Forget crushing 150 wall balls in a row or destroying an Ironman. It’s being able to say no to mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, rich, soft cheese, and fresh-baked pies and cookies that’s the real test of a man’s fortitude.

Well, not this holiday. This time, we’ve got your back. We talked to some of the top experts in the food and fitness game, and have formulated a foolproof guide to get you in and out of those decadent holiday gatherings without packing on pounds.

1. Pre-game the system

Numero uno on the list to surviving holiday meals is arriving with a belly full of nutritious yet appetite-killing food.

“Eat before, if you can,” says Adam Kelinson, nutritional consultant and author of The Athlete's Plate. High-quality lean meats like skinless chicken and beef or pork loin are good choices. A 2010 University of Toronto study even suggests that downing a shake with 20–40g of whey protein and water before the party may help you feel full, potentially reducing the amount you eat.

“Also, include some healthy fats and complex carbs to keep hunger pangs down,” Kelinson adds. Top choices: avocados, lentils, and pistachios. The latter is particularly good—pistachios are almost 90% unsaturated fat, and are a source of filling fiber.

2. Trick your taste buds

Once you’re ready to eat, smart tactics will keep you in control.

For example: tasting, but not devouring, some of the tempting foods in front of you, suggests Heather Mangieri, R.D., C.S.S.D., a board-certified specialist in sports nutrition. “The first three bites of delicious food trigger feel-good chemicals in your brain worth experiencing, but after that, it’s over,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to cut a smaller piece or leave half of a precut appetizer—chances are someone else at the party will be happy you did.”

Other helpful tactics: When all the glorious desserts are revealed and you just can’t pass up a slice of Mom’s famous pumpkin pie, sidle up to your nearest health-conscious relative and suggest splitting a piece, says Jim White, R.D., of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “That 400-calorie hunk of dessert just became about 200 calories.” And once the party dies down and people are starting to get their coats, don’t be tempted to load up on leftovers. “Even if you overdid it at the party, don’t allow one night of celebrating to turn into a week by bringing tempting foods into your home,” Mangieri says.

3. Don’t fear failure

Of course, if you do slip up and take the second helping of the pie your mom forced on you, it’s OK to give yourself a pass.

“It’s all about balance,” Kelinson says. “Don’t worry about the small indulgences, just be sure to keep a solid training plan in place so the wheels don’t come completely off.” White agrees, suggesting you make a big-event meal your cheat meal for the week: “That way, you’ll plan it, so you’ll feel less guilty.” He also recommends doing your best to get at least some kind of workout in on those days, and to start back on your healthy-eating plan no later than the day after the event.

Another track to take for hacking holiday parties: Adjust your mental focus. “Change your mind about what matters at parties,” Mangieri says. “Take the focus off the food and put it on celebrating with friends and family. Just because they have a holiday cake, that doesn’t mean you have to eat it.”

Some information for this article was provided by Wonderful Pistachios.