Want to avoid looking like Santa this festive season? Here are some ways to avoid a holiday blowout

Christmas Day may well be the one day of the year rum balls are an acceptable breakfast food. But for many of us it's the culmination of weeks of overindulgence.

It's no wonder the festive season is a peak time for weight gain many of us spend the entire year ahead trying to reverse.

But it's never too late to put some strategies in place to limit the damage, says nutritionist Catherine Saxelby.

Ms Saxelby's work means she is a lot more aware of the pitfalls of festive pig-outs than most, but she nonetheless finds she is not entirely immune to the traps.

"I do find my clothes get a little tighter after Christmas," she said.

"The trouble is Christmas started in November," she says of all the end-of-year gatherings, with their inevitable plates of delicious offerings, washed down with an enticing glass (or two) of your favourite tipple.

"If you could contain it to just one day, it would be easy. [But over the holiday season] there's so much fatty finger food and salty chips around. Even if these are items you normally wouldn't eat, when you have a few drinks, it tends to lower your resolve."

Here are some of Ms Saxelby's tips for negotiating the minefield.

1. Quality over quantity

Be discerning with your nibbles, Ms Saxelby says. She's learnt to avoid mindlessly accepting whatever is offered and instead holds out for the snacks she values the most, and then just has a few.

For her, it's a little good prosciutto or top-quality salami and she ignores lesser offerings. "I actually don't like deep fried dim sims or sausage rolls. I think they are poor quality food. I wouldn't waste my calories on them."

2. Eat slowly, enjoy - then move away

Some of us can't resist the box of chocolates and scoff the lot. Others will go berserk for trifle or Christmas pud with brandy custard.

Ms Saxelby's weakness is unsalted nuts, and while this might seem saintly in comparison, she argues the same management principles apply. "I do love nuts - especially cashews and almonds. I can easily eat double the recommended amount [a small handful per day] in the blink of an eye."

While the fat in nuts is the healthy unsaturated type that doesn't clog up your arteries, when it comes to your waistline, kilojoules are kilojoules. She admits once she starts eating nuts, she finds it hard to stop. She also likes cheese, especially "nice camembert or brie on crispy crackers" and artisan bread.

Her solution? Have a taste, eat it slowly and really enjoy it. "Try to chew your food well, concentrate on the flavour you're getting and appreciate the goodness." And then move away from the source so you can't keep eating more than your fill.

3. Beware the buffet

"People look at a buffet as though it's their last meal on earth," Ms Saxelby observes.

And you can't help wondering if it might be when you see what some pile onto their plates. "I walk around with my plate and eye everything off first," she says. "Then I go back and just take a bit of what I really like. I ask myself 'do I really want this?' And think about how much exercise I'd need to do to work it off."

Avoid the trap of thinking you have to get your money's worth, she says. "If you don't let it go to waste, it will end up around your waist."

4. Watch your drinks

Alcohol plays a big part in Christmas weight gain, Ms Saxelby says. It's not just the kilojoules in the drinks themselves, but the effect alcohol has on that sensible pact you made with yourself not to stand next to the platter of brie and camembert. Throw in a thirst from hot weather and that "I've got to have another drink" feeling that goes with salty or spicy snacks and it's way too easy to overindulge.

"What I've learned to say is 'I'm going to have three drinks tonight and that's my limit' and spread them out," she says.

She suggests going for light versions (lower alcohol content means lower kilojoules), diluting wine with ice or mineral water, and making every second drink a non-alcoholic one. Opting to be the nominated driver might also work to force some to stick to their drinking goals.

5. Keep up some activity

There's still time to clock up an exercise credit in the days between now and December 25.

Any extra kilojoules you can burn now can help reduce the legacy left by those you'll take in at Christmas. And if you're lucky enough to get some time off work, it doesn't have to be all about lazing around. Enjoy some relaxation, but consider that the extra free time also provides opportunity to get active.

A brisk walk in the cool early morning is an inspiring start to the day, while a post-dinner stroll in the twilight hours can also be magical. Throw in some vigorous swims and some lighter post-Christmas-day meals of salads and delicious seasonal summer fruits and you've gone a long way towards compensating for some moderate festive indulgences.

"I don't want to be someone who takes the pleasure out of life, just don't go out and eat to excess every day," Ms Saxelby says.

"If you could limit yourself to just two pig-outs — maybe Christmas Day and the day you finish work — I think that would be fine."