FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- When trying to stay fit and healthy, the holiday season can become a nightmare when trying to avoid extra calories.

In order to battle that holiday weight gain, Andrea Jones, Lyster Army Health Clinic chief of nutrition care, said people need to be armed with the proper knowledge when it comes to eating healthy and staying active.

"The biggest issue is usually the types of foods we traditionally eat during the holidays," said the nutrition chief. "In America, our focus seems to be that every celebration revolves around food, and the holidays certainly revolve around that."

Jones suggests that one of the main things people can do to stave off those extra pounds during the season full of holiday parties and dinners is to watch portion sizes.

"Everything in moderation," she said. "You can still enjoy the chicken wings, but instead of getting 10, get two."

When food is plentiful during the holiday season, there is no shortage of alcoholic beverages at parties, too, which is another culprit of holiday weight gain, said the LAHC nutrition chief.

"During the holidays, alcohol is going to be around, and those calories add up because you're drinking those beverages and also eating the food," she said. "Try to focus on drinking low calorie drinks, like water, and limit alcohol, soda or sweet teas, so that you're not packing on calories to your already higher-than-normal-calorie meal."

Jones said it's not only what people eat that contributes to weight gain, but the speed at which they eat, as well. When eating, it takes about 20 minutes for the body to realize that it is satisfied, but when eating too quickly, the body isn't able to keep up and people are suddenly hit with the sensation of being full or overstuffed, she said.

"A lot of times we don't give ourself time to recognize that point of satisfaction, and that's when you want to quit eating," said the nutrition chief. "When you get to the full point, you skip through noticing when you're satisfied."

People can also take steps to eating healthier if preparing their meals over the holidays, she said. Most of the foods traditionally eaten over the holidays are high in fat or sugar, so people can do "recipe makeovers" in order to provide healthier options when it comes to holiday dinners.

Jones suggests replacing sugar in some recipes with artificial sweeteners, or using ingredients that are low-fat or light. Even when a recipe calls for butter or oil, unsweetened apple sauce or mashed bananas are a healthier substitute, she said.

"Also, if you're making food for a holiday gathering, you want to try to include lots of veggies and fruits, as well, so that everything isn't loaded with fat and calories," said the nutrition chief, adding that sugar is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to eating unhealthy and promoting weight gain.

"During the holidays sweets are everywhere, but again it's about moderation," she said. "You can enjoy them, but instead of having a huge slice, have a really small slice and taste the food -- have it and enjoy it -- so that you're not overdoing it."

Overeating and eating unhealthily doesn't only contribute to weight gain but can lead to more serious health issues -- especially with quick weight gain, said Jones, which is typical for the holiday season. Quick weight gain can lead to other complications, such as heart disease or contribute to diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even certain cancers.

LAHC offers a nutrition class, Fit for Performance, that helps people with weight control by focusing on every aspect of healthy eating and weight loss, including exercise, healthy cooking, portion control and managing stress, which is a big factor in weight control, said Jones.

The class is held Tuesdays at 9 a.m. at the nutrition department at LAHC, and is available to active duty, retirees and family members.

For more information, call 255-7986.

In addition to healthy eating habits, Jones said exercise and staying active is another way to drive back those extra pounds.

Fort Rucker offers a myriad of ways to stay active, including two physical fitness centers, complete with full gyms, classes and training equipment. There are also trails and tracks, including the air assault track and the Beaver Lake Trail, that people can utilize for their running and walking needs. By utilizing these facilities, Jones said people can combat the holiday weight gain with ease.

"A lot of times we get a lot more sedentary around the holidays and exercise can fall along the wayside, so staying active after a big meal or going for a big walk and not forgetting about working out during the holidays to try to combat those extra calories is important, too," she said.