June 15, 2012

Are You An Emotional Eater?

With summertime in full gear, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with kids, work, extra social engagements, and a million commitments. Make sure you don’t turn to food to sooth the stress. Turning to food for something other than physical nourishment only trades one problem for another. Curling up with a bag of cookies temporarily solves boredom, but at   cost. As long as you’re eating, the cookies provide a sense of comfort and reassurance; they soothe the inner ache or divert your thoughts from uncomfortable issues. In the long run, you pack on the pounds and you’re left feeling ashamed, guilty, and mad at yourself. A red flag that emotional eating has become a problem is when you notice it has become a pattern to turn to food when you are anxious, depressed, or frustrated. This is especially a problem when you start to gain weight.

Emotional eating seldom drives you to eat broccoli. Emotional eaters choose fatty, sugary foods, such as ice cream, cookies, chips, or doughnuts. You’re also likely to mend a mood with hamburgers, pizza, or chocolate than with chard or tofu. Powering down these high-fat and sugar items means that people who eat to stuff emotions are likely to end up overweight, while people who learn to handle their emotional eating lose weight.

In short, the kitchen shouldn’t be your psychiatrist couch or emotional-management center. If eating to soothe emotions is getting in the way of enjoying life or maintaining your weight, you must find a way to comfort yourself with something other than food or at least choose foods that nurture your health and mood, rather than stuff them.

What can you do?

  • Eat regular meals, rather than skipping meals and overeating later.
  • Stop yourself before a snack and check in with your emotions. In fact, several times a day, ask yourself how you are feeling. Are you mad, happy, sad, calm, angry, frustrated, excited, hungry, or what? Ask yourself what you need. Do you need a hug, a breath of fresh air, a good talk with a friend, or a snack? Many times your cravings are for something other than food. In those cases, do something to feel better, rather than unconsciously grabbing a bag of chips. For example, a brisk walk on a sunny day or a bike ride after work will do much more for relieving frustration than eating a stale doughnut in the employee’s lounge.
  • Remind yourself that food won’t make you feel any better. Believe it or not, that simple strategy actually works. People who were feeling down-in-the-dumps actually ate less when researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland told them that fatty snacks wouldn’t improve their moods.
  • Develop a list of five things you will do before you eat, such as call a friend and take a  20-minute walk. This helps diffuse the urge to eat.
  • Don’t deprive yourself. If you are craving a piece of cake and that is exactly what you want and need, then serve yourself a small piece and enjoy every bite. Just do it consciously, not emotionally.
  • Minimize the damage of emotional eating by substituting nutritious, or at least low-calorie, foods that will still leave you feeling satisfied. If you turn to sweet-and-creamy foods when you are down in the dumps, try sugar-free, fat-free pudding; if you go for the chips, keep baked chips on hand.
  • Stocking the kitchen with healthy comfort foods is another solution, and has an added payoff – your spouse, kids, and/or roommates will end up eating better, too!

Robyn Lee via Compfight
Ed Yourdon via Compfight

Just Do This Today

Build a Better BBQ: Can you have your barbecue and your health, too? Yes, by making a few simple switches. You can enjoy the party and know you are saving calories, reducing fat, and adding fiber by making a few substitutions.

For example . . .

  • have a grilled portobello mushroom burger instead of a ground beef patty.
  • choose a whole wheat bun instead of a white bun
  • skip the mayonnaise and choose fat-free mayo or mustard
  • hold the pickles or relish, and load the burger with fresh tomato slices and lettuce
  • skip the potato salad, and serve the burger with grilled veggies and/or a tossed salad

Hot Off the Diet Press

1. The Berry-Good Diet: Diets packed with flavonoid-rich foods lower a person’s risk for developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. The researchers looked at dietary intake of five major flavonoid food sources, including berries, tea, apples, orange juice, and red wine, in a group of almost 50,000 men enrolled in the Health Professional Follow-Up Study. During the subsequent 22 years, 438 men developed Parkinson’s. Those men who consumed the richest flavonoid diets had a 40% lower risk for developing the disease. Another study from Harvard found that frequent intake of berries helps maintain memory and brain function as women age.


2. Obesity Rates Expected to Soar: Researchers at Duke-National University and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that obesity levels will rise to 42% of all Americans, with 11% of the population being morbidly obese (that’s more than double the current 5%), by the year 2020. That means 32 million more people will have entered the obese ranks, costing the country a projected $550 billion in work and healthcare related issues.



Food & Mood Tip

Serotonin is a nerve chemical that is dependent on what you eat, while what you choose to eat, in part, is dictated by the level of serotonin. This nerve chemical is manufactured in the brain from a dietary amino acid called tryptophan, with the help of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. When serotonin levels are low, you crave carbohydrates, such as sweets or starches, which are the very foods that raise brain levels of both tryptophan and serotonin and turn off the cravings. In short, cravers unconsciously turn to desserts, doughnuts and other pastries, or pasta, cereals, and breads to relieve dwindling energy levels, grumpiness, and depression brought on by low serotonin levels. The snack works – it raises serotonin levels, curbs cravings, and boosts the craver’s mood. Once serotonin levels are high, your sweet tooth subsides.

The trick is to sooth serotonin levels without messing with blood sugar or your waistline. That means choosing a small, all-carb, healthy snack, such as 4 cups of air-popped popcorn, a half whole-grain English muffin with jam, or a few graham crackers.

Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week

Your brain is not destined to get fuzzy. Even if there is a history of dementia in your family, that has very little to do with you. Genetics is only part of the equation; 66% of how smart you are and will be in the future has to do with how you choose to take care of yourself yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The belief that brain cells can’t regenerate, that there is a finite number, which over time wither, dwindle, and die – leading to memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s – is outdated and just plain wrong.

Scientists now recognize that the brain is amazingly resilient and “plastic,” which means it has the ability to tweak its structure and function. Throughout life, the brain continues to form new cells (called neurons) and activate alternative pathways to compensate for aging or damaged parts. Memory loss is NOT a decree. The one in three people who battle even minor memory loss typically can blame that mental fog more on lifestyle and other health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes, than on genes. Even the 15% who suffer senile dementia might have slowed, stopped, or even reversed the disease with a change in diet and lifestyle.

The brain is only as good as what you feed it. Make stupid lifestyle choices, such as eating a high-saturated fat diet, sitting like a lump on the couch, smoking, or refusing to learn new things as you age, and you are asking for a dramatic decline in brain cell numbers and their connections, which means fewer cells to store memory and fewer connections between cells to retrieve them. That increases your chances for dementia and Alzheimer’s 16-fold.

Or, get smart and follow the SE xY Diet guidelines in my book, Eat Your Way to Sexy. Also, exercise daily and adopt a few memory-boosting habits, and you literally increase the size of your brain, the number of neurons, and the amount of connections between nerve cells. That equates to an astonishing improvement in mind, memory, and mood both today and down the road, which gives you more years of feeling sexy and ready for action!

Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

Mixed Berry Trifle (from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

With the abundant berries this time of year and the wealth of research showing berries boost memory, it’s a “no brainer” that this trifle is a great dessert for any summer party! Make the pudding and cake ahead of time, assemble in the evening, and let this dessert blend its flavors overnight or through the day and you have a delicious dessert for company or family with no last-minute preparation. If you want to splurge, use real whipped cream instead of the dessert topping (this adds 24 more calories and two grams of saturated fat per serving). Bake the leftover cake mix and freeze to use for strawberry shortcake at a later date. An extra bonus, this desserts supplies a third of your day’s need for vitamin C and 25 percent of your daily requirement for calcium and vitamin B2.

cooking spray
1 box commercial white or yellow cake mix (French Vanilla works especially well)
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup liquid egg substitute
2/3 cups water
1 4.6-ounce box vanilla pudding
2 cups fat-free evaporated milk
1 cup nonfat milk
2 16-ounce bags frozen mixed berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries), thawed
1 50-ml bottle Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1 /2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated
1 cup fat-free whipped topping
1 tablespoon sliced almonds

Spray a bread pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1) Place cake mix, oil, egg substitute, and water in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes (or stir by hand for 3 minutes). Don’t overbeat. Pour enough batter into bread pan that it fills pan half way up the sides. (You will have about 1/3 of batter left over, which you can bake in a separate pan for later use.) Bake for 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool completely. Cut 7 slices of cake, each 2/3 inch thick (discard the remaining 1/4 of cake).

2) Make pudding according to directions on box, except use evaporated milk and nonfat milk. Pour into bowl, cover with plastic wrap so that top does not form a skin, and refrigerate until completely cool.

3) Place berries in a colander and drain some of the excess juice. Place berries in a large bowl and mix with Grand Marnier, sugar, and lemon juice. Set aside.

4) Assemble the trifle in a 2 1 /2 quart glass serving bowl. Arrange half the cake pieces snugly in the bottom of the bowl (break them into pieces if needed). Spoon half the berries with their juices over the cake slices. Spoon half the pudding over the berries and spread evenly to coat top. Repeat ending with pudding. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to one day.

5) Just before serving, top trifle with dollops of dessert topping and sprinkle with almonds. Makes 12 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 330 Calories; 22 percent fat (8 grams); 1 gram saturated fat; 10 percent protein; 66 percent carbohydrate; 3.3 grams fiber.

Answers to “Do You Know?” from Last Issue:

1. Can you guess the calories, fat, and sodium in a Fajita Burrito at Chipotle Mexican Grill?
Mexican food comes in two categories: Heavy and really heavy. Most dishes are fried and/or packed with cheese, lard-laden beans, sour cream, guacamole, fatty cuts of meat, etc and are a sure-fired way to get your entire day’s allotment of saturated fat and calories in one dish. The Chipotle Mexican Grill Fajita Burrito is a case in point. It has 870 calories, 18 grams saturated fat, and 2,110mg sodium.

What to do? Split the burrito with your partner and order extra Fajita vegetables (20 calories/serving), a side of black beans (120 calories), and lots of salsa. Total: 575 calories.

When ordering at any Mexican restaurant, use these survival skills:

1) If you have a burrito, stick w/ chicken, black beans, and salsa. Toss the flour tortilla and ask for a “burrito bowl” instead.

2) Choose corn tortillas instead of soft flour tacos to save up to 200mg of sodium and about 30 calories/shell. Limit serving to 2 and bag the rest for tomorrow’s lunch.

3) Skip the sour cream and you save 7 grams of saturated fat. Cut out the cheese and you save an additional 5 grams or more.

4) Never assume anything is healthy on the menu! For example, the Vegetarian Burrito at Chipotle Mexican Grill packs 930 calories, 18 grams of saturated fat (4.5 tsp), and 1,860mg of sodium (the upper limit for sodium/day is 2,400mg, so this is 78% of your entire day’s upper limit).

2. Can you guess the calories, fat, and sodium of a plate of Pasta Alfredo at Olive Garden?
Americans have a serious love affair with pasta. But unlike true Italian cuisine, where the pasta is served in small portions with a light sauce, in American we serve pasta on platters, not plates and it comes swimming in cream, butter, cheese, and calories. A serving of Spaghetti Bolognese with Meatballs can have up to a full-day’s worth of calories and 4,000mg of sodium (that’s almost twice your upper limit!). Olive Garden’s Pasta Alfredo is the epitome of grease and decadence. The white sauce is cream, butter, and cheese, which equates to up to 50 grams of saturated fat (that’s more than 12 teaspoons or 4 tablespoons of artery-clogging grease). Calories clock in at 1,220.

What to do? There isn’t much you can do to turn this disaster into a healthy meal. Cut your portion in half and take the other half home. Ask the waiter for a side order of steamed vegetables and have the salad with no dressing or dressing on the side. Then promise to workout twice as hard at the gym tomorrow!

When ordering at any Italian restaurant in the U.S., use these survival skills:

1. Remove the bread sticks, olives, olive oil dipping sauce.

2. Skip dessert, unless you only have this for a meal. A serving of tiramisu has more than 400 calories. Eat a dessert like this every day and you’ll gain 43 pounds in a year!

3. Skip the fancy Italian drinks, such as frozen cappuccinos or cream or Italian sodas, since they add another 200 to 320 calories to the meal. Drink sparkling water with lemon instead.

Do You Know?

1. Which fruit and/or vegetable is the best source of lycopene?

2. Do you know what is America’s favorite fruit, and why it’s so good for you?

Check next week for the answers….

Label Lingo

When shopping for packaged foods, look for key packaging clues, such as the word “healthy” in the title of a food, such as Healthy Request or Healthy Choice items, including soups and frozen entrees. The word “healthy” used in the title requires the food meet certain nutritional standards. Also look for foods that have the American Heart Association’s heart-check mark. To quality for this word or mark, a food must be low in fat and saturated fat, contain lower amounts of cholesterol and sodium than in similar brands without the check mark, and also must provide at least 10% of one or more vitamins, minerals, or fiber.

The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the evening dessert/snack if you want to cut an additional 330 calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 cup regular oatmeal cooked in 1 cup 1% low-fat milk and topped with 2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ, 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, and 1 tablespoons brown sugar
6 ounces orange juice

Tuna Sandwich: 3 ounces water-packed tuna drained and mixed with 2 teaspoons minced celery, 1 teaspoon chopped green onions, and 2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise. Layer tuna mixture, 3 slices tomato, and lettuce on two slices whole wheat bread.

Spinach salad: 2 cups baby spinach, red onion slices, 1 /2 cup orange slices and 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing

Water with a lemon slice

4 lemon-essence pitted dried plums each stuffed with one almond
6-ounce custard-style lemon yogurt

Citrus Chicken: Blend 1 /2 teaspoon olive oil, dash of lemon juice and lime juice, 2 teaspoon orange juice, and 1 teaspoon crushed rosemary. Rub mixture on two 4-ounce chicken breasts and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 25 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. (Save one breast for later in the week)

½ cup cooked instant brown rice
1 cup steamed broccoli

1 serving Mixed Berry Trifle (Recipe above.)

Nutrition Score: 1,950 calories,21% fat (45 g; 11 g saturated), 57% carbs (278 g), 22% protein (107 g), 1,192 mg calcium, 33 g fiber.