By ALEXANDRA MATZKO

If you’re like me, then eating an indulgent meal feels like it’s made you gain about ten pounds.

And, when you’re feeling guilty about unhealthy food already, you reach a point of throwing the baby out with the bath water. You think that you’ve stuffed your face over the past long weekend and Christmas is just around the corner anyway. Might as well just eat like it’s going out of style until January rolls around and then make some half-hearted New Year’s resolution.

Wait. Breathe. Back away from the leftover pumpkin pie.

The holidays can be a difficult time for our health, but you don’t have to fall into the black hole mindset above. There is a way to stay healthy during the holidays, and it’s all about balance and incorporating good habits into the chaos and overindulgence of this time of year. Now, I’m not saying that this is the moment to begin a 30-day shredding program, but it doesn’t have to be the time of year you participate in a cycle of binging and self-loathing.

Here are some ideas to keep you healthy and feeling good through the New Year:

1. Walks. As simple as it seems, walking is great. It gets your blood pumping, gets you some fresh air, and gets you away from stress. Wrap up in warm clothes and listen to a playlist of your favorite songs. Or, even better, make walking a social event. I have such happy memories of going on group, mid-afternoon dog walks with my extended family back in Canada. Removed from the normal distractions of the holidays, cooking; cleaning up after meals; shopping, you can really share time with each other and talk. Walking this way has the power to make you smile and make treasured memories. Plus, it’s a great excuse to wear and show off your new outerwear. And, you can check out all the beautiful Christmas decorations of your neighbors.

Don’t feel guilty about skipping your regular routine at the gym. Reap the rewards of taking a stroll instead as your day’s physical activity.

2. Hydrate. Staying hydrated in summer seems almost instinctual. It’s hot, and you are more likely to gulp down a water. In the cold weather, that mentality falls by the wayside, but you still need to get your ounces in. As I’ve written before, hydration is a key factor not only for keeping your body functioning biologically but also for keeping your skin glowing and plump.

To spice up your water intake, incorporate some tea. Steep fresh mint leaves and ginger in boiling water for a seasonal and delicious herbal brew. I especially like a large cup of peppermint tea around the holidays. Start your day with warm lemon water to jump start your metabolism. Stick to herbal and green teas for more health benefits.

3. Spend some time in the kitchen. There is going to be food: a lot of it. It’s inevitable. See it as an opportunity to take some control of the menu. If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours watching Chopped or other shows on the Food Network. Now, you can at least bring some of that viewing knowledge to the real world and whip up a dish. Make an appetizer, side, or dessert that isn’t as unhealthy and bring it to an event. Don’t think a fresh pitcher of green juice for this occasion. It is still the holidays after all, and there are expectations to meet. Opt for something like a really delicious salad but don’t cover it in a flavorless, chemical-filled dressing to save calories. Make a dressing with real, full fat mayo or sour cream. Create meals made with real food that are good for you. I’m going to share some of my favorites soon!

4. Routine. Holidays mean vacation. Yes! Staying up late, sleeping in, no appointments, no deadlines, no rules! Uh oh. If you’re like me, you thrive on routine. A couple of days without it and you’ll find me sprawled out on the couch with dirty hair and no clean pants.

Keep the good parts of your routine intact, even while on vacation. One thing that gets my day started off right is doing something physical before breakfast. That could be a yoga video on YouTube, taking my dog for a short walk, or having a mini dance party in the kitchen. Maintaining this one simple step on vacation makes my days off far more productive and satisfying. Don’t scrap all structure on your time off. There are important things to schedule into your day like getting your nails done, dunking Christmas cookies in milk and reading the new book you got from your brother in one day. It would be a shame to miss out on those things for lack of planning.

5. Balance. It is the holidays, and it’s time to indulge. You deserve it. But, be picky. Don’t stuff your face with the cheap, frosted sugar cookies from Walmart that you can buy any time. Enjoy the homemade dessert squares your mom bakes once a year. Yeah. Eat five of those and forego the store bought garbage. I always look forward to Christmas Eve dinner with our traditional family favorites like pierogies and filo dough wrapped salmon. And, I love ending the night with a scoop or two of seasonal peppermint ice cream. I only eat those things at Christmas, and those are the special things we look forward to eating during this time of year. Save room in your stomach for those items and try to eat cleaner foods the rest of the time. And, just avoid that cheese ball altogether. It’s never tasted good, and it won’t this year either.

When it comes to leading a healthier lifestyle, I’ve learned, and am still learning, that it’s a lot about mindset. You can think about it as deprivation and sacrifice, or you can think about each good thing you do for yourself as treating yourself. You can view the ease of swinging through the drive-thru as a convenience, or you can reflect that it leaves you feeling guilty, bloated, and unsatisfied. Maybe that extra time at the stove isn’t such a hassle. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons. A large bowl of homemade butternut squash soup with roasted chicken instead of ordering a giant burrito from your favorite Mexican joint? Delicious and good for you. It leaves you feeling satisfied and not deprived. A walk with your loved ones full of laughter rather than a rerun of Real Housewives? I don’t think you’ll ever regret missing an episode.

It’s the holidays. It’s time to enjoy yourself. Making healthier choices is just another awesome way to do that.