You're cruising along on your new diet when you run up against the year's first really big test of your will—an invitation to a party that will surely feature irresistible puff pastry hors d'oeuvres, flowing cocktails, and a lavish dessert selection. The challenge will make bypassing the supermarket bakery look like a cakewalk.
What's for certain: If you make it past this party, there will be another on its heels. There are national holidays, birthday parties, and scores of other impromptu celebrations—a promotion, a good report card, even making a deadline—coming this year. "Because we don't have established patterns of eating in these circumstances, every occasion offers different temptations," says Brian Wansink, PhD, a Cornell University food psychologist who has studied guests' eating patterns at Super Bowl parties, office celebrations, and more. "You need to go into the event with a strategy."
And what might that be? Prevention called upon leading experts for advice on how to handle 26 of the most common diet-busting social situations that crop up throughout the year. Consider this your diet datebook.
1 New Year's Brunch
Enjoy a toasted whole grain waffle with berries and low-fat yogurt immediately after you wake up. "The slightest bit of hunger will wear away your ability to stick to your resolution," says Arthur S. Agatston, MD, author of The South Beach Diet. Why waffles? If you have them for breakfast, you'll be less tempted by the ones dripping with butter and syrup at brunch.
2 Don't weigh yourself this Friday—or any other.
If you like what you see on the scale, you might be tempted to splurge on Saturday night. (One-quarter of resolutions don't make it past the first week.) A better time for a weigh-in: Monday morning, when you'll see the results of your weekend behavior.
1 Super Bowl Sunday
Develop a game plan for this day, which ranks first in snack foods consumed. On offense, bring a bowl of air-popped popcorn sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese; it'll satisfy your craving for a crunchy and salty snack—and 4 whole cups have the same number of calories that just 14 potato chips have. On defense, don't eat anything—even finger foods—without putting it on a plate, and sit where you have to walk in front of the TV to get food. (Imagine the embarrassment of blocking your friends' view of the big play.)
14 Valentine's Day
Ask for dark chocolate-dipped strawberries: They're festive, tasty, filled with antioxidants, and 40 calories apiece. If you absolutely must have the box of chocolates, instead of hinting for chocolate truffles (70 calories each), slip your honey the phone number for Gayle's Miracles (800-572-4139; United States only). Each of the truffles in their 18-piece heart-shaped box has just 30 calories and is made without artificial sweeteners.
22 Oscar Night
Use the trick that New York City weight loss psychologist Stephen Gullo, PhD, gives his celebrity clients: Suck on a menthol-flavored lozenge instead of grazing on hors d'oeuvres. It'll keep your mouth busy for up to a half hour for a mere 15 calories.
17 St. Patrick's Day
Trade one green beer (8 ounces of light beer has about 70 calories) for an iced green tea. Not only is green tea virtually calorie free, but preliminary research suggests that it's a metabolism booster, too.