Holiday Weight Gain: Beat the Odds (cont.)

Though it may seem as if the temptation to overeat is all wrapped up in those hand made cannoli or that German chocolate cake, just being around more scrumptious food isn't the whole story. One recent study indicates that, for most of us, the drive to overeat at any time of the year is governed more by emotion than environmental cues.

In research published in the journal Obesity, Heather Niemeier, PhD, and colleagues found that for many people, the seed of overeating is actually planted within their emotions. Further, they found that people whose overeating is triggered by emotions tend to have a harder time losing weight and maintaining weight loss.

"When it comes to successful weight loss, our research showed that our emotions and our thoughts seem to actually play a bigger role than environmental cues -- we eat in response to feelings -- and for many people, the holidays can drum up a whole treasure chest of feelings, both good and bad," says Niemeier, a researcher with Miriam Hospital's Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Rhode Island.

Whether it's longing for the memories of holidays past, having to face the lifelong struggles that come to the forefront at family functions, or just being alone this time of year, for many, this can also be a season of sadness.

"If we have somewhere in our history an emotional response that we responded to by eating, that's going to get triggered again -- that connection gets built and doesn't get broken, particularly since we keep reinforcing it over and over, over time," says Katherine Muller, PsyD, director of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Program Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

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.