While the holiday season, with its endless parties and emphasis on food, is the most dangerous time of year for those trying to diet or simply not balloon in weight, there are ways to maintain a level weight, or even drop a few pounds.

A confluence of circumstances combine to make the time from Thanksgiving to the new year problematic from a nutrition standpoint. First, at holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, food is often the focus, and much of it is deleterious to health. Second, snacks are usually abundant at holiday parties, and people too often spend their time grazing at the buffet table, idly tossing back treats as they make conversation. Third, at family gatherings, relatives tend to push food during meals. Then, later, hosts regularly cajole guests into taking large plates of leftovers; while this politesse is merely being gracious, it can have a toxic effect on a waistlines. Finally, the holidays are an emotional accelerant for many, exacerbating conditions like happiness, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress.

Since these moods often act as triggers for people to eat too much and/or too poorly, it’s no surprise to see so many guts bust during the holidays. However, most people never lose the extra pounds they pack on during the holidays, according to the National Institutes of Health. The weight continues to add up over the years, making holiday weight gain a noteworthy contributor to adult obesity.

Kim Nelson, a dietician for Mayo Clinic Health Systems in St. James, said there are many strategies people can deploy to avoid bloating during this time of year. For one, it’s important to remember that one day of gorging, on Thanksgiving or Christmas, for example, isn’t enough by itself to blow a diet. It takes more than that, although, of course, that’s not a license to overeat on those days.

Nelson advises not making food, no matter how traditional and/or special, “the main event” at holiday gatherings. “You’re there to enjoy family and friends.”

In addition, a “plan of attack” is crucial, she said. One should decide before arriving what--and how much--to eat.

Furthermore, never arrive to such gatherings on an empty stomach, Nelson said, because that’s a recipe for overeating. Some lean protein or fiber beforehand “can take the edge off.”

Nelson also promulgates the “MyPlate” method, which advises individuals to visualize their plate before filling it up. They should aim for half the plate to be filled with vegetable and fruits--heavier on the vegetables--a quarter to be filled with whole grains, and a fourth to be filled with lean protein.

While culinary indulgences don’t need to be eliminated entirely, Nelson said moderation and portion control are paramount, i.e., have only a bite or two of dessert. “Savor your favorites;” only opt for the absolute top treats, and eat them slowly to enjoy them the most.

Dining deliberately can also lead to eating less, because it takes the brain roughly 20 minutes to communicate that a person is “full,” she said. This methodical eating also allows one to enjoy the food more, instead of just shoveling it in like pencils into a sharpener.

Additionally, staying hydrated with water can make one less hungry, Nelson said. Often, people mistake thirst for hunger.

While so much of the focus when it comes to wellness during the holidays is understandably on food, beverages can also prove hellacious on waistlines, Nelson said. Alcoholic beverages, of which the intake increases for many during the holiday season due to heightened emotions, tend to be loaded with calories.

For the rest of this story, including more tips on staying healthy during the holiday season, please see this year's medical services guide, an insert in today's St. James Plaindealer.