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Maintaining a healthy weight can be especially hard during the holidays. But it's very important to stay in shape year-round. Carrying extra body fat increases your risks for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke.

"Successful weight management involves not just losing weight but keeping it off permanently," says Pat Morris, RD, MPH, manager of clinical nutrition at John Muir Health. "There is no one 'best way,' but gradual weight loss is more likely to be permanent."

Here are some tips for developing healthy habits:

  • Identifying your goal is an important step in weight management. Select a weight that is healthy for you, not necessarily the "ideal weight."
  • It's better to lose a few pounds and keep them off than to lose a larger amount and regain the weight. Remember: change habits, don't "diet."
  • Being fit and overweight is better than being your ideal body weight and unfit. Even a little bit of moderate exercise for 20 minutes a day, such as brisk walking, is better than none.
  • Be realistic and make changes you can live with. Choose a variety of foods from many food sources.
  • When they counsel patients, dietitians at John Muir Health recommend that people not deprive themselves of favorite foods, as this can lead to out-of-control cravings, and sometimes binges.
  • The way to maintain a good balance is to adjust your portions ­— for instance, to have the dessert or special dish you are craving, but in a small serving.
  • Dietitians also remind their patients to eat treats slowly and enjoy each bite instead of eating quickly or without paying attention.
  • Portion size is the key to any healthy eating plan. The "perfect plate" would include one-half vegetables piled high. Arrange to have starches such as potatoes, rice, or pasta make up a quarter of your plate. Finish it off with a quarter plate of meat, poultry, fish, beans or tofu.
  • Beans can replace meat, poultry, or fish as a protein source, and tofu includes soy that may protect against cancer and heart disease.
  • Don't get too hungry. Small, frequent meals and snacks help keep appetite and hunger in bounds and prevent overeating at meals. Regular meal and snack times also help. By not getting too hungry, you will be less preoccupied with food.
  • Little changes can produce "smaller" results. Substituting fruit for a serving of ice cream at bedtime, or eating whole grain cereal with non-fat milk instead of a Danish for breakfast, could yield a weight loss of more than 10 pounds for the year.
  • For a cool breakfast on the run, try a breakfast shake. Make it with a half-cup non-fat milk, buttermilk, or yogurt in the blender and a cup of fruit (berries are a great choice!), three ice cubes, a dash of real vanilla, and sugar to taste. Whip it up and enjoy it with a slice of whole grain toast.
  • Plan some regular exercise into your daily routine. Aerobic exercise promotes healthy circulation, burns calories, and builds muscle, and weight lifting increases muscle strength. Walking 15 minutes a day could cause a weight loss of eight pounds in one year.

Just think how much you could gain (in benefits) by taking these simple steps to lose weight.

Stay healthy year-round

Stick to these for an entire year, and by next winter, old habits will be changed, and so will you.

January - Change from whole to low-fat or non-fat dairy products. (Look for fat-free half-and-half.)

February - Have a piece of fruit instead of a sweet dessert.

March - Take advantage of spring weather. Take a 15-minute walk four to five times a week.

April - Serve food from the kitchen rather than family style to avoid tempting second helpings.

May - Compare calories in your favorite fat-free dessert to see if you'd rather have a small piece of the real thing.

June - Choose a fun activity for your exercise. You don't have to go to a gym. Try gardening, biking, hiking, or swimming.

July - Increase your vegetables to five a day. Keep a food diary to check your progress.

August - Drink eight glasses of water per day.

September - Limit high-calorie beverages, including alcohol, soda, fruit smoothies, and flavored teas.

October - Eat more slowly. Put your fork down between bites.

November - Eat only at the table. Avoid doing other activities while eating.

December - Eat only when you are hungry.

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