The holidays: that time of year when gravy and cookies are in a race to see which can reach your gut the fastest.

With parties, friends and relatives in town for big, festive meals, it can be tough to eat well and still have fun.

But Stuart Phillips, a professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University says it's possible to get through the holidays mostly unscathed. Here are his tips for eating (relatively) healthy through the holiday season.

Moderation

Easier said than done — but Phillips says moderation is the key to keeping yourself from packing on some extra pounds through the season of Yule.

"Just practice moderation," Phillips said. "Now is the wrong time to diet."

The temptation to indulge will no doubt present itself — so completely avoiding all fatty or sugary foods will be almost impossible, he says. Just avoid extremes.

"I'd never begrudge anyone a good time."

Limit Alcohol

Sharing a drink or two with friends and family is another holiday staple — but also one of the worst offenders for weight gain, Phillips says.

First off, there are the extra calories alcohol presents — which becomes twofold when mixed with sugary sodas or juices.

But it goes deeper than that, he says. Alcohol is hyperphagic, meaning it will increase your appetite and you will actually eat more.

"When you have a few drinks, you will find it hard to inhibit yourself," Phillips said. "Alcohol moves from the front of your brain to the back, so the inhibitory centres in the front of your brain swim around in the alcohol first."

"So if you can moderate your alcohol, that will be a huge help."

Sugar

Refined sugars are even worse than gravy and other fatty foods, Phillips says. Candy, cookies, cakes, white breads and foods made with white flour are among the worst offenders.

"It's possible to pack a lot of those away," Phillips said.

Don't stress over advertising

Just as soon as the Christmas commercials come off the air, people everywhere will be inundated with ads to join a health club to drop the five or so pounds they've packed on over the holidays.

But Phillips says that's impossible.

"Even if you were to almost force feed yourself, there's no way that would happen in a week," Phillips said. "Don't fall prey, folks."

According to most research, one pound of body fat equals about 3,500 calories that haven't been burned off, he says. And while people might think it's easy to eat that much, it's actually not.

"That's a fit and active young man eating twice his daily intake of calories for the day."

So why can your weight fluctuate around two to three pounds a day, depending on when you step on the scale?

"Fluid stores," Phillips said. "That's not real fat at all."

Exercise

It should be a no-brainer — but exercise helps. Even if you won't be hitting the gym on a regular basis over the holidays, just getting out and on the move is a bonus, Phillips says.

"Get out and be active for 20 to 30 minutes a day," he said. It doesn't have to be too labour intensive — a brisk walk would do.

"And considering how our weather has been, I'd love for people to get out and enjoy the city."