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Rebecca Fancher
Published: 18 December 2010

For many of us more than half of annual weight gain occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Some studies say the average American puts on up to 5 to 7 pounds in these few weeks. And it's no wonder if you count up the cookies, cakes and cups full of eggnog we just can't say no to at holiday parties.

While we're chatting away and filling ourselves with holiday cheer, we're also filling up with calories ... one nibble at a time. Those empty calories add up fast. So before your belly starts shaking like a bowl full of jelly, check out these tips:

* Eat healthy first. At holiday parties where tempting foods are often served, eat something healthy beforehand so you're not likely to overindulge. Interact away from the buffet where it's easy to graze mindlessly. Serve yourself and move to a different part of the room.

* Eat breakfast. Studies show that if you skip breakfast, you end up consuming more calories throughout the day than those who start off with a bowl of high-fiber cereal.

* Watch your liquid calories and reach for tall, slender glasses. A Cornell University study showed adults who drank from tall, slender glasses drank about 19 percent less than those who drank from short, wide glasses.

* Make your holidays more event-based and less food-based. Go for a long walk before your meals and have the family gather branches, berries and leaves to build a beautiful fall centerpiece for your table.

* Rid your home of leftovers by having festive gift containers for everyone to take home samples of their favorite dishes.

* Keep your hands, mind and feet busy. People can often get bored during the holidays and turn to food. Plan on reading a novel, taking photos, playing a game, writing in a journal or participating in a fun run.

* Practice portion control. Bake your favorite cookies or pie, but make the cookies smaller than usual and cut the pie in smaller slices. Take one piece and WALK AWAY. Let's face it, some desserts should be avoided. One slice of pecan pie can be as much as 900 calories - OUCH!

Cook smart when making your delicious holiday recipes. Use a heart-healthy spread instead of butter, add dried fruit and reduce the amount of chocolate chips in cookies, cut your sugar amount by half or use a sugar substitute, or grill green beans instead of baking the usual casserole. These little steps could save you more calories than you think!

Heart Healthy Holiday Gifts

With the holidays fast approaching, you might be frantically brainstorming ideas for holiday presents. Here are a few heart healthy options to consider! These ideas would make for great stocking stuffers, office holiday gift exchange, or even a friendly present.

* Stress ball. The holidays can be stressful so why not include a stress ball so your family and friends can work their arm muscles instead of turning to the candy jar to relieve stress.

* Jump rope. This is a great item to have around the house. When your kids go outside to run off steam, join them and jump a little rope while you watch them jump and play in the fall leaves.

* Toothbrush. Help keep those pearly whites clean with a new toothbrush.

* Fruit. Apples, oranges and grapefruits make for very healthy presents. Just make sure they don't get squished and give them in a timely manner so they are nice and fresh when the recipient receives them!

* A new CD. Everyone loves to sing loudly and dance around their house when no one is looking. Why not give your friends and loved ones their favorite CD and let them burn off those holiday calories while they have their own mini dance party!

* Winter accessories. When the weather changes and the temperature drops people tend to stay indoors more and therefore get less exercise. Give your co-workers a new hat, a scarf and a pair of gloves and that gives them no excuse to take a walk around the block and admire their neighbor's holiday decorations.

* A pedometer. This nifty little tool helps you count the number of steps you take in a day. What a great way to get the office together and go walking during lunch!

* Recipe cards. Do you have a lot of healthy recipes you love? Why not share the wealth. Pre-made or hand-made recipe cards with hand written healthy recipes are a heart-felt gift for all.

* Cookbook. Staying along with the share the wealth idea, check out the American Heart Association's variety of cookbooks. Choose one that best suits your recipient. Whether they're cooking for one, cooking for a family with kids, or looking for a quick and healthy meal.

* Water bottle. Give them a BPA-free water bottle to take to work or stash in their purse then they will have no excuse for not staying hydrated.

* Relaxation kit. Stress is not good for anyone's health and the holidays are typically a stressful time of the year. Give your friends and loved ones a relaxation kit. Maybe include a few candles, maybe some incense, soaps, or a CD with soothing music.

* Do they like art? Maybe give them a day pass to a museum; they can enjoy the art while enjoying a nice warm escape from the cold and a bonus they get in some physical activity! How about giving them some new supplies to paint or a gift card to a craft/art store so they can buy their own.

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