Be of good cheer: Holiday merriment doesn't have to clash with diets and sensible eating. But it helps to have a plan and stick to it.

That's the message of health experts, dispensing advice like so many stocking goodies to those who dread the impact of the year-end holidays on their weight.The experts say it's no longer good enough to forget your diet during the holidays, then try to make up for your sins with a solemn New Year's resolution to get back on track. Such "yo-yo" dieting has been shown to leave most dieters heavier in the long run.

A wiser strategy starts with a decision to lower dieting expectations. People trying to lose weight might aim instead at weight maintenance during the holidays, says Karren Doniger, a mental health counselor with Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.

"Just plan ahead and keep in mind your long-range weight-loss goals," she says.

Prepare for a holiday feast, Ms. Doniger recommends, not by starving but by eating a light meal at home ahead of time. Go light on snacks, which tend to be high in fats, and then enjoy the meal. Taste anything you like, but favor fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat meats. Stop eating before you're stuffed.

Hosts can help by serving low-fat and nutritious food and by providng some fresh fruit and vegetables as alternatives to the traditional Christmas cookies.