Are your cupboards stuffed with goodies? Is your diary packed with parties? Are you poised for a month of eating; a month symbolised significantly by a fat man whose belly bulges out of his red suit; a month of puddings and potatoes, sweets and snacking, crisps and creamy dips, mulled wine and mince pies? 'Tis the season when you have no sooner packed away one vast meal than it is time to tuck into another - with several days of non-stop grazing in between. And a tipple or two of Christmas spirit in the intervals. Let out that belt a notch or two. 'It's very common for people to gain up to five pounds [2.3 kilograms] during this season,' said Lucy Hill, area manager of Weight Watchers. 'Hong Kong is a very sociable place. Invitations are probably more plentiful here than in most places.' Nutritionist Georgia Guldan, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, calls this time a marathon of eating. 'Really, from Halloween in October through to Lunar New Year, there's just one festive eating occasion after another. Those who win the marathon are those who manage to maintain their weight!' There are no magic formulas. You have heard it all before: be realistic, eat as sanely as you would the rest of the year, exercise a little moderation. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, the rest of the party are uproariously drunk on champagne, fattening up on eggnog and troughing through caviar and cream on blinis. It is a difficult time, is Christmas. What you need to do, recommends Mrs Hill, who shed an impressive 12.7 kg four years ago, is have a plan. 'Weight loss fails more often through bad planning, than lack of planning.' If there are foods you find difficult to control, do not bring them into the house. Take a look at the sort of thing you aim to buy in the supermarket over the next few weeks and do not bring in temptation. 'We often convince ourselves we are buying for others,' she said, 'but we're sabotaging ourselves.' So avoid hoarding. We all have an instinct to do it at Christmas, said Mrs Hill, whose group has its biggest attendance after these holidays. 'In Hong Kong, hoarding just isn't relevant. Our's is a warm-weather Christmas and the shops are open throughout the holidays. There's just this historic association that makes us hoard.' Banish, too, saving titbits from meals and parties: that pile of leftover roast potatoes, the cream-filled brandy snaps, the doggy bag of cake you have been given. 'Everyone's fridges are filled with half-eaten food at this time of year,' said Mrs Hill. 'Put it in the bin that night. Then it's gone. Too late. End of celebration.' But do not deprive yourself. It will just make you more desperate to eat or drink. Aim instead for moderation and set reasonable goals. You do not have to go without the traditional meal. Turkey is an excellent low-fat food; heaps of vegetables are just what the nutritionists recommend. One roast potato will not do your waistline much harm, and who can ever stomach much pudding? Stop when you are full. Eat less the day before and the day after. The experts are agreed on the need to exercise in preparation for party time. Many gyms will be shut so take a brisk 45-minute walk in the country parks after a big meal to get your metabolism working faster. 'I encourage people to exercise in the period up to the holidays,' said Mrs Hill. 'It doesn't just burn up so many calories, it focuses you on other things.' Never go hungry to a party. Eat a low-fat snack first. Declare the minute you get there that you are not drinking alcohol and have a long soft drink. 'Verbally commit yourself,' said Mrs Hill. 'If you don't give in at first, people will soon give up trying to pressure you.' And do not forget you are not just there to pig out. 'Concentrate on conversing, not on devouring,' said Ms Guldan. If it is appropriate, say at a picnic or pot luck or junk trip, take along food you can eat. And wear slim-fitting clothes or jeans with a tight belt. Baggy clothes are just looking to be filled. Do not stand near the food. Do not have second helpings. Do not eat dessert. Ms Guldan recommends asking yourself how a food rates before you put it on your plate. Focus on nutrition, not fat. Then pile on fruits and vegetables, plain rolls and steamed rice with lower fat, lower sugar content. Avoid foods covered in creamy sauces and mayonnaise, anything with oil on, meat with visible fat on and turkey or chicken skin. And fool your eye: use smaller plates, filled only to the inner rim, which make it look like you are eating more than you actually are. 'If you are careful, you'll still have room for one or two favourites.' If you are the host, serve colourful, low-fat foods. Bread sticks with salsa, fresh vegetables with low-fat dips, dried fruits in moderation, bagels and pretzels - they are all better than crisps, breads and cheeses. Most people's downfall is drink. This is a season where one hangover is chased away by the next one. Alcohol has the highest per-gram calorie count after fat. 'Wine has no nutritional content but is highly calorific and weakens your resolve to say no to chocolate truffles!' said Mrs Hill. 'It's also associated with reward and you have to change that thinking.' Decide in advance when you are going to allow treats. From now until everyone goes back to work, if you eat whatever you set eyes on, you will gain weight. Non-stop snacking and parties between meals over days, if not weeks, cause the problems - that mid-morning champagne and the fridge full of mince pies, the boxes of chocolates and the brandy butter. The best tip of all? Remember Christmas lasts just one day.