'Tis the Season to Keep Your Health on Track

Monica Nelson

Ahhh, the holidays. You either love them or hate them. I don't know about you, but it's my favorite time of year. Ask anyone, especially those who get a box of all my holiday cookies! That's right, I cook and bake just like the rest of you, both light and decadent. Yes, I'm a trainer, fitness expert and model, but I still indulge - particularly during my favorite time of year. I know how hard it can be to stay on track, but it's very possible to stay well-balanced and on top of things over the holidays. These are some of my favorite easy and smart tips:

Food Tips:

The most important thing I can tell you is this: Watch what food you bring into your home, encourage company to take leftovers and goodies with them, and give away what you can. Out of sight, out of mind. The easiest place to control excess calories this holiday season is in your own home. If it's not within eyesight, chances are you won't put your shoes on, get in the car and drive to get it. If you use a food log or app, now's a great time to get consistent and accurate with it again. It will stop you in your tracks immediately; you just have to put in the effort.

I might be the only fitness professional (who is also a healthy chef) on the planet who sends some of my clients home with goodies every once in awhile. Yes, it's true. Mine are usually a modified treat with less sugar and fat, but the point is that I don't teach or preach deprivation. Try making a seriously delicious recipe with smarter and healthier ingredients. Consider my No Bake Cashew Cookie Chews recipe - they taste like raw cookie dough, are low sugar and easy to make, and the main ingredient is cashews, which provide your body with healthy fats.

If you're like me and baking a plethora of delicious goodies, try these tips: Eat a healthy meal with protein before you start baking. And make sure you're well-hydrated, which will help prevent snacking - sometimes we eat just because we're dehydrated. You can also chew gum and brush your teeth to keep from nibbling on the treats in front of you. Even better: Set out some veggies and hummus or a bowl of clementines. Not only do they smell delicious (which helps lower stress), but one clementine is only around 35 calories, and you'll get a good dose of vitamin C and fiber.

When enjoying holiday cocktails, have a plan and stick to it. Commit to capping yourself off after two or three cocktails, which will keep you from mindlessly accepting refills. And in between drinks, chug a glass of water. And keep it simple: Have one of your favorite fancy beverages, and then switch over to wine, beer or bubbly. These are better choices because they have less calories and sugar. Even better: a low or no-calorie mixer, like club soda with a twist of lime.

The most important thing you can do is make sure you eat before heading out to those big dinners or parties or go shopping at the mall. You never get ahead by not eating all day and saving your calories for later. You'll end up overeating and making poor food choices because you're so hungry - and you'll probably feel sluggish and tired, too. Eat a protein-rich meal or salad, or have a healthy snack like fruit, smoothies or yogurt with some nuts.

And remember: All those "B, L, T's" - bites, licks and tastes - do count, and so do the broken cookie pieces. Yes, they still have calories.

[Read: Your Holiday Diet Survival Guide.]

How to stay active:

The biggest challenge is really getting yourself out of your usual routine or your comfort zone, so to speak. I look at this as a great way to switch up your routine, which is extremely important after doing the same workout over and over again. Let this be the time you finally try that new trendy class you've always wanted to take, or give yourself permission to take that necessary yoga class. If you're traveling, look up local gyms, find out what awesome classes they offer and sign up for one or two. When visiting home, call friends and family to get a sense of their workouts - and let them know you'd like to stay active. Chances are they'll want to come with you to burn off some calories or stress. If they don't, they'll certainly respect that you would like to carve out some "you time."

Try to choose exercises that move your body quickly. You might be short on time, so get your metabolism revved up and go with high-intensity. Try a circuit of body weight movements such as pushups, planks, lunges, burgees (to really get the heart rate up!) and jumping jacks.

[Read: 4 Exercises Trainers Hate.]

No gym? No problem! Try the above movements, and if you're really dedicated to staying active, you can pack either a jump rope (which burns the most calories per minute), bands, TRX or sliders. If you don't have sliders, use towels on the hardwood floor and incorporate "mountain climbers" and planks. You can also use full water bottles for weights.

Want to play outside? Great, me too, it's my favorite thing to do when I visit home in Colorado. You will find me on the slopes! Grab your family and try ice skating, snow shoeing, skiing or snowboarding. A long hike with the dog is another idea. Don't forget to pack warm layers and a pair of nice wool socks to keep you warm and blister-free.

Shopping and staying on your feet also keeps you active. Play with the kids and have fun contests - like a pushup contest or a race to see who can run fastest from here to there. You could also try a plank-off. After all, it's all about having fun! Nothing wrong with doing tricep dips at the park bench. I do it all the time.

Delayed flight? Store your luggage and explore the terminal. I happen to love "people watching," and this activity kills time much faster for me. (Bonus points: Pack your own snacks; it can be tricky to eat healthfully while traveling.)

Most importantly, enjoy the holidays with your loved ones. You can certainly have a jolly good time without ruining all your efforts and hard work. Indulge on your favorite treats and meals, and then move on. Schedule workouts, plan many healthy meals and try to keep your stress levels in check. Happiest Holidays!

[Read: Holiday Vices: How to Have Fun Without Overdoing It.]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Monica Nelson, or "Moni" to her friends and clients, is a personal trainer, healthy foods chef, accomplished athlete, model and well-respected health and fitness expert. She works with celebrities and has been featured in publications such as SHAPE and Fitness. She's been a competitive snowboarder and is a true fitness fanatic. Moni's motto in life is "EAT WELL.STAY FIT. FEEL GREAT." Another one of her greatest passions and talents is cooking and baking. She runs a healthy recipe blog where she has created more than 350 healthy and decadent meals to enjoy. You can connect with Moni on Facebook and follow @monimealfitness on Twitter and Instagram. Grab a recipe or two at www.monimeals.com then head over for a workout and get her latest tips at www.monicanelsonfitness.com. Moni lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Mark, who is also a trainer, and their incredible English bulldog Eddie.