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How to Beat the Holiday Weight Gain Odds

From 'food pushers' to parties that tempt your senses, here's how to overcome holiday diet temptations.

Food and Feelings: The Holiday Weight Gain Double Whammy continued...

And there is some research to show that the food itself may act as an emotional trigger, causing even more emotions to bubble to the surface during this time.

"Much like music can evoke memories, so can certain foods stir up memories, plus, the olfactory sense is a direct path to the brain," says Huberman. "So sometimes, even the smell of a certain holiday dish can evoke an emotional response that ultimately sends you back to the buffet table more times then you even realize -- and you don't even know why."

In this respect, experts say, taking a moment to think about what role holiday foods play in your memory bank might help you overcome the temptation to eat them.

"It's OK to have the emotion, to think about the memory, but just don't try to bring back the good times or cover up the bad times with the foods you associate with those feelings," says Muller.

Making a Plan to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Although understanding why you eat can offer some measure of control, experts say it's also important to head into each potential food fest with a plan for how you're going to handle the temptation. 

"If you think you can just go into the party and wing it, or worse still, believe you can simply avoid the buffet table, it's almost a sure thing you're going to lose control and eat everything in sight," says Huberman.

Instead, he says, you have to have a coping plan.

In research published recently in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, doctors found that dieters who tried to control their appetites using avoidance strategies were at greater risk for overeating than those who developed coping skills to control their overeating. 

Among the strategies that work best is positive self-talk, with the help of appetite "flash cards," says Judith Beck, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia and author of TheBeck Diet Solution.

"Part of the Beck Solution is to make a list of every good reason why you want to lose weight, and read it to yourself every morning -- and when you are tempted to eat something you hadn't planned, just read it again, so you're constantly reminding yourself why it's worth it to turn down food," she says.

She believes you have to rehearse your reasons for wanting to be thin, the same way you rehearse the speech you give your boss when asking for a raise or the pep talk you give yourself before any challenging situation.

"You have to condition yourself and change your mind-set about what food means to you," says Beck.

Muller says this method works well for those who are "thinkers" and do well with a script. For those who are more spur-of-the-moment, "see it and eat it" types, a technique called "mindful eating" may work best, she says.

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