The holiday season is quickly approaching. Before we know it Thanksgiving will have come and gone and we will be into the Christmas season.

One of the biggest health challenges we face over the holidays is overeating. We tend to not just overeat but to eat too many foods that are high in fat and sugar. The average holiday weight gain is actually only about 1-2 pounds which may not seem like a lot, but research suggests that Americans do not take that weight back off after the holiday season. The problem: year after year the small gain of 1-2 pounds adds up. 

How can we maintain weight over the holidays and not give up the special treats we enjoy? Here are a few tips to help you through the holiday season.

Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is full of empty calories and those holiday drinks that we love are packed with sugar. Vodka, gin and whiskey have about 100 calories per 1.5 ounces. Beer can range in caloric count from about 100 calories up to 350 calories. A 5-ounce serving of red wine has about 125 calories. 

As you can see, the calories in an alcoholic beverage add up quickly. Try to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink. This will quench your thirst, give your stomach a full feeling, and help you to limit your intake of calorie-filled drinks. 

Skip or limit the appetizers. Every holiday party seems to have a selection of appetizers before the main meal. Some of the appetizers are healthy — for instance, mixed vegetables and fruit. Other appetizers are full of calories and fat, such as potato chips, cheese dips, and pull-apart breads. 

While you do not have to cut out appetizers entirely, you do need to think about the number of calories you are consuming before your main meal. Try to choose the healthier options and limit the amount of high-fat and high-sugar appetizers that are available.

Choose healthier holiday treats. One of the best parts of the holidays are the desserts. No office is complete without cookie trays, bars and other decadent desserts. It’s so easy to grab a treat when you are in the breakroom or just add a little sweetness to your mid-day by snagging a cookie. 

One way to still indulge while staying healthy is to cut down the sugar in your recipes. Most recipes call for more sugar than is actually needed. Try cutting back from 1 cup of sugar to a ½ cup. Your taste buds will not know the difference. 

Maybe you can cut back on the butter and oil by using unsweetened applesauce instead. You can add fiber by switching out all-purpose flour for whole wheat. 

There are endless possibilities for making your holiday treats just a little more healthy. Get creative!

Listen to your body. We associate holidays with eating and we have created emotional ties to certain foods. Whether or not our bodies need the fuel, we still continue to eat because the food tastes good. Eating makes our brain create endorphins which in turn make us feel good.

The emotional ties to food, the endorphins our brain creates and the readily available food make it very easy to overeat. It is important to stop and ask ourselves if we are truly hungry or if we are eating for another reason. Does the food taste good, look good and remind us of home or do we truly need to fuel our body for it to function? We need to learn to listen to our bodies and eat when we are truly hungry.

The holidays are a tricky time to navigate balancing healthy eating and still not giving up the foods we enjoy. The key to it all is moderation. Think about what you are eating and work to stay within a calorie budget that is healthy for you. Don’t throw out all your goals because it is the holiday season.

Ruth Eltrich is the health and wellness coordinator, personal trainer, and group fitness instructor at the Maquoketa Area Family YMCA.