Staying on track in the holiday season - unhealthy food twice as tempting

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COLUMBIA - The holiday season brings family dinners, potlucks and baked treats. The temptation is high to indulge in the many festive foods that are not always the best for your waistline. But it might not be your fault that higher-fat and sweeter options sound more appealing than more nutritious choices. 

A recent John Hopkins University study found unhealthy food is twice as appealing when compared to healthier options. Study participants were two times more distracted by photos of junk food such as cookies and cheese than healthy vegetables and fruits. 

The research also looked into satisfying these food cravings. A new set of study participants ate candy before looking at photos of food. This group was not as distracted by the unhealthy food pictures after indulging in a sweet treat.

The study shows the power of food but also proves it is easy to combat the temptation by simply addressing it. Researchers concluded a small snack may help lower food's temptation and people can keep in mind during the holiday season.

Clinical dietitian Jennifer Tveitnes said many people struggle during the holidays. She said moderation is key to stay on track.

"If we see something we have the tendency to want to eat it whether or not we are hungry. So I really encourage people to check in," Tveitnes said. "Am I hungry, do I really need this? And making sure the whole day is balanced."

Tveitnes said people should not completely avoid or cut unhealthy food from their diets because this can lead them to want the off-limit food even more. They instead should treat themselves every now and then. 

"It's about not saying any specific food is bad or I not saying I can't have X,Y,Z food but allowing yourself that," Tveitnes said.

Having a small snack before attending a holiday dinner party is also smart. Tveitnes said this helps people from overeating because they are so extremely hungry when they arrive. 

Tveitnes said the 80-20 rule is great to follow to stay on track. She recommends eating healthy about 80 percent of the time.