting. It’s eating for emotional comfort or stress relief instead of for hunger. To keep yourself in check, consider chewing gum or sucking on mints to avoid mindless eating between healthy snacks and meals.

Don’t wait for the New Year to start exercising: If you can start your routine during the holiday season, you are setting yourself up for success. You can be in a routine before the gyms are overcrowded with New Year’s goal setters, and you will have the added benefits of the stress relief that naturally come from exercise. Reward yourself with time alone to exercise instead of extra food.

Involve your family: After you have enjoyed a big holiday meal together, consider playing a game of backyard football or having a holiday dance party instead of turning on the TV right away. Instead of hopping into the car to drive holiday gifts to neighbors, bundle everyone up and take a walk to make your deliveries.