Mr. Norris, it seems I actually do relatively well with my diet and exercise until the holiday season approaches. Then it all goes to honey-baked hams in a hand basket. Do you have any advice? – “Tried and Tempted,” in Ontario, Calif.

The mere mention of Thanksgiving makes our glands salivate. We anticipate the smells and tastes for days and sometimes weeks ahead of time. It’s the all-American, eating frenzy holiday – Thanksgiving – one of America’s favorite pastimes.

Let’s hear it for those pre-game chips, dips and hors d’oeuvres! Who can resist those fluffy, cloud-like mashed potatoes cascading with butter, or fresh-out-of-the-oven turkey dressing that virtually melts in your mouth? Green bean casseroles and candied yams are a must, right? And don’t you have to top it all off with that apple or pecan pie, mounted with a truckload of ice cream? And let’s not forget those joyous post-Thanksgiving days of eating leftovers that even rivals the fresh-baked cuisine.

This reminds me of a hilarious thought by the renowned humorist and columnist, Erma Bombeck.

She spoke for many Americans when she wrote: “What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”

I, above all health and fitness trainers, don’t want to spoil anyone’s Thanksgiving festivities. And it’s no mystery when I write: The truth is that most of us overindulge during the holidays. According to ABC News Health, the average American gains up to seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Health Management Resources, a national weight loss organization, reports that an estimated 50 percent of Americans ditch thoughts of diet and exercise during November and postpone them until January. And on seemingly good ground, as HMR estimates, the average Thanksgiving meal has 7,100 calories!

Our typical approach to Thanksgiving is to starve ourselves before devouring the bird. Deprivation drives us to the dinner table. But nothing could be worse.

Our path to victory is often averted because we have no consumptive war strategy for the holiday season. But I agree with Maribel Rodriguez, program director for health risk management at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic: “By making some simple changes, you can enjoy special holiday foods without gaining the traditional holiday weight.”

So what can we do to maximize our holiday taste buds without increasing the size of our bellies? In short, how do we gobble without gorging and gaining?

I have a pre-to-postgame meal strategy to help you have victory over holiday gluttony and even improve your guests’ health, if you’re hosting the gathering.

Here are 15 consumptive strategies that will help preserve waistlines without forfeiting food enjoyment and holiday fulfillment. By doing these, you will also cut your calories and minimize foods high in salts, sugars, starches and saturated fats.

Pre-game meal strategies:

  • Though fun and festive, the holidays can also exacerbate feelings of loneliness and loss. The mind can be a battlefield, launching a holiday food consumption war in your head. Fight not to fill the emotional voids with holiday treats. Rather, gorge your mind daily on positive reinforcements, whether that is reading inspirational materials, meditating, praying or listening to your favorite media motivational tracts.
  • Drink 16 ounces of water an hour before any party or big meal gathering. It not only hydrates your body’s system, but also fills your stomach, reduces the intensity of cravings and will help you control consumption.

Meal-time strategies:

  • Since alcohol can be an appetite stimulant, try no alcohol or alcohol-free drinks at your gathering. Drink bottled water or unsweetened ice tea with lemon slices or sweetened with Stevia, a natural alternative. If you’re hosting, offer those drinks in some fun and festive way as soon as people walk in the door. You’ll be surprised by how many people keep drinking them.
  • Try healthy hors d’oeuvres, such as potato chip alternatives like whole-wheat pita rounds cut into small triangles. You can even toast them to make them crunchy. Consider hummus, salsa or black bean dips instead of queso, ranch or refried beans. Even better, you might try some vegetable trays – carrots, edamame, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli or celery with a little organic peanut butter make great appetizers.
  • Cooked green beans might not titillate cravings for creamy casseroles, but a few additional spices on a batch can rival any scrumptious syrup. At the very least, use a can of reduced fat, cream of mushroom soup in your green bean casserole. And instead of candied yams or sweet potato casserole, loaded with brown sugar, butter and marshmallows, consider that baked sweet potatoes or yams wrapped in foil can lock in juices and natural sugars to satisfy most sweet teeth or palates.
  • Use butter alternatives where possible or no butter at all. And I’m not talking about margarine, which can be equally artery clogging. Instead of spreading butter on multi-grain or whole-wheat rolls, as the Food Network recommends, try jam, nut butter or at least a light margarine such as Smart Balance Light. You can reduce butter in stuffing and mashed potatoes by boiling potatoes in chicken broth or simply adding the broth to holiday recipes. The fact is that one tablespoon of stick butter contains 102 calories. So at least switch to an unsalted whipped butter, which contains 67 calories per tablespoon.

Next week, in part 2 of this gameplan, I’ll give you the top nine strategies in my pre-to-post-game meal list of “15 tips to master turkey temptations.”

Until then, ponder one last “wise word” from Erma Bombeck: “Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-times take 12 minutes. This is not coincidence.”

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