Ladies: Your Upper Arms Are NOT A Lost Cause

Bat wings. Bingo wings. Hello Helens. Hey Nancies. Squish. Flappy arm fat. These are just a few of the not-so-nice names women call their upper arms (on Reddit, anyway).

First thing’s first, ladies: Stop it with the negative self-talk! We won’t have any of that bat wings nonsense here.

Secondly, you can do something about it, if you’re so inclined.

“Many women suffer from these so-called ‘bat wings’, or upper arm flab, because in addition to factors like genetics, hormone levels, stress, and age, they don’t strength train their arms—specifically their triceps—with the load, volume, and frequency necessary to ‘fill’ the skin underneath,” explains personal trainer and fitness writer K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S.

So, while there are some factors at play that are indeed out of your control, your upper arms can still live their best lives! Here’s what you can do to tone them up.

Reinvent Your Upper Arms

To start with: Manage stress to ward off any cortisol-related weight gain that could be contributing to soft upper arms, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. From meditating to cutting back on caffeine to prioritizing sleep, to nixing sugar, there are a number of natural ways to zap stress.

Next, if you suspect some sort of hormone-related sabotage—whether you’re in perimenopause or menopause, or dealing with unexplainable weight gain, menstrual cycle changes, mood swings, or hot flashes—make an appointment with your gyno or an endocrinologist. Estrogen imbalances can be a big culprit of excess arm fat.

And then it’s time to strength train. Luckily, building muscle and losing fat go hand-in-hand. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, which means that it requires a lot of energy to maintain, explains Wickham. So the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns through, and the easier it is for you to lose body fat.

Related: Shop supplements to support fat burning.

To get the most muscle-building, fat-burning bang for your buck, you want to build muscle all over your body by strength training regularly—but training specific muscles (like those in your arms) can help reveal the defined bod you’re after as your body fat decreases. “Many women are worried about training their arms because they don’t want them to get ‘big’ or ‘bulky,’ but they want their arms to look more toned,” says Fetters.  “But what they forget that ‘toned’ is just code for more muscle and less fat.” And, fun fact: Muscle is about 18 percent denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space pound for pound—which means swapping fat for muscle definitely won’t turn you into The Hulk.

Because the tricep is the largest muscle in your arm—and covers most of the surface area you want to tighten up—you don’t want to skimp on training it, says Marie Spano M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D. Incorporate the following moves into your strength-training routine to help those upper arms shape up.

8 Triceps Exercises That Will Change Your Upper Arms

To really show your triceps some extra love, perform a mini triceps-focused circuit two or three times a week, in addition to your usual routine. “You need to train the triceps at least twice per week to really make a dramatic impact on how your arms look,” says Fetters. “One workout a week isn’t going to cut it.”

So, on two or three non-consecutive days, pick three (different) exercises from the list below. You’ll perform eight to 12 reps of each move using a challenging weight, rest for 30 to 90 seconds, then move on to the next move. Once you’ve completed all three moves, rest for two full minutes and repeat two or three more times. “You should feel like you have maybe one more rep left in the tank at the end of your last set,” Fetters says.

Triangle Pushups

Start on all fours and position your hands directly under your chest with your fingers spread and your thumbs and forefingers touching, to form a triangle shape. Either perform the pushups with your knees on the ground or straighten your legs into a full plank position. Keep your back flat and your abs engaged as you bend at the elbows to lower your chest down towards the floor. (Your elbows will naturally flare out to the sides.) Keep your core braced and push back up to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Triangle pushups are one of the most effective triceps exercises in the book. A study out of the University of Wisconsin even backs it up! The move lights up all three heads of the triceps and requires just your body weight.

The study found that triangle push-ups  (along with tricep dips and tricep kick backs) resulted in the greatest muscle activity.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Kickbacks

Hold a light dumbbell in one hand and place your other hand on a stable surface, like a flat bench. Lean forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and stagger your feet (with the foot on the side of the dumbbell in the back). Row the dumbbell so that your upper arm is tight along the side of your torso. Without moving your upper arm, extend your forearm up and back behind you, squeezing your triceps as you go. Lower your forearm back down so you have about a 90-degree angle at the elbow. That’s one rep.

Why they work:  Like triangle pushups, dumbbell kickbacks target all three heads of the triceps—which is likely why that University of Wisconsin study found them to be the second most effective triceps move. Don’t worry about going heavy with these; instead, use an easily manageable weight so you can really squeeze at the top of each rep, suggests Fetters.

Tricep Dips

Sit sideways on a bench or box with your hands planted just outside your hips. Plant your feet on the floor out in front of you, either bending at the knee or straightening your legs completely. Push through your hands to lift your butt up off the bench. Keeping your hips very close to the bench and your core tight, bend at your elbows and lower down until your elbows form 90-degree angles and point straight back behind you. Press through the bench to push back up until your arms are straight. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Dips ranked as the third most effective exercise for your tris in the study. Just make sure to keep your hips as close to the bench as possible to emphasize your triceps and avoid straining your shoulders. Because shoulder injuries are so common and so many people perform tricep dips incorrectly, Fetters recommends trying them out under trainer supervision.

Cable Tricep Push-Downs

Attach a straight or angled bar handle to a cable pulley machine so that the bar is at shoulder-height. Grab the bar with palms facing down. Stand up straight with your core engaged and brace your upper arms close to the sides of your body. Without moving your upper arms, squeeze your triceps and extend your forearms down until the bar touches the front of your thighs and your arms are straight. Hold this contracted position for one second and slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Why they work: “Cable moves force you to move the muscle at a different angle or direction than you would with a dumbbell or EZ bar, which the movement emphasizes different parts of the muscle fiber,” Fetters says.

Dumbbell Skull-Crushers

Grab a set of light dumbbells, and lie on a bench on your back with your knees bent. Raise the dumbbells up and extend your arms so they reach straight up above your chest. (Don’t lock your elbows.) Keeping your upper arms still and tight to the sides of your head, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the dumbbells down toward you forehead until they form 90-degree angles. Squeeze your triceps to extend the dumbbells back up until your arms are straight up in the air again. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Skull-crushers are fun because there’s a number of ways to perform them. You can use almost any kind of weight (dumbbells, barbell, EZ-bar, or cables), and adjust how you angle the bench. The more inclined the bench is, the closer the upper arms are to an overhead position, and more of the work falls on the triceps’ long heads. Perform skull-crushers on a decline bench, though, and you’ll emphasize the lateral triceps head more than the long one, says Wickham. To get your core as involved as possible, perform skull-crushers with dumbbells, which are less stable, says Fetters.

Lying Triceps Extensions

Lie on your back on a flat bench so your head is a few inches from the end and your feet are planted on the ground. Hold an EZ bar with a narrow grip and push it up overhead so your arms point straight up in the air above your chest. Keeping your upper arms still and tight to the sides of your head, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the bar past your forehead down toward the bend above your head. Once you’ve lowered the bar as far as you can, powerfully extend through your elbows to explode the bar back up to the starting position. Squeeze your triceps! That’s one rep.

Why they work: Skull-crushers are a partial-rep movement because they stop at your forehead, while lying tricep extensions work a fuller range of motion and engage your triceps more fully.

Seated Or Standing Overhead Dumbbell Extensions

Grab one dumbbell with both hands. Either stand up straight with your core engaged or sit on a backed bench with your feet planted on the ground. Fully extend your arms up overhead with your elbows turned in close to the sides of your head. (Your palms should be facing the ceiling.) Keeping your back straight, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head until you have at least 90-degree angles at your elbows. Squeeze your triceps to push the dumbbell back up and extend your arms to the starting position. When you reach the starting position, turn your elbows out and squeeze. That’s one rep.

Why they work: Perform this move standing and you’ll activate your core more, but perform it sitting down and you’ll have a greater range of motion (because you don’t have to worry about balance). This move really hits the long head of the triceps, which hooks into the shoulder. Since this head is the largest of the triceps, giving it some extra TLC can really boost your upper-arm aesthetics, says Fetters.

Close-Grip Bench Presses

Lie on your back on a flat bench press so your forehead is directly under the racked barbell. Grab the bar with a close grip (about shoulders-width apart), lift the bar from the rack, and hold it straight up overhead. Brace your core and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, slowly lower the bar down until it just touches your middle chest. Pause for a second or two and squeeze your triceps to push the bar back up and extend your arms. That’s one rep.

Why they work: If you have bench press and barbell experience, the close-grip bench press is a great way to focus on and emphasize triceps engagement, explains Wickham. To really crush your triceps, focus on the eccentric (or lowering) phase of the movement. “Lower the bar for a count of five seconds and explode it upward,” he suggests. Just make sure you use a weight you can lift properly for at least six reps, so you don’t put too much strain on your elbows, Fetters adds.

Making One Small Change At A Time Helped Me Lose 30 Pounds

When I got pregnant—a surprise to me—at 33, I was at a weight I had never known before: 260 pounds! It didn’t go away after I had the baby, and I ended up wearing my maternity clothes more than a year after giving birth. I had to buy yoga pants in a size 18, the largest I had ever worn. On top of that, my blood pressure problem (I had been on and off medication for about a year or so before getting pregnant) was back with a vengeance.

I was overweight, exhausted from being overweight, and even more exhausted from the newborn night feedings. My world was also dominated by a case of postpartum depression that seemed to have a choke-hold on me until about nine months after giving birth.

At a doctor’s appointment about a year after giving birth, I was a mess—and in need of serious help. I was overwhelmed by how much weight I needed to lose, the pressure of actually doing something to lose it, and the adjustment to a having new baby. I felt like I was failing at being a mother. Something had to change.

Related: Shop weight-management products for your health goal needs.

My doctor’s sage advice: “When you need to make such a big change in your lifestyle, sometimes the easiest way to do it is to make several small changes at a time.” So we talked about goals and listed them out. We decided that once I mastered one of them, I would only then add the next action to the mix.

My goals included:

  • Get more than 30 minutes of general activity each day, with three days of exercise per week.
  • Cut out soda and drink more water.
  • Cut down on carbs. My doctor gave me a list of foods to shoot for that was designed by the American Heart Association: fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts, and healthy oils.

The ultimate goal? Making these lifestyle adjustments actually sustainable so that I’d continue eating healthy and working out forever, not just to reduce my blood pressure or weight temporarily. I didn’t want to feel depressed and I didn’t want to wallow—which only made me eat and not move.

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First things first: exercise. I got off the couch and to get some fresh air every single day. It was early summer, so I started off with short walks (with my baby) around the neighborhood every evening—I even went for a walk the moment I got back from the doctor’s appointment. (I didn’t give myself time to sit back on my comfy couch, where I KNEW I’d not get up from.) This was the best decision I could have made, because it symbolized my desire to quit being sedentary.

After a week or so, I got on a bike and put the baby in the bike trailer next to me—I did this until the weather got too cold for us to ride. But getting on the bike with the baby was more than just exercise—it was a bonding experience. He loved sitting strapped into the little carriage, watching the world go by. My older kids would get on their bikes and ride beside him to keep watch, too. I ended each ride feeling accomplished and refreshed, and the rush from my rides actually energized me and encouraged me to jump back on again.

After about two weeks, I felt comfortable enough to add another change to my list. This time, I would replace my daily soda intake—which was about 12 cans every single day. A whole pack. As a replacement, I would go with water, coffee, and green tea. I started the day with coffee, sipped on tea with meals, and drank water in between to stave off thirst. It took two weeks to whittle my soda intake down to one can per day.

By the end of summer, about a month later, I ended up going several days without soda, and I’d increased my water intake to 16 glasses a day. All the while, I maintained my evening biking routine at least three-five times per week.

My next change came about six weeks later. I was a certified carb junkie who never knew a cake she didn’t like. Chips, bread, pancakes for breakfast, cookies—you name it. It was my vice. To make my change, I would start my day with a good carb—oatmeal with nuts and dates—and I’d replace my snacks (like cookies) with nuts like almonds and pistachios. And tons of water.

I used whole grain breads when I went for a sandwich, and I even made whole grain pancakes. I started watching cooking videos on The Food Network for ideas, as well.

On my next grocery trip and every one thereafter, I just wouldn’t buy anything that would tempt me. This made things easier when my resistance was down at home and cravings kicked in. There was no soda, cake, chips, candy, or anything else at home. I had to fill my cravings with what I had on hand—only items that were good for me, and nothing more.

Eventually, I felt lighter. I could breathe easier when I moved, and when I moved, it no longer felt like I was dragging a thousand pounds of sand everywhere I went. When the physical weight was gone, the mental “weight” left, too. I felt good about myself. Like I was stepping out of a dark alley into the sunlight.

In about 12 weeks’ time, I went from couch to active mom with a few gradual, small changes. Each time I became used to something, it was easier to change something else. I began biking even further, and manipulating portions sizes so that my plates were a lot smaller than the hubcap-sizes I ate from before. The content of those plates also became more well-balanced, with a focus on a healthy protein, a good carb, and a sizeable vegetable ratio. By fall, I had lost 30 pounds.

Related: Big Girl On A Bike: How I Rode My Way To Weight Loss And Confidence

It’s not easy to simply begin a whole new diet and exercise routine. I believe that starting with one small adjustment—and sticking to it for a while—is key. Get yourself acquainted to and make sure you are comfortable with it. Then, add another. Soon, you could be active and healthy—and it will all feel natural.

Your Guide To Cooking With Healthy Oils

Olive, peanut, canola, coconut… There are so many cooking oils out there, it can be hard to figure out which to use—especially if you’re trying to eat healthy.

To spare you from Googling “olive oil or canola oil?” during your next trip to the supermarket, we asked a few dietitians to weigh in on the best and worst oils for your health—along with how to properly use them. The right oil can not only do your body good, but it can also take that garden salad or stir-fry to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Before we get to the good stuff, take note of the not-so-friendly oils out there…

The Bad

First things first: Steer clear of any oils identified as ‘partially-hydrogenated.’ (Note: these are commonly vegetable oils.) These fats, which are chemically altered to have longer shelf lives, are sources of the infamous trans fat. You’ve probably heard that trans fats are no good, and that’s because these artificial fats have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke, says bestselling author Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D. They’re so bad that the FDA is rolling out regulations to have them completely removed from foods by 2018—but for now, look out! Most foods remove trans fats even margarine. By 2018 FDA has ruled all trans fats banned from foods.

The Iffy

Other oils you need to be careful not to overdo it with: those high in saturated fats, such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oil. “Coconut oil is made up of about 90 percent saturated fat, palm kernel oil about 85 percent, and palm oil about 50 percent,” says Zuckerbrot. While saturated fats play a number of roles in the body, eating them in excess can raise LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels, which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke, she explains.

Related: Finally, The Truth About Coconut Oil

For that reason, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 10 percent or less of our daily calories come from saturated fat. So if you eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s a max of 200 calories (or about 22 grams) of saturated fat per day—about two tablespoons-worth of coconut oil.

You can certainly benefit from eating saturated fat in moderation. Coconut oil, in particular, offers two beneficial components: lauric acid and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which may help to raise HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and boost our metabolisms, respectively. Just don’t consider it your ‘staple’ oil.

The Good

Most experts recommend opting for unsaturated fats—which support heart health and reduce inflammation—over saturated fats whenever possible. There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

“Monounsaturated fats have been linked to reducing LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels,” says Zuckerbrot. Plant-based oils high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil. Avocado oil is also high in monounsaturated fats—and it’s becoming more and more popular. The oil made from our favorite green fruit also offer vitamin E, which helps keep skin healthy, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet.

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Polyunsaturated fats also offer health benefits—with two particular fatty acids in the spotlight: omega-3s and omega-6s. “These two essential polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in plant oils and play a crucial role in brain function and normal growth and development,” says Zuckerbrot.

Related: All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseed, walnut, and cod liver oil, while omega-6 fatty acids can be found in soybean, safflower, sunflower, and grapeseed oil. “We need a balance of both types of essential fatty acids,” says Zuckerbrot. Here’s the thing, though: The average American gets plenty of omega-6s and not enough omega-3s, which are especially important for cognitive function, a healthy heart, and reducing inflammation, Zuckerbrot says. So if you don’t eat fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, or chia seeds regularly, try to pick omega-3-containing oils whenever possible.

How To Cook With Healthy Oils

So which healthy oil do you use when? First and foremost, the method of cooking that you’re using will help you pick.

If you’re pan-frying, for example, you need an oil with a higher smoke point (above 375 degrees), says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T. (Once an oil starts to smoke, it becomes ineffective, wrecks the flavor of your dish, produces harmful fumes and free radicals and may even set off your smoke detectors…) If you’re just sautéing something though, Shaw recommends a mild-flavored oil with a lower smoke point. For baking? A neutral-flavored oil. Dressings or drizzles? Something with a stronger flavor.

For Frying: When you need to crank up the heat, certain oils will work better than others. Some of your best options: avocado oil (smoke point of 520 degrees), safflower oil (smoke point of 450 degrees), and canola oil (smoke point of 400 degrees).

These oils all have a mild flavor, so they won’t take the spotlight away from your other ingredients. Moon likes using avocado oil to sear chicken breast or salmon, and make avocado or veggie tempura fries.

Related: Stock your pantry with a variety of healthy oils for all your cooking and baking needs.

Sesame and peanut oil also have high smoke points (410 degrees and 450 degrees, respectively), so they’re safe for high-heat cooking—but they’ll also add an extra layer of flavor. Zuckerbrot likes using them in Asian-inspired dishes.

For Sautéing Or Roasting: Zuckerbrot also likes canola oil for sautéing or roasting because its neutral flavor lets the flavor of your food shine through. Similarly, mild-flavored avocado oil also works well for sautéing veggies or making eggs, says Moon.

Stir-frying veggies? Sesame oil can add robust Asian-inspired flavor and take the meal to the next level, says Zuckerbrot.

Olive oil is another popular choice for the sauté pan or roasting sheet—just keep in mind that extra-virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point of 320 degrees. But despite its low smoke point, EVOO offers more brain, heart, and skin benefits than more refined olive oils, so it’s still worth picking, Zuckerbrot says.

For Baking: Coconut oil, walnut oil, and canola oil are all great options for baked goods. Coconut oil’s nutty flavor works particularly well in cakes and frostings, says Shaw. Since it has a bolder flavor though, consider using walnut or canola oil in milder recipes. Zuckerbrot likes using walnut oil in desserts like pound cake and cookies because of its nuttier flavor, which often becomes bitter when heated too much in other cooking methods.

For Dressings, Drizzles, And Extra Flavor: Looking for a milder oil to use for a simple, healthy salad dressing? Zuckerbrot likes pairing walnut, olive, and grapeseed oils with herbs to top fresh greens with. Grapeseed oil tastes light and a little sweet, while olive oil can vary from floral to fruity to herbal to bitter, depending on the variety, says Moon. Try drizzling your favorite olive oil over grains and salads or adding it to basic soups and sauces.

And, of course, peanut and sesame oils also add tons of flavor to Asian-style dressings and sauces, whether you’re topping fish, chicken, or a salad.

The Right Balance

While these healthy oils do offer some benefits, they’re still calorically dense. All fats, including oils, contain nine calories per gram, Zuckerbrot says. (That’s twice as calorically dense as carbs and protein.) One tablespoon of any oil—healthy pick or not—is about 135 calories. To prevent over-oiling, try putting your favorite oils in spray bottles to coat pans, baking sheets, veggies for roasting, or salads.

Save this infographic for a quick cooking oil reference:

I Won’t Let My Food Allergies Stop Me From Being Healthy

I’m allergic to a big percentage of the food pyramid—nuts, soy, seeds, legumes, and most raw fruits and vegetables. It started with nuts about 15 years ago, and the rest revealed themselves since then. I know it sounds like a lot, but it is manageable and I actually don’t know anything different.

How do I manage it? I read ingredients on everything. I annoy servers, chefs, and flight attendants with my spiel (which I’ve perfected by now), and rarely eat food from someone else’s kitchen. Most people can’t comprehend a life with my allergies, but I don’t have a choice: I need to avoid these foods in order to stay alive.

I found out about my allergies the hard way. When I was three, a cookie laced with almond paste nearly killed me. I have no recollection of that particular incident, but I’m told that I turned an alarming shade of blue.

I honestly marvel at the fact that I made it through my childhood. Back then, there were no nut-free classrooms or cafeteria tables, and labels didn’t come with allergy warnings. Nut-free bakeries weren’t a “thing” yet, either.

Most people can’t comprehend a life with my allergies, but I don’t have a choice: I need to avoid these foods in order to stay alive.

As a kid, my baked goodies were either homemade, or purchased at my local bakery, where the owner’s brother also suffered from life-threatening nut allergies. That bakery is still around to this day, and I still ask the owner whether he’d let his brother eat what I’m buying. It’s a strange sort of comfort, but knowing that the severity of my condition is understood on a personal level means the world to me. That just isn’t the way it is everywhere else, though, so my parents trained me to be vigilant about my food choices. Hyper-awareness is what’s kept me alive.

Most days, I’m okay with the hand that I’ve been dealt. At 29, I know how to talk about my dietary restrictions and what to look out for. I’ve even developed my own set of survival rules that, by now, are second nature. I’m used to it. But when all of the recipes I see incorporate something that is my equivalent to kryptonite, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on something.

Related: Shop products to help support healthy digestion. 

Without nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, or soy, it feels like there’s not much left to work with. Actually, look up any cleanse, diet, food challenge, or meal plan and I guarantee that my particular allergens are the centerpiece to the dish. It’s usually easy enough for me to just leave out the offending item, but it can get super-discouraging because I want to eat healthier than my body allows. Most people eat fruits, nuts, and soy to stay healthy!

In an effort to eat healthier, I added one more item to my list of forbidden foods, by choice: meat. I wanted to become vegetarian. I know you’re thinking that I’m nuts (pun intended), but eating healthy felt impossible with all of my allergies, so I wanted to figure out different ways to incorporate more veggies into my diet. I wanted to focus on eating healthfully.

I used to eat a lot of meat. It’s fair to say six out of seven dinners were meat-based meals, with a small portion of cooked veggies and grains on the side. Looking back, it wasn’t exactly the image of a well-balanced plate. At restaurants I’d switch it up between burgers, wings, chicken dishes, and the occasional pastrami sandwich. If I wasn’t brown-bagging it for lunch, I’d pick up a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips at the deli by my office.

Related: 7 Things You Should Always Check On A Nutrition Label—Other Than Calories

When I started paying attention to my body’s reaction to the food I was eating, I realized that those sandwiches were giving me headaches and heartburn. The meaty dinners left me bloated and uncomfortable. For dessert? Well, I’m no stranger to sugar. I ate small dishes of ice cream (Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean, thank you) far more often than I’d like to admit. It was how I unwound after a long day. I baked a lot, too. It was how I made up for the fact that I couldn’t safely eat dessert anywhere but my own home.

My switch to a vegetarian lifestyle inspired a complete revision of all of my eating habits. Not only did I cut out meat, but I also decided to completely cut processed foods, and cut back on refined flour and sugar. I gave up almost all of my comfort foods in one fell swoop: fried chicken, pastrami, burgers, and wings. Even ice cream and cookies.

Embracing a vegetarian diet has shown me that healthy eating is possible, despite my challenges. I used to lament over how much healthier I’d be if only I didn’t have any allergies, but loading up on even more whole foods and plants has turned my life around.

Related: Shop plant protein, perfect for vegetarians. 

I feel lighter, less bloated, more focused, and have more energy. I fuel my body with plenty of cooked, vitamin-rich veggies, which I balance out with whole grains or quinoa. My protein comes from Greek yogurt, eggs, and vegetables like mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts—all chosen for their high protein content. And as I learn the benefits of each vegetable, I am able to tailor my meals to make sure I’m getting what I need.

I used to lament over how much healthier I’d be if only I didn’t have any allergies, but loading up on even more whole foods and plants has turned my life around.

I work full-time in an office and spend two hours each day commuting, so making sure I’m well fed is essential. On Sundays I spend hours digging through cookbooks and blogs in search of healthy, allergy-friendly, vegetarian meals. I make almost everything from scratch—it’s a comforting process that gives me complete control over what goes into my food.

Most mornings, I start my day with homemade whole wheat toast drizzled with honey and feta cheese. Cucumber is one of the few raw veggies I can manage in small amounts, so sometimes I’ll skip the cheese, shmear on a nice Greek yogurt sauce, and throw on a few slices of cucumber for an extra crunch.

I recently discovered that I can tolerate uncooked apples if I wash and peel the skin off of them, so I try to eat at least one per day. For lunch, I’m either having leftovers from the previous night, or a vegetable sandwich. Dinners vary—I’ll have veggie-packed pastas, stir-fries, flatbreads, cauliflower steaks, veggie stews, and salads. Eating vegetarian is a new way for me to be creative. The meals are (almost) never boring, and there are actually so many more options than I ever dreamed possible. (Thanks, Internet.)

I may never get to try roasted sunflower seeds, eat a salad with almond slivers, dig into some lentil soup, or feast on homemade hummus, but every day I’m expanding my horizons by finding new ways to prepare allergy-friendly, veggie meals. My only regret is that I didn’t figure it out sooner.

6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

Contrary to what late-night infomercials and #sponsored Instagram pics would have you believe, there is no magic bullet for losing weight. Ask any health and fitness expert and they’ll tell you that losing weight requires watching what you eat.

But that doesn’t mean you need to log every bite you take and count every calorie. “Counting calories is more of a starting point for weight loss,” says functional medicine nutritionist Katie Morra, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. “Everyone should know about how many calories they need per day to maintain or to lose weight and what that looks like in terms of food. But counting calories is tiring and unrealistic for most people.” Not to mention, that sort of detailed tracking may lead to stress or even disordered eating.

Plus, if you’re just taking wild guesses about your portion sizes, chances are the calories you’re tracking aren’t even accurate anyway, says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.H.C., of N.E.W Motivation Coaching.

So instead of painstakingly logging every handful of pretzels you grab when you walk through the kitchen, get started with these simple, no-math-involved ways to lose weight, straight from dietitians themselves.

1. Cut Out Processed Foods

Not all calories are created equal—especially if the calories you’re eating are pumped full of additives. Some of the chemicals added to foods are even referred to as “obesogens,” which have been shown to disrupt the metabolism and contribute to weight gain. (Research published in Nature has found that emulsifies, a super common food additive, can impact gut health and cause obesity in animals.)

But scary-sounding chemicals aside, if you eat a lot of packaged foods, you probably take in more sugar, sodium, and preservatives than you realize. “Processed foods are often empty calories, meaning they have a high calorie content but minimal nutrient benefit,” says Morra. Since these choices are often bereft of fiber and protein, which keep you full, you’re more likely to keep running back for more.

Plus, eating a lot of foods that are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners alters your brain chemistry and taste threshold for sweetness, making you crave even more sugar, she says. And that’s a recipe for weight gain.

Avoid processed foods like white pasta and bread, and added sugar, as much as possible. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to nine teaspoons (about 37 grams) a day for men and six teaspoons (25 grams) a day for women. Even swapping store-bought granola for a homemade blend of plain Cheerios, sliced almonds, and unsweetened coconut can go a long way.

As you cut back on prepackaged foods, shift your focus to eating five to seven servings of non-starchy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins throughout the day, Morra says. (More on that next.)

2. Eat Your Veggies

So, why eat those five to seven servings of non-starchy veggies a day? Vegetables like broccoli, eggplant, and cauliflower are low in calories and packed with nutrients, so you can eat more without overloading on calories. When you make food choices that nourish your body, the pounds fall off much more easily, Morra says.

For example: A cup of cauliflower is just 20 calories, while a cup of while pasta is about 200 calories, and a cup of nuts is a whopping 800, says Lewis. So the more veggies in your diet, the more you can eat without racking up major calories.

That doesn’t mean you have to choke down Brussels sprouts if you hate them, though. Start by finding small ways to add more veggies to your day. One easy move: Instead of eating chips or bleached crackers as a snack, choose carrot chips, cucumber slices, green beans, or grape tomatoes with hummus, Lewis recommends.

3. Build Your Plate Properly

Just how many calories you need depends on your age, weight, activity level, and overall health—but your plate should still reflect that spread of veggies, healthy fats, and proteins, Morra says. Start by filling half your plate with at least two non-starchy vegetables, like leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, peppers, or mushrooms. Then add three ounces of a protein (about the size of your palm) like fish, turkey, chicken, lean ground beef, or two to three eggs. Then, one serving of a healthy fat (about a tablespoon) like olive oil, olives, avocado oil, coconut oil, or coconut. Finally, add a serving of whole-grain carbohydrates like cooked quinoa (half a cup) or brown rice (a third of a cup).

This balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats will help keep you feeling satiated for longer—and keep overeating and random snacking at bay. Plus, eating this variety will also help you balance your blood sugar, which is associated with having a healthier body weight, says Morra.

4. Follow Hunger Cues

One of the biggest issues with calorie-counting: It shifts your focus away from the biological reasons you eat, says Lewis. If you’re just eating based on the numbers, you may fall pretty out of touch with how hungry or full you feel, which should determine when and how much you eat.

Set yourself up for mindful eating by rating your hunger on a scale of one to 10, with one being starving, five being neutral, and 10 being stuffed. If you are on the hungry side (four or less) eat. Just be careful to not overdo it, because you’ll likely want more than your body needs, Lewis says. So serve yourself half of what you’d want and check in with your hunger 15 minutes after eating. If you’re still hungry, go back for more.

Then, when you hit a comfortable level of fullness (seven or eight on the scale), stop eating—even if there’s still food on your plate. You shouldn’t feel overly full (nine or 10 on the scale) after your meals, Lewis adds. “It’s a difficult habit to build but it does help you learn to eat the right amount of food for your body,” she says.

5. Identify Food Sensitivities

Another major but unexpected way to jump-start weight loss is to identify and address any food sensitivities you may have, says Morra. Why? Eating foods our bodies are sensitive to can trigger a cascade of inflammation, and research has long linked inflammation with being overweight or obese. So if you have a food sensitivity (egg, gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, and corn sensitivities are common), but eat that food every day, you promote chronic inflammation and may have more trouble losing weight.

Related: What Going Gluten-Free Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

The best way to confirm if you have a food sensitivity: Meet with a dietitian who can put you on an elimination diet that cuts out possible offenders and reintroduces them after a month or so to gauge how your body reacts. Once any triggers are removed, many people start to lose weight more quickly, Morra says.

6. Get More Sleep

Can you sleep the pounds away? Well, it’s not quite that simple, but not getting enough sleep can have an intense impact on the scale. Lack of sleep (coupled with stress, which often crops up when we don’t sleep enough) can increase your levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which is associated with higher levels of visceral fat—fat around the organs in your midsection. This can all be dangerous for your health, Morra says. In fact, research recently published in PLOS One linked visceral fat with cardiometabolic risk factors, like high blood pressure, triglycerides, and blood sugar.

Skimping on shut eye can also lead you to reach for less-than-healthy food choices during the day. When you’re overloading on caffeine, sugar, and calories to get through, you catapult yourself toward inflammation, sugar cravings, a crummy diet, and weight gain, says Morra. Research published in Sleep shows that lack of sleep alters the chemical signals that regulate our appetite and energy levels, driving us to reach for unhealthy foods and snack more.

Related: Find a supplement to help get your shut-eye on track.

The Best Way To Keep Your Fitness Results From Stalling

Ah, the dreaded plateau—when our once-effective workouts suddenly stop working and our results totally stall. But why do plateaus happen to good people? Usually it’s because you’re just not challenging your body enough. And while that probably means you’ve gotten better at your routine (cool!), it’s still incredibly frustrating.

“If you do the same thing over and over, your body adapts and isn’t stimulated to grow or get better,” says Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., personal training program manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). “You need to do a little more every time to create stress so your body has a better recovery response and you get stronger or fitter,” he explains. The experts call this whole ‘do a little more’ thing ‘progressive overload,’ and it’s this idea that will help you move past the plateau.

What Is Progressive Overload?

When you work out as hard as you possibly can, you force your muscles to adapt in multiple ways. For one, you push them to metabolic fatigue, which means you use up all of the glycogen (energy from carbs) stored in your muscles. This trains your muscles, making them able to store more carbs and grow, explains Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness Podcast and adjunct professor of exercise science at San Diego State University. Two, you break down your muscle fibers, which signals your body to form new muscle cells to repair them. And, three, you challenge your muscles’ efficiency at using oxygen and carbs for energy, which tells them to adapt so you can go faster and harder in the future.

To give your body the constant push it needs to get stronger, you need to gradually increase the difficulty of your workouts and hit new personal maxes. If you’re doing cardio, that means either increasing your speed or your distance. If you’re strength training, that means increasing the weight you lift or the number of sets or reps you lift for.

Want to ramp up your workouts? Here’s how:

Apply Progressive Overload To Strength Training

When it comes to using progressive overload to build muscle, you have two options: increase your weight or the number of sets or reps you do. So if you’re doing three sets of 10 reps of a move, try to hit 11 or 12 reps with that same weight the next time you work out, says Clayton. The next time? Go for 13 or 14. Once you can hit 15 reps, it’s time to increase your weight and start back down at 10 reps a set.

You can use the same approach if you’re lifting for lower rep ranges to focus on strength. McCall recommends working your way up from four to eight reps. Once you can perform more than eight reps, up your weight.

Another way to switch up the stress you put on your muscles: Mix up your exercises and the types of weights you use. Every couple months, change up your go-to moves (like swapping squats for lunges) and equipment (like swapping barbells for dumbbells)to keep your body guessing, McCall says.

Related: How To Lift Heavy For Maximum Muscle Results

Keep a journal or a note in your phone to track your progress throughout the month. “Ask yourself: Within the past month, have I gotten better at what I want to do? If not, it’s time to make these tweaks,” Clayton says.

Apply Progressive Overload To Cardio

When it comes to cardio, you’ve got two ways to embrace progressive overload power: increase your volume (miles) or increase your intensity (the speed at which you run your miles). Overachievers be warned, though, you should only increase your distance or your speed—never both at once, according to Clayton. So don’t try to add half a mile to your five-mile run and try to shave 30 seconds off each mile. (More on the reasons why below).

If you want to attack volume, increase your distance by 10 percent—but not more—each week, Clayton recommends. So if you run 10 miles one week, you’d run 11 the next.

Once you’ve built up a solid base distance-wise, you can start to push your pace. The most effective way to do so? Sprints, says Clayton. Here’s how to adjust if you usually run, say, three miles three times a week. On one of your running days, run a shorter distance and break that distance up into sprints. So instead of running three miles, you’ll run two miles total, broken up into four quarter-mile sprints. If your normal running pace is a nine-minute mile, you’ll try to hold an eight-minute mile pace for each sprint and rest for a few minutes between each. And since progressive overload is the gift that keeps on giving, you can continue to up your sprint pace as you get better.

You can work on distance and speed in the same week, but make sure to slow your pace on the days you run slightly longer distances.

How To Do Progressive Overload Right

Ready to start going harder, better, faster, stronger? Progressive overload has the power to take your performance (and body) to the next level—but it’s all too easy to turn overload into overboard.

As pumped as you may be to step up your workouts, it’s important to stick to the experts’ guidelines for adding incremental challenges. “All too often people end up crushing their bodies so much they burn out, which can lead to injury and a lack of motivation,” says Clayton. If you constantly feel tired, achy, sore, or irritable, you might be overdoing it, he says. And though these signs start to pop up after a few days, it might take two weeks for them to really knock you on your butt.

To avoid burnout, keep these tips in mind as you progressively overload:

1. Give yourself time to recover.

Obviously your workouts are key, but it’s in the 24 to 48 hours after you work out that you actually become stronger, says Clayton. So stick to three or four high-intensity ‘overload’ workouts per week and either rest or do low-intensity exercise—like walking or jogging—in between, says McCall. And every two or three months, take a full week off to rest and recover. You’ll come back to your workouts with the restored glycogen and revitalized energy you need to crush your workouts, he says.

2. Be patient with your progress.

Progress isn’t always linear, so don’t hold your gains to too tight a timeline. “It’s not like you’ll get better every time you work out,” says Clayton. “There’s always variability based on your stress levels, recovery, diet, and other factors.” You might be able to hit 15 reps in one workout and barely make it to 10 the next. Focus on the long-term, and don’t beat yourself up for having a bad day or week. Clayton recommends looking at your progress in six to eight-week periods.

3. Eat enough.

Don’t drastically cut your calories while pushing your body to its limit during your workouts. While exactly how many calories you need depends on your current weight and fitness level, the experts agree you shouldn’t have more than a 500-calorie deficit per day. When you demand more of your body, your body needs more calories, Clayton explains. Which brings us to our next point…

4. Pack in the protein.

Whether you’re aiming to improve your cardio or build muscle, down about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (about 70 grams of protein for a 130-pound person, says Clayton. Your muscles are built out of amino acids, the molecules in protein—so not eating enough of this nutrient will hold back your progress. Protein is your number-one priority, but carbs are important, too, since they’re your muscles’ primary source of energy. Eating a protein and carb-rich snack after your workouts—especially if you’re training for more than an hour five days a week—can also help ensure you’re well-fueled. Clayton recommends a snack that contains one gram of protein for every four grams of carbs, like chocolate milk.

Related: Shop ready-to-drink protein shakes to refuel after a good workout.

What Acupuncture Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

While some people shy away from the thought of having dozens of tiny needles inserted into their skin, enthusiasts rave about acupuncture’s potential to promote healing in their bodies—and even their minds. This ancient Chinese form of medicine is now readily available all over the world, but does it actually work?

To support some health issues, yes. There’s actually quite a bit of literature to back up the efficacy of acupuncture for specific concerns, says Dr. Steven Chee, a Los Angeles-based integrative medicine physician who is dual-trained as an MD and an acupuncturist. However, he says, acupuncture isn’t a quick fix, and shouldn’t be thought of as such: “Results are usually cumulative. I generally recommend trying acupuncture at least four times in evaluating acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating any condition.”

If you’re curious whether acupuncture might work for you, here’s what you should know.

What exactly is acupuncture, and how does it work?

Acupuncture’s efficacy is not fully understood, but there are a few theories (some of which are more rooted in philosophy and some more in science).

Acupuncture’s history has its roots in the idea of qi, which, according to proponents of this belief, is a kind of energy within our bodies. To those who believe in qi, acupuncture can help keep it aligned. Small needles are placed at specific points (called de qi), which is said to redirect our energy, promoting our health.

However, if you can’t get around the idea of de qi, and prefer a more scientific approach to understanding acupuncture, then the International Review of Neurobiology may help provide some insight. According to the review, acupuncture is said to work by activating the sensory system—the neurotransmitters, neurohormones, and neuromodulators. This can have an impact on how we feel and perceive pain.

What Acupuncture May Help With

1. Chronic Pain

In an article in JAMA Internal Medicine, which looked at the results of 18,000 patients who used acupuncture versus no or sham acupuncture (which is used in control studies, applied in fake points), found the approach effective in dealing with chronic pain, although the review was clear that its functions aren’t wholly understood.

Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that acupuncture can be beneficial for pain treatment, especially in the short term. Dr. Chee says that acupuncture is an especially good option for pain management for people who, based on their health or condition, are not good candidates for surgery.

2. Allergies

Do seasonal allergies get you sniffly, sneezy, and downright miserable? Acupuncture may help, according to a 2015 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy. And that’s because acupuncture may be able to modulate the immune system.

Related: Shop allergy  products for all your sniffly, sneezy needs.

Although the frequency of visiting the acupuncturist turns off a lot of people from pursuing acupuncture for allergy relief, Dr. Chee says many people do find profound relief once they try the needles: “It’s when nothing works that allergy sufferers come to acupuncture.” Or, you may want to try acupuncture for allergies in tandem with other methods, as this Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine review suggests.

3. Headaches

Whether you suffer from migraines or the occasional tension headache, acupuncture has been shown to have some efficacy in toning down the discomfort. A 2016 Cochrane review found that acupuncture can help with tension headaches (especially chronic ones). And a study in the journal Headache, found that acupuncture may be at least as effective as conventional drug treatments in preventing migraines.

4. Stress and anxiety

It may be chalked up to a bit of the placebo effect (the actual act of getting acupuncture is pretty relaxing, after all, what with all the lying down in a quiet room), but acupuncture can also help lessen your stress and anxiety levels—and this goes for all kinds of people, from your average 9-5 worker to veterans with PTSD. In fact, auricular acupuncture (acupuncture on the ear) was shown to have a great effect on lessening stress and anxiety and increasing feelings of courage and care, according to a study in Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing.

Another randomized controlled trial, published in Acupuncture in Medicine, found that acupuncture showed promising results on lessening chronic anxiety in people who showed resistance to other forms of therapy.

what Acupuncture May Not Help With…

1. Epilepsy

Although acupuncture is increasingly used for epileptics, a 2014 Cochrane review found little to no evidence that acupuncture could actually help alleviate the symptoms that people with epilepsy experience.

2. Weight Loss

While studies, like one in Evidence-Based Complimentary Medicine, do show that acupuncture may stimulate feelings of satiety (thus eating less), it did not have a direct impact on weight loss.

Related: Shop weight management products to help support your best you. 

3. Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Acupuncture is often used as a complement to traditional drug or alcohol treatment. Unfortunately, the evidence that it helps promote recovery from addiction is not of great quality. A 2014 meta-analysis in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine showed some studies found some positive findings (where it concerned feelings of anxiety), but couldn’t conclude that acupuncture helped physically stop cravings for drugs, especially in cases of opioid dependence.

Evidence aside, if you’re interested in trying acupuncture, Dr. Chee emphasizes that there’s another factor that can profoundly affect whether or not this treatment modality will work for you: the experience and expertise of the acupuncture practitioner you choose. He suggests looking for a practitioner with a state license at the minimum—and a DAOM (doctorate of acupuncture and Oriental medicine) degree if at possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask potential practitioners questions about their experience with your condition, either, says Dr. Chee. Some questions he recommends asking your potential acupuncturist include:

  1. If they have they treated your specific condition before and what types of results have they gotten.
  2. How helpful do they feel acupuncture will be in treating your condition?
  3. How many times do they think you will need to be treated?

The Best Workout For You, According To Your Sign

No matter how much you love your spin instructor or you can’t get enough of that hot Pilates class, chances are you’ve fallen into a rut with your workout routine at one time or another. In an attempt to switch up your routine, you could sign up for ClassPass or try that weird aerial yoga your best friend is taking—or you could get a little playful with it and see what your astrological sign has to say about the matter.

Note: The zodiac is not a trainer, so take this all with a grain of salt.

Aries (Mar. 21–Apr. 19)

This fire sign is ruled by Mars, the planet of action and aggression. (After all, it’s named for the Roman god of war!) You’re likely naturally athletic and competitive. For that reason, you might do well to play a team sport—like an amateur hockey league or baseball team. Or try another competitive workout, which will allow you to compare your score to others’ or be able to declare yourself the winner. Think boxing or Flywheel indoor cycling classes, which utilize a scoreboard, and allow you to compare data on your speed and effort with other riders’ scores.

Taurus (Apr. 20-May 20)

As an earth sign ruled by Venus, the planet of love and beauty, you may be more about Netflix and chilling than working up an intense sweat. Low-impact workouts are a fit for your relaxed, steady, grounded nature, so consider long walks, particularly outside in your neighborhood or with a friend. And if you work out solo, make sure you have a playlist you love, which can help push you even further, as you’re likely quite the music lover.

Related: Shop protein to fuel up your next zodiac-inspired workout. 

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

You’re an air sign, ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication, so your mind is likely always buzzing! You’ll do well to try a workout that’s intense and involved enough to keep you engaged and focused, so consider a barre or circuit-training class. Whether you’re counting reps of a core exercise or moving from one strength exercise to a different cardio move, it’ll be tough for you to get bored!

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Chances are you love being near the ocean, lakes, or even a stream, as you’re a water sign, ruled by the perpetually phase-shifting moon. You likely tune into and adapt your workout routine for your emotional state and enjoy any physically active pastime you can do with your partner, kids, or other relatives. Surfing is a natural fit for you, but if that’s not a possibility, given where you live, you might also enjoy something sensual and fluid, like belly dancing.

Leo (July 23–Aug. 22)

Because you’re a fire sign, ruled by the sun, you’re a go-getter who needs to feel confident and comfortable in order to stick with a fitness routine. If your coordination tends to be on-point, you may do well to try a dance cardio class. Otherwise, a HIIT class that utilizes an upbeat, loud playlist will likely win your big heart. After all, if anyone loves to turn a regular old workout into a full-on, raging party, it’s you.

Virgo (Aug. 23–Sept. 22)

Though Geminis are often the ones with the reputation for being mercurial, your sign is also ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication. You might have a tendency to overthink and analyze every situation, struggling to relax. For that reason, you could likely use a regular yoga regimen, particularly one that is part yin, or restorative. And being that you’re an earth sign, you’ll also find you feel more centered and peaceful when you do yoga—or really, any workout—outside.

Related: Shop aromatherapy to beautify your space.

Libra (Sept. 23–Oct. 22)

As an air sign ruled by the beauty-loving, social planet Venus, you’re happiest when working out with friends. So, for starters, if you don’t have a workout buddy, you’ll do well to snag one—or more! After you check that off your list,  hit up a Pilates or ballet class that taps into and extenuates your natural grace. The more you’re able to bond with your swolemate over your goals and progress, the more likely you’ll stick to any routine.

Scorpio (Oct. 23–Nov. 21)

As a water sign, any kind of workout you can do in a pool is sure to have you feeling confident and balanced. You also have a remarkable inner strength that allows you to push yourself quite hard, so you wouldn’t shy away from taking on a high-intensity routine. For that reason, you might also do well to try a seriously tough bootcamp class that leaves you drenched in sweat and feeling accomplished.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22–Dec. 21)

As a free-spirited fire sign ruled by Jupiter, the planet of expansion and adventure, you constantly need to feel as though you’re learning something new. You might enjoy working with a personal trainer who’s especially good at pushing you and keeping your plan fresh and interesting. Otherwise, consider strength training or CrossFit classes that require you to consistently push yourself to the next level. Another go-to activity for Sag is horseback riding, as you may feel a natural kinship to horses. (Your sign’s symbol is the archer, after all.)

Capricorn (Dec. 22–Jan. 19)

Symbolized by the mountain goat, you’re an earth sign ruled by taskmaster planet Saturn. In turn, you want to achieve your goals, but don’t mind doing so in a very calculated, down-to-earth way. You’ll love hiking, as that literally puts you right in your element, rock climbing, and any workout that requires slow and steady pushing to reach your highest potential. If you take spin classes, make sure to turn up that resistance and take advantage of all the hills!

Aquarius (Jan. 20–Feb. 18)

As an air sign ruled by the planet of change, Uranus, you’re innately rather science-minded and innovative. You’ll likely enjoy using technology, be it a FitBit or app on your phone, to hit your goals. Though you often stick to what you know, you might do well to try a workout that promotes a sense of community. Think joining a neighborhood kickball league or running in a local charity’s 5K. Being that you’re social and a humanitarian, activities like this fire on all cylinders for you.

Pisces (Feb. 19–Mar. 20)

Since you’re a water sign ruled by dreamy Neptune, you likely can’t help being imaginative and in tune with your emotions. The negative side of this is that all your empathy and sensitivity may make you particularly susceptible to feeling stressed and depleted. For that reason, any kind of mind-body workout (like Kundalini yoga or Tai Chi) will serve you best, allowing you to connect the dots between your mental, emotional, and physical wellness!

What Everyone Who Sits For Long Periods Of Time Should Know

Sitting all day long is about as fun as it is good for our health. In fact, a new study suggests that the more total time we spend sitting and the longer we sit at a time—especially as we get older—the greater our mortality risk.

Scary long-term impacts aside, though, sitting too much can have a very noticeable effect on how our bodies feel every single day. Not only does it mess with our posture, but it can also be a literal pain the butt.

If you wriggle around in your chair at work all day trying to kick that dull aching feeling in your butt (no, you’re not the only one!), get this: That pain in your behind may be a legit—and fairly common—condition called ‘piriformis syndrome.’

Hold up: A piriformis is, what, exactly? Basically, beneath the bigger glute muscles in your butt is your piriformis, a muscle that runs from the very bottom of your spine out to your hip joint. This muscle also passes by the sciatic nerve, which runs down your spine, through your butt, and continues down each of your legs. In some people, the sciatic nerve actually runs through the piriformis muscle, according to research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. (It’s unusual, but it puts you at greater risk for piriformis syndrome.)

When your piriformis muscle tightens up or spasms, it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, potentially leaving you with pain, tingling, and numbness in your butt and even down your leg, explains Gary Guerriero, P.T., co-owner of U.S. Athletic Training Center in New York City. Experts call this ‘piriformis syndrome’ and it feels a lot like sciatica, a condition typically caused by back injuries that affect the sciatic nerve and lead to pain, tingling, and loss of feeling in the lower-back, butt, and leg.

While piriformis syndrome can result from lots of glutes-heavy exercise (like walking, hiking, or running), it can also pop up just because you sit on your behind all day, Guerriero says. Look out for pain when sitting for more than 15 minutes, trouble rotating your foot inward, discomfort when walking (especially up stairs) and squatting, and tingling or numbness anywhere from your glutes to your foot.

If your crazy-tight piriformis continues to press on your sciatic nerve long-term, it can affect the nerve’s ability to signal the muscles throughout your glute and leg, says Guerriero. And if the muscles throughout your leg don’t get the proper signals from the nerve, they can’t respond as well during daily movements and exercise, leaving them less able to grow stronger and putting you at greater risk for injury.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle

If all this just made a light bulb go off in your head, you have a couple orders of business to take care of. One: If you sit all day, set a timer on your phone to make sure you get up and walk around for a few minutes at least every hour, says Guerriero. Two: See a physical therapist.

If you’re just feeling tight, a P.T. will start by applying heat to relax the muscle so it can be stretched—but if you’re in pain, they’ll start with ice. Then they’ll stretch and lengthen the piriformis to help relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve, Guerriero says. Check out two of his go-to stretches:

Lying Piriformis Stretch: Lie on your back and raise your left knee to your chest. Then, put your left hand on your left knee and your right hand on your left ankle. Draw your knee to your right shoulder until you feel moderate tension in your left glutes. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Chair Glute Stretch: Sit upright in a chair and cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Place your right hand on your left ankle and your left hand around your left knee. Gently pull your leg up towards you until you feel moderate tension in your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side. Repeat for four or five rounds.

From there, a P.T. can help you strengthen your piriformis and other glutes muscles to keep piriformis syndrome issues from coming back, Guerriero says. (Expect exercises like squats and lunges.) You’ll also need to get ample rest in order to bounce back. Depending on your initial level of pain—and whether your piriformis syndrome is related to exercise and overuse—you’ll probably have to lay off your usual workout routine until your pain is below a four on a scale of one-to-10, he says.

Related: Training equipment (like a yoga mat) can help you stretch and strengthen at home.

Could You Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome And Not Even Know It?

An estimated one in 10 women have polycystic ovary syndrome (known as PCOS)—although half of those women don’t even know they have it, according to Sinem Karipcin, MD, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Conceptions Florida.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that affects women of childbearing age. There’s no one cause for PCOS, but according to the National Institutes of Health, most of the symptoms are triggered by higher-than-normal levels of androgens (hormones that typically control the male characteristics).

In women without PCOS, the ovaries make a balance of hormones—estrogen (sometimes called the female hormone) and androgen. Women’s bodies need both, but in PCOS, there’s an over-abundance of the latter.

What Are The Symptoms of PCOS?

The classic symptoms of PCOS include weight gain, irregular periods or no periods at all, hirsutism (unwanted hair growth, especially on the face), fatigue, mood swings, sleep issues (like sleep apnea, and polycystic (a.k.a. enlarged) ovaries and ovarian follicles that surround the egg. Yet despite all the symptoms associated with PCOS, they don’t always show up for every woman as expected—and in some cases they don’t show up at all.

“Not every women with PCOS has unwanted hair,” explains Karipcin. “And not everyone has irregular periods. In fact, some women with PCOS ovulate regularly.” So symptoms may differ wildly between women.

Related: Shop a whole range of women’s well-being products. 

Outside of keeping an eye out for the more classic symptoms, there are other more subtle ways to detect PCOS: “While weight gain is a classic sign, gaining weight in the abdominal area is a potential sign of PCOS,” says Karipcin. “Specifically, if your abdominal circumference is more than 88 centimeters, or 35 inches, then it could be a subtle sign you have may have PCOS.”

Additionally, women should watch for the development of something called acanthosis nigricans, which appears as a dark ring around the neck. This is caused by high insulin levels, which are known to cause dark skin patches. Acanthosis nigricans is commonly seen in people who are overweight, have darker skin, have diabetes, or are pre-diabetic—and PCOS is associated with high levels of insulin and type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly enough, male baldness on your mother’s side can also be an indicator. According to The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, polycystic ovaries are inherited genetically as an autosomal dominant trait, which means you can inherit the disease from a single abnormal gene from just one parent. This gene also happens to dictate the baldness in males.

According to Mayo Clinic, having PCOS can lead to many complications, including infertility, metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels—all of which increase your risk of heart disease), depression, uterine bleeding, uterine lining cancer, and more.

How PCOS Is Diagnosed

The diagnosis process for PCOS is tricky—which explains why so many women have undiagnosed PCOS.

“There is no one single test for PCOS,” said Karipcin. “This is why it is important to see a reproductive endocrinologist, also known as a fertility specialist, to rule out other causes and confirm your diagnosis.”

Specifically, a visit to a fertility specialist will mean a talk about both your family history and your personal gynecological history. He or she will perform a physical exam to rule out any abnormalities—as well as check for acne and hair growth.

They will likely also perform an ultrasound—intended to look at your uterus lining and provide a count of the follicles (to see if they’re surrounding your egg) found on your ovaries. To rule out underlying problems, you may also have your hormone levels checked, since thyroid or testosterone-related issues might cause symptoms similar to PCOS.

How PCOS Is Treated

Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS. However, there are multiple ways to treat and manage the symptoms. And it’s not uncommon to employ several treatment methods at one time.

“A healthy lifestyle that includes nutritious foods and daily exercise can have a positive effect on the endocrine system,” says Karipcin. “Birth control pills are often prescribed to correct the hormone imbalance.” This may also help correct the irregular periods and the hair growth.

Additionally, doctors might prescribe a drug to lower insulin levels, especially if pre-diabetes is a concern. Adding a blood sugar-supporting supplement to your routine could also be effective in supporting healthy insulin levels.

Related: 6 Period Symptoms That Warrant A Visit To The Doctor

In cases of PCOS and metabolic syndrome, there has been an improvement noted when women with PCOS supplemented with omega-3, according to Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.

Early diagnosis, treatment, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key in order to prevent down-the-line complications, like diabetes, stroke, infertility, and heart disease.

What In The World Is ‘Skinny-Fat’—And Is It Real?

We all have that friend who goes hard on the fried food and eats Hot Pockets for dinner—but never gains weight. And although they may be thin—and therefore seen as “healthy”—that may not be the case.

If someone has a naturally slender physique but doesn’t eat well-balanced meals or exercise regularly, they fall under the buzzy term, “skinny-fat.” Because despite being able to fit into a size 2 jean, they probably have more fat—and less muscle—than is ideal.

When it comes to your health, the key isn’t your weight—it’s your body composition, according to Gabrielle Lyon, D.O., of the Four Moons Spa in San Diego. For example, your BMI might be within the ‘healthy’ range (18.5 to 24.99, according to the World Health Organization), but you can still have a body fat percentage that’s considered overweight (that’s above 20 percent for guys and 30 percent for women, according to Sports Nutrition, Second Edition).

What Skinny-Fat Looks Like

Docs refer to people who are ‘skinny-fat’ as ‘thin on the outside, fat on the inside,’ or TOFI, says Dana Simpler, M.D., internal medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. There’s no single definition of what a skinny-fat body looks like, but generally someone will have very little muscle tone and probably some flab, especially around their belly and glutes.

They may also notice cellulite on their thighs, arms, and stomach, adds Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. About 90 percent of women and 10 percent of men have some cellulite, but it may be especially noticeable on those with skinny-fat body types, because they don’t have muscle definition, which can actually smooth and lessen its appearance, says Holland.

Related: Is There Anything You Can Really Do To Get Rid Of Cellulite?

Typically, someone who doesn’t overeat, does cardio regularly but doesn’t strength train, or just has a strong metabolism, fits the ‘skinny-fat’ profile, says Simpler. So even though they eat the wrong kinds of foods (think sugar and stuff high in saturated fats, like red meat, cheese, and anything fried), they stay pretty thin, she says.

Why It Can Be An Issue

While being skinny-fat may not sound so bad, the type of diet many skinny-fat people ‘get away with’ can lead to cardiovascular issues, like heart attack or stroke down the road, Simpler says. It can also lead to prediabetes (meaning your blood sugar is higher than it should be but not quite at the level of having diabetes yet), says New York-based nutritionist Jessica Levinson, R.D. “Though type 2 diabetes is generally associated with being overweight, there are people who are at a normal weight who can develop prediabetes after eating too much sugar over time,” she says. So someone who is thin but doesn’t eat well can be a lot less healthy than someone who eats healthy but weighs more.

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

Plus, being slender doesn’t mean you’re safe from the risks of having too much fat. Visceral fat—which is stored in your tummy near many of your organs—in particular, can be an indicator of health problems to come, says Levinson. According to Harvard Medical School, it’s linked to higher cholesterol and insulin resistance. And because this particular fat hides deep within the body (it’s not the kind you can grab), skinny-fat people may have more than they realize.

Additionally, skinny-fat people are considerably weaker and have less physical stamina than people who have more muscle, says Lyon. That’s because muscle is full of mitochondria, the engines that power all of your cells—so the less muscle you have, the less strength and energy you’re able to produce. As a result, skinny-fat folks may feel generally sluggish and get winded walking up the stairs. Because women generally have less muscle mass then men—and a harder time building it—they fall into the skinny-fat category more often, she says.

Muscle Up

So what can you do if you think you’re living the skinny-fat life? There are two orders of business: Eat a healthier diet and build muscle.

“Being thin does not guarantee good health if someone is not mindful of what they eat,” says Simpler. “The safest and healthiest diet to prevent or reverse heart disease and diabetes is a whole food, plant-based diet.”

That means cutting back on highly-processed, high-fat foods, and boosting your intake of green and starchy veggies (like kale and sweet potatoes), fruits (like strawberries and blueberries), whole grains (like quinoa and barley), and legumes (like chickpeas and lentils).

And to build that muscle, you’ll need to up your protein intake and strength train regularly, says Lyon. (This part is especially important if you’re over 35, when building muscle becomes more difficult.) Try to eat at least 90 grams of protein—which your body breaks down into amino acids to repair muscle tissue—per day, split evenly across breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she says. Look for lean sources like chicken, fish, turkey, beans, and Greek yogurt, suggests Atlanta-based dietitian Kristen Smith, R.D.

Related: Get your daily fill of protein with powder supplements and bars.

In addition, incorporate 20 minutes of strength training into your routine two or three times a week, says Holland. Start with one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps of basic bodyweight moves like squats, pushups, planks, and lunges. As you build strength, increase the number of sets you perform and add some weighted movements—like chest presses and bent-over rows— into the mix. Make sure to use weight that is challenging for the last few reps, but doesn’t throw off your form, Holland says.

7 Ways To Burn More Fat

Thanks to years of fad diets, intense workout plans ‘guaranteed’ to deliver the best results, and social media scams, losing fat can seem like a complicated task.

We’re not going to sugar-coat it: Fat loss takes dedication. But that doesn’t mean it has to be confusing. In fact, finally freeing yourself from the yo-yo diet roller-coaster is all about getting back to the basics. Start with these seven expert and science-backed lifestyle changes you’ll shed the pounds for good. Just make sure you’re consistent about your effort.

1. Adjust Your Grub To Create A Caloric Deficit

If you want to lose fat, you need to have a solid foundation—and that means starting with food. “Nutrition should be the first barrier to attack,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Boston.

To lose one pound of fat, you typically need a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. (This can vary a bit, but 3,500 is a good ballpark number.) So to lose a pound of fat in a week, you’d need a caloric deficit of 500 calories each day. “I always ask people: How long would it take you to burn 500 calories with just exercise? If you go for a jog, do some interval training, or lift weights, you’re looking at up to 75 minutes to burn 500 calories,” Gentilcore says. But you can easily cut out that many calories by just not eating that bowl of cereal or ice cream right before you go to bed.

Some of Gentilcore’s biggest advice: Take the time to make your own lunches for work. You’ll know exactly what’s in your food and you can control your portion sizes, he says—which is not always possible at the office cafe!). Making lunch may not sound that effective, but research backs it up: According to one study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, people who ate more than five home-cooked meals per week were 28 percent less likely to be overweight and 24 percent less likely to have excess body fat than people who ate less than three home-cooked meals per week.

Related: 10 Protein-Packed Meals In Mason Jars

From there, simple strategies like limiting junk foods and taking a few minutes to think about whether you still feel hungry before going back for seconds can fire up your fat-loss efforts before you even think about adjusting your workouts or anything else.

2. Cut Back On Certain Carbs

Carbs aren’t all evil—but certain carbs aren’t good. And despite what many fad diets would tell you, you don’t need to completely cut carbs to lose weight, explains Marie Spano, R.D., a sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks.

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel, and if you don’t eat enough of them your energy will tank and your workouts will suffer, she says. For this reason, healthy carbs—like whole-wheat bread, oats, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables—should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories, according to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These healthy carbs tend to contain lots of filling fiber and likely fewer calories overall, explains Spano. That’s two points for fat loss right there!

It’s eating the wrong kind of carbs—like soda, white bread, and pastries—too often that can actually sabotage your fat loss. Your body converts all carbs into glucose (sugar), but these simple, fiber-less carbs are basically already sugars, so if you eat more of them than your body needs for energy in that point in time, they’re stored as fat, she explains. Plus, research suggests we tend to overdo it on calories more often when eating processed foods (like white bread or pasta) compared to whole foods (like quinoa or potatoes).

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

Your task: Stick to less-processed carbs that are as close to their natural state as possible and find healthier alternatives to your favorite carb-y treats. For example, if you’re craving something candy-sweet, fruit will often satisfy your taste buds while also providing vitamins and plant compounds that are important for good health, Spano says. If you’re really dying for ice cream though, just serve it in a small kids’ cup.

3. Load Up On Protein

When in doubt, go for protein. The macronutrient both helps you build muscle (more on that soon) and keeps you feeling satiated for longer, which is important when you’re in a caloric deficit, explains Gentilcore. Protein also has a greater thermic effect than carbs and fat, meaning it requires more calories to digest and process, he says.

Plus, if you don’t eat enough protein while cutting back the amount of food you’re eating overall, you might actually end up breaking down muscle tissue—which is important for your body’s daily function in and out of the gym—for energy, says Spano. And since muscle supports your metabolism and gives your body shape, this is quite the opposite of what you want. (Muscle is metabolically active, so the more you have, the more calories you burn even at rest, Gentilcore explains.)

Case in point: When researchers from McMaster University studied 40 men who cut calories and ramped up their exercise for a month, the guys who ate more protein not only saw greater muscle gains, but also lost more body fat compared to those who ate less protein.

Ideally, if you’re trying to keep your body in fat-burning mode, you should get about one gram of protein per pound of body weight throughout the day, says Gentilcore. Aim for at least 30 grams of protein or more per meal, Spano adds.

4. Start Lifting Weights

Once you get your nutrition in order, pairing it with the right workouts will maximize your fat loss.

One of the keys to successful fat loss is to keep (or build muscle)—and to do that while in a caloric deficit, you need to strength train, says Gentilcore. In case you’re not sold, one review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that just 10 weeks of resistance training can reduce body fat by up to four pounds and increase resting metabolic rate by up to seven percent.

If you’re a beginner, Gentilcore recommends starting with three days of full-body resistance training a week. Focus on performing compounds movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses (which engage multiple muscle groups and burn more calories) and perform three to four sets of five to eight reps each.

5. Supplement Your Routine With HIIT Or Circuit Training

While strength training is key, getting your dose of cardio is still important, says Gentilcore. That’s why he recommends finishing your workouts with circuit or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The goal of high-intensity interval training is to exhaust all your energy by performing short bursts of work for a set amount of time—like sprinting as hard as you can for 30 seconds, walking to rest, and then repeating. In circuit training, on the other hand, you perform a set number of exercises as hard as you can, then rest and repeat.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Both spike your heart rate, which forces you to use more oxygen and ultimately burn more calories, says Gentilcore. Think of HIIT and circuit training as supplements to your strength-training routine and perform 10 to 15 minutes of either after you lift. You can perform HIIT on an elliptical, a stationary bike, out on the track, or even in the pool.

If you’re new to HIIT, start with intervals of 15 to 30 seconds of work followed by 45 to 60 seconds of active recovery, says Gentilcore. As you get the hang of it, reduce your active recovery time by five to 10 seconds per week, until you’re working and resting for the same amount of time.

If you want to go the circuit-training route, just pick four to six moves and perform them back-to-back, resting as little as possible until you’ve completed all the moves. Then you’ll rest and repeat the circuit three to five times. Here’s an example from Gentilcore:

  • 5 goblet squats
  • 5 pushups
  • 5 TRX inverted rows
  • 5 bodyweight reverse lunges (per leg)
  • 60 seconds rest

Since these training styles require tons of energy, they’re sure to exhaust your system and end your workout on a strong note. (For that reason, don’t do HIIT or circuit training before your lifts!)

6. Get Moving Outside Of The Gym

When it comes to burning fat, the more you move, the better (within reason, of course). “We’re at a point in society where many people’s only form of movement or activity is in the gym,” says Gentilcore. And while it’s better than nothing, if you hit the gym three days a week for an hour and half, that’s only four and a half hours of dedicated movement a week.

When you get serious about hitting the gym, you might fall into the trap of what’s called ‘compensatory inactivity,’ when you end up moving less overall because you’re working out more often. You know, when you justify a full weekend of Netflix binging because you had a really solid Saturday morning workout. As tempting as compensatory inactivity might be, it can really hold you back from shedding fat.

So don’t miss out on all of the opportunities you have to be active throughout your day, says Gentilcore. After all, any additional movement is additional calories burned.

His suggestion? Get in 45 to 60 minutes of moderate-paced walking every day. Split it up throughout the day if you need to. Get out with your dog, your spouse, or take the time alone to unwind. And make small changes like parking farther away from the office or even just taking the long way to the bathroom to keep you moving.

7. Prioritize Sleep

Skimping on sleep messes with your energy and concentration—and it plays a big role in how your body deals with fat, too.

In one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers followed 10 overweight, but healthy, people who were all following calorie-restricted diets. For two weeks, the participants slept an average of seven hours and 25 minutes per night. Then, for another two weeks, they clocked in at about just five hours and 14 minutes. During those two weeks of seven-hour sleeps, people lost an average of 3.1 pounds from fat, compared to just 1.3 pounds during the five-hour sleep weeks.

What’s more, when they slept less, the participants’ levels of ghrelin—a hormone that makes you feel hungry, promotes fat retention, and even reduces the amount of calories you burn—spiked. In fact, another study published in Nature, found that when people slept for five and a half hours or less, they downed an extra 385 calories the next day (mainly from foods packed with empty calories) compared to those slept for seven hours or more.

So, to keep your hunger hormones at bay—and help your body recover so you can bring you’re A-game in the gym, of course—prioritize seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Related: Shop supplements to support a healthy night’s sleep.

Is There A Best Time Of Day To Eat Carbs?

Oh, carbs. There’s so much diet advice floating around about ‘em that we can hardly look at pasta or potatoes without our heads spinning. But contrary to some carb-haters’ beliefs, this macronutrient isn’t the enemy. You just have to figure out how—and when—to eat them.

First things first: We need carbs. “Carbohydrates, which we break down into glucose, are fuel for our bodies,” says certified health and fitness specialist Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. Our brain runs off glucose and we also store it as glycogen in our liver and muscles so our body can work to its maximum ability, especially when we exercise, he says.

Eating too many carbs—especially the refined ones—can put you at risk for rocky energy and blood sugar, weight gain, and even diabetes. But eat too few carbs and you’ll feel exhausted and irritable 24/7, explains White.

And if you’re watching your weight or getting your sweat on regularly, the carbs in your diet are especially important.

Most experts recommend that about 40 to 50 percent of your daily calories come from carbs, and that those carbs come from whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables, explains Pamela Nisevich-Bede, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., owner of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! Nutrition.

Just how much does when you eat those carbs matter? Well, it depends.

Along with eating the right kinds of carbs in the right amounts, you can also manipulate when you eat those carbs to fuel better workouts and even keep your favorite jeans fitting perfectly—a little trick the pros call ‘nutrient timing.’

Carb Up Pre- And Post-Workout

If there are two ideal times of day to get your carbs in, they’re before and after your workouts. About an hour or so before you exercise, eating some carbs will give you the energy you need to perform, Nisevich-Bede says. If you’re going to work out for about an hour and do a mix of strength training and cardio, snack on about 100 calories-worth, or about 25 grams, of carbs. (Check out a few of our favorite pre-workout snacks here.) That way, you’ll give the glycogen stores in your muscles—and ultimately your energy—a little boost before game time. Plus, having enough glycogen in your system can help to offset muscle breakdown that often occurs during exercise, according to a review published in Journal of the Society of International Sports Medicine.

By the end of your workout (especially if you went hard), you’ll have depleted a lot of that glycogen stored in your muscles, so you’ll want to eat some carbs, too. Research shows that your body sends those carbs to your muscles more efficiently in the hours following exercise, and restocking that glycogen will help your body recover so you don’t feel fatigued the next time you work out, says Nisevich-Bede.

If you’re trying to lose fat and support your muscle, eat a snack that contains a two-to-one ratio of carbs to protein (which also helps your muscles recover) within about an hour of finishing your workout, suggests White. Try plain Greek yogurt with berries mixed in, or some oatmeal with whey protein powder and nut butter mixed in.

Cut Down On Carbs Later In The Day

Ever seen the advice ‘no carbs after lunch’ online? While you don’t need to swear off bread, whole grains, and potatoes the entire second half of the day, cutting down on carbs at dinner (and after) may help you reach your lean-body goals.

Why? “When you eat a lot of carbs before bed, you can only use so much before storing some as body fat,” explains White.

So by nixing carbs around dinnertime, you help your body burn fat overnight and until you eat breakfast in the morning. “If you pull carbs at a certain time, you deprive your body of the glycogen source you’re used to having, so when you wake up you’ve essentially been fasting for a while,” Nisevich-Bede explains. If you sleep a full eight hours with a few carb-free hours before bed, that’s around 14 hours of fasting time during which your body can burn fat, she says.

Carb-free nights can be especially effective if you work out first thing in the mornings. Without much glycogen available, your body will continue to burn fat, according to Nisevich-Bede. (The experts call this ‘training low.’) “I’ve used this technique with clients looking to lose weight, and they see results,” she says. Just don’t plan on doing a super intense or long workout, because that lack of glycogen will likely take the edge off your performance.

Related: 9 Low-Carb Food Swaps That Won’t Make Your Taste Buds Cry

If you’re going to pull carbs from your dinner, Nisevich-Bede recommends eating a bigger breakfast and moderate lunch, and upping your intake of protein and healthy fats like avocado and nuts, to make sure you’re getting the calories and nutrients you need throughout the day.

Cycle Between High And Low-Carb Days

Like intermittent fasting, carb cycling is one of those diet trends everyone seems to do a little differently, so there’s no clear-cut ‘right way’ to make it work. Whether carb cycling is right for you—and how you might approach it—depends on your goals.

If weight loss is your number one priority and you exercise a few times a week, you might boost your fat-burning by eating fewer carbs (about a few hundred calories-worth) on your non-workout days, White says.

Related: Whether you need a low-carb snack or pre-workout fuel, there’s a bar for you.

But if fitness and performance are number one, cycling carbs this way can hold back your workouts. “If you go very low-carb for a couple days and eat them just on workout days, you’re still not working out on a full tank,” he explains. It can take a day or two to build up your glycogen stores, so if you eat more carbs on Monday you’ll see more workout benefit on Tuesday and Wednesday.  (Think of it as a scaled-down version of carb-loading.)

So if performance outweighs fat loss, make sure you’re eating ample carbs the day or two leading up to demanding workouts. Sure, you may be able to scrounge through shoulder day on fumes, but you’ll want all engines blazing for leg day.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of whether you want to lose weight or slay your workouts, the quality of your carbs always matters more than the timing. First, make sure your plate is split into equal thirds of veggies, protein, and fiber-filled carbs (like whole grains, starches, and fruit) at every meal, says Nisevich-Bede. This balance should provide the nutrients and energy you need to life a healthy, active lifestyle.

If you want to lose weight, maybe bump up the portion of veggies and decrease those carbs to about a quarter of your plate, she says. If you still don’t see the fat-loss results you’re looking for eating this way, then it might be time to pay more attention to your carb timing.

4 Satisfying Snacks That Taste Like Cheating

The perfect snack is quick, healthy, satisfying enough to get you through to your next meal, and delicious enough to keep you from sneaking off to the vending machine.

So when baby carrots and unsalted nuts just aren’t doing it for you, these four treats—waffles and donuts included—most certainly will. (You read that right: waffles and donuts.) They’re all packed with good-for-you ingredients, protein, and fiber to keep you full and happy as a clam.

Consider your cravings crushed.

Nutty Coconut Chocolate Donuts

 

Ingredients: oats, unsweetened cocoa powder, Next Step Swiss Chocolate Fit N’ Full shake mix, stevia, baking powder, coconut oil, and water. 

Berry Chia Pudding Parfait

 

Ingredients: chia seeds, almond milk, Next Step AppeFIT mixed berry powder, Greek yogurt, mixed berries, granola, and stevia

Sweet ‘N’ Vanilla Waffle

 

Ingredients: oats, egg whites, Next Step French Vanilla Fit ‘N Full powder, baking powder, sliced strawberries and blueberries, and water. 

No-Bake Apple Pie Protein Bars

 

Ingredients: oats, Next Step French Vanilla Fit ‘N Full powder, Next Step AppeFIT apple punch powder, almond butter, maple syrup, and apple pie spice (or cinnamon).

What Exactly Are EPA And DHA, Really?

We hear a lot about the importance of “healthy fats” like omega-3s—you know, the good stuff typically associated with fish and flaxseed. But two of the most popular omega 3s—DHA and EPA—are rarely broken down into layman’s terms, despite offering an impressive range of health benefits.

It’s time we get to know these powerhouses a bit better.

How Does DHA & EPA Benefit Us?

We already know DHA (a.k.a. docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (a.k.a. eicosapentaenoic acid) are types of omega-3s, but what’s an omega-3? In case you forgot or need a refresher, an omega-3 is a group of polyunsaturated (a.k.a. good) fatty acids that are key for healthy body functions. You can find them in fatty fish, shellfish, algae, flaxseed, nuts, and oils, as well as in supplements.

“[DHA and EPA] are the types of omega-3s that your body most efficiently uses,” explains Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. “Both DHA and EPA are important for so many aspects of good health—from overall wellness to heart health, brain health, and even eye health.”

But do you really need them both? The short answer: yes. Despite the fact that they are both lumped into one big omega-3 category, they are not the same.

Related: Shop DHA & EPA supplements to boost your omega-3 intake. 

“DHA is the omega-3 found in greatest amounts in the brain and eyes—and is also found structurally in heart tissue,” says Gorin. “EPA is not stored in the brain and eyes in significant amounts but is very important for heart health and other aspects of health.”

According to the journal Nutrients, long-chain omega-3s like DHA and EPA are critical for health, supporting healthy heart, blood vessel, kidney, and blood pressure functions. They also lower the amount of blood fats (lipids) and help combat joint issues. More than just the physical, though, they may also benefit our neuropsychological health—especially DHA. According to Front Aging Neuroscience, DHA may help support cognitive functioning later in life. And, according to Pharmacological Research, DHA deficiency has been linked to feelings of depression.

How Much EPA & DHA Do You Need?

It depends. The Mayo Clinic says that Western diets tend to include 10 times more omega-6 fatty acids (which come from vegetable oils like corn and sunflower) than omega-3s. However, for those who largely eat a Mediterranean diet—one of the healthiest diets, and one that features fish as a staple—EPAs and DHAs may be more abundant.

Take note: Not all DHA and EPA may be as impactful, depending on its delivery system. For example, the Mayo Clinic points out that it hasn’t yet been proven whether plant-based or krill omega-3s are as beneficial to one’s health as, say, fish oil. Vegetarians may need to get their DHA and EPA elsewhere (like nuts or flaxseed), but if you can include fish in your diet, use it as your go-to source.

Related: All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

And although the amount of DHA and EPA you need is largely individual, Gorsin suggests starting with some general recommendations.

I recommend eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of cooked fatty fish like salmon and herring weekly to get in the proper amounts of EPA and DHA,” she says. “Or you could take a daily supplement providing at least 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA.” (There is currently no daily recommended amount, according to the National Health Institutes, but most supplements offer up 250-350 milligrams.)

Related: Shop vegan DHA and EPA products for fish oil alternatives.

However, you don’t need to stop at 250 milligrams, says Gorsin: “Some individuals could benefit from more than this amount—for instance, 500 milligrams per day has been found to be beneficial for lowering the risk of coronary heart disease in healthy adults, and pregnant or breastfeeding women would want to take in an extra 200 milligrams daily, up to 700 to 1,000 milligrams.” (Both EPA and DHA have been linked to supporting pregnancies carried to term, according to Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology.)

“You can speak with a registered dietitian nutritionist regarding how much you should take in, how to get the proper amount of omega-3s through the diet, and how to make the diet changes to do so,” says Gorin.

The Best Ways To Get Back In The Zone After Slacking On Diet And Exercise

We’ve all had a few days—whether over a long weekend or on a vacation—where we’ve spent time doing a whole lot of nothing. Maybe our only workouts were walks to the kitchen or to get the mail—and our only meals came from the pizzeria around the corner.

And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the world for a little while—in fact, we’d even argue it’s good for us—getting back into the swing of a healthy routine afterward can be daunting.

Should you go balls-to-the-wall, hit a crazy-hard workout, and stick to super-clean eats? Or ease into your routine slowly, maybe with some restorative yoga and healthy-ish grub?

You don’t need a detox or an all-green diet to feel better—but there is a way to strategize your day so you don’t slip into a slump. From the gym to the kitchen, here’s how the experts suggest you bounce back.

At The Gym

Getting back to the gym after a few days off is tough—especially if you were on a nice lazy vacation—because it’s basically like a smack in the face that you are, in fact, back to reality. But don’t delay! “All you really need to do is restart and convince yourself—and your body—to get back in the groove,” says personal trainer Michael Blauner. C.P.T. “There’s no right or wrong way or amount of time necessary to start feeling great again.

Walk it out. Hitting the gym or cranking out a HIIT workout probably sounds terrible right now—so don’t push yourself through anything torturous. Keep it simple and head out for a walk, suggests Blauner. “That gets all the cylinders firing and quickly reminds you of how great you feel from exercise,” he says. Just set a timer or use an app to track your pace and try to hit a mile in 15 minutes or less. And put a little extra pep in your step after that first mile, if you can.

Start with what you love. If you’re feeling up to a little more than a stroll, give your body extra incentive to get back into action with your favorite workout. If you love dance, sign up for a shake-your-thang session with your favorite instructor. If you prefer strength training, hit the weight room. Focus on fun, not on burning calories.

Don’t worry about time. Your workouts shouldn’t feel like punishment for treating yourself and you don’t need to exercise for hours on end to make up for days you’ve missed. “Go with your instincts regarding how long your workout should be,” says Blauner. If 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank, then 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank. Do what you can, and as the week progresses, gradually tack on more time until you’re back to business as usual.

Follow a structured workout. When you don’t have the energy or willpower to decide what workout to do, having someone else tell you what to do might be just what you need to get your sweat on instead of crashing back onto the couch. This post-vacation workout from Blauner hits most of your major muscle groups and will jump-start your metabolism.

Need instructions for the moves? We’ve got you covered:

Move #1: Jump Squats
Start standing with feet hips-width distance apart. Lower into a squat. From the squat position, swing your arms back for momentum and push through your feet to explosively jump up into the air. Land softly and immediately lower into another squat for your second rep.

Move #2: Pushups
Start in a plank position with your hands planted on the ground beneath your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to toe. Keeping your core tight and body straight, bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Then slowly push through your hands to push back up to the starting position.

Move #3: Seated Rows
Hold a moderately heavy dumbbell in each hand. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and your abs engaged. Lift your arms to hold the dumbbells out straight in front of you with palms facing in. Squeezing your shoulder blades as if holding a tennis ball between them, row the dumbbells back until your elbows are behind you. Then extend your arms back to their original straight position.

Move #4: Bicep Curls
Stand with feet hips-width distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides and palms facing up. Keeping them close to your sides, bend at the elbows to curl the dumbbells up toward your biceps. Slowly lower down to return to start.

Move #5: Low Plank
Adjust the regular plank position by lowering down so that your elbows are planted on the ground beneath your shoulders, and your hands are flat on the floor in front of you. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes. Engage your core and shift your weight forward slightly. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move #6: Mountain-Climbers
Start in a plank position. Engage your abs and quickly drive your left knee in towards your chest. Return your right leg to the starting position as you quickly drive your right knee in toward your chest. Continue quickly alternating for 15 reps on each side.

Move #7: Sit-Ups
Start lying on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your arms crossed over your chest. (Locking your hands behind your head can strain your neck.) Engage your abs and drive your chest forward to sit all the way up. With control, lower back to the starting position.

In The Kitchen

As much as we enjoy our favorite treats, eating them for days straight can leave us feeling bloated, puffy, and tired afterward. And, when we eat way outside our norm for more than a few days (like we would on a long trip), then it’s common to come home with a not-so-happy digestive system, says clinical nutrition coach Ariane Hundt, M.S.

Related: 5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

If you just want to feel like your best self again stat, that’s reasonable—but you’ll need to be patient. “One full day of indulgences—like lots of starches, sugar, and alcohol—may take two to three days to undo, so be patient and focus on re-balancing your diet.” Here’s your plan of action:

Increase your water intake. Your body tends to hold onto water after indulgent meals, so drinking a lot of water can help re-balance the electrolytes in your system (like sodium) and nix the bloat, says Hundt. Keep an eye on your urine and make sure it’s always pretty close to clear, she says.

Load up on fibrous veggies. In addition to avoiding sugar, noshing on fiber-filled veggies can help free you from sugar spikes and get your blood sugar back into balance, says Hundt. Fiber helps keep your digestive system moving and can help you get that leftover junk out of your system, she explains. Broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, and mixed greens are especially good choices.

Related: Shop a selection of foods and drinks to support healthy eating.

Eat protein regularly. “Protein is the most satiating nutrient and the most helpful in preventing an appetite surge,” says Hundt. Try to eat lean proteins, such as chicken, lean grass-fed beef, and pasteurized eggs consistently throughout the day. Eat a serving of protein about every four hours to keep your energy and appetite balance, Hundt recommends.

Step away from the sugar. Sugar can create blood sugar imbalances that translate to major energy highs and lows, says Hundt. Post-sugar energy crashes can just make you—you guessed it—reach for more sugar, which is the last thing you need when trying to get back into your routine. Limit the sugar (and refined carbs) you eat and drink and reach for protein, instead. “Grab a few turkey slices, eat an extra side of chicken breast with lunch, or drink a protein shake,” she suggests.

Hundt designed the following one-day meal plan with these tips in mind, to help you feel like your usual self as soon as possible.

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Clean Foodie Sisters @RawAndRoasted

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: Swiss-American sisters and foodies Isa and Lou a.k.a. @RawAndRoasted. The girls’ colorful posts feature clean, wholesome dishes arranged in delightfully artful ways. But their interests go way beyond #FoodPorn: Between the two of them, they’ve got MUCH knowledge about health, fitness, and nutrition.

Isabella just finished a two-year stint as the Brand Director at Deliciously Ella, a site dedicated to honest, healthy food, and is now heading back to school to study Clinical Nutrition in London.

Louisa volunteers with food organizations like Edible Schoolyard, City Harvest, and Wellness in Schools. She is a certified yoga instructor and was recently working as Anna Wintour’s assistant. (We bet she’s got some stories…)

Get to know them!

I love the idea that two sisters joined up to share their knowledge about nutrition. How’d you get started—and what are your individual passions and focuses?

Growing up on Eastern Long Island, we were fortunate enough to experience farm-to-table culture in our everyday lives. Our father raised his own chickens and bees and had an abundant vegetable and fruit garden. Our Swiss mother instilled in us eating values that celebrated fresh, local, sustainable food, and an enjoyment of the beauty behind a meal—the tastes, smells, and how it makes you feel, whether alone or with family or friends.

Going to school in Boston and later living in various cities (including New York, Zurich, and London) expanded our tastes buds. We were always on the hunt for the best ingredients, new kinds of food, and interesting restaurants. And our friends encouraged us to start sharing!

Being Swiss-American, is there anything you notice about how Americans eat versus the Swiss?

Definitely! The Swiss don’t restrict themselves to certain diets or fads. Instead, the focus is on local, sustainable, in-season foods. Dairy comes from Swiss cows and meat is grass-fed and generally comes from continental Europe. Fruits and vegetables are eaten in-season. The amazing Swiss bakeries use freshly ground flour and natural ingredients, and the bread is eaten fresh and never has preservatives. Desserts, chocolate, and ice cream are enjoyed and savored and always made and sold in the most natural state—these treats don’t last years, but rather days or month because they’re so natural!

The Swiss don’t obsess over what they are or aren’t eating at the moment. Rather, they eat what they love, what’s made fresh, and what makes them feel great.

Related: This New Study Has A Lot To Say About Fat, Carbs, And Our Health

Americans tend to focus on what they are not eating—whether it’s fat, carbs, gluten, dairy, or sugar. America’s food problems don’t come from the underlining food groups themselves (unless you’re actually allergic or have another serious medical condition) but from the additives and preservatives that are put into nearly everything.

As a country, the U.S. is waking up to the problems in our food systems, but one thing we tell all our friends is to never feel guilty, enjoy your food, and to enjoy it with friends. If you eat something that disagrees with you, move on! Life is too short to be only preoccupied with your diet. Also, learn to read food labels and do your research!

Environmental advocacy is important to the both of you, which definitely plays into how we eat and where we get our food from. How can people support the environment, eat healthy, and not over-splurge all at once?

Go to your local farmers markets! Buy your food in bulk—it’s cheaper and uses less packaging. When you buy vegetables in the supermarket, don’t use the little plastic bags (you wash the vegetables at home anyway, so bring your own canvas tote with you!).

Use a refillable metal or glass water bottle. Wash your Ziploc bags after using them and re-use them. Instead of using paper towels for spills, use a sponge and rinse it out! And bring a refillable mug with you to the coffee shop and ask for a discount if you don’t use their cup.

You both work out and do yoga, so let’s talk about sustainably fueling up our bodies. What’s the best pre-workout food you can recommend?

We focus on three full meals a day, so we’re not a big fan of pre-workout food. You should feel satisfied from your last meal, but if we need a snack, we always honor that need. If it’s first thing in the morning and you need something to eat, fruit is great because it digests quickly and gives you a burst of energy. In the afternoon, we will grab a rice cake, a spoonful of nut butter, or carrots and hummus—something that doesn’t leave us too full to work out!

Do you have a powerhouse, energizing smoothie recipe you’d like to share?

Yes, we have so many! Check out our Instagram @rawandroasted for inspirations. One of our favorites is made with spinach, banana, almond butter, and hemp seeds (for protein). You can also put cacao nibs on top for some crunch and an energy boost. It’s so simple, satisfying, and energizing. Another favorite is green apple, romaine, chard, cucumber, lemon, and ice.

Being cross-continental, how do you stay healthy when traveling?

We almost never eat on planes, unless it’s our own food. We always try to get in a smoothie with lots of vegetables or a salad and a liter of water before leaving for the airport. Our favorite trick is bringing whole avocados on the plane (don’t forget plastic utensils!).

Some other travel favorites include rice cakes, apples, nut butter packets, carrots, unsalted mixed nuts, dried dates or figs, or dark chocolate.

Related: Healthy snacks, coming right up!

Bring your own tea bags and you can ask for a cup of hot water anywhere—most places are happy to give it away. Having a mix of snacks like the ones above ensure that you can satisfy any hunger craving—sweet, crunchy, or savory. More is always better, and you can use whatever you don’t eat at your destination.

You often share gorgeous pics of the clean food you’re eating. How can people get started eating clean if they’ve never done so before?

We love to focus on fresh, natural foods full of taste. Eating well is a process, so give yourself time and space to let your taste buds develop. Seasonal produce always has the most flavor, so try eating more apples in fall, tomatoes in the summer, and root vegetables in the winter. A variety of foods (and their nutrients) will serve you best, but don’t force yourself to eat something you don’t like. Try to focus on what you do like and what tastes good to you!

7 Easy Ways To Cut Down On Sugar

Sugar is, well, delicious. And addicting. Let’s face it: It’s hard to tame a sweet tooth when sugar is hidden in almost everything we eat, from bread to ketchup to granola.

While some sugar—the kind that occurs naturally in fruits and dairy products, which also provide important nutrients and fiber—is totally fine, you need to watch out for the sugar that’s added to foods, like cereal and condiments. That added sugar usually equals empty calories, and eating too much of it can increase your risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

“Most people know that they’re having added sugars when they have a cookie or ice cream,” says nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, M.S., R.D. “But it’s the hidden forms of added sugars that really make it easy for people to overdo it without even realizing it.” Lucky for us, added sugar will be called out on food labels in the next few years (thanks, FDA!), but for now, you’ll have to check a food’s ingredient list to know if it contains the added stuff. You’ll see it as cane juice, corn syrup, agave, dextrose (and really anything ending in ‘-ose’), among other sneaky aliases.

Your move? Check nutrition labels and limit added sugar as much as possible. Guys should stay below nine teaspoons (or 45 grams) of added sugar a day, while women should stay below six teaspoons (or 30 grams), says Kennedy.

We tapped a few nutritionists for their go-to tips for avoiding sugar overload, so you can get your intake in check.

1. Whip Up Your Own Fruit Spreads

Think twice before smearing your usual jelly on your morning toast or PB&J sandwich. Yes, it’s (hopefully) made from real fruit, but it likely also contains an abundance of added sugars. Your favorite strawberry spread can pack up to 12 grams of sugar in just a single tablespoon—and that’s less than you’d probably use for your sammie.

A simple and delicious hack? Just mash up a quarter of a banana (about four grams of sugar) or a handful of strawberries (seven grams per cup) to use as a spread, says Melissa Rifkin, M.S., R.D., of Confessions of a Dietitian. You’ll cut both calories and sugar, and still satisfy your sweet tooth!

2. Ditch Premade Yogurt Parfaits

Yogurt seems like a healthy snack or breakfast option, but not all yogurts are created equal. Flavored yogurts—especially parfaits—can contain a ton of added syrup and sugar, says Rifkin. Two popular culprits: The Chobani Pumpkin Harvest Crisp Flip, which contains 17 grams of sugar and lists evaporated cane sugar, sugar, brown sugar, and rice syrup as ingredients, and the Fage Honey With Glazed Pecans Crossover, which contains 19 grams of sugar and lists honey and cane sugar as ingredients.

Related: What A Day Of Sugar-Free Eating Looks Like

Healthify these creamy eats by making your own parfait. Start with unsweetened, low-fat yogurt and top it with fresh diced fruit, nuts, or even a drizzle of peanut butter.

3. Clean Up Your Condiments

Condiments, sauces, and dressings are notorious for being loaded with sugar (which is added to help preserve them), says Rifkin. Two of the biggest offenders out there? Ketchup and barbecue sauce. Two tablespoons of ketchup—a fraction of what we’d dip our fries in—pack ten grams of sugar, while two tablespoons of BBQ contain five.

Take stock of what’s in your fridge and stay away from anything with more than three grams or more of sugar per serving, she says. And, get creative by blending fresh tomatoes and herbs for pasta sauce or using salsa as salad dressing. “You’ll get added flavor and fiber from the veggies in the salsa,” Rifkin says.

4. Make A Few Swaps When Cooking Or Baking

Whenever a recipe calls for sugar—or a sugar-loaded ingredient—chances are there’s a healthy swap you can use instead.

Let’s start with breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, or cereal, which are notoriously filled with simple carbs and sugar. If you usually add maple syrup or honey to your favorite breakfast treats, swap it for puréed fresh fruit and a few drops of maple syrup extract, suggests Rifkin. You can also turn to your spice cabinet for other flavoring options you can sprinkle on, like vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg, suggests the National Institutes of Health.

Related: Shop a variety of healthy baking ingredients.

And when it comes to baking breakfast treats, cookies, and cakes yourself, swap refined sugar for sweet, wholesome alternatives. “When I bake, I used banana to sweeten brownies, cookies, and sweat breads, instead of sugar,” says Rifkin. Swapping a banana in for sugar when you make brownies, for example, can save you about nine grams of sugar per chocolatey square.

5. Nix The Latte

Warning: your morning cup of Joe could have more sugar than a candy bar! (Yep, your average caramel macchiato is loaded with 33 grams of sugar.) And since sugar is hidden in even milks and creamers, go as black as possible, says Kennedy. If black coffee just isn’t your style, stick to just a splash of creamer, plain fat-free milk, or unsweetened almond milk, and try adding spices like cinnamon or nutmeg for a little warm flavor.

6. Switch Up Your Hydration Game

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a glass of cold lemonade or fizzy fountain soda, but they’re notorious for being loaded with sugar. Just one eight-ounce lemonade can pack as much as 28 grams of sugar.

Nix sweetened bevvies from your routine and keep some flavor by squeezing fresh lemon into your water. You can even add herbs like lavender to really keep your taste buds engaged, says Kennedy. Need something sweeter? Slice your favorite fresh fruit and pop it into your water.

7. Find Lower-Sugar Versions Of Your Favorite Treats

Sometimes you just need a few scoops of Ben and Jerry’s most delicious ice cream creations—but sugar and calories add up quick, with 27 grams of sugar in half a cup of our favorite flavor.

To satisfy a sweet tooth without the sugar rush (or waistline woes), try blending a frozen banana with some peanut butter, matcha, cocoa powder, or fresh fruit to make ‘nice cream,’ suggests Kennedy. (Check out eight of our favorite ‘nice cream’ recipes here.) Or, look for lower-sugar treats at the supermarket, like Halo Top ice cream, which contains just five grams of sugar in half a cup. Halo Top, like many of these other lightened-up treats, is sweetened with stevia and erythritol (a sugar alcohol that’s lower in calories) instead of regular sugar. (You can learn more about all the popular sugars here.)

Keep your sugar in the safe zone with this handy infographic: 

Which Cardio Machine Burns The Most Calories?

Love it or loathe it, cardio is pretty important. It helps you burn fat, boosts your cardiac and respiratory health, supports your brain function, helps maintain your range of motion, improves your mood, and much more.

In a perfect world, we’d get our cardio in by playing outdoors—surfing, hiking, biking, and more—which trains our bodies in a well-rounded and robust way, says Craig Weller, exercise specialist at Precision Nutrition. But because rain and winter and, well, big cities, exist, that’s just not always possible. This is where gyms with rooms filled with cardio machines come in.

But which machine should you claim? The answer: all of them, if possible. Bouncing around from machine from machine can help you recreate the variability of outdoor exercise from the gym, says Weller. Put in moderate effort on the stair stepper, then the treadmill, the elliptical, the rower, and finally a spin bike, for example, to challenge your body in as many ways as possible and burn more calories.

But when the gym is crazy crowded—or you just don’t have a game of ‘musical cardio machines’ in you—committing to one machine may be your only option. In that case, go for the machine that “moves big muscle groups through big ranges of motion,” Weller says. The larger the muscles you work—and the larger the range of motion you move them through—the more energy your body needs and the more calories you burn, he explains. (Just a friendly FYI: Cardio machines are notorious for overestimating how many calories you burn, so ignore the wonky numbers on the screen as you sweat.)

If you’re looking to torch as many calories as possible in the cardio room, there are a couple of machines that offer the most potential burn.

Calorie-Crusher #1: The Stair-Stepper

There’s a reason so many of us dread the stair-stepper: it’s hard. So unsurprisingly, the stair-stepper can be a phenomenal calorie-torching tool, if you use it properly, Weller says. This killer machine activates large muscle groups like your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, but hits other areas of the body, too. The stair-stepper also engages your core, along with smaller stabilizing muscles all throughout your lower body, he explains.

According to Harvard Medical School, the average 155-pound person can burn about 223 calories in 30 minutes of stair-stepping.

Here’s the issue, though: If you put a lot of your body weight into leaning on those rails to make stair-stepping easier on your lower body, you’re totally sabotaging yourself. “That really reduces the amount of work you’re doing,” says Weller. And that means fewer calories burned. To burn as many calories as possible, you need to actively engage your hamstrings and glutes, and move your arms in tandem with your legs as if you were actually walking up a flight of stairs, he explains.

Calorie-Crusher #2: The Rowing Machine

You know the rowing machine—it’s usually stuck in the corner of the cardio room just looking for some love. But if you want to fire up as many muscles as possible and torch big-time calories, it’s the machine for you. The rower is probably the closest thing to a full-body workout you’ll find in the cardio room, Weller says. It activates your upper and mid-back, along with your shoulders, quads, glutes and hamstrings.

According to Harvard Medical School, the average 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories in 30 minutes of moderate rowing.

Related: The Best Full-Body Workout For When You Only Have 30 Minutes

With improper form on this one, though, you risk injuring your back, so keeping your core stable is key for both protecting your spine and maximizing calorie-burn, Weller says. Throughout the movement, brace your core enough to feel tension in your abs. This will keep the strain off your lower back. “Avoid arching your lower back at the finish of the pull,” Weller says. “Instead, exhale fully and feel your lower ribs on the front of your torso drop inward, together, and downward as your exhale.” (If you need a few extra pointers to nail your rowing form, check out this article.)

The Bottom Line

Yes, some machines may automatically up your potential for calorie-burning, but the only machine you need to use is the one you enjoy the most. “The best machine is usually the one that people just work hard on, or enjoy the most, or can tune out on but still put work in on,” says Weller. If you can spin the minutes away on the stationary bike and really love every pedal stroke, then that’s the machine for you.

Related: Support your workouts with pre and post-workout supplements.

7 Unique Yoga Offshoots For Adventure Seekers

Sure, you might know your Chaturanga from your Ardha Chandrasana, but can you execute them while balanced on a slackline or suspended from silks? While bending one’s self into seemingly unnatural poses may feel like an adventure in and of itself, the practice of yoga—which dates back more than 5,000 years to ancient India—is constantly evolving.

Not simply for those looking to find their Zen through a mat-based flow, thrill seekers and out-of-the-box thinkers can get their yoga on in any number of ways, each producing unique personal benefits. Whether you feel more at ease in a farm-like setting where goats roam—yep, goats—or want to engage in some exhilarating primal movements, there’s a yoga class to fit your every need and comfort level.

1. ACROYOGA

AcroYoga is the stuff of Instagram dreams, where the hashtag #AcroYoga reveals pics of skilled students showing off their moves against scenic backdrops. This partner-based practice combines beautiful yoga poses and acrobatic lifts, with one member of the duo acting as “the base” and the other as “the flyer.”

Enthusiasts insist it both tones and loosens muscles, opening up the body without a great deal of strain. It’s also considered to be mentally and emotionally therapeutic, since the act of working as a team (versus solo, like most yoga practices) to achieve high-flying poses instills a sense of partnership and human connection.

2. Slackline Yoga

Not for the faint of heart, Slackline Yoga takes even the most accomplished yogis out of their comfort zone by practicing poses—you guessed it—on a slackline (a thin strip of webbing). Hello, Cirque Du Soleil! Students typically start low to the ground on a relatively short line to get a feel for the often shaky elements of this extreme endeavor.

Heather Larsen, a professional slacker, adopted her yoga practice after being inspired by some impressive yogis she saw on social media.

“Practicing on an unstable surface really challenges you in a new way,” she says. “Imagine doing eagle pose, but the ground is moving….that is not an easy task! It, in a sense, is a moving meditation.”

Related: Get all your yoga gear right here, from mats to stability balls to super-comfy pants. 

And, because you risk falling if you err, you will have to breathe, be in the moment and stay calm, she explains. And obviously there are physical benefits: “You can’t cheat in slacklining, so your core is extremely engaged basically the entire time you are on the line.”

3. SUP Yoga

Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga moves your asana practice onto the water, with an eight- to 14-ft long paddleboard serving as your “mat.” “Some of the most influential Yoga teachers of our generation have encouraged practitioners to practice near water,” says Kaycie Metzelaars, a certified yoga instructor otherwise known as The Chakra Lady. A river, lake, or shore are suitable.

For SUP newcomers, Metzelaars strongly encourages students to simply have fun with it. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she says. “You might wobble, you might fall in the water, and that’s OK! You don’t have to be ‘good’ at it to benefit from the experience.”

4. Aerial Yoga

Gravity may not feel like our friend as we age, but Aerial Yoga uses the force to our advantage. Fusing classical yoga with a Cirque du Soleil vibe, circus fabrics are used to help support the body while doing familiar poses in the air.

In essence, the pull of gravity encourages the body to realign in a gentle way, which is particularly beneficial for students who suffer from back pain. Inversion poses (upside down, that is) that may have previously felt impossible for some students are suddenly within reach, adding the benefit of confidence to one’s practice.

5. Goat Yoga

Animal-assisted therapy isn’t a trend but a lifestyle. And with the advent of businesses like cat cafes, it’s only getting more popular. According to a 2012 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, pets and human-animal interactions boast a bevy of health benefits for humans. “The presence of friendly animals, both familiar and unfamiliar, can effectively reduce heart rate and blood pressure or buffer increases in these parameters in anticipation of a stressor,” assert the study authors from the Department of Special Education at the University of Rostock in Germany.

Enter Goat Yoga, the practice of doing yoga among, you guessed it, a bunch of roaming goats. While fun and playful, it’s not entirely practical. As goats are natural-born climbers, they may try to take your Mountain Pose literally, or choose to take a rest on your mat. Still, YouTube videos of animal-loving yogis practicing Downward Dog while getting attention from a goat is enough to put a smile on your face and there’s certainly a positive benefit in that.

6. Laughter Yoga

An old adage does claim laughter is the best medicine, and Laughter Yoga takes the message to heart. “Laughter in combination with gentle yoga is a transformative practice no matter your age, yoga experience, or physical limitation,” says Darrin Zeer, author of Office Yoga, who teaches the practice in both corporate meetings and at resorts. “Your body doesn’t recognize the difference between real and fake laughter—endorphins are released either way.”

Incorporating choreographed belly laughs or giggles might feel, well, silly, but the potential benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced stress, according to Medical Hypothesis.

According to Zeer, his students feel “freed up” after a laughter session. “They state it loosens up their inhibitions and drastically relieves stress,” he says. “Like a euphoric sensation throughout the body and mind as if you had a glass of champagne.”

 

Related: Foam roll those aches and pains away by shopping rollers right here.

7. BUTI Yoga

Boasting a tagline that reads, “Sweat with intention,” BUTI Yoga pairs vinyasa yoga with primal movements, tribal dance, and plyometrics. Derived from an Indian term, Buti means “the cure to something that’s been hidden away or kept secret.”

The premise of the class, and what keeps students coming back for more, is harnessing your internal power to overcome fear or self-esteem issues. Powering through the challenging workout in a group setting allows both women and men to feed off one another’s energy, unleashing animal-like movements that may initially feel awkward, but become instinctual as one’s practice progresses.