Jim Karas: Mood and Food





Chicago’s premier personal trainer and lifestyle expert Jim Karas seemed just the person to turn to for holiday party tactics. The best-selling author and television star has put Emma Thompson, Hugh Jackman, and Diane Sawyer through their paces, and currently heads four Lincoln Park fitness and wellness centers, as well as a new Lake Forest location.


Jim Karas.

Here are his terrific tips.

What is your party philosophy for the holiday season?

Remember what Meryl Streep said in “The Devil Wears Prada”? “Tell the driver to pick me up from home at 8:00 and stay right there and pick me back up at 8:30 p.m.” I do that all the time and actually like to be the first to arrive, as I get to spend time with the hosts, which to me is the most important part.

Don’t stay out late when its Thursday night and you have an evening event Friday night. Let’s grow up, have fun, but not overdo it. 

What is the relationship between mood and food? 

This is a hot topic now. Most of the data revolves around the blood sugar response to food. It’s really quite simple: when we eat any food, ultimately it will be turned into glucose and will be released into your blood stream. Of course, food and beverages high in sugar and white carbohydrates are the worst.

On a more philosophic level, think about the word ‘mood.’ What does ‘being in a good mood’ really mean? I feel it means you are ‘filled up’—a feeling of fulfillment you derive from what you have accomplished, from the people around you, and, most importantly, looking forward to something in the future that will ‘fill you up.’

With the holidays upon us, what specific advice would you give about what to eat and drink when we are going to parties?

Don’t eat sparingly during the day to ‘save up’ calories for the party, as the research proves that you will eat substantially MORE (maybe 40 percent more calories—ouch!) if you embrace this strategy.  

I actually recommend exactly the opposite. Eat a substantial breakfast, such as two poached eggs, a piece of whole wheat toast and fruit, and lunch—maybe a large salad with protein and light dressing.  

You then tip your ‘satiety’ mechanisms, which gives you a greater feeling of fullness, so you don’t show up at the party starving.

What other party advice would you offer?

The beginning and end of a party are generally the most dangerous ‘caloric’ times, as the appetizers and desserts pack the greatest caloric punch. Move away from the buffet—the closer you are, the more you will eat.

And by all means, use words wisely: ‘Joyce, your Christmas cookies looked amazing.’ You don’t say ‘were’ amazing as if you ate them. Trust me, she won’t know the difference.

What about beverages?

No booze until you have eaten something, preferably not an hors d’oeuvre. Find some vegetables or shrimp cocktail (always great, as it’s tasty and full of protein) if you can, and dig in.

Be a two-fisted drinker, as in two glasses of water for every glass of wine or cocktail. Stay hydrated, drink less, and feel way better in the morning—that ‘not so great’ feeling when you have overindulged is mostly dehydration.

Plus, most party foods are packed with sodium, which causes even more dehydration. Grab a water bottle to polish off while you Uber over—and if you are going to drink, don’t drive.

There are many holiday cocktail parties but also lots of seated dinners. How can you avoid overeating? 

Two choices: honesty or a lie. Honesty: ‘Jane, I’m really on a roll with my eating and exercise, so please don’t take offense if I eat smaller portions.’ A lie might be: ‘Jane, my doctor identified some markers in my blood and has cautioned me about certain foods, so don’t take offense if I skip some items.’

Do you think most people gain weight over the holidays?

It’s actually less than people think, as the research says one to three pounds. But, and this is the problem, the majority of people don’t lose those pounds in the New Year.


Tackle that winter weight at any one of Jim’s stylish studio locations.

Are there certain trigger signals that people should watch out for in their mood, perhaps which the holidays might be causing?

Oh my! Family! Sorry, but it’s the truth. If your sibling bugs you, minimize the time you have to be with him or her. Mother-in-law comments about your weight: just be prepared for them—they’re going to come out. Just be ready. Oh, and please watch the alcohol. Drinking plus family equals a classic ‘Real Housewives’ brawl.

How does exercise affect the whole mood and food scenario?

Exercise is essential—no, it is not an option—but and this is important, the right amount of exercise. Three to five hours a week, for example, enhances mood. Overdoing it actually diminishes mood as it boosts your stress hormone, cortisol.

Don’t be jealous of your marathon-running friends—it’s a terrible activity for your mind, body, and mood. Marathons should be abolished, as 1 in 45,000 runners dies during or right after the race. 

Often January seems so bleak after all the December festivities. Do you have tips for life post-holidays? 

Lights! Music! Action! Light, either natural or manufactured, needs to be your BFF. Get up and immediately turn on bright lights or grab your coffee or tea and go outside if the sun is out. Before you grab that coat, put your favorite up-tempo music on—music totally lifts our spirits (it’s on in my home 24/7).  

Finally, move! I don’t care if it’s a few yoga poses, going up and down your stairs 10 times, or if you love to dance, by all means, just do it! Fill your brain with oxygen and make yourself happy!



Tell us about sleep and how that affects your mood as well.

I believe that sleep deprivation is Public Enemy Number One, as it comes with serious hormonal consequences. Most of my beliefs come from the University of Chicago’s research on what happens when you have sleep deprivation.

Leptin diminishes. Leptin is the ‘I’m feeling full’ hormone; when that hormone drops, you continue to eat more. Ghrelin increases. Ghrelin is the ‘feed me’ hormone. As that hormone surges, it instructs you to eat more. Cortisol increases. Cortisol is the ‘fight or flight’ stress hormone. As that hormone increases, you not only eat more, you store more body fat (and in the midsection—ouch!), lose muscle, bone, thyroid function, immunity, and cognitive reasoning. It raises blood pressure and messes with your blood sugar. 

How does this affect mood? You tell me how you feel when you are exhausted, overeating, and gaining weight. Probably not great. Then, you get stressed and depressed, and you are now on the ‘sleep deprivation highway’ to a not-so-happy place.

What’s your very best advice for any time of year?

I follow Tom Brady’s lead. I was told he gets up, takes a shower, and then looks in the mirror and says out loud: ‘Is today going to be a good day or a s%$t day?’ I do that, and boy, just saying: ‘I’m going to have a good day,’ even if it’s filled with stressors, is powerful.