Listen. You hear that? It's the sound of Christmas: Chomp, chomp, chomp, gulp, gulp, gulp, munching all the day. Oh, what fun it is to eat hors d'oeuvres off any old tray. Eating is an essential...

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Listen. You hear that? It’s the sound of Christmas: Chomp, chomp, chomp, gulp, gulp, gulp, munching all the day. Oh, what fun it is to eat hors d’oeuvres off any old tray.

Eating is an essential part of holiday celebrations, recalling family traditions with old recipes, cementing relationships through the exchange of fancy edibles and adding tonnage to the American waist.

Everywhere you go there will be food for you to eat — red and green cookies, sugar-coated nuts, cakes and pies at work, at school, at holiday parties and every gathering of at least two people.

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But this need not be a problem. All you need is a little holiday health-maintenance advice, and I happen to have quite a bit, collected from sources here and there in case I should decide to use it myself some day.

Yes, it’s true, I enjoy dangerous eating as much as you, but that is exactly why I can help.

I am not one of those folks for whom eating celery sticks is second nature. I know where your food demons live.

The first thing to remember is that Christmas past becomes Christmas present and travels along with us into the future. That is, the weight you gain at Christmas rarely goes away.

A few years ago, the National Institutes of Health did a study of holiday weight gain. Researchers found that few people gained the 5 to 10 pounds of holiday weight people talk about.

Instead, most people in the study added about a pound. Not too bad, except the pounds tended to stay on and add up, year after year.

There are a number of things you can do to avoid that pound.

If you have a number of invitations to Christmas dinner, choose the worst cook of the bunch. Bad food is a good substitute for willpower.

Sleep more. Recent studies indicate that people who get a full night’s rest eat less than people who are sleep deprived. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body has more of a hormone that makes you feel hungry and less of the hormone that makes you feel full. It’s a double whammy.

Besides, you can’t eat while you’re sleeping.

Exercise. Maybe you aren’t going to start jogging or sign up with a gym, but you can create natural holiday exercises. For instance, when you shop, park far from the store. That’s pretty common advice, but you might want to enhance your workout by carrying several heavy gifts while you walk a couple of laps around the mall before heading to your car.

Just say no to guilt eating. You don’t have to prove you like someone by eating huge portions or seconds. Tell food pushers you love them too much to make them responsible for your early death.

It’s hard to resist special holiday foods you know you won’t see for another year. Go ahead and eat them. Hey, I didn’t say I had an answer for everything.

Sometimes eating just gives you something to do with your hands and your mouth in awkward social situations. You could take up smoking, but maybe it would be better to remind yourself of that tendency and instead prepare for conversation making. Incorporate hand gestures so that you don’t reach for the sugar cookies.

The same goes for eating to drown frustrations or misery, or to ease stress. Admit the underlying reason for eating too much, then beat up your pillow before you go to dinner.

Substitute foreign food for some of your favorites. You can be culturally adventurous and avoid emotional attachment eating. There is a nice recipe for a Polish Christmas dish: fish in horseradish sauce.

Become a vegan. This is really the best solution to the problem of holiday overeating. You know that word, wassail? I read it comes from a Saxon phrase, wes hal, which means good health, or be whole.

Don’t eat tofurkey though, it’ll just remind you of what you are not having. If you are going to eat tofu, eat tofu. There are actually lots of good vegan and vegetarian foods out there. Nuts are very holiday-ish.

I ate lunch with a group of Bastyr University students recently at the cafeteria on campus. Anybody can eat there. I had a tasty soup of beans and veggies and a veggie fajita that was full of flavor.

The students, who are preparing for careers in holistic health, weren’t hard-nosed about eating healthfully.

I asked about Christmas food, and several said they wouldn’t push anyone to change their habits overnight. Have your favorites, but maybe substitute some steamed vegetables for a dish in heavy sauce, or have brown rice instead of white. Stuff like that.

One of the students said she is going to spend Christmas with her family, and she’ll eat what they’re eating, mostly. It’s just one day, after all.

Hmm, you know part of the problem is that it really isn’t just one day. We tend to treat every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day as a holiday, with special holiday eating rules.

Think before you eat. What am I eating, why am I eating it and how much of it should I eat? I will, if you will.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.