Food is an important part of the holidays and celebrations at this time of year. The holiday encourages eating and emotional significance. There are special foods and social pressure from family and friends, "try some of this" or "I made this especially for you." The event usually revolves around food and eating, there is lots of temptation, everyone is eating and the food is good. "Let's Go Celebrate!" The trick is to be prepared and to avoid the anxiety that comes from trying to "diet" and celebrate at the same time. A common mistake is to vow to eat nothing at the event. This is a real setup, because you either feel guilty when you eat or you feel deprived when you don't. You can enjoy yourself and still keep your dieting virtue. Consider these nine tips for fully enjoying the holiday season without gaining weight.

1. Focus on weight maintenance vs. weight loss during the holidays. This is not the time to lose weight. Maintenance of your present weight is a big enough challenge during the holiday season. Don't set yourself up for failure by making unrealistic goals for yourself.

2. Plan ahead. Think about where you will be, what foods will be available and what foods are really special to you vs. those that you could probably do without. Ask how does it fit into your day's calorie goal? What are your personal triggers to overeat and how can you minimize them? Make a plan of action. It's much easier to deal with a difficult social eating situation if you've already planned for it.

3. Be physically active every day. Often, busy holiday schedules bump people off their exercise routines. Exercise, especially aerobic can help relieve stress, and burn up extra calories. Try to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week. If you don't have 30 minutes, remember something is better than nothing.

4. Eat a light snack before going to holiday parties. Do not skip breakfast and lunch saving your entire food intake for the event. It is not a good idea to arrive ravenous. Not only are you more likely to overeat, but you will be less likely to resist temptation of high fat, high calorie foods. Have a salad, a piece of fruit or a container of light yogurt before you go.

5. Pace yourself. Eat slowly. Take sips of water between bites; put your fork down and your hand on your lap between bites. Be the last to start so you are the last to finish. This way you will be less likely to go back for seconds. Remember it take 20 minutes for your brain to tell your mouth you are full and you have had enough.

6. Make the best of your calories. Eat only the special foods of the season. Don't waist calories on chips and dips you can eat any time. Consider the portion size and limit to half cup servings.

7. Reduce the fat in holiday recipes. Fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins. This is the best way to cut calories. There are plenty of low fat and low calorie substitutes that are amazingly tasty. Use applesauce instead of oil in holiday breads; use egg substitutes in place of whole eggs; use nonfat dairy products in recipes.

8. Choose your beverage wisely. Alcohol is high in calories and increases your fat stores which slow down your metabolism. By contrast water and diet soda are calorie free. If you choose to drink, select wine or wine sprinters, light beers and use diet mixers. Limit your intake to one to 2 alcoholic beverages per occasion. And watch out for hidden calories found in punch and eggnog.

9. Keep a proper perspective. Although food is a big part of the holidays enjoy the "non edibles", the conversation, and the ambiance. This is a time to share laughter, cheer and reunite with good friends and family. If you do eat more than you intended, keep a positive attitude. One day's indiscretion won't ruin any diet. Bounce back and make a plan to get back on track. Increase your exercise following day to compensate for extra calories. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!!!

Barbara Schmidt MS, RD is a nutritionist in New Canaan and the Nutrition Life Style Specialist at Norwalk Hospital. She consults with patients privately or in-group settings in her 8-week weight loss program "Transformations." To learn more about "Transformations" held at Norwalk Hospital, call 203-852-2178. New sessions starts Jan. 11, 2011.