Some people don't only overeat during the holiday season.
"Unfortunately, we overeat throughout the entire year, not just the holidays," said Claudia Corchado, program manager for the Merced County Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program.
But, of course, it gets a little worse around Christmas.
"Overeating is part of the holiday," Corchado said.
The holidays, when candy and rich desserts always are within reach, can be a real test for people who are trying to lose weight.
Last year, Emily was faring well with a 12-step food addiction program until the holiday season. The 31-year-old Modesto woman said she fell back into her old habits of indulging.
"I was obsessed with food," said Emily, who gave only her first name to comply with rules of the program called Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. "Sugar was in my body, so I craved it. It took me four months to get back on track."
People who struggle with overeating say it begins with Halloween candy. Then the next two months are one progressive dinner with stops at a Thanksgiving feast, holiday parties in December and a New Year's Eve bash.
Linda, a Ripon woman in Emily's support group, pointed out that many holidays in American culture revolve around food. She got into the 12-step program because being overweight was ruining her health, she said.
"My thing was, I used to bake for everybody," she said. "That was my show of affection. I would bake the fudge, the cookies. Now, I can't do it. It is too hard for me to stay away from it."
Holiday feasting is a powerful urge, prompting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health to release tips for staying on track with healthy eating, often a concern for people with high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.
According to eating disorder experts, family conflicts, loneliness and economic stress during the holidays may lead to overeating in a search for emotional comfort.
Signe Darpinian, the co-owner of Meghan's Place Eating Disorder Center in Modesto, said the holidays give rise to emotional eating. Family gatherings easily can stir emotional conflicts, she said, "because these are the people we have the most history with and we are more reactive toward them."
She said the holidays provide access to what dieters regard as forbidden foods -- chocolate, pecan pie, cakes and frosted cookies.
Darpinian counsels her clients to stay in touch with the body's natural ability to know when to eat and when to stop, and to trust their bodies' cues about food choices. She teaches intuitive eating, which uses a scale from 1 to 10 to help clients measure their appetite.
For her clients, a "1" means they are famished, while a "10" is stuffed. Clients learn to trust their taste buds and eat until reaching a "6," a feeling of being satisfied but with room for more.
Darpinian believes it's a mistake for people with evening party plans not to eat that day, to limit calories with the idea that they are going to indulge at the party. "I don't want to arrive overly hungry because then I will overeat," she said.
Trust body's wisdom
It's better to arrive at around a "3," choose the food and treats desired, and enjoy the fare until reaching a "6," she said. Some experts assert that people who eat to ease emotional pain continue after the food no longer tastes good and their bodies feel lousy.
Darpinian tells her clients to trust the body's wisdom and not to berate themselves if they have gone too far.