The skinny on holiday dieting

Staying on your diet during the holidays can be a real challenge, so much so that many people simply opt to call all of December a giant “cheat day.” This can lead to discouragement and destructive crash dieting come January. Instead, try any (or all) of these 20 basic tips to keep yourself on the straight and narrow in the face of holiday temptations and feasts. 1. Hold activity-centric, not food-centric, holiday gatherings. Bonus points for making it something active in its own right, like a long family walk, ice-skating, or caroling. 2. Switch to a diet that includes weekly “cheat days,” and schedule those cheat days to coincide with the most tempting feasts and parties. 3. Make diet-friendly menu decisions whenever you host a party, such as a platter of fruits and veggies instead of a bunch of holiday cookies. 4. Load up with low-cal snacks, like fruits, veggies and some lean protein, before going to holiday parties, so you’re less tempted to munch. 5. Drink only water throughout the month, eliminating those “invisible calories” that come in punches, soft drinks and hot toddies. 6. Allow yourself just three bites (or just one) of any can’t-resist holiday treat. This gives you the pleasure of the taste without adding too many calories. 7. Wait five to 10 minutes before getting a second helping, or even a first helping of a sweet treat. This will help you determine whether you’re hungry, or just craving. 8. Eat slowly and mindfully. Chew each bite thoroughly, and take time to talk with guests between each bite. 9. Don’t eat anything while packing up leftovers. If necessary, make that somebody else’s job. 10. Commit to eating nothing while standing in front of the refrigerator from Black Friday to New Year’s. 11. Volunteer to be the designated driver. Alcohol is high in calories, and even being a little drunk will reduce your inhibitions. 12. Plan your routes at work to avoid the “snack table” that seems to magically appear as Christmas approaches. 13. Remember you’re only human. If you have a rough night that could undermine your weight loss, forgive yourself and do better for the rest of the month. Don’t just give up and call off your diet for the duration. 14. Favor lean proteins and vegetables when dishing up your plate. These are the best choices for filling up faster and avoiding snack cravings later. 15. Use a point-counting system like Weight Watchers, the Atkins diet or simple calorie counting . You don’t have to whip out a slide rule and graph, but these programs can help you keep better track of what you eat throughout each day. Even keeping a basic food journal logging each meal will help you stay accountable for your dietary choices. 16. Take steps to reduce holiday stress, since stress-eating can throw you off track. 17. Fix low-calorie dishes, like a salad, whenever you’re in control of the menu or when bringing a contribution to a holiday potluck. Add dried fruit, nuts and goat cheese for indulgent flavors without the guilt and drizzle with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. 18. Arrive a bit late to parties to reduce the amount of time you’re tempted by sweets and snacks. Plus, other guests may unknowingly help your cause by eating all the bacon-wrapped treats you can’t seem to give up before you get there. 19. Eat frequent small meals at home, so you’re not tempted to overdo it at the calorie-rich, treat-heavy holiday feasts. 20. Get a friend or relative who’ll be with you often on board with your goals, somebody who can help you stay accountable to yourself. Readers, what are some other ideas you have for staying the course on your holiday diet? Tell us your ideas, successes and tales of woe in the comments.