We have entered the food-a-palooza time of year, otherwise known as the holiday season. For the next several weeks, we'll be faced with more cookies, dips and cheese trays than we see during most of the rest of the year combined.
Everything looks so good, so tasty and so tempting, and it's so easy to overdo it.
Gina Henke, communications director for the Akron, Ohio, area chapter of the American Heart Association, said the group encourages people to adopt a heart-healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and lean meats.
"We're trying to raise awareness about the importance of making healthy food choices," said Rella Rotondo, a registered dietitian with Summa Akron City Hospital, who volunteers for the heart association.
Rotondo offered a few tips on surviving the holidays without packing on the pounds.
Her first rule: Don't skip breakfast.
When you don't eat breakfast, you're going to be hungry by mid-morning, and that will make you easy prey at 10 a.m. for that tray of cookies someone brought into the office.
Rotondo said some folks rationalize that if they skip breakfast, they can save those calories for snacking. But it's just a bad idea, she said.
In general, breakfast-eaters weigh less than those who skip the first meal of the day, and they find they have better mental performance, too.
Second: Maintain a regular eating schedule.
Try to eat every five hours. If you eat a good breakfast, by lunchtime you should be hungry and you need to eat again. Waiting longer than five or six hours between meals leads to bad eating. "When we get overly hungry is when we make poor food choices," she said: We'll eat the most convenient food, which isn't usually the healthiest.
Third: Make better food choices.
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and more fish. Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat to reduce your sodium intake, and increase the amount of fiber in your diet.
When you're at a holiday party looking over the buffet table, remember to go easy on the cheese. Try to fill your plate with mostly vegetables, and skip the dip. Plain boiled shrimp is a good option because it's low in fat and calories, although it does contain cholesterol.
Cheese is full-fat, so unless you are using cheese to replace other proteins in your diet, skip it.
Finally: Watch out for cocktails.
Alcoholic drinks can pack a caloric wallop. Popular holiday drinks like coffee-flavored liqueur with cream can contain as many calories as a slice of cheesecake. We might not eat two pieces of cheesecake, but we often don't hesitate to have two high-calorie cocktails.
Keep alcohol consumption to one or two drinks, and try to lighten them up. Use diet sodas, water or tomato juice as a mixer instead of regular pop or high-sugar juice drinks, such as cranberry.
Opt for a glass of wine or a wine spritzer, which is half wine and half sparkling water, to save calories, Rotondo said.
All of these small changes, over time, will add up to big benefits, she said.
"That's really what the campaign is about: making small changes each day which result in big changes overall. All of those little things add up," she said.