With Thanksgiving only a week away and Christmas right around the corner, we all have many things to look forward to – some which are considered good, and some not so good. Hopefully most of us will be spending the holidays with family members and close friends while indulging in enormous amounts of stuffed turkey, sweet potato casserole, and soft chocolate chip Christmas cookies laid out buffet-style. I can already picture myself sitting outside in the freezing cold with my peppermint hot chocolate in one hand, while the other hangs onto a pick with a marshmallow waiting to be toasted, ready to make the perfect double-Hershey’s chocolate s’more.

Now that the thought of these foods have you salivating, I guess it’s time for me to ruin the moment. Unfortunately, yet quite obviously, it is a fact that Americans pack on the most pounds of fat during the holiday season. Perhaps even those of us who exercise on a regular basis can make a legitimate argument that we tend to visit the gym much less during the holidays. Even if we do go just as often, sometimes our sessions are not up to par with their usual intensity. Combine either of these two with the indulgence of huge meals followed by even bigger desserts, and we certainly witness our body fat percentages and numbers on the scale rise during the holidays. While the holidays are a time for engaging with family (often times over delicious food), it’s important to recognize the beating our bodies take from our constant over-eating at our holiday dinners. Sure, we can blame massive meals and excessive liquor for our weight gain year after year, but what if I told you there was a way to still indulge in those heavenly sweets yet stay just as healthy as you were before the holidays hit?

If you’ve fallen victim year after year of the ‘holiday weight gain’ I want you to take charge of November and December this year. For years the holiday season has won every single battle against us as we’ve packed on the pounds, but this year I want to challenge you to regain control of your body. Now I’m not saying to starve yourself during Thanksgiving and Christmas or train at the gym for hours on end. All I’m saying is instead of packing on pounds of fat like we’ve done in the past, let’s try this year to maintain where we were before the holidays came around. I truly believe the holidays are not a period of time where our bodies progress, but rather a two-month period where we should try our hardest to avoid taking steps backwards.

Below are my 6 tips to avoid regressing this holiday season:

1. PORTION CONTROL – Let’s begin with the most obvious and commonly heard saying – “Eat what you want, but only eat a little bit of it.” As I stated earlier, the goal of the holiday season should not be to keep your body progressing, because that will definitely cut out a lot of the joy associated with the holidays. Therefore, eat the turkey, any of the sides, and any of the desserts you want, but just do not splurge on them. Your body will thank you for sticking to one serving and fighting the temptation to get up for seconds or thirds.

2. EXERCISE – This is another common tip to maintain control of your body, yet not enough people find the time to exercise during the holidays. Generally the cold weather can result in lack of energy, which makes it more difficult to stay motivated to workout. However, if this is the case, look into hiring a professional personal trainer or coach to help you bust through your “funk”. By hiring a trainer for the holidays, you will feel the pressure to stick to your appointments and feel better as a result.

At the end of the day, it is much easier to cancel on yourself than it is to cancel on another person who is counting on you to be somewhere. By working with a professional, you will be forced to get out of bed and workout rather than snoozing your alarm clock while mumbling “tomorrow…tomorrow…to-…”.

3. INDULGE IN WATER – One of the best tips I can give you is to drink a glass or two of water before it is time to eat. Water has a great tendency to act like an appetite suppressor, only in a healthy way. By tricking your body into feeling full, you will end up eating less food on the table and be less upset when you step on the scale the next morning!

4. LIMIT THE ALCOHOL – Alcohol is single-handedly the most diminishing product you can put into your body if you are looking to build or maintain lean muscle. Our muscles need two main things to grow, the first of which is protein, and the second of which is water. By drinking an abundance of alcohol, our body and muscles become dehydrated as a result. Now, if you had an awesome workout in the morning and followed up with a late night out at the bar the same day, then are the muscles you worked out earlier even going to grow? Maybe you had enough protein in your diet, but without enough water, most of that protein would not even transport to the muscles to help repair and rebuild them. A great tip I have always preached to my clients is to enjoy 1-2 glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage they drink, and end the night with 2 more glasses of water right before bed. (Sorry if you have to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom – but that beats a hangover any day!)

5. MOTIVATE YOURSELF – This is by far one of the most productive ways to keep yourself healthy during the holidays. When I say motivate yourself, what I mean is to try and find something (a picture, video, idol) that motivates you to live a healthy life. For some it may be an inspirational quote, and for others it may be the title match preparation scene from Rocky. Hell, for most of us a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Adriana Lima would do the trick. Whatever yours may be, once you find it, apply it every single day to make sure you are not taking steps backward. If it helps, you can even find a different motivational piece for each day you know you will be going to a party or holiday dinner.

6. SET UP A COMPETITION – If you are not motivated by quotes, pictures, or inspirational videos, maybe it will help you more to participate in an interactive competition with your family members or friends during the holiday season. Find 1 or 2 people who share your goals and who you can trust to complete a competition through the New Year, and see what kinds of results the “match” brings you. If you are just starting out on your quest to become healthier, perhaps one of the objectives would be to see who will gain the least weight between November and January 1st. If you surround yourself by those who are motivated, you can change the competition to see who can actually lose the most weight during the holiday season. I would suggest including an awesome present or a cash prize for the winner – this will serve as even more motivation to win the competition!

I truly hope these 6 tips have opened your eyes to the number of ways we can stay healthier during this holiday season. With the most wonderful time of the year right around the corner, it is never too soon to start putting a few of these tips into play!