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5 ways to enjoy healthier, happier holidays

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Thanksgiving kicks off a holiday season that for millions of Americans will be packed with frenzied shopping, festive parties and decadent feasts. It's a time of year when healthy habits can quickly go out the window, which can take a toll on your mood -- and your waistline.

While temptations are around every corner, it is possible to stay on track during the holidays without feeling deprived. Click through for some expert tips that will help you stay healthy while still enjoying the season.

Indulge, but don't overdo it


Much of the holiday season centers around food. What would Thanksgiving be without turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie?

The options are often calorie-rich and plentiful, and that can spell disaster for anyone trying to watch their weight. But it is possible to enjoy your holiday meal without breaking the scale.

A simple rule of thumb, experts say, is to eat what you love, and leave what you don't. Not a big fan of mashed potatoes? Take a pass to leave room for other foods you really enjoy.

"Choose your indulgences wisely," Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told CBS News. "Instead of wasting calories on foods that you can have at any time of the year, pick items that are truly special and unique to the season, like your grandmother's pumpkin pie or your daughter's first batch of Christmas cookies."

And avoid guzzling eggnog or eating multiple slices of pie simply because they're "holiday foods," she warns. "Listen to your body, and pay attention to your hunger and satiety cues. Be more mindful of what you are choosing to eat," she said. "Don't eat it just because it is there."

Experts also recommend stepping away from the buffet once you've filled your plate. "Pick your food, and then move away to chat with someone," Rumsey said. "Don't stand near food that is easy to mindlessly munch on, like bowls of candy, chips or pretzels."

And if you're hosting, there are some steps you can take to help both you and your guests enjoy themselves without feeling completely overstuffed.

For example, Nina Crowley, a bariatric surgery dietitian at the Medical University of South Carolina and a health psychologist specializing in food and behavior, suggests putting vegetables and other healthy foods first in the food line so people will be more likely to pile them on their plates. And keeping all of the food in a separate area from where everyone is eating will make it a bit more difficult to grab seconds, thirds and fourths.

Crowley also recommends using plates that are smaller in size. "The 'good china' is usually from our older relatives, who used to eat on more appropriately sized plates, so use these to set up your family for success," she told CBS News. "You and your guests can 'fill' their plate and be totally satisfied."

Drink in moderation


This time of year has many people party-hopping, and it can be easy to lose track of how much alcohol you're drinking.

One reliable strategy to lower your intake is to alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water -- your body will thank you for it the next day when you're not suffering from a hangover.

And don't overlook how many extra calories you're taking in with each cocktail.

"Each unit of alcohol carries about 100-150 calories, and because they go down without making you feel full, it's hard to stop," Crowley said. "Not to mention the reduction in your inhibitions when the alcohol takes effect. It can make the most careful eater throw all their eating checks and balances out the window."

Experts recommend sticking to light beer, wine or a mixed drink made with soda water.

"Look for substitutes for super high calorie drinks like eggnog, use sugar-free mixers where possible and use the traditional, smaller glasses to accompany your 'fine china' so visually, people can have a 'full glass' while drinking less," Crowley said.

Find time to exercise


With hectic holiday schedules, it's so easy to skip workouts and push exercise off to a later time. But this is exactly when you need the benefits of physical activity the most, to help combat the unhealthy habits that come with the season.

"It's more important than ever to stick to your workout schedule during the holidays," Rumsey said. "Physical activity can help lower stress levels, boost your immune system and give you more energy."

Rumsey, who is also a certified strength and conditioning coach, recommends scheduling time into your calendar for a workout and being specific with what you're going to do. "Instead of saying, 'I'm going to workout this week,' try 'I'm going to workout Monday, Wednesday and Friday and do a 30 minute workout each time,'" she said.

Find a buddy to head to the gym with or sign up for a race or fitness event in December or January to help stay motivated, she said. And if you're feeling adventurous, the winter is an excellent time to try a new outdoor activity like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Manage stress

Ihar Ulashchyk

Ironically, all of the celebrating around the holidays can bring on a ton of stress. Traveling, family visits, running from party to party, and scouring the mall for the exact toy your child is asking for can quickly take its toll.

"Stress can cause a lot of negative reactions in our bodies," Rumsey said. "When stress hormones are high, our appetites can go into overdrive, and we eat more than we normally would."

To manage holiday stress, experts recommend sticking to healthy habits including consistent exercise, regular sleep and healthy eating.

Avoid getting so busy that you forget to eat all together. "Skipping meals sets you up for fluctuating blood sugar levels, which can make the stress response even worse," Rumsey said. "Plus you are more likely to reach the point where you feel so hungry that you'll eat whatever is in front of you, and it is harder to make smart choices."

Finally, make sure you build in some time for relaxation, whether that's yoga, meditation, a hot bath or quiet time reading a book.

Take time to appreciate the moment


The bottom line is that the season isn't really about shopping and presents, attending every party you're invited to or eating every treat within reach.

So take time to stop and enjoy the moment and the loved ones around you.

"My best advice is to be honest with your own personal history and patterns over the years and be thoughtful about what you want out of the holidays," Crowley said. "Bringing back the focus on your values and your family, togetherness, shared experiences and being grateful can remind you what is really important."

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