15 Proven Strategies to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

It’s the season for revelry and cheer! And along with that, enticing treats and sweets. With beckoning decadent desserts, festive drinks and savory snacks around every corner, it’s easy for healthy eating habits to get lost in the shuffle. Pair that with colder weather and busy holiday schedules, and exercise plans often take a hit, too. However, it's possible to survive the holidays with your well-being and waist size intact. Read on to learn some fitness tips that will help you sail through the season of temptations without turning your exercise schedule and diet upside down

1. Start Your Day with Protein, Fitness consultant Saran Dunmore recommends eating a protein-rich breakfast. Add in some complex carbohydrates, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. This approach will help you feel full longer, help stave off unhealthy snacking and give you more energy for exercise -- and holiday decorating and shopping! You won't crave those tempting sweet treats that seem to beckon you from around every corner during the holiday season.

2. Let Stress Work For You, If you're like most people, the stress of the holidays inevitably gets to you. Whether it's an increased workload at the office, demands of hectic schedules or just all of the items on your to-do list, this time of year brings tension. Let that work to your advantage, and take the stress with you to the gym. Not only can exercise release tension and anxiety, but a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that it will help you control anxiety when confronted with stressful events down the road. So, if you have a stressful holiday event approaching, be proactive and head for the treadmill.

3. Make It Accessible, Holidays can be some of the busiest times of the year. Award-winning fitness and exercise specialist Kelli Calabrese recommends making fitness as convenient as possible, so you’ll be less prone to skip a workout when your schedule is tight. For those days when you can’t make it to the gym, make sure you have a backup plan to work out at home using your bodyweight and minimal equipment, or even an exercise DVD. A small investment in strength-training bands, a medicine ball and a kettlebell can provide an effective total-body workout in a small area of your home. Additionally, if your apartment, condo or housing community is equipped with an exercise facility, take advantage of it and fit in a quick workout. Any workout is always better than no workout.

4. Find Exercise in Everyday Activities, If you don't have time to hit the trail or gym, look for creative ways to work exercise into your everyday activities and stay active in general. Choose the farthest parking spot away from the store when holiday shopping. Bike to work. Even common chores can make a dent in your calorie count. A person who weighs 155 pounds can burn around 140 calories raking leaves for 30 minutes, and the movement and resistance helps tone all the major muscle groups. Cleaning windows for 30 minutes burns around 90 calories. The key is to keep moving and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

5. Be an Early Bird, Get your blood flowing and your workout out of the way by tackling it first thing in the morning. "You will not only feel accomplished but will have more energy throughout the day," says Saran Dunmore, a personal trainer and fitness consultant for NBC-5 Chicago. With all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s often easy to blow off an evening trip to the gym after a day filled with obligations and hectic traffic, shopping and work. The couch and TV can seem so much more welcoming than the treadmill. Schedule an accessible and simple routine in the morning. You will be less prone to skipping exercise.

6. Make a 30-Day Plan and Put It in Your Calendar, Without a set schedule and goals, greater is the chance of skipping your workout altogether, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Fitness specialist Kelli Calabrese recommends following a 30- to 45-day plan that will take you through the holiday season. Plan an exercise schedule every week and put it in your calendar like an appointment or meeting to make it official. Create a mix of shorter, more intense workouts and longer ones with strength training. Be sure it works for your schedule. For example, if Monday is a busy day for you, let that be your rest day. If you have more time on a Saturday morning, make it a long workout.

7. Walk and Talk, Schedules can be tight during the hustle and bustle of the season, so try a little multitasking. Whether you're catching up with relatives and friends around the holidays or taking a work call, try walking while you talk whenever possible. A one-mile walk burns roughly 75 to 85 calories, depending on your speed, weight and height, so make the most of your time. Instead of sending an email, pick up the phone. Walk around your block, the office, the mall or wherever you find space to get up and stretch your legs. Cell phones offer the convenience to move around, so take advantage and sneak in a little exercise.

8. Use the Buddy System, Enlisting a friend or spouse as an exercise buddy can boost your motivation and keep you engaged. Fitness specialist Kelli Calabrese recommends pairing up with someone whose fitness level is slightly higher than yours and who is reliable. This may help give you a little push. If you don’t have any takers, be adventurous. This is an opportunity to make friends with someone in your yoga, spinning or aerobics class or just someone you talk with at the gym. Even being accountable to one of your goal-driven friends over email can boost your motivation. Just knowing someone is checking up on you may increase your chances of lacing up your running shoes.

9. Join a Team, Joining a sports team usually takes minimal time out of your schedule and can add some extra intensity to your current workout routine. Most cities have opportunities for low-commitment, social sports teams. An hour a week of flag football, indoor volleyball or basketball can add some oomph to your fitness plan at a time when extra exercise can help compensate for seasonal indulgences. Joining a sports team can be a fun hobby and help take the "work" out of your workout. Additionally, committing yourself to a group may motivate you to stay the course and think twice before skipping.

10. Enlist Your Family, With hectic holiday schedules it can be hard enough to juggle work, family and social demands, much less exercise. Instead of letting fitness fall by the wayside, combine it with another area of your life, suggests fitness consultant Saran Dunmore. Pre-plan your workout, with your family in mind. Have each family member brainstorm and write down 10 exercises and place them into a bowl. Throughout the day, each person should randomly select exercises from the bowl and engage in them for a short amount of time. This way, exercise feels more like a game and is a fun way to incorporate your whole family.

11. Give and Take, It’s nearly impossible to avoid all of the tantalizing temptations that pop up around the holidays, and it’s no fun to deprive yourself of all of your seasonal favorites. Consider a little give and take when it comes to treats and exercise. Fitness consultant Saran Dunmore suggests assigning an exercise to your favorite high-calorie foods. For example, do 10 burpees for every cookie you eat, or 20 jumping jacks per candy cane. Create a list and keep it handy. This way you can still indulge in some holiday cheer while giving your fitness routine a little boost to help compensate for decadent fare.

12. Set Goals, Instead of making New Year's the starting point of future fitness goals, consider it a mile marker. Perhaps you have a favorite outfit you’d like to don on New Year’s Eve -- this can be one of many effective motivators. "Write your goals down, share them with a buddy, review the goals often and implement a plan that will get you to that goal by the deadline," suggests fitness and exercise specialist Kelli Calabrese. Make sure your goals are realistic and that you have a plan for achieving them. With a strategy in place and a buddy to be accountable to, your fitness plan through the holidays can be very effective. You just have to follow it.

13. Be Mindful, Remember why you don't want to overindulge on sweets and fall behind on workout schedules. That piece of apple pie with ice cream might be calling your name now, but are you going to feel the wrath of the sugar crash later? Come New Year's Eve, are you going to feel sluggish from skipped workouts and unhealthy eating? Try to stay focused during the holidays so that you don’t lose track of your end goal. When faced with a sweet temptation, pay attention to hunger cues. Ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you're just being lured by a momentary delight. When you're tempted to sit on the couch in front of the TV instead of putting in time at the gym, remember how accomplished and great you'll feel when your workout is done.

14. Invest Time and Money, Fitness specialist Kelli Calabrese suggests signing up for an exercise class. Explore one you’ve always wanted to try. There are countless options from Pilates and kickboxing to Zumba and fusion workouts that combine multiple styles. "Making a time and financial commitment to yourself, the instructor and the group you are working out with will increase your chances of keeping your workout a priority during the holidays," says Calabrese. She suggests pre-paying to increase the chances of sticking to it. Group classes are an excellent stress reliever during the holidays when tight schedules, busy malls, traffic and a multitude of obligations can increase tension.

15. Don't Beat Yourself ,Up You’re good to others during the holidays; remember to extend that kindness to yourself. Accept that, realistically, a couple of workouts here and there may fall through the cracks due to the demands and hectic schedules this time of year. "Don't beat yourself up if you can't make it to the gym," says fitness consultant Saran Dunmore. "If this happens be more mindful of the foods you eat. You have to pay to play!" If other obligations keep you from the gym, consider passing on that piece of pumpkin pie or chocolate cake. Balance and moderation are key characteristics of a healthy lifestyle during the holidays and throughout the year.