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The holiday season is the worst time to skip it. According to a study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, giving up this a.m. meal can prime your brain's reward centers to crave high-calorie foods -- the last thing you need when you're constantly staring down chocolate Santas and spice cake. "Temptation is everywhere now, so eating a balanced breakfast is more critical than ever," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago. Just make sure your meal contains filling ingredients like protein, whole grains and produce; a plain bagel isn't going to cut it. Blatner's picks? Oatmeal with canned pumpkin, walnuts, and a drizzle of honey or whole-grain cinnamon raisin toast with nut butter and a sliced pear. In a rush? Grab a granola bar, an apple and a small latte made with 2 percent milk.Be a Food Snob
That's the diet trick that works for Shelby Gonzalez of Grand Marais, Minnesota, during the holidays. "I skip the store-bought stuff and limit my treats to homemade goodies," she says. Blatner uses a similar approach: "I only indulge in my absolute favorite foods -- such as red velvet cake -- and pass on things I merely like."Get Enough Vitamin D
It's good for your bones -- and it may also help keep your weight in check. In a study published in the Journal of Women's Health, women with the lowest levels of vitamin D gained more weight over a five-year period than those with adequate amounts. Though more research is needed to confirm the link, lead author Erin LeBlanc, M.D., theorizes that a D deficiency may prompt the body to store more fat. So how much D do you need? The official recommendation set by the Institute of Medicine is 600 IU a day; however, many experts say that's not enough. To be safe, make sure you stay below the IOM's tolerable upper intake level (4,000 IU) and don't take a supplement without talking with your doctor first.Hop on the Scale
It's not enough to think you're staying active and eating well -- you have to get the facts. Weighing in at least once a week can help keep you honest and on track.Serve More H20
Drinking water with meals may prompt you to eat better, according to a new study published in Appetite. That's likely due to years of conditioning, say the authors: We associate water with nutritious fare like vegetables, while we typically pair sweet drinks such as soda with salty, high-calorie foods.Steer Clear of the Office Break Room
That's where the homemade holiday treats are. Two reasons to avoid it: "It's harder to resist temptation once you've seen or smelled the food," says psychologist Susan Albers, author of But I Deserve This Chocolate! Plus we subconsciously mirror what people around us are doing, so if you see your coworkers pigging out, you might, too.Lose the Sweatpants
They're warm, they're cozy, they have an elastic waist and they make it really easy for you to overeat. Enough said.Boost Your Veggie Intake
It's one of the easiest ways to cut calories and still feel full. If you're not getting enough of the green stuff, try these strategies.
Expand your options: A study coauthored by Volumetrics writer Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., found that serving a variety of vegetables at mealtime got people to eat more of them.
Dunk 'em: Veggies and dip aren't just for holiday parties. "I eat precut vegetables dipped in red pepper hummus almost every day," says Joanne Brown of Darien, Connecticut. "There's nothing to prepare so I can't tell myself I'm too busy to eat healthy!"
Use the stealth approach: Sneaking vegetables into food doesn't just boost kids' veggie intake. "It's an extraordinarily effective strategy for adults, even for those who don't like vegetables," says Rolls. Craving hamburgers? Add shredded spinach and carrots to the recipe. When you cook soup, stir in extra veggies. You can even make your Sunday pancakes healthier by folding mashed sweet potatoes into the batter.Give Comfort Food a Skinny Makeover
Check out these suggestions from Jeannette Bessinger, coauthor of The 150 Healthiest Comfort Foods on Earth.
You Crave: Buttered popcorn
Healthier Fix: Add a dash of barbecue or hot sauce to plain popcorn and sprinkle with garlic salt.
You Crave: Slopy joes
Healthier Fix: Ditch the white hamburger buns and serve the meat baked in bell pepper halves.
You Crave: Pumpkin pie
Healthier Fix: Make a pumpkin smoothie. In a blender, puree 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, one cup almond milk, two dates and pumpkin pie spice to taste.
You Crave: A big plate of pasta
Healthier Fix: Replace some of the spaghetti with spaghetti squash or long strips of carrots or zucchini.
Trust us, we know how hard it is to get enough sleep. But if you're trying to lose weight, it's more than worth the effort. Last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota found that people eat nearly 550 additional calories a day when they're sleep-deprived. To improve your odds of snoozing soundly this winter, make sure the thermostat isn't cranked too high. Sleeping in a slightly cool room helps boost production of the zzz-inducing hormone melatonin, says Steven Y. Park, M.D., author of Sleep, Interrupted.Follow Your Instincts
You may not want that second helping of buttery stuffing as badly as you think. "If you hesitate for even a second when you reach for the bowl, trust that impulse and pull your hand away," says Albers.Dim the Lights at Dinnertime
When it's dark outside by 5 p.m., it's tempting to switch on almost every light in the house to lift the gloom. Just be sure to turn a few off when it's time for dinner: Research from Cornell University shows that dining in soft lighting -- and minimal background noise -- can help you eat less and feel more satisfied.Play in the Snow
Some of the best winter workouts don't feel like work at all. For example, sledding with your family burns 436 calories an hour. Other options: ice-skating (319), snowshoeing (467) and cross-country skiing (722!). And even though shoveling snow doesn't qualify as fun, it does have one perk -- spending an hour clearing your driveway melts 386 calories.Ease up on the Dessert-Like Drinks
Fact: At 440 calories and 21 grams of fat, a venti gingerbread latte with whipped cream has the same number of calories as a slice of gingerbread cake and seven additional grams of fat! But you don't have to go latte-less this season to stay slim. Order the smallest size (a short) and request non-fat milk and no whipped cream and you've got a fat-free, 100-calorie treat.Let Go of the "Limited Time Only" Mind-Set
Deep thought alert: Most decadent holiday dishes are available all year-round, so why do we act like we have to eat as much of them as we can right now? It's time to put things in perspective. "Tell yourself that as far as food is concerned, this time of year is just like any other," says Albers. If you love pecan pie, nothing's stopping you from making one in June if you want to!Save the Best for Last
It may help you consume fewer calories. "Eating the food you enjoy the most at the end of your meal keeps the experience fresh in your mind, so you're less tempted to continue eating," says Albers.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2012.