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Be Honest

Besides the red flags, it's important to understand other, more subtle tricks you use to justify an overindulgence. "We all tell ourselves stories that are the same, time after time, like 'if I overeat Friday or Saturday, I'll be extra good Monday morning,'" Bartlett says. "Other familiar half-truths are: 'I've eaten an extra thousand calories so I'll do an extra session at the gym,' or 'I'll eat what I want tonight and worry about it tomorrow.'"

Still, lapses are inevitable no matter how well prepared you are. And when you slip, you become vulnerable to a common pitfall — abandoning your entire plan until after the holidays because you made one mistake. It's far better to forgive yourself and move on. "Recognize what's going on, stop it and get back on track quickly," says Bartlett. "I tell people to put things in perspective and remind them that overeating on one occasion is not what causes weight gain; it's consistently eating too much."

Taking this into account, the group members did a lot of planning for "the day after." When someone slipped up at a party, they mapped out what to eat at their next meal, checking calorie and fat intake. Surprisingly, even when someone breezed through a party, she often needed a strategy to get through the next few days.

"It's easy to underestimate how difficult it will be to avoid overeating at a party, either as a reward or because you've been stimulated and you're biologically hungry. And psychologically you're tired, so you may not be as good at recognizing the danger signs," Bartlett maintains.

Relieve Stress

The holiday season can be stressful. You may be feeling financially pinched or extra tired from lack of sleep. And extended visits with your family are not always tension-free. To avoid getting trapped into using eating as an emotional crutch, devise strategies for basic self-preservation. "Focus on what you absolutely need so you don't get caught in a whirlwind," suggests Bartlett. This may mean having time alone, getting enough sleep, having your family help out with shopping or food preparation, or hiring extra help to clean.

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