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Experts predict holidays will bring 'stress eating'

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By Megan K. Scott
Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Beth Dunn is taking a scale break. Judi Moreo is shelving her Jenny Craig meals. And Thea Lobell is relaxing her fried food rule -- at least for the time being.
"I'm making fun choices, and I'm enjoying it," said Lobell, 39, a professional speaker in Baton Rouge, La. She wants to lose 60 pounds.
"I'll be ready to buckle down when it's time to buckle down," she added.
Holidays are often associated with parties, goodies and the inevitable weight gain. Studies show Americans gain about a pound during the winter holiday season, and for many of them, the pound never comes off.
But with many Americans stressing about their personal finances and the down economy, researchers predict more holiday bingeing than usual this year. And, they warn, that's going to catch up with them in the new year, even if they do try to get back on a healthy plan.
The holidays are a prime time for "stress eating," said Madelyn Fernstrom, founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Weight Management Center. Worries over family and presents and the greater availability of food make stress eaters vulnerable.
"And sweets and fats are what people always grab when they are stressed," says researcher Adam Drewnowski, director of the University of Washington Center for Obesity Research in Seattle.
Andrea Gulley-Robinson, of Rio Rancho, N.M., said she has been reaching for the chocolate and sour cream and onion potato chips because of economic stress.
The 41-year-old resort sales manager is not making her quota at work, and her income has taken a hit because her husband is a car salesman and works on commission.
Gulley-Robinson, who is maintaining an 85-pound weight loss from a diet supplement, said she tries to work out harder to balance out the extra vending machines trips. But it's not easy.
For some people, stringent eating plans don't work during the holidays.
Dunn, 37, of Mays Landing, N.J., author of the novel, "Social Climbers," sometimes attends four or five parties a week. She normally adheres to a strict vegetarian, low-carb diet but allows herself to eat what she wants, no seconds and no dessert, during the holidays. She also takes a break from exercising -- and the scale until the new year.
"This is the only time I'm like this," Dunn said.
While dieting breaks during the holidays are only natural, Fernstrom cautions against the "Thanksgiving to Jan. 1, I might as well forget it" idea. Someone in a caloric no man's land for six weeks will have a hard time getting back on track, she said.
"The new thinking is you have to pay attention," she said. "Otherwise, you will do tons of mindless eating. You will lose control and gain several pounds."
She recommends dieters work to maintain weight loss as opposed to losing during the holidays and then pick up the pace in January with a little more structure.
That's what many dieters say they are trying to do.
Story tags » Medical researchCooking

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