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Conflict with your weight?

Supermarket Guru® and “Today” food trends editor, Phil Lempert talks about what you can do to win the battle of the bulge.
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The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) released a survey stating that more than a third of US consumers — 34 percent — say that they gained weight during the first three months of 2003. Supermarket Guru® and “Today” food trends editor, Phil Lempert talks about what you can do to win the battle of the bulge.

THE WAR IN Iraq has had a direct effect on Americans waistlines as reports are showing that we are eating up to 20% more calories per day since the war started. Two basic reasons for this sudden change in our eating habits:

Eating food is comforting and can reduce stress

We watch more TV during crisis — (for example Today viewer ship went up 5% since the war began and combined network evening news programs is up 4%)

The NMI suggests that consumers were turning to fattening comfort foods as global and economic situations become more severe.

It’s not a new phenomenon. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, in the 2 months following the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington D.C., 20% of Americans found themselves eating more “comfort foods” to help relieve anxiety and stress.

Harvard School of Public Health released a report on April 9, 2003 that was based on a study of 50,277 women that found that those who watch the most TV are also the most likely to become obese and to develop diabetes. The report found that the risk of obesity rose 23 percent and the risk of diabetes 14 percent for each two hours of average daily TV watching. The average American watches 4 to 5 hours of TV each day.

In our consumer poll on we found that over half of all respondents said that they had in fact gained weight since the war began — on average 6.5 lbs! And while close to 90% of us said we want to lose that weight, one-third said they probably never would.


We are eating more comfort foods — those “feel-good” and hearty foods that are nurturing and have a tendency to remind us of those foods we grew up with as children. Usually they are the moist, soft, rich, creamy, mashed and warm foods that are loaded with fat: ice cream, mac and cheese, beef stew, chicken soup, chili, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, spaghetti, chocolate chip cookies and rice puddings.

And more snack foods it’s only natural that we eat more hand-held foods that are easy to serve and eat as we are glued to the TV. Sales of chips and other snacks are up — high fat, high sodium and high calories.

This may well be the fattest summer on the beach ever!


Foods can make us feel good. Why do we get chocolate cravings and feel a certain “high” after we’ve had our fix? Why do we feel more relaxed and sleepy after big meals?

Both research and experience are proving there is a connection between what eat and how we feel. The biochemical basis of this food-mood relationship lies in neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers which relay thoughts and actions along the trillions of neural pathways in the brain.

Since food affects neurotransmitter action and changes in neurotransmitters are responsible for changes in moods, it would make sense that food affects moods. This theory is complicated by the fact that foods are most often made up of more than one nutrient. How those different nutrients interact will also affect the production and release of neurotransmitters. Despite the complexity of these interactions, certain established facts demonstrate how mood is affected by food.



Eat carbohydrates

Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin into the blood stream. Insulin clears out all of the amino acids from the blood except tryptophan. With other aminos out of the way, tryptophan will flood the brain where it becomes converted to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter thought to reduce pain, decrease appetite, produce a sense of calm and relaxation and induce sleepiness. If you eat a meal high in carbohydrates, prepare to be sleepy. For stress-relief, try eating more whole-grain breads and crackers, whole-grain pasta, rice, cereal and fruit as healthy high-carbohydrate foods. All the carbohydrate foods, however will not make us feel good. An apple is also sweet but it does not help to evaporate a bad day from your memory like a bag of chips. Fruits contain fructose that doesn’t trigger the Serotonin boost. The same goes for vegetables. Though they contain carbohydrates, the carbohydrates are not concentrated enough to put us in a happy mood. Think low protein-low fat carbohydrate snacks: crackers with jam, baked potatoes with salsa.

Do you want a happy meal?

Endorphins are believed to be “feel good” neurotransmitters. Endorphin levels appear to be affected by dietary fat. Eating fat-containing foods, like chocolate, trigger the release of endorphins and lift a person’s mood. Other happy foods such as milk, chicken, bananas and leafy green vegetables may produce pleasant feelings because they stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. But that doesn’t mean you can eat all you want! reduce the portion size to make sure you don’t get “fat & happy”

Some people feel sad after a high fat or sugar meal

Folic acid deficiency has also been linked to depression in clinical studies. Folic acid deficiency causes serotonin levels in the brain to decrease. To easily combat the onset of depression caused by folic acid deficiency, have a glass of orange juice. A lack of selenium can cause bad moods as well. Individuals suffering from too little selenium have been shown to be more anxious, irritable, hostile and depressed than people with normal levels of selenium. Good sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds and whole-grain cereals.


Proteins can perk us up

Protein foods provide another amino acid called Tyrosine that allows the manufacture of Dopamine and Norepinephrine. These sharpen up our reflex action and increase mental alertness. So, if you want to be alert to the latest updates in the War, have a broiled chicken breast! But as far as reducing anxiety or making us relax, it’s probably the wrong foods to eat as we sit on that couch.


Aromatherapy, the practice of using essential oils taken from plants or other odors to modify the state of mind, is one of the best ways to relax when watching TV and can help curb your appetite.


Relieves nervous exhaustion and melancholy.


Relieves stress, worry, crying, guilt, hostility, panic.


Relieves confusion, loneliness, and anxiety.


Balances, refreshes, uplifts; relieves distrust, apathy.


Cheers, uplifts, purifies.


Brightens mood, calms and reduces stress, relieves apathy and worry.


Energizes, brightens mood; relieves shock, apathy, helplessness.


Soothes and calms nerves, relaxes; heals inner child issues, emotional trauma.


Relieves stress and anxiety, calms.


Watching TV can actually burn calories - at the rate of 2.5 calories per minute for the average adult. So if you have one chocolate chip cookie it would take twenty minutes of TV watching to burn off just one small 50 calorie chocolate chip cookie. 60 minutes to burn off that 1-ounce bag of chips.


Take a break and do some sit-ups or jump roping or marching in place in front of the TV will burn about 10 calories a minute. If you drag out that old stationery bike and watch TV while you are peddling at 20 mph you could burn off 420 calories in just 30 minutes!

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru®, analyzes the food marketing industry to keep consumers up-to-date about cutting-edge marketing trends. He is a regular “Today” show contributor, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and host of Shopping Smart of the WOR Radio Network. For more food and health information, you can check out Phil’s Web site at: