The holidays can be stressful: there are gifts to buy, family members to visit and the dark and gloomy weather to keep us indoors. It's no wonder people can gain weight over the holidays and catch colds and the flu. But how do you avoid the chronic runny-noses and winter lethargy common to many?

Jill Kelly, Western's registered dietitian, has some good news. She doesn't recommend starting a weight-loss plan over the holidays, which she feels sets people up for failure. She also advises people to avoid fad diets.

Instead Kelly recommends that people choose weight maintenance, which means to continue your normal eating habits and stick with your exercise routine. Sticking with exercise helps reduce the stress of social gatherings such as holiday parties and family dinners, she said.

The focus should be on eating a large variety of food, rather than large portions of food. Kelly says that the portions should be from a large variety of categories such as protein, fruits and vegetables and whole grains. By doing this you are ensuring that you get enough of the same nutrients that you would normally receive, from all the various food groups.

If you are going to a party, Kelly said, eat something first. Parties generally have a lot of high-fat, high-calorie foods, and if you are hungry you might just make a meal completely out of cookies and cheese dip.

Also, avoid being the wallflower who stands near the buffet table. This only encourages snacking on unhealthy foods you may or may not be hungry for. Instead, Kelly said, mingle with the other people—after all, it is a party.

Kelly pointed out that a common and often unthought-of supplier of calories is beverages. Drinks such as eggnog and hot chocolate can contain a lot of calories without making us feel full. The holidays can also mean an increase in alcohol consumption. Kelly says that an evening of drinking can add the equivalent calories of eating another dinner, without any nutritional benefits.

Kelly also said that good nutrition is a matter of being well informed about what you are eating. Stick to what you know is good for you, meaning drinking water and eating whole grains, fruits and veggies.

Catharine Vader, a registered nurse at the Student Health Center, gave advice on how to avoid that common winter annoyance, the cold and it's more harmful cousin, the flu.

The biggest single thing you can do to reduce your health risks is to wash your hands and keep them away from your eyes, nose and mouth, Vader said. She reminded students to think of how many people touch a door knob on campus in a day.

“Viruses can live on surfaces anywhere from two hours to several weeks,” Vader said.

According to Vader, you can get a cold anytime of year, but the flu, or influenza, is in season right now. The flu season happens every year, usually from late fall through winter and sometimes it can last until spring.

Western has had one confirmed case of the flu so far this year, Vader said. It was influenza type A, the kind that the flu shot prevents. The symptoms of type A include strong chills, coughing, congestion, a high temperature, extreme fatigue and body aches that Vader described as feeling like being run over by a truck. They also come on suddenly, without warning.

The best way to combat or prevent a cold or flu, besides hand washing, is to keep your immune system as healthy as possible, Vader said. This means a healthy diet, eight hours of sleep, moderate exercise, and decreasing stress.

“Staying healthy and well is all about moderation,” Kelly said. “When you feel good you're more likely to make healthy decisions for your body.”