Everyone knows the holidays are a time where the best intentions for healthy eating and exercise tend to go out the window. Now, I am not one of those nutritionists that’s going to tell you to try eat “healthy” cookies instead of real Christmas cookies, or opt for fresh fruit for dessert instead of the pecan pie. As I’ve said numerous times before, I believe food is for the body and the soul; it’s not just about calories or nutrients, but also about traditions and satisfaction. The holidays are full of traditions, many of which revolve around family and food. With that said, I also don’t think the final month or so of the year should derail all your progress and hard work.

So, here are my five favorite tips to maintaining balance through the holidays, both indulging in cravings and goodies, and also respecting your health and the work you’ve put in.

1) Eat breakfast. I know, you hear this one all the time, regardless of the time of year. BUT, hear me out. When you skip breakfast, you’re more likely to over eat and reach for junk. Starting your day with a healthy, solid breakfast, can help reduce overall cravings, binging, and make sure that at least one of your meals that day is a nutritious one. Make sure your breakfast includes a good protein option, healthy fat, and if you can add veggies, you’ll be a breakfast super star. Veggie omelets, scrambled eggs with veggies, avocado toast, green smoothie with avocado and hemp seeds.

2) MOVE! I know, working out when you could be hanging with friends, cuddling by the fire, or just enjoying one of hundreds of Christmas movies is tough. If you can get yourself to do a workout quick in the morning before the day gets going, awesome. If not, try to at least find a way to really move during the day. Go shovel your driveway. Heck, shovel a neighbor’s too! Have a snowball fight with friends or your spouse or kids. Take a walk through a park that’s not shoveled (walking through snow creates quite a calorie burn!). Take an evening stroll to check out the Christmas lights. You’ll feel better, compensate for some of the extra indulgences, and won’t lose that mental or physical progress you’ve built over the non-holiday months.

3) Use a plate. It’s super easy, especially at holiday events, to just pick a bit here and a bit there from the huge selection of goodies. Try to get a real, salad-sized plate and put the food you want onto it, then sit down somewhere to eat it. Grazing is a sure-fire way to eat WAY more than you thought and overeat. Plus, when you’re actually dishing out that cheesey dip and gooey sauce, it’s a lot easier to go “whoa! That’s a LOT!” and portion it better, than when you just keep dipping in chip after chip (because you’re only getting a little on each chip, right?!).

4) Check out the desserts. It’s easy to end up eating a ton of desserts and sweets simply because you had a cookie, but now you see those truffles and they look so much better! So, take a walk around the dessert offerings, get a lay of the land, and then decide which ones you ACTUALLY want. I love a good sugar cookie as much as the next person, but compared to a pot de crème or a chocolate covered cherry? No way!

5) Be grateful and forgiving. It’s easy to get frustrated over that extra cookie, the lack of workouts because of family events and last minute work stuff, and more carbs than vegetables in your diet. Enjoy the family, the friends, that you have such wonderful food to eat. Take each meal, each day one at a time. Crappy breakfast? East some vegetables with lunch. Missed that class at the gym all week? Grab a friend and make a date to do it tomorrow. Don’t just throw in the towel because of a few “off” meals or missed sweat sessions. The journey is more than one meal or one workout.

Have a safe, fun, and balanced holiday season.

Aubrey Phelps MS RDN LDN