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.

Why Everyone’s Talking About CoQ10

Just like certain fitness classes or diets, supplements can become trendy, too. And right now, everyone’s buzzing about Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

“CoQ10 is a natural compound made in the body that is used for cell growth and protecting the body against cell damage,” notes Rebecca Lee, RN, founder of RemediesForMe.com. It’s found in soybean and canola oil, chicken, herring, mackerel, beef, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, strawberries, roasted peanuts, and pistachio and sesame seeds.

The naturally-occurring enzyme also works to convert food into energy. However, it’s possible to suffer from a deficiency of the powerful antioxidant—usually due to disease, low dietary intake, or high CoQ10 use by the body, notes Mayo Clinic. Falling short on CoQ10 may lead to heart failure, high blood pressure, and chest pain.

Taking it as a supplement may also be a boon for your health in other ways—namely, in regard to supporting heart health, blood pressure, blood sugar, and helping to ward off pain in the head and neck. Here, what research and experts have to say about the potential benefits of taking a CoQ10 supplement.

1. It may help relieve head pain.

Lee points to a small study published by the journal Neurology that found CoQ10 superior to a placebo in preventing head and neck tension. “Fifty percent of patients who took CoQ10 reported significantly reduced frequency of headaches compared to only 14 percent of those who took the placebo,” she says.

2. It can promote healthy blood pressure.

Research has pointed to the substance as promising for being a go-to for patients struggling with high blood pressure. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Human Hypertension concluded that CoQ10 has the potential in hypertensive patients to lower systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.

Mayo Clinic recommends taking 60-360 milligrams daily for eight-12 weeks to address hypertension. (Of course, be sure to work with your health care provider on any new supplementation plan.)

3. It’s an important supplement to your statin prescription.

If you’re on statins to reduce your cholesterol, you might want to talk with your doctor about taking CoQ10 as well, notes nutrition, fitness, and wellness coach Erin MacDonald, RDN. The reason: “Statins deplete the body’s reserves of CoQ10, and it’s a vital antioxidant,” she explains. (Research published in The Ochsner Journal supports the connection between statin therapy and lower CoQ10 levels.)

Bonus: Although more research is needed, Mayo Clinic points out that CoQ10 may help reduce muscle weakness associated with statin use.

4. It could improve cardiovascular health.

CoQ10 is a champion for heart health, naturally working to maintain the normal oxidative state of LDL cholesterol, supporting circulatory health, as well as functioning of the heart muscle and the health of vessel walls.

Additionally, two major meta-analyses reported in the Journal of Cardiac Failure prove the benefits of CoQ10 on heart failure of various causes.

5. It may promote fertility in men and women.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Kristie LeBeau, RN, RDN, says she recommends a CoQ10 supplement to patients who are trying to conceive. “It can improve sperm and egg health,” LeBeau says.

A study published in the journal Aging Cell looked at mice given CoQ10 prior to ovarian stimulation. The result: They made more made more follicles and better eggs than their counterparts without CoQ10. Researchers also believed that thanks to the supplementation, older mice produced eggs that functioned more like eggs from younger mice.

6. It may help keep you healthy as you age.

We naturally experience decreasing CoQ10 levels as we age, and researchers writing in Molecular Syndromology believe lower stores of the enzyme may be one of the main factors in the development of chronic diseases in aging people.

After all, in addition to being an antioxidant, the journal article authors point out that it is involved in several cellular processes, therefore “appropriate uptake of CoQ10 into cells is crucial for the improvement of cell activity during aging.”

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Workouts

Few things are more frustrating than seeing little progress after starting a workout routine—and sticking to it, no matter the amount of gym sessions or sweaty laundry loads you’ve done. It’s so frustrating, in fact, that it might even tempt you to quit.

But before you start slacking, know the simple mistakes that could be sabotaging your results—so that you can fix them!

Below are six of the most common workout mistakes people make—and the expert advice you need to get your motivation and progress back on track.

1. Your Goals Are Unrealistic

Set the bar too high and you’re sure to fail. Whether it’s scoring a six-pack in a month or vowing to hit the gym every single day of the week, setting unrealistic goals is probably the number-one way people sabotage themselves, says trainer, yoga teacher, and nutrition coach Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald, C.P.T. When you can’t achieve these unrealistic goals, you’re bound to feel discouraged, which might lead you to give up on your exercise routine altogether.

The Fix: Check in with yourself to make sure your goals are realistic, and adjust if and as needed. Choose a goal you think you can accomplish and then commit to reaching it. So while scoring a six-pack in a month may not be feasible, goals like sticking to a regular workout routine or losing half a pound or so per week are attainable, says trainer and author Jeremy Scott, C.P.T., C.N.S.

Step one is creating a workout schedule that fits your lifestyle. You’re more likely to stay motivated when you have a schedule in place you can really commit to—even if that means squeezing in a quick 15-minute HIIT workout instead of spending an hour at the gym some days.

Then, adding mini fitness goals to your daily routine— such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work—can be really motivating, says Fitzgerald. This way, you’ll be more active—and feel more accomplished—throughout every single day.

2. Your Pre-Workout Snack Game Is Off

What you eat (or don’t eat) before you get your sweat on can make the difference between having a killer workout and feeling like a sloth. Most people make one of two opposite mistakes: either eating too much too close to a workout or not eating enough.

Eat too much and your body doesn’t have time to digest and absorb the nutrients in your food, and you might feel sick to your stomach during your workout, says Fitzgerald. If you don’t eat enough, though, you could feel lightheaded and tired, and be more prone to muscle cramps, adds McCall. Your body relies heavily on glycogen (carbs stored in your muscles) during harder workouts, so if you don’t have enough available your body will turn to other less-ideal energy sources—like protein—and your performance will take a hit.

Another overlooked fuel issue: Not drinking enough water in the hours before a workout. Water comprises the majority of our muscle tissue, so you want to be well-hydrated before you exercise, says Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., master trainer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Dehydration can make your body temperature and heart rate rise, which both put extra stress on your body during exercise—so much so that poor pre-workout hydration can actually cut your ability to do high intensity exercise almost in half, according to Sport Nutrition, Second Addition.

The Fix: If you work out first thing in the morning, don’t worry about eating much (if anything) beforehand, since your body still has fuel stashed away from your food you ate the night before, says Fitzgerald. If you’re saving your gym session for later in the day, though, and haven’t had a meal in a few hours, eat something that contains some protein and carbs about an hour beforehand, so you have time to digest. Some of our favorites are toast or a banana with nut butter, a serving of edamame, or Greek yogurt with berries. The carbs will cover your energy needs while the protein will keep your body stocked on the amino acids it needs to support your muscles, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Related: How To Pick The Perfect Pre-Workout Snack (That Won’t Wreck Your Stomach)

As for hydration, McCall recommends drinking 16 ounces of water an hour before working out.

And don’t forget to refuel after you work out, too! Nosh on something high in protein and carbs within an hour after you exercise, Fitzgerald recommends. The carbs will restock those energy stores while the protein will help your muscles repair and grow stronger. Fitzgerald’s go-to post-workout snack? Chocolate milk—because it provides protein, carbs and fats.

3. Your Workouts Are Too Repetitive

Yep, there is a such thing as too much routine. Mindlessly run through the same workouts day after day—whether it’s a spin class, weight-lifting session, or any old cardio—and your body will adapt and, eventually, you’ll stop seeing results, according to Fitzgerald. “If your body isn’t being stressed enough, or you’re not putting enough intensity into a workout, your body gets used to it,” Fitzgerald says.

Think of it this way: If a runner jogs at the same pace all the time, they’re not going to get any faster, she says. Bottom line: No matter how much you love a particular workout, it can’t be the only thing you do. And you definitely shouldn’t do it at the same speed or intensity every time.

Plus, doing only cardio—or only strength training—prevents you from developing well-rounded fitness. Cardio helps your heart pump blood (and oxygen and nutrients) throughout your body more efficiently, and helps you ward off cardiovascular issues and chronic conditions like diabetes, according to The Mayo Clinic. Strength training, on the other hand, helps your muscle fibers work more efficiently and grow, boosts your metabolism, supports strong bones, and improves your balance.

Women especially may get stuck in a rut of repetitive cardio-only workouts and miss out on the benefits of strength training because they’re afraid of bulking up, says Scott. But without a balance of cardio and strength training, you’ll likely sabotage your metabolism and even gain fat.

The Fix: Switch up your routine throughout the week to include a balance of cardio, strength training, and stretching (such as yoga), so that you challenge your body in multiple ways, says Fitzgerald.

To keep your cardio and resistance training effective, try alternating between high and low-intensity workouts. This will stimulate your muscles in different ways and give your body time to recover between tough workouts, says McCall. Think track or treadmill sprints versus a nice steady jog, or lifting heavy for just a few reps versus lifting moderate weight for a dozen reps.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

From there, switch up the tempo, intensity, or order of your strength-training exercises to keep your workouts challenging, adds Fitzgerald. For example, if you usually do squats before lunges, try swapping them, adding more weight to your squats, or turning bodyweight squats into jump squats. You can also mix up your cardio workouts by cross-training and swapping a run for a spin class or a swim. This will help keep your muscles from plateauing and prevent overuse injuries from doing the same repetitive movements all the time, Fitzgerald says.

4. You Skimp On Warmups And Cooldowns

Your workouts are key to making continuous fitness gains—but what you do before and after them matters, too. Let’s start with warming up: If you jump right into a high-intensity workout without prepping your body, you put yourself at greater risk for injuries like pulled and strained muscles, according to Scott. And the same goes if you run out of the gym before properly cooling down, says McCall. During a hard workout, your muscles produce waste your body needs to clear out of its system—and your cooldown and post-workout stretch give it the opportunity to do so, he says. Skimping on that cooldown can delay your recovery process and leave you sore.

The Fix: Spend at least 10 minutes warming up before a workout, Scott recommends. Perform simple moves like lunges, arm circles, toe touches, and hip swings, which get your whole body moving and start to boost your heartrate.

Then, spend about 10 minutes stretching and foam rolling after nailing your sweat session. Stretch all of your major muscle groups for 30 seconds each, and pay special attention to your hip flexors, calves, and hamstrings, McCall recommends. Using a foam roller to massage out your muscles can also help relieve tension and boost recovery, says Fitzgerald. In fact, a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that foam rolling after strength training decreased participants’ soreness later on.

5. You Don’t Take Rest Days

This one might come as a bit of a surprise, but to see results from your workouts you have to rest. Remember that glycogen we talked about earlier? Your body needs time to replenish the stores it used up during your workout, says McCall. If you continue to push yourself on an empty tank, you’ll just feel fatigued and under-perform.

Without solid glycogen stores, your body may turn to protein for fuel—and that’s the opposite of what you want! Your body needs protein to repair damaged muscle tissue and help your muscles continue to grow, so running off protein leaves you more prone to soreness and injury, he says. If necessary, your body will even pull that protein from your muscle tissue and your workouts can actually break down some muscle instead of build it up. And because muscle supports your strength and burns a lot of calories, this is bad news for your overall fitness and your metabolism.

The Fix: Fitzgerald suggests taking a rest day after two or three workout days—especially if any of those workouts were high-intensity (which puts extra stress on your body). Make the most of rest days by foam rolling and stretching to help sore muscles recover, she says.

It’s normal for soreness from a workout to last a day or so, but if you’re still feeling it after a few days, consider it a sign that you’re overdoing it on exercise and putting yourself at risk for injury, McCall says.

Related: Turn your living room into your gym with training equipment and accessories.

10 Foods Nutritionists Always Have In Their Pantries

Having a well-stocked pantry is key to eating well year-round. Whether you want to create a decadent Sunday night meal or need to throw together a weeknight dish in five minutes, you’ll have a variety of healthy foods at your fingertips and no excuse to rely on takeout.

Whether you’re in the produce aisle, the dairy section, or an aisle chock-full of boxes and cans, there are plenty of worthwhile staples all over the grocery store. Here are the foods dietitians always keep stocked in their pantries to make healthy eating as easy and delicious as possible.

1. Almond Milk

You’ll often find almond milks in both the refrigerated section and the center aisles, because you can actually store them unopened fridge-free for a year. (Once you open it, though, you’ll need to pop it in the fridge and use it within 10 days.) This beverage is often fortified to include ample amounts of calcium and vitamins D, E, and A. A cup of unsweetened almond milk is just 30 calories and is a versatile ingredient that comes in handy in sauces, stews, muffins and quick breads, smoothies and lots of other recipes.

2. Nuts

Whether it’s almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or cashews, I’m nuts about nuts. Especially because I know that along with a mouthful of crunch, I’m getting heart-healthy fats—which

have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels—some fiber (about two grams per ounce, and which we don’t get enough of), and around six grams of plant protein. I add nuts to salads, roasted veggies, hot or cold cereal, or just enjoy them right out of the package.

3. Whole Grains

Non-perishable whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, barley, sorghum, whole-grain pasta, farro, freekeh, and quinoa come in handy when you need a nutrient-rich carb to add to your plate. “Grains such as these provide a dose of fiber that promotes heart and gut health, along with protein that aids in replenishing muscles,” says Collette Sinnott, R.D., C.P.T. Grains make for a great base because you can top them with veggies, protein, and a light sauce. Sinnott loves to use brown rice and quinoa as bases for Mexican and Indian-inspired meals and whole-wheat pasta as a base on busy weeknights.

4. Canned Tuna Fish

Need to prep a meal last minute? Canned tuna is a lifesaver. “Experts suggest eating fish at least twice a week, and canned fish is a relatively inexpensive and shelf-stable source of protein,” says Liz Ward, R.D.N. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help boost circulation to maintain your heart and brain function, and may also support mood. I like to use tuna in sandwiches and casseroles, or to top a colorful salad.

5. Peanut Butter

Good ‘ole PB is a good source of protein (around four grams per tablespoon) and provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats. It’s also a source of bone-building magnesium and fiber. “Peanut butter is also low in cost compared to other nut butters and can be added to oatmeal, plain yogurt, and smoothies, or spread onto sandwiches or whole-grain crackers,” says Ward.

6. Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes actually contain more of the antioxidant lycopene than fresh tomatoes and can be used in everything from soups to sauces—even when good fresh tomatoes are hard to find. “I count on canned tomatoes to be there year round for my favorite chili and fish recipes,” says Ward.

7. Canned Beans

Beans are the most underrated superfood in the book. First off, they’re rich in complex carbs, and offer an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Beans also supply around six grams of protein per half cup—and unlike some animal proteins, they contain little to no fat and no cholesterol. To top it off, they also pack a hefty dose of soluble fiber (eight grams per half a cup), which may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. But since canned beans are often high in sodium, just rinse them before using. (By doing this, you can ditch up to 40 percent of the salt!)

8. Dried Fruit

Dried cranberries, raisins, or apricots make the perfect addition to homemade trail mix, baked goods, or cereals. You can also add a tablespoon or two of dried fruit to typically bitter veggie dishes, like sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach, to take the edge off. Dried fruits are rich in iron and cranberries in particular contain antioxidants called proanthocyanidins (PACs) which may help prevent urinary tract infections.

9. Low-Sodium Broth

Chicken or veggie broth can add flavor when cooking grains, steaming veggies, or loading up the crockpot, according to Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of the couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials. Low-sodium broths contain about 45 milligrams of the salty stuff per cup, versus as much as 850 milligrams in regular broth.

10. Nutritional Yeast

This versatile ingredient adds savory flavor to a variety of dishes. Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics uses it to add a cheesy taste to popcorn, sauces, salad dressings, and soups. Nutritional yeast costs less than a dime per serving, provides some protein (1.5 grams per teaspoon) and fiber (almost a gram per teaspoon), and is fortified with B-vitamins, which are important for a healthy nervous system.

Take this shopping list with you the next time you run out for groceries:

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

Get Your B Vitamins Straight: A Guide To What’s What

Everyone needs B vitamins in their diet and, for the most part, a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy will provide you with enough, says Susan Stalte, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. However, many of us aren’t keeping balanced diets on a day-to-day basis. Vegetarians or vegans, for instance, might struggle to get enough B12, since that is a nutrient most present in animal products, Stalte says.

“Additionally, some medical conditions, like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, can even impact the absorption of vitamin B,” says Stalte, who advises that individuals with these or similar conditions talk to their medical providers about strategies for meeting the daily recommended dietary allowance.

The B-Vitamin Group

First things first: There are 13 vitamins—and eight of them are in the B family (also called the B complex). They include B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, and B12, and B9.

From creating red blood cells to helping to convert the food we eat into energy, the Bs do it all. They support metabolism, energy levels, and physical and immune health—but the benefits don’t stop there. According to a study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology, taking B vitamins can also help support your mental health. For the study, a group of people took a B-complex and reported feeling less stressed over a six-week period. And research in Nutrients found that the whole range of B vits can help significantly improve cognitive function.

Here, we break down the specific functions of each B vitamin to help inform your shopping list.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Supports cellular function, and promotes healthy skin, muscles, hair, and brain function. You can find B1 in whole grains, rice, pork, fish, and legumes.

Recommended for: People who have metabolic disorders and brain disorders due to Thiamine deficiency.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Supports cellular growth and function, and promotes healthy skin, muscles, hair, and brain function. You can find B2 in lean meats, organ meats, asparagus, and grain products.

Recommended for: People who have eye disorders (like cataracts), headaches, and high homocysteine levels.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Helps the digestive system work properly, and promotes healthy nerve function. Like its cohorts Thiamin and Riboflavin, it also encourages hair and skin health. It’s found in milk, eggs, rice, fish, mushrooms, and potatoes.

Recommended for: People who have high cholesterol, or disorders (like pellagra) related to niacin deficiency.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Helps make lipids, neurotransmitters, and hemoglobin. You’ll find it in chicken, whole grains, broccoli, avocados, and tomatoes.

Recommended for: People who have antothenic acid deficiency.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Helps fuel metabolism, develops the brain, and boosts immune function. You’ll find it in bananas, watermelons, tofu, and chicken.

Recommended for: People who have anemia or seizures.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Helps to synthesize glucose, break down some fatty acids, and promote healthy skin and bones. Get it from chocolate (yes!), egg yolk, nuts, and legumes.

Recommended for: People who want to support their hair, skin, and cognitive health.

Vitamin B9 (Folate or Folic Acid): Helps cells divide, and makes DNA and other genetic material. Get it in spinach, mustard greens, grains, beans, and nuts.

Recommended for: Pregnant women or people who want to support mood and blood health.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): B12 promotes healthy nerve cells, breaks down fatty acids, and supports general health. It is found in beef liver, clams, eggs, milk, and fish.

Recommended for: People who want to support their metabolic health.

Dosage Recommendations

For overall wellness, most adults should follow the recommended daily allowances. For the B-vitamin group, Stalte recommends:

  • B1: 1.1. mcg for females and 1.2 mcg for males
  • B2: 1.1 mcg for females and 1.3 mcg for males
  • B3: between 14 and 16 mg for both males and females
  • B5: 5 mg for females and males above the age of 14
  • B6: 1.3 mg for females and males above the age of 19
  • B7: 50 mcg for females and males above age 11
  • B12: 2.4 mcg for both males and females
  • Folic Acid: 400 to 600 mcg for females above the age of 13 and 400 mcg for males above the age of 13.

There are exceptions, however, to the dosages recommended above. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may require different dosages, just as individuals with liver disease, kidney disease, low blood pressure, or diabetes might respond differently to B vitamins. Chat with a medical professional before adding supplements to your diet.

When To Take Them

“B-vitamins are also water-soluble, meaning that you don’t have to take the supplements with food,” says Stalte. “Anything that the body doesn’t need will be excreted in urine, which makes the risk of overdosing generally fairly low.”

Related: Get your B vitamins here.

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Yoga Goddess @FitQueenIrene

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 Instagrammers 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 that social media has to offer.

We’re kicking off the series with a Q&A with Irene Pappas a.k.a.@FitQueenIrene, a yoga guru with 550k IG followers who leads workshops and retreats and offers digital classes.

Hi Irene! Tell us a little bit about who you are, why you do what you do, and what led you down this path.
My name is Irene Pappas and I am from Washington, DC. When I was younger I hated team sports, and was never really into health or fitness. I also struggled with depression and low self-esteem. I seemed to be stuck in negative cycles. I reached a point where I decided that maybe if I could work out enough to have the perfect body, then I would be happy. So, I worked out twice a day, every day, and counted all of my calories, until one day I looked at my body and realized that even though I was “happy” with how my body looked, I still wasn’t happy.

That’s when I found yoga. Fast forward six years and here I am, spreading the same message to my yoga students and the world. Using the discipline of yoga to train my body and my mind, I have become a happier and healthier person.

Now I focus on traveling to teach workshops, as well as retreats, but the most fulfilling part is definitely leading yoga teacher trainings. In these trainings we (myself and the other teachers) are able to provide an environment that allows for tremendous growth that goes beyond yoga as we see it in the western world.

Jungle vibes + practice. @bodhiyogaacademy

A post shared by Irene Pappas (@fitqueenirene) on

As a yoga instructor, you’ve grown a tremendous following (553,000 followers!)—what do you think it is about your page that is resonating so much with people?
I think that people are inspired by my photos, but I truly hope that they take a moment to read my words. I believe in being the love you wish to see in the world, holding space for people to grow, and sharing my own growth in a reflective way.

I want people to know that they are not alone, but that only they have the power to change their lives. This takes time and dedication, and is a never-ending journey that we have to wake up and recommit to daily.

You’ve been vocal about having surgery and being told you’d never use your wrist again. It’s a scary thought, especially for someone whose life (and even spirituality) is entwined with their physical movement. How did you physically overcome that—and how can people who might have similar injuries or arthritis modify yoga poses and the practice as a whole so that they can take part?
My wrist injury was definitely one of the scariest things I have been through in my adult life, mostly because I felt like so much was unknown. I had no idea if I would be able to continue my career as a yoga teacher, and I felt like a stranger in my body.

But the real challenge was mental—not giving up on myself even though I had no guarantee that my wrist would heal. I still have days where my wrist pain is so bad that I can barely put weight on my hands, but on most days I can handstand. And for that I am beyond grateful.

This continues to be one of my greatest lessons and gifts as a yoga teacher, because of the patience and commitment that rehabbing required. People with similar injuries (or arthritis) might explore slower moving styles of yoga, working their way up to the vinyasa style, depending on their specific needs. For stretching and calming the mind, yoga is amazing. But if it is stability that they need, finding someone who specializes in rehabbing injuries is best—second to Pilates and weight training.

What sort of lifestyle habits do you maintain that also support your yoga practice? Are there supplements or foods you eat and swear by to power up and stay healthy?
My lifestyle habits tend to fluctuate depending on the seasons and where I am in the world, but there are a few things that I swear by: In the winter and while recovering from surgery, I would drink homemade grass-fed beef bone broth.

In the summer I use collagen peptides in my smoothies. I maintain a mostly vegetarian diet, but I think these are important sources of amino acids and proteins.

You’ve talked about pushing yourself too hard and it not actually being good for the body, and I find that really interesting—how do we achieve balance as we strive to grow?
That is the question, isn’t it? I think that the key is learning to stay present, in order to know what my body needs in each moment. Some days I feel strong and I am able to push pretty hard, and other days I just need to relax. I can’t assume that every day I will be strong, or every day I will be weak- so I have to listen to my body so that I can practice accordingly. The same is true in life I suppose.

What is some advice for people who have no idea how to get started in yoga? And for people who love cardio and the go-go-go of fitness, how can yoga fit into their exercise regimens?
I usually say that the best way to learn about yoga is to try local classes. Especially in the beginning, because it’s important to learn from a teacher who can see your body and make sure that you are doing the movements correctly.

I know this is hard, because many people are self-conscious when starting something new (especially something like yoga), but finding a beginner’s class is a great place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around.

Not every style or teacher is right for every person. For the people who love the intense aspect of working out, the most enjoyable class would likely be a power flow vinyasa, for example. But I would encourage them to also seek out more relaxing styles of yoga, as this will bring more balance into their lives—even if the slow pace is hard at first.

Travel is such an eye-opening adventure at times—because we’re out of our comfort zones and learning so many new things. What are some the things you’ve learned about yoga (and the self) while traveling and teaching?
I’ve learned so much from both! Traveling has taught me how to create elements of consistency for myself and my sanity, how to appreciate other cultures and differences, and how to be grateful for everything in my life. To me, all of this is yoga. It is the ultimate practice for dealing with different people and environments, and allowing  myself to move fluidly through it all, without getting stressed or losing myself. I’m still working on it. Teaching has taught me just how much there is left to learn, and that we are all students and teachers in different ways.

What is the most resonant piece of health advice you’ve gotten over the years?
I don’t know who said it first but it goes like this: “Yoga is strong medicine, but a slow medicine.” And I think this is true in many areas of life. It is in our nature to seek quick fixes, but most things take time to change.

This quote reaffirms one piece of health advice that will never get old: Be consistent and loving to yourself over a long period of time, as this is how all things are changed for good.

Cheat Meals Get A Lot Of Hate—Here’s How To Make Them Work For You

Many of us associate dieting with swearing off all cheats, treats, and comfort foods—but what if we could have our cake and lose weight, too?

Trying to stick to a too-strict diet can ultimately make healthy eating unattainable, says nutritionist Torey Armul, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So enjoying the occasional ketchup-covered fry or gooey brownie can actually be a smart move and help you maintain an overall healthy diet in the long haul. “Occasional indulgences can reduce feelings of deprivation, improve satisfaction, and maintain the pleasurable aspect of eating,” she says.

That’s where the ‘cheat meal’ comes in. This once-in-a-while opportunity to eat purely for your soul is supposed to help you stay true to your fruits and veggies the rest of the time. This way you can stay on-track with your health and fitness goals while still enjoying a good ‘ole Belgian waffle on the weekend. But it’s not all sunshine, abs, and maple syrup. Cheat meals, when mismanaged, have been known to mess with our heads, turn into all-day eat fests, and sabotage our relationship with food. But they don’t have to!

Think of these meals as treating yourself to something you love (even if it’s not super healthy). In a perfect treat meal world, you’ll embrace every bite and then return to your healthy routine. Yeah, we know that can be harder than it sounds, but with these expert-backed tips, you’ll be a treat meal pro in no time:

1. Plan ahead.

Don’t just decide last-minute that you’re sick of your diet and need a splurge. Instead, plan for treat meals a meal or two in advance. “A premeditated splurge is better than an impulsive one for getting back to your normal eating habits,” says Armul. Knowing you have a treat coming can motivate you to eat your veggies in the meantime and keep you from spiraling into a black hole of indulging afterward.

2. Don’t call it cheating.

How we identify our indulgences has a lot of power over whether they become a healthy part of our lifestyle or a problem. So, for many dietitians and psychologists, the biggest issue with cheat meals is the name itself.

“I don’t like the word ‘cheat,’ because it implies morality, and I think that’s not helpful when you’re approaching weight control,” says Edward Abramson, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Chico and author of Emotional Eating: What You Need to Know Before Starting Your Next Diet.

“The idea of a cheat meal creates a feeling that you’re being ‘bad,’ not ‘good,’ which is a moral dichotomy that shouldn’t apply to food,” agrees nutritionist Jessica Levinson, R.D., founder of Small Bites by Jessica. So spare yourself unnecessary guilt and reframe them as ‘treat meals’ instead. We’ll call them by that name from now on, too.

3. Keep it rational.

Indulging doesn’t mean scarfing down all the yummies from Friday to Monday. Take an 80/20 approach to treating yourself, says nutritionist Christy Brisette, R.D., president of 80 Twenty Nutrition. Eat as healthy as possible 80 percent of the time and enjoy your favorite eats during the rest. And remember that portions still count when you do treat yourself. “Calorically, one cheat meal can negate many days’ worth of healthy eating,” says Armul. So eat intuitively and stop when you’re 80 percent full, she says.

Related: What A Day Of 80/20 Eating Actually Looks Like

If you want to break your treats up throughout the week instead of having one full treat meal, pick one thing—like that cocktail, a side of fries, or a dessert—to enjoy every few days, Brisette recommends.

4. Fill in the gaps with healthier goodies.

Between treat meals, don’t just ignore your cravings. Instead, find healthier ways to satisfy your cravings throughout the week. The more nutritiously you can satisfy your cravings, the better.  Some ideas: Trade ice cream for frozen yogurt with fruit, or a double-cheeseburger for a bun-less burger with avocado and baked sweet potato fries, says Levinson. Swap a chocolate chip cookie for a quality dark chocolate bar, for example, and you’ll not only down fewer calories, but enjoy some benefit from the antioxidants in dark chocolate, says Abramson. When you’ve been enjoying your healthy grub all week, you’ll approach your treat meal in a more balanced, less cookie monster-ish way.

5. Go into your treat meal well-fed.

While it’s tempting to ‘save up’ calories for a delicious dinner (and dessert) out, treating yourself when you’re famished just makes you more likely to go overboard. Make sure you have a healthy meal or snack—which should include filling protein, fiber, and healthy fats—leading up to your treat time, so you’re not as tempted to go all-out, suggest Brisette and Armul.

6. Eat mindfully.

Once you’re enjoying that treat meal, take small bites and savor them. “The more you focus on sensations like the flavor and texture, the longer it will take to eat the food and the more satisfied you’ll feel,” says Abramson.  When you eat mindfully, it becomes almost impossible to binge because you’ll be more aware of when you’re really full.

7. Check in with yourself.

Keep track of how your treat meals affect your weight and whether they’re actually helping you stick to your diet. If you’re sticking to other parts of a healthy routine but still notice tighter-fitting clothes, you may need to reevaluate treat meals.

And get real with yourself about your eating behaviors after those treat meals. “For some people every healthy decision increases momentum for the next one, and the same can be true for unhealthy choices,” says Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist specializing in diet and nutrition and professor at the University of Connecticut. So ask yourself: After your treat meal, do you go back to your usual diet, or do you sometimes continue on the treat yourself train?

If you do go tend to go overboard, give yourself a break. “We make over 200 eating decisions each day— so no one is going to get them all right,” says Abramson. Don’t expect yourself to eat 100 percent clean 100 percent of the time! Consider every decision a new opportunity to get your healthy eating back on track. If your treat meals regularly spin out of control and you can’t stop once you start—even when you feel full—though, you may want to meet with a mental health professional, Abramson says. These treat meal mishaps may indicate some turmoil in your relationship with food and mental health.

Watch Out For These Treat Meal Saboteurs

While splurging once in a while can be super helpful when you’re trying to stick with healthy eating long-term, it’s easy to lose perspective. Here are a few slippery slopes to watch out for so you can either make treat meals healthier for your lifestyle—or identify if they’re not right for you:

1. Don’t deprive yourself the rest of the time.

If one treat meal Oreo turns into the entire sleeve, chances are you’re depriving yourself in the rest of your diet. And when treat meals become treat days and treat weekends, you end up sabotaging your initial goals anyway, says Armul. Your treat meals are only as helpful as the rest of your diet is balanced and nourishing.

2. Never eat until you feel sick.

This is a major no-go for healthily incorporating treat meals. When you keep eating even though you’re stuffed, you may be tempted to under-eat the next day, which will leave you wildly hungry and likely to just binge again, starting a nasty cycle of binging and restricting, says Brisette. Not only does this pattern of eating mess with your head and your relationship with food, but it’s also tough on your digestive system and throws your blood sugar out of whack.

3. Don’t beat yourself up if you overindulge.

“Watching your weight requires energy and concentration, and if you get discouraged and angry with yourself, it’s hard to maintain the motivation,” says Abramson. It’s easy to feel guilty after a treat meal turns into a treat weekend, but use this opportunity to understand what leads to you overindulging.

Depriving yourself throughout the rest of the week is a big culprit here, as are emotional eating (more on that in a sec) and social situations like parties. Self-awareness can go a long way in preventing future treat meal snowballs, though, so being tuned into your patterns can help you make sure treat meals don’t sabotage your goals.

4. Avoid emotional eating.

One of the biggest treat meal mistakes is eating to forget you’re upset, bored, or stressed, which tangles up our biological need for food with our emotions. “It’s okay to eat when you’re physically hungry, not when you’re just emotionally aroused,” says Abramson. So when you’re really itching for a treat, stop to ask yourself why you want it. Are you hungry—or are you actually pissed at your partner, feeling tired, or worried about something at work?

As soon as you identify that you want to eat for emotional reasons, distract yourself, says Abramson. Take a bath, go for a walk around the block, or make a mug of tea. “Cravings aren’t permanent. If you can distract yourself, they’ll go away,” he says.

5. Consider treat meals with any health concerns in mind.

Treat meals are tricky territory: They have the potential to cloud our relationship with food if we aren’t careful in how we use them. If you have a history of eating disorders or are unsure how to make them a healthy part of your diet, talk to your doc to decide how to best approach them.

The same goes for chronic health conditions. “If you have diabetes, for example, having a large amount of carbohydrates or sugar in a single sitting will cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket,” says Brisette. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional goody—but a qualified health professional can help you delight in your favorite treats in a healthful way.

7 Ways Extra Calories Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

You dutifully pack your own lunch every day, blend up a smoothie after your workouts, and try to avoid the vending machine—so, yeah, you’d say you’re a pretty healthy eater. Why, then, are you struggling to lose those few extra pounds? As healthy as your efforts may be, there are some sneaky foods that can add a whole lot of extra calories to your diet.

We chatted with top nutritionists about some of the biggest not-so-obvious calorie bombs out there—along with alternatives that will be friendlier to your waistline (while still totally delicious).

You know that soda is loaded with sugar, so green juice seems like a better beverage choice—after all, it’s made from fruits and veggies! But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “Even at trendy juice bars, fresh-squeezed juices can be packed with sugar,” says D.C.-based nutritionist Victoria Jarzabkowski Lindsay, M.S., R.D. “Yes, there are vitamins and minerals in these fruit and veggie juices, but with them comes a lot of sugar and virtually none of the fiber that helps mitigate your body’s blood sugar from spiraling out of control.”

Related: The 5 Fruits With The Most—And Least—Sugar

A medium apple clocks in around 72 calories,14 grams sugar, and  three grams of fiber, but a 12-ounce serving of most leading juice brands could contain upwards of 200 calories and 30 grams of sugar, depending on what ingredients are used, Jarzabkowski Lindsay says.

What to do instead: Choose juices made from vegetables only (since they have less sugar than fruits) or limit yourself to a six-ounce serving, says Jarzabkowski Lindsay. If your juice spot doesn’t have a size that small, split your juice with a friend or stash some in the fridge. Or, if you like drinks with extra flavor, go for unsweetened teas, low-sugar kombucha drinks, or plain sparkling water with a splash of juice added in, she recommends.

Pumpkin spice creamer might add a seasonal kick to your morning cup of Joe, but you’re likely using way too much of the stuff. Get this: One tablespoon of flavored coffee creamer can pack up to 45 calories, says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., founder of New Motivation Coaching in Florida. And considering many of us pour closer to three or four tablespoons of creamer into our mugs, we end up taking in close to 180 calories from creamer alone.

Things aren’t any better if you order a fancy latte from your neighborhood coffee shop—especially if you add whipped cream to the mix. A medium flavored coffee drink with whipped cream could land anywhere between 200 and 500 calories, says Lewis.

What to do instead: Switch out the flavored creamers for unsweetened almond milk, which is just 30 calories (and zero grams of sugar) for a whole cup, says Lewis. Almond milk offers a subtle nutty taste and can be fortified with up to 45 percent of your daily calcium needs. Otherwise, just stick with whole or two-percent milk.

“The little bit of extra fat [in the milk] helps the drink taste indulgent, keeps blood sugar more stable, and cuts my desire to add something more sweet to the drink,” says Jarzabkowski Lindsay. (A quarter cup of whole milk comes in at 37 calories, while a quarter cup of two-percent is about 30.) If you use lots of milk in your coffee—or drink multiple cups per day—stick with two-percent, Jarzabkowski Lindsay suggests.

You get major points for starting any meal with spinach, kale, or another green, but you may be sabotaging your salads by throwing on too many mix-ins. “Many people think eating a salad is healthy, but if you add a ton of nuts, dried fruit, cheese, and dressing, you’re taking a somewhat healthy meal and turning it into an unhealthy meal,” says Cara Walsh, R.D., of Medifast Weight Control Centers of California.

While two cups of greens is just 20 calories, half a cup of Parmesan cheese adds 200 calories, half a cup of craisins adds another 200, a tablespoon of walnuts adds 100, and six tablespoons of ranch dressing adds yet another 200 calories. Suddenly your salad is packing around 700 calories!

What to do instead: Top your salad sparingly with a tablespoon of raw sunflower seeds (53 calories), half a cup of chickpeas (100 calories), and a sixth of an avocado (50 calories), says Walsh. Each of these foods contains ‘good’ monounsaturated fats and is loaded with satiating protein, she says. Walsh likes drizzling salads with a tablespoon of olive oil for 120 calories. Try mixing your olive oil with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic for extra flavor.

When we said to use avocado sparingly, we meant it. “While avocado is considered a superfood and packs the nutrition to back up that claim, it is also a high calorie food,” says Lewis. We’re talking 160 calories for half an avocado or 320 calories for a whole one.

What to do instead: Don’t worry, you don’t have to steer clear of guac altogether. Just limit your intake to a quarter of an avocado (about 80 calories-worth) at a time, says Lewis.

If your deli sandwich of choice happens to be tuna or chicken salad, chances are your favorite between-the-bread filling packs a major calorie wallop. Typically, chicken and tuna salads are made with mayo, which packs 188 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat per two tablespoons, says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D., nutritionist in the New York City area.

What to do instead: Make tuna salad at home, and swap out the mayo for vinegar, red onion, and mustard. “Vinegar is calorie-free and two tablespoons of mustard has only 21 calories,” says Rissetto.

Nuts, like avocado, are good for you—but it’s easy to go overboard. “Nuts are a great, portable snack and can add crunch and flavor to your meals, but while they’re a great source of healthy fats, they can add calories when you’re eating mindlessly,” Lewis says. A serving size (which is about an ounce) of cashews, peanuts, almonds, or pistachios ranges from 150 to 165 calories, says Lewis—which is perfectly reasonable. But double or triple that (which is all too easy to do if you’re not careful), and you’re looking at upwards of 300 to 450 calories.

What to do instead: Stick to the portion size of one ounce—or replace your afternoon nut nosh with something else that’s crunchy and salty, Lewis suggests. She likes sliced cucumber sprinkled with salt (about 50 calories) or two plain rice cakes topped with a tablespoon of peanut powder mixed with some water to form a paste that’s lower-cal than regular PB (about 100 calories total). The nutty flavor of the rice cake snacks satisfies any craving for crunch, she says.

We’ve extolled the health benefits of red wine (studies have shown that it can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease), but vino isn’t without its downsides. A five-ounce serving of red wine comes in at about 125 calories, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., New York City-based nutritionist. So if you’re skipping dessert but drinking two glasses of wine, well, you’re not really doing yourself any favors.

What to do instead: Cut a five-ounce serving of wine with a quarter cup of seltzer to make a spritzer, says Rizzo. Or, skip the booze and sip on low-calorie fruit and herb-infused water. Try adding slices of lemon, orange, or strawberries along with a few basil or mint leaves to your glass. “I love the combo of basil and strawberry or cucumber and mint,” says Rizzo.

Related: Find your new go-to flavored sparkling water or tea.

Save this handy infographic for future calorie-saving reference:

7 Hormones That Can Mess With Your Weight

You may not know much about your hormones, but they have a huge impact on so many aspects of your health, including your mood, your sex drive, and yep, your weight.

What exactly are these all-powerful chemicals? Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through our bodies to trigger all kinds of complex bodily processes, says Florence Comite, M.D., an endocrinologist and founder of Comite Center for Precision Medicine. (And—surprise!—you have about 50 of them.) When our hormones work together properly, they do everything from regulating our metabolism to helping us reproduce to balancing our sleep cycle and mood.

But when these chemical messengers are disrupted, the effects throughout our body can be dramatic, according to Sara Gottfried, M.D., the three-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure, The Hormone Reset Diet and Younger. Out-of-whack hormones can lead to a slew of symptoms, including fatigue, sugar cravings, trouble losing weight, bloating, increased belly fat, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, and constant stress.

When it comes to our waistlines, there are seven standout hormones that, well, carry more weight. So if you’re packing on the pounds with zero explanation, these hormones may be to blame.

1. Ghrelin

Nicknamed the ‘hunger hormone,’ ghrelin is secreted from your stomach lining when your stomach is empty or not taking in enough energy through food, and signals to your brain that you need to eat, says nutritionist Susan Stalte, R.D.

We release more of this hormone when we regularly skimp on sleep, which can lead to higher calorie consumption, and an even more sedentary lifestyle, according to a study published in PloS Medicine. And a more voracious appetite makes it  more difficult to keep off excess pounds when it’s coupled with fewer workouts.

Related: Shop supplements that support a healthy snooze.

To keep your ghrelin, eating habits, and exercise routine all grooving, Stalte recommends aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep per night, avoiding processed foods, and eating a balance of fiber, healthy fats, and high-quality protein to stabilize your blood sugar and keep you feeling satisfied.

2. Cortisol

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It’s released whenever your body senses it needs to enter ‘high-alert mode’—whether you’re facing a major work deadline, fighting with your significant other, or even just hammering away in the gym. It’s also release when you lose out on sleep, according to research published in Sleep.

“Cortisol raises blood pressure and blood sugar to power your muscles and help you run,” says Gottfried. Basically, the hormone suppresses all body processes (like your immune response, digestion, and reproductive function) that would be nonessential in a true flight-or-fight situation, according to The Mayo Clinic.

While cortisol may help your body handle some sort of threat or stress in the short-term, it becomes an issue if it’s chronically elevated. “Cortisol becomes poison, causing you to store belly fat, deplete your ‘happy’ brain chemicals like serotonin, and lose sleep,” Gottfried says. These issues can snowball and lead to headaches, anxiety, depression, and digestive problems long-term. Elevated cortisol levels are also linked to food addiction and sugar cravings, and leave you more likely to reach for processed, unhealthy foods, she says.

To support healthy cortisol function, evaluate and manage the stress in your life, The Mayo Clinic recommends. Try practicing yoga, meditation, getting a massage, or seeing a counseling professional to help get symptoms under control.

3. Estrogen

Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, is responsible for the development of the female reproductive system—and its fluctuations during a woman’s menstrual cycle cause minor ebbs and flows in water weight. Research also suggests that estrogen regulates body fat distribution and food intake, according to a review published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

During women’s transition to menopause in middle age, a drop in estrogen leads to some weight gain (typically about five to eight pounds), according to Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine. These pounds are often gained around the midsection. (Not only is fat around the middle more difficult to lose, but it also increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.)

Some women use estrogen replacement therapy to help offset the weight gain associated with menopause (along with other symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats), Minkin says. Menopause-related estrogen declines are inevitable, so women should talk to their docs about whether hormone replacement therapy may be right for them. Minkin also recommends that women in or post-menopause exercise regularly, since muscle mass helps keep our metabolisms revved and can help ward off fat-gain.

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Kick-Start Your Metabolism

Men, who have some estrogen in their systems, don’t get off scot-free, though. According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, men derive estrogen from testosterone, so as their testosterone levels fall in middle age (more on that in a second), so do estrogen levels. This decrease in estrogen can contribute to an increase in belly fat for many men (like women), the study says.

4. Testosterone

Now that you’ve got ‘T’ on the mind, let’s get to it. Though it’s present in both men and women, testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and supports muscle mass, bone mass, strength, and reproductive function.

When testosterone levels take a downturn, muscle mass, metabolic rate, and energy levels all decrease, according to nutritional biochemist and author Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D. All of these factors lead to us burning fewer calories and likely gaining belly fat, he says.

Chronic stress and lack of sleep can diminish testosterone, but levels also dip as we age, says Talbott. This drop occurs in both men and women, though we typically think of ‘low-T’ as a guy thing. (Most guys’ testosterone starts to decline in their 40s.)

Testosterone replacement therapy can help offset some of the muscle mass loss many men experience as they age and address other low-T-related issues, like fatigue, according to research published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity.

 5. Thyroid Hormones

Your thyroid, which is a teeny gland located at the base of your neck, has a huge impact on the rest of your body. The thyroid makes two hormones, free thyroid 3 (T3) and free thyroid 4 (T4), which regulate our metabolism (the rate at which we use energy), affect the growth, and control how quickly we make proteins and how sensitive we are to other hormones, says Comite.

Lifestyle factors—particularly high levels of stress—can affect thyroid function, and when thyroid hormones go haywire, trouble ensues. The two main issues: Not producing enough thyroid hormones (called ‘hypothyroidism’) or producing too much (called ‘hyperthyroidism’).

Drops in T3 and T4 in hypothyroidism can slow your metabolic rate and lead to weight gain, says Talbott. Meanwhile, hyperthyroidism can speed up your metabolic rate and cause sudden weight loss and nervousness. Wonked-out thyroid hormones also throw off thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which signals to the thyroid to work harder. TSH shoots up in hypothyroidism up and drop in hyperthyroidism, Comite says.

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

Typically docs use a blood test to determine TSH levels and identify a potential thyroid issue. From there, they may do a number of things to get the thyroid chugging along at the proper pace. Treatments for hypothyroidism may include taking synthetic thyroid hormones, while treatments for hyperthyroidism may include radioactive iodine therapy or thyroid hormone blockers, along with prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, according to the American Thyroid Association.

6. Insulin

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that allows your body to use glucose (a.k.a. sugar) for energy, says Comite. When you eat or drink something that contains sugar, your body releases insulin to clear that sugar from your blood and shuttle it to your tissues (like muscles) for use.

When your cells become numb to insulin, you develop insulin resistance and instead of shuttling glucose from your blood into your cells, your liver converts that sugar into stored fat, says Gottfried. The condition is often marked by intense sugar cravings and weight gain and experts believe excess weight and inactivity are both major factors in causing it, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Docs can test your insulin levels and level of insulin resistance with a series of blood tests after an overnight fast and then periodically after drinking a sugary drink.

Losing weight and exercising can help your body become more sensitive to insulin, according to the NIDDK. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to help control blood sugar levels.

7. Leptin

Another big influencer on hunger and satiety is leptin, which Gottfried calls ‘nature’s appetite suppressant.’ “Under normal conditions, leptin signals your brain to stop eating once you’ve had enough,” she explains.

Leptin is released from fat, so research suggests that adequate leptin signals to our body that we have enough fat and aren’t starving, and consequently don’t need to take in tons of calories, according to a review published in Obesity.

However, when leptin levels (and body fat) keep rising, your receptors stop functioning properly and you never quite get the leptin cue that you’re satisfied, which—annoyingly—leaves you feeling hungry, says Gottfried. Known as leptin resistance, this predicament leaves you more likely to nosh on unhealthy foods and can cause weight gain to snowball. In fact, research has identified leptin resistance as a major player in obesity.

Your doc can identify leptin resistance through a simple blood test, says Stalte. From there, you’ll want to work with a dietitian to revamp your diet, she says.

The 6 Best Supplements For Healthy Hair

Are your locks looking a little lackluster lately? Maybe your once-thick mane is now noticeably thinner, and it seems no fancy conditioning treatment can resurrect your brittle strands.

The truth is, our hair can tell us a lot about our general health, so if your strands seem to have lost their strength and shine—particularly if you’re not actively damaging your hair with, say, problematic heat styling or chlorine on the regular—it could be your body’s way of letting you know that it needs some TLC. Here are six supplements that can help.

1. Multivitamins & Multiminerals

Dr. Daved Rosensweet, founder of I Wonder, Doctor, a website about nutrition and supplements, recommends both a high-quality daily multivitamin to support overall health and a multimineral complex, which will offer up minerals like zinc, copper, selenium, magnesium, and calcium. When used to supplement a well-balanced diet, these can help bridge the gap between any potential nutritional deficiencies.

Inadequate amounts of minerals have been shown to play a key role in hair loss. For example, a lack of zinc and copper both have been associated with hair loss and thinning, according to a study in Annals of Dermatology.

(Just take note: If you don’t want to increase your iron intake due to an iron disorder, there are some multiminerals that come without iron.)

2. Protein

Next, Rosensweet says it’s a good idea to take stock of whether or not you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. If not, he advises adding protein powder to your daily regimen, as well. After all, our hair is made out of protein and minerals.

So how much protein do you actually need? About 0.8 grams of protein per every kilogram of bodyweight, according to the USDA. So a 130-pound person would need 48 grams of protein per day.

However, that’s just a baseline. If you’re a weightlifter or an endurance athlete—or even if you’re trying to lose weight without losing the muscle you’ve packed on—you’ll need more (somewhere between 1.2 and 3.5 grams of protein per every kilogram of bodyweight). More on that here.

3. Biotin & Collagen

You’ve probably seen dozens of biotin- and collagen-based shampoos, conditioners, and beauty supplements out there—and there’s a good reason for that (besides the two ingredients being super-on-trend these days).

Related: I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

Studies like this one in Science suggest that age-related hair loss is associated with a lack of collagen, while research in the International Journal of Trichology suggests biotin promotes overall hair health.

4. VITAMIN D

People tend to associate vitamin D with bone health, but it may also play a role in our hair’s health. In fact, a study in Dermatology Online suggests that vitamin D is integral in the cycling (or regrowth) of our hair follicles.

Vitamin D is also something plenty of people are short on—especially those living in less sunny environments—so it’s key that you get enough for your overall health.

5. B Vitamins

According to the journal Przeglad Menopauzalny, B vitamins play a key role in promoting hair health. We already know that Biotin (B7) is crucial, but so is Cobalamin (or B12), which is connected to excess hair loss in some cases of anemia.

Pantothenic acid (B5) helps to prevent early graying, and boosts the hair’s natural color. But its benefits are more than, well, strand deep. Vitamin B5 also promotes hair growth and regulates the function of sebum glands.

Folate or folic acid (B9) helps support hair health by creating red blood cells and hemoglobin, both of which transport oxygen to hair, helping to promote the growth of new hair follicle cells.

6. Viviscal

Viviscal is an oral marine protein supplement many people use to promote hair health. It features a blend of AminoMar complex, biotin, and zinc.

Related: Shop supplements, topical products, and more.

Other Considerations

If your diet is on point but your hair is still an issue, there could be another culprit: your hormones. Hair loss on the scalp and the body may indicate hormonal issues, like with people who have severe hypothyroidism or other endocrine system disorders.

The endocrine changes that occur after giving birth can result in postpartum hair loss, and may last for as long as 15 months. And for women experiencing menopause, the hair follicles are also affected.

With hormonal hair issues, you might notice thinning hair or strands that fall out in large clumps when you brush it. If you suspect your troublesome tresses might be related to a hormonal imbalance of some kind, consider making an appointment with your doctor.

The Bottom Line

“When someone’s hair is not healthy, there are underlying problems, and very often they’re nutritional,” says Rosensweet. This means that healthy hair begins with healthy nutritional habits.

The very best place to start is with a diet rich in organic (versus non-organic) foods, says Rosensweet—particularly fruit, vegetables, and dairy, which studies, like this one in the British Journal of Nutrition, have shown contain more antioxidants (which protect against oxidative stress that also affects hair) and omega-3 fatty acids (good for your hair, skin, an overall health) than their non-organic counterparts. So, the more nutrients we can get naturally–and organically—from our meals, the better.

6 Period Symptoms That Warrant A Visit To The Doctor

Plenty of women who get their periods are well acquainted with monthly cramps, cravings, mood swings, and fatigue. But there’s a real difference between annoying symptoms that are par for the course and others that are actually cause for medical concern.

We asked experts to weigh in on period symptoms that may serve as red flags. If you experience any of the six following symptoms, you’ll do well to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.

1. Excessive bleeding (also known as menorrhagia)

Although you may feel like your periods are heavy, needing to change a pad or tampon on the hour every hour is not normal, warns Sheeva Talebian, MD, co-founder of Truly MD (an informative blog about health written by doctors) and director of third-party reproduction at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in New York City.

Related: Shop products to help get you through your cycle.

Bleeding heavily could indicate an “anatomic problem, like fibroids (noncancerous tumors of the uterus) or polyps (small, benign growths on the lining of the uterus), or it could be a miscarriage,” she notes. It could also be a result of a hormone imbalance or adenomyosis (a condition in which glands from the endometrium become embedded in the uterine muscle), or a complication related to medications or other medical conditions.

Dr. Talebian suggest seeing your doctor ASAP if the heavy bleeding continues, especially for several days.

2. A particularly long period (also known as metrorrhagia)

Some women bleed for four days, some for a week. But if your period lasts longer than seven days, you should see your doctor, Dr. Talebian says. As with menorrhagia, bleeding for this long may be an indicator of an anatomic issue or miscarriage.

3. Large clots

Generally, clots—a coagulation of the thick lining in the uterus—are considered normal. This is because your body releases anticoagulants during your period, but sometimes the flow of your period is too quick for the blood to de-clot.

However, if you happen to pass a blood clot that is bigger than a silver half dollar, check in with your doctor, says Jenepher K. Piper, MSN, CRNP, a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner specializing in Family Medicine at Hunt Valley Family Health, an affiliate of Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, Maryland. “This could be a sign of fibroids or a bleeding disorder,” Piper notes.

One such bleeding disorder is Von Willebrand’s disease, which prevents blood from clotting properly.

4. Intermittent bleeding throughout the cycle

Spotting, especially out of the blue, could be cause for concern, Piper notes. According to the US National Library of Medicine, vaginal bleeding that occurs between periods is typically benign and treatable. However, there are cases when the bleeding may indicate a greater health concern. So, if you’re spotting (especially if that spotting is heavy), you’ll want to see a doctor.

5. Periods that are extremely light

It may sound like a dream to some women, but a light period isn’t always a good thing. “[A very light period] could indicate a lack of ovulation or damage to the uterine lining,” Dr. Talebian explains.

Light periods may also be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, especially if accompanied by sudden fainting, abdominal pain, and shoulder pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. They can be very harmful, so see a doctor immediately if this is a possibility.

6. A sudden fever, vomiting or diarrhea, a rash resembling a sunburn, or feeling sick after using tampons

If you’ve been using tampons and are suddenly feeling like you’ve come down with a weird bug, check in with your doctor.

Symptoms may be linked to toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria or group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Toxic shock syndrome has been associated primarily with long-term use of superabsorbent tampons. Thankfully, the tampons connected to TSS have decreased in the marketplace, and in turn, incidence of the condition is on the decline.

Related: An All-Natural Guide To Surviving Your Period With A Smile

The Bottom Line

According to the Mayo Clinic, women should also take any of the following patterns or symptoms seriously:

  • Your periods suddenly stop for more than 90 days—and you’re not pregnant.
  • Your periods become erratic after having been regular.
  • Your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart.
  • You develop severe, debilitating pain during your period.

There are plenty of possible culprits—from lifestyle factors (like how much exercise you get) to diseases, fibroids, and birth control—that could lead to abnormal menstrual symptoms. They generally can’t be diagnosed without a medical professional, so it’s wise to take note of what you’re experiencing, and when and how often, and then talk to your doctor.

Should You Stop Weighing Yourself? Probably.

If you can’t help but step on the scale when you pop out of bed in the morning, consider yourself in good company.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the number on the scale, but most experts agree that daily—or even weekly—weigh-ins are not our friend. Here, three experts explain why, and share healthier, more effective ways to evaluate your well-being, fitness, and fat-loss progress.

Why You Should Step Off The Scale

For many of us, the number on the scale isn’t just a neutral piece of data, it’s everything. “Basically, we’re conditioned to think less is more, so our self-worth gets tied up in our weight,” says certified weight-management specialist Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. We’ve societally identified weighing more as bad and weighing less as good—even though there’s so much more to us than this binary.

“A lot of people have a bad relationship with the scale and become emotional slaves to the number it shows,” agrees certified yoga teacher and dietitian Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N. That number may have the power to create bad habits (or resurrect old ones), encourage obsessive thoughts, and set the emotional tone for the day, she adds.

The scale can even backfire on our overall health and fitness efforts because it de-emphasizes a healthy lifestyle in favor of short-term weight loss, explains Cording. As a result, we may value losing five or 10 pounds over achievements that are truly health-conscious, like cutting back on processed foods.

Plus, the scale doesn’t provide very much information about your health, anyway. “The scale gives you one piece of information, but it’s not the full picture,” says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. Things the scale can’t tell you: how much fat versus muscle you have, your healthy your cardiovascular system is, whether your hormones are functioning properly, how much energy you have throughout the day, or how easily you can charge up a flight of stairs.

We confuse ‘slim’ with ‘healthy,’ but someone who looks slim can still have a lot of visceral fat (fat around your vital organs) and actually be pretty unhealthy, explains Cording. Meanwhile, someone may be discouraged by an upwards-inching scale even though they’re gaining muscle, not fat.

Plus, there are a number of variables that can throw your weight off from day to day. Anything from how hydrated you are to when you last pooped to how much sodium you’ve eaten recently to fluctuating hormone levels (especially during women’s menstrual cycles) can affect the number you see on the scale, says Cording.

Setting Scale-Free Goals

While losing weight can be an appropriate goal for some people, it shouldn’t be your primary focus on the quest to becoming healthier, says Cording. When all of your decisions are focused on shedding pounds, you may be more inclined to make unhealthy choices, like skipping meals, that might lead to a lower number on the scale but don’t support a healthy lifestyle long-term, she explains.

Plus, seeing a lower number on the scale may mean you’ve lost muscle, not fat. Losing muscle can slow your metabolic rate (because muscle burns more calories than fat) and actually cause you to gain fat, explains Wickham. And that’s not good for your waistline or your health.

Related: 11 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Metabolism

So instead of focusing on the scale, identify specific long-term goals and set non-scale-related goals you can accomplish every day. “When my clients come to me with the goal of losing weight, I push them to explain why losing weight is the goal,” says Cording. Your specific long-term goal may be that you want to feel confident in a dress at an upcoming event, lose fat around the middle, see more muscle definition, or lower your blood pressure.

A doctor, nutritionist, and/or trainer can help you identify the best steps to take for your goals, and from there you can track those healthy habits, like strength training more often, trying high-intensity interval training workouts, or eating more whole, unprocessed foods from day to day. This way, victory transforms from losing pounds to having a great workout or eating a healthy dinner. Losing weight may be a byproduct of these day-to-day goals, it’s not the goal itself, Cording explains.

How To Track Your Health And Fitness Without The Scale

Now that you’ve upgraded your goals, it’s time to upgrade how you track your progress, too. These expert-backed methods will help you evaluate how much fat you have and understand your health far more than the scale.

1. Track Your Energy Levels

When you adjust your goals to focus more on feeling and looking healthier than hitting a certain weight, chances are you’ll better fuel and move your body, while giving it the rest it needs. “When somebody starts eating better and taking care of their body, they start to really feel different and have more energy,” says Gans. And unlike the fatigue that often comes with slashing calories and working out all the time to lose weight, improved energy levels just motivate you further. Try keeping a daily journal and making not of your energy levels so you can track measurable improvements as you go.

2. See How Your Clothes Fit

“We know when our pants fit and when they are looser, or tighter” says Gans. So if you’re used to checking in with the scale to measure your progress, check in with a pair of ‘honesty pants’ instead, suggest Cording and Gans. ‘Honesty pants’ are a pair of pants (or any other item of clothing) that you wear regularly enough to notice when they are fitting differently.

3. Track Body Fat Percentage

“Body fat percentage is my go-to for people interested in losing weight,” says Wickham. By learning how much of your body weight is fat, you can better ensure that weight you lose comes from fat and not muscle. After all, when you increase how much lean mass you have compared to body fat, you boost your metabolism, says Wickham.

Healthy body fat percentages depend on your age and sex. For men and women in their thirties, body fat percentages of about 14 to 17 percent and 18 to 22 percent, respectively, are considered ‘good.’ That goes up to about 16 to 20 percent and 21 to 25 percent for men and women in their forties.

The most accurate ways of measuring body fat percentage are also the most expensive. If you’re really gung-ho about knowing exactly how much fat you have, you can measure it by being weighed underwater (basically, muscle sinks and fat floats) or using a capsule device that uses air displacement to evaluate your body mass, volume, and density, says Wickham.

But perhaps the easiest, cheapest, and still-very-accurate way to estimate your body fat percentage is with body calipers, he says. You can even do it from home. You use the calipers to pull the fat away from your muscles and measure it, and match those measurements against a chart. (Note: This method sometimes slightly underestimates body fat percentage.)

Estimate your body fat percentage at the start of a new health and fitness program and once a month thereafter, Wickham recommends.

5. Track Overall Strength, Speed, And Flexibility

If fitness becomes a big part of your journey towards your healthiest self, focusing on performance can be a motivating way to measure your progress. If you’ve been strength training to improve your lower-body strength, for example, track your three or 10-rep maximum for deadlifts and squats each month, Wickham suggests. Or if you’ve been running frequently, test your one-mile time. If you’ve been practicing yoga, note when you’re more able to comfortably touch your toes or bend into a tough pose. For every type of training, there is a goal and baseline test that can be created and tested monthly to show progress, Wickham says.

6. Measure Waist Circumference

More than just a tool for fat loss, waist circumference can be a useful measure for evaluating possible health risks that come with being overweight or obese. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than around your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A waist circumference higher than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is considered a red flag for disease risk.

Related: Shop training tools and accessories to boost your fitness from home.

Like the scale, though, a measuring tape doesn’t account for hormone levels, bloat, or the last time we went to the bathroom, so use this progress-tracking method in addition to one or two of the others listed here to add to your understanding of your health, says Wickham.

Special Cases

While ending a stress-ridden relationship with the scale can help you take a more holistic approach to health, fitness, and wellness, we’re not saying you need to throw your scale straight out the window. “If someone has a healthy relationship with the scale, there’s no reason to rule it out completely” says Gans. Just limit weigh-ins to once a month and do so with a health coach, nutritionist, or doctor, who can help make sure you consider the number objectively.

Plus, there are a few medical conditions and circumstances, such as acute congestive heart failure or pregnancy, in which the scale is a vital tool, says Cording. If people in these special circumstances need to weigh themselves regularly, they will have been given instruction to do so by their doc, she adds.

Are You The Only One Not Doing Yoga?

In the past two decades, yoga has transformed from a hippie-dippy hobby to a way of life, complete with expensive stretchy pants and personalized mats. Still not sure it’s for you? We double-downward-dog dare ya to try it.

Many people tap into the physical aspect of yoga without realizing it can be transformative in deeper, more personal ways. Not only can yoga strengthen and lengthen your muscles, it can also provide positive effects on your mental health, offering tons of benefits for people suffering from anxiety and depression. Research in Alternative and Complementary Medicine even showed that those who practice yoga regularly often walk away from their practice with increased self-esteem and a further interest in self-care.

Yoga benefits our physical health in a variety of ways, as well, promoting everything from metabolic health to bodyweight and nervous system support, according to Indian Heart Journal.

For many people, though, yoga is intimidating—especially if you don’t know the moves or are used to other forms of fitness, like cardio. (Cue the image of fit, ultra-flexible yogis, gracefully moving through poses in synchronicity.) You might even feel like there’s some mysterious yoga class “rule” you aren’t privy to.

Related: Does Yoga Count As A Workout?

There’s good news: There’s no secret! You just show up and try. There are tons of beginner classes out there, which will help you learn the basic poses and understand the difference between, say, Vinyasa and Bikram. If you’re ready to take that first step, here are six things that can help you prepare for your first class.

1. Invest in Proper Gear

Maybe you own a few pairs of yoga pants—for running or wearing around the house. But are they comfortable? Do they restrict movement? Yoga involves a great deal of stretching and holding various positions, so it’s important to find clothing that isn’t distracting. (Aerie sells super-affordable and very comfortable leggings and yoga pants in their Chill Play Move line, while Lululemon is renown for their chic yoga pants at a higher price point.)

You’ll also need a yoga mat that prevents slipping and provides some cushioning. (Lots of classes provide mats, but having your own is helpful, and prevents you from coming into contact with other people’s sweat and germs.) Oh, and don’t worry about footwear. You’ll find that most yoga practitioners go barefoot during class.

2. Start Online

More good news: You don’t have to leave the house to attend your first yoga class. There are plenty of “Yoga for Beginners” videos available online and many are free on YouTube. Try a few different videos (Hatha is popular for starters, as it’s very mind-and-body focused) to get a hang of the basics, then consider whether you want to move to a studio or gym. Not only will this let you build your stamina in private, but you’ll also be able to determine the type of yoga you want to practice.

Hatha for Beginners:

3. Know Your Options

Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all form of exercise. There are lots of different kinds of yoga (you can read about a few of them here), but most beginner classes focus on either Hatha (a very general term that can applied to lots of yoga types) or Vinyasa yoga, which are less intense than other forms. Do a little research, or talk to the instructors at your local yoga studio, so you know what you’re getting into.

Some other most common kinds of yoga include Kundalini (an intense combo of breathing and repetitive poses), Ashtanga (a more athletic form of yoga that can be done at its own pace), Bikram (hot yoga that moves through 26 poses), and Jivamukti (a Hatha-based form that focuses on physical, ethical, and spiritual practice).

If you’re not into the whole power-yoga scene, “there are gentle and restorative classes for people who are older or injured, want to treat their bodies more gently, or are looking for a deeper sort of connection,” says Sara DiVello, certified yoga instructor and author of Where In The Om Am I?

And what about the right instructor? “I always say that finding the right yoga teacher is like dating: Sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find The One,” says DiVello. “So ask for recommendations from friends who do yoga, research the teacher’s qualifications (where did they do their training? How long have they been teaching?), and then go on a ‘first date’ to see if you vibe with them.”

When you’re in class, DiVello recommends trusting your gut on whether it’s the right fit or not: “Do you feel safe in this space and with them? Do you feel comfortable? Never trust a teacher more than you trust yourself. You’re the ultimate expert when it comes to your body, your abilities, and what’s best for you.”

4. Rest AS NEEDED

Don’t feel bad if you can’t hold a pose for as long as your instructor or others in your class do. Even in a beginner class, there will be people who have been working out for a while. The best thing about yoga is that practitioners are encouraged to do what feels right for your body.

If you feel a certain move is too strenuous, modify it so it’s more comfortable for you. If you need to rest, go back to Table Pose or Easy Pose and focus on your breathing. If you need a little help reaching, use a yoga block, and if you get overwhelmed, take a deep breath and try again. Other practitioners know that yoga is a process.

5. Find the Right Studio for You

Not all instructors, studios, or types of yoga will be right for you. Try to avoid a monthly commitment until you’ve at least taken a couple of classes from one instructor. (Your best bet is to ask if a studio offers a weekly package or a low-commitment trial.) And know that an instructor can make or break an experience, so don’t let one not-so-great class scare you out of trying yoga. If you don’t feel comfortable with one instructor or at a studio, there are plenty of other options out there.

Related: Shop yoga gear for your first class. 

6. Find a Buddy

If you’re terrified at the thought of walking into a class alone, find a friend to go with you. Having a fitness accountability partner can be life-changing; when you feel like you want to skip a class, the thought of letting down a friend can push you to show up.

If you can’t find anyone, don’t worry. It’s easy to make friends at class once you start attending on a regular basis.

8 Supplements That Support A Healthy Reproductive System

Whether you’re actively trying to get pregnant or want to get your period symptoms under control, eating clean, exercising, and sleeping well can help ensure a properly functioning reproductive system.

But you can take all of that a step further by using supplements for additional support, says Dr. Michele Sherwood, DO, co-author of Fork Your Diet and founder of the Functional Medical Institute of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Here are eight expert- and science-backed supplements that can help promote a healthy reproductive system.

1. Omega-3S

Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil and some plant-based oils, like flaxseed) are often lauded for their ability to support brain and heart health. But they’re also good for overall female reproductive health, notes Sheeva Talebian, MD, co-founder of Truly MD and director of third party reproduction at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in New York City. That’s because they include something called essential fatty acids, which are key for our biological processes.

Research proves it: A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology looked at women aged 20-35 who were suffering from PMS, and concluded that taking an omega-3 supplement supported good health during menstruation.

“The three types of omega-3 fatty acids involved in human physiology are a-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant oils, as well as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—both commonly found in marine oils,” Sherwood says.

Common sources of plant oils containing the omega-3 ALA fatty acid include walnut, chia seeds, and hemp oil. Sources of animal omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids include fish, fish oils, squid oils, and krill oil.

Dr. Sheeva recommends purified fish oil, but advises steering away from cod liver oil, as some have very high levels of vitamins A and D and can contain heavy metals.

2. DIM

Diindolylmethane, or DIM, is the breakdown product of indole 3-carbinol, the phytochemical found in veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. And it packs a powerful punch for your whole body. Basically, it’s an antioxidant that aids in promoting a healthy estrogen balance, Dr. Sherwood notes.

Plus, DIM improves the healthy utilization of the hormone testosterone. (Yep, even women need this hormone). “Testosterone balance aids bone health, brain health, heart health, and sexual health,” she says. DIM also promotes a healthy metabolism. Win-win!

3. L-Arginine

L-arginine, an amino acid and a building block of protein, promotes various functions in the body. L-Arginine becomes nitric oxide (a blood vessel-widening agent called a vasodilator) in the body, which helps promote healthy blood pressure. Dr. Talebian also likes it for women’s health.

“This [is an] amino acid that helps with cell division, immune function, and the release of hormones,” says Dr. Talebian. “

4. Folate

This is one of the most important nutrients for reproductive health, notes nutritionist Victoria J. Lindsay, RD. “Folate is a type of B-vitamin required for DNA synthesis and the formation of new cells in the body,” Lindsay explains.

Folate is especially important for its role in ovarian health and in the prevention of birth defects. “During pregnancy, the developing fetus requires folate to form new organs and tissues, and a deficiency in folate can result in a higher risk of neural tube defects,” she explains.

Don’t just take folate when you’re preparing for pregnancy, though. All women of reproductive age should be taking folate daily—in case of unexpected pregnancy. 

5. Iron

“This nutrient plays a big role in transporting oxygen throughout the body, as well as creating protein and helping with the body’s energy production,” explains Lindsay. And women are at extra risk for iron deficiency due to losing blood during menstruation. While an iron deficiency can manifest itself in issues like increased fatigue, low levels have also caused fertility issues. In fact, the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found a link between the consumption of iron supplements and fertility. 

That said, you’ll do well to proceed with caution when supplementing with iron, as too much iron in the body may have adverse health effects, Lindsay notes. “Monitor dosage and work with a physician when wanting to increase iron intake,” she advises. (And for women who don’t need to supplement with iron but want to take a multivitamin, multis are available without iron for women).

6. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil

Flaxseed, as mentioned above, is a rich source of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—good for our overall health and menstrual symptoms. And the lignans (a type of health-promoting polyphenol) in flaxseed are thought to have some antioxidant properties that may support healthy estrogen activity, according to the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

7. Probiotics

All women can benefit from taking probiotics, Lindsay shares. That goes for even women without tummy problems or vaginal issues.

Probiotics—the bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tracts—are responsible for several essential metabolic processes, such as immune system regulation and proper digestion and absorption of food and nutrients,” says Lindsay.

Related: Probiotics Changed My Sex Life For The Better

For women, she explains, the better our bodies can process and absorb the nutrients in our food, the better we fuel all of the chemical reactions needed to keep ourselves and our reproductive systems healthy.

8. Chaste tree berry (vitex agnus castus)

This ironically-named herb is used to support women’s reproductive health (specifically, it supports a regular menstrual cycle), notes a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association.

The study showed that women had a decrease in the number of heavy bleeding days they experienced after using the extract.

Important to note: The herb does take several months to kick in. Pregnant women are warned against using it, as it could cause miscarriage.

Why I Never Hide My Plus-Size Body At The Gym

Sweaty and exhausted, my spent body traces the steps back to the gym locker room, where my locker houses all of my post-workout belongings: shampoo, slippers, and a moisturizer. I need a good hot shower after spending 60 minutes running on the treadmill (while watching two episodes of Veep).

I peel Spandex, mesh, socks, and underwear away from my body to free my skin from the compression, and then I stand there, fully naked. I stay naked as I traipse to the shower, back to my locker, and while I apply my makeup and blow-dry my hair. I don’t put my clothes back on until I’m ready to leave.

I do this on purpose.

Leaving my clothes as the absolute last step in my get-ready process is a choice I’ve made because I’m a plus-size woman—and plus-size women often do not get the visibility or representation we deserve.

In order to be represented in a way that allows me to be seen as a three-dimensional person (and not the so-called sexless, unattractive, lazy, fat friend), I have to make myself available and vulnerable in the spaces where my body is often not seen. So, I am taking it upon myself to be a walking statement that says my body is perfectly normal.  

Plus-size women often do not get the visibility or representation we deserve.

Body positivity has made its way across social media in the past few years, but we still need to expand our scope of #BodyGoals to include all different kinds of bodies—and their bellies, hips, chests, legs, arms, and thighs. Championing all kinds of bodies allows our brains to recognize and get used to the fact that there is actually more than once acceptable look out there—which you can see when you see me stripping down alongside everyone else in a locker room. It’s like exposure therapy for the masses.

Related: My Size 18 Body Doesn’t Mean I’m Unhealthy

Have you ever encountered a trend that you weren’t really fond of (hello, everything from the ’90s), but over time grew to accept (or even love) because you saw it so often? That is the basic tenant of exposure therapy—expose yourself to something that makes you wildly uncomfortable and eventually that thing becomes normal to you.

Once, I forced myself to wear nothing but sleeveless tops for an entire month just so I could stop hiding my arms behind cardigans during warmer weather. This was one of the best self-care moves I’ve ever done for myself. Basically, expose yourself to all bodies and eventually you’ll start to see their beauty. It’s all about representation.

My body makes people uncomfortable. It jiggles when I run. It has winding curves and a protruding chest and backside. My body can’t just walk into any store and find a perfect fitting pant—because they don’t sell my size. When I sit down my belly sticks out. When I bend over, a soft ripple extends across my sides. When I walk, my chest sways slightly to the rhythm of each step.

I am taking it upon myself to be a walking statement that says my body is perfectly normal.  

But there I am, walking around the gym locker room with the confidence of a woman that’s been told her body has value.

Sometimes I get stares. I wish I was doing something interesting to garner those glances, like jumping up and down or singing at the top of my lunges. Most of the time, I’m just looking for my makeup bag or tying back my hair.

I used to run straight to the bathroom to change the very moment I turned off the shower. I would try to stretch the far-too small gym towel across my body as though I wasn’t allowed to be seen. A belly roll here, a thigh muscle there—constantly behaving like anyone above size 14 had a secret they had to keep under the towel. Everyone else got to gracefully take their time in the nude while checking their phones at their lockers while I found a bathroom to get ready in.

The moment I stopped hiding was the moment I saw another woman in the locker room with a similar body type to mine doing the same thing I was doing: She was gathering all of her belongings and heading to an open stall to change. It was like a silent, common understanding that we should be hiding.

too good not to share 👀 #bodysuit via @forever21plus

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But after seeing that woman hide, I couldn’t abide any longer. Despite what people have been told, my body is a gym body—and it’s important for it to be seen as such so that we continue to recognize all bodies across all spaces.

The lack of plus-size bodies represented in general (movies, ads, fashion, fitness) gives me the extra push I need to make sure my body is seen in locker rooms or running in public spaces or simply being confident.

Am I changing the world? No. We as a society have much larger issues to tackle—no matter how naked I get. But am I making it a better place so that other people feel comfortable and good about their bodies? Yeah, I am.

And if you are the kind of person who silently judges the bodies of others in a seemingly-safe space, I say to you this: Take a good, long look, because this is my body goal.

How Much Does One Night Of Pigging Out Really Affect Your Body?

When a scoop of ice cream turns into a pint, or a slice of pizza turns into four, we’ve probably all asked ourselves, ‘What have I done?’ And, often, we feel pretty dang guilty.

But does the once-in-a-blue-moon pig-out really affect more than our conscience?

Breathe easy—you can’t actually gain weight from just one double cheeseburger, nacho fries, and a chocolate milkshake kind of meal. So nix the guilt, enjoy your indulgence, and resume a healthy diet the next morning, says Kelly R. Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. “With 3,500 calories in a pound, it would take a very unhealthy binge to gain real weight in one sitting,” she says.

But, still, that doesn’t mean a night of junk doesn’t affect your body in other ways.

What Qualifies As A Pig-Out?

You’re probably wondering exactly how many calories it takes before a treat turns into an all-out nosh fest. We all have individual calorie requirements, but it’s safe to say that eating 1,000 calories in one sitting qualifies as a pig out, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet.

And it’s easier to get there than you might think. A big drive-thru burger with a medium fries and soda comes in close to 1,100 calories, while even salads at some chain restaurants break that 1,000-calorie mark, says Moon. Yep, we’ve definitely done it more than a handful of times.

Why You Feel So Crappy After A Pig Out

Immediately post pig-out, you’ll probably deal with an array of digestive issues. (Let’s be real: You might start feeling crummy even before you put your fork down.) Big meals slow your digestion, so your food spends extra time processing in your system, and often makes you gassy, Moon says.

And then there’s the heartburn. “The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid to begin the digestive process and to kill as much bacteria as it can before the food moves on through the digestive system,” Jones says. The more food you eat the more acid you produce, and some of that extra acid can find its way back up the esophagus and cause discomfort, she says.

As your body calls all-hands-on-deck to digest your junk, it sends more blood to your GI tract, which means less blood is available to transport oxygen and nutrients to other parts of your body, Moon says. This can leave you feeling sluggish and maybe even light-headed, she says.

And, beyond the stomach upset, an all-out eat fest will spike your blood sugar—especially if your food was high in carbs or sugar—giving you a quick energy boost. When your blood sugar rises like this, you release the hormone insulin, which ensures the nutrients you’ve consumed are taken up by our cells to be used, Moon says. But when you overeat, you release too much insulin, which signals to your body that you don’t need all of the energy as fuel—and so you store some as fat. And as quickly as that blood sugar rises, it crashes—making you feel like a sloth.

This barrage of discomfort often leads to a crummy night of sleep, especially if you have acid reflux. “Lying down after eating a big meal can really exacerbate your discomfort,” she says. And the aftermath of that poor sleep can throw off your entire next day.

All the insulin that your pancreas churned out the night before can actually set off hunger cues and eventually make you feel even hungrier than you were before. “This can obviously lead to overeating,” Moon explains. And when your blood sugar dips too low after spiking, you may experiences headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and brain fog, because your body needs glucose (a.k.a. sugar) to fuel itself, she says.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

Finally, while that one trip through the drive-thru won’t make you actually gain a pound of fat, it will lead a couple pounds of bloating and water retention, says Moon. So when you step on the scale the next morning and notice it ticks upwards, it’s because your body is holding onto water after taking in excess fats, salt, and sugar. Basically, when there’s too much sodium in your system, for example, your body retains water to dilute its concentration, she says.

What Are The Long-Term Effects?

An occasional Saturday night pizza run with friends won’t do much damage, but if pig-outs become a habit, you may be in for some pretty gnarly side effects.

Like, yes, stretching your stomach. “The average stomach is about the size of a fist and can hold less than a cup when empty, but it can expand about five times that size to hold more than four cups of food and drink,” says Moon. YIKES. Pigging out too often and stretching out your stomach can actually disrupt your hunger and stopping-point cues, which can lead to a cycle of overeating, she says.

Plus, when you chronically spike your blood sugar levels, you promote fat storage, says Jones. This weight gain may increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, Moon adds. Basically, when you put too much demand on your pancreas to churn out insulin over and over again, it struggles, leading to higher blood sugar—a condition known as insulin resistance, she explains.

Going too hard on the junk food too often can also change the bacteria in the gut, which can lead to worsened digestion over time, Moon explains. Whole foods—especially plant foods that contain fiber—are the ideal food for the good bacteria in your gut, she says. That pint of ice cream or cheese-steak? Not so much.

Perhaps most scarily, eating super large meals at night can increase your risk of obesity and heart disease, says Moon. (Sad but true: A recent review published in Nutrients supports backs this up.)

Get Back To Business

When your eat fest is over, the best thing you can do is move on. Moon recommends doing 15 minutes of light exercise, whether it’s a walk or light housework, and sipping on water, which can move digestion along after you’ve let your belly settle enough to get moving.

Also, stay away from booze, which can further delay digestion and make you hungrier, she adds. Spend the next few days loading up on high-fiber foods (like fruits and vegetables) and water to nourish your body, keep your digestive tract chugging along, and flush out your system, Moon says. As long as you get your healthy eating back on track, any water weight you gained after noshing should disappear, says Jones.

Related: Try a fiber supplement to help get things moving. 

Keep in mind that while some people might recover in 24 hours, others might need up to three days to get rid of the sugar, salt, and carb bloat, says Jones. Sticking to clean eats and being mindful of your body and how it responds will help you bounce back from your pig-out and keep you from going overboard in the future.

How Pregnancy Triggered The Return Of My Old Disordered Eating Habits

In my late teens to early twenties, I suffered from anorexia nervosa. At some point in my mid-twenties, I’d had enough of battling myself and my desire to control my food intake, and forced myself to recover on my own. Success was not linear, and it took a long time to get to the point where I felt okay with my body.

Some years later, I got married. And just this past year, at 30-years-old, I became pregnant with my first child.

At first, the pregnancy felt freeing. I was excited to gain weight for the first time in my life. But during the first trimester I was racked with nausea every morning and ate whatever I could muster to make myself feel better—and those foods were mostly carbs.

Around 28 weeks, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes—in which the body doesn’t make enough insulin in the presence of insulin resistance during pregnancy. It’s standard for every pregnant woman to have a gestational diabetes screening around this time, and I had failed the test.

I hadn’t actually tracked my food intake since my early eating disorder days. I worried that it could trigger some of my old issues, but mostly I felt that I had a handle on it.

With gestational diabetes, you have to tightly control your carbohydrate intake, or it could create complications in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure. So, I began the process of cutting my carbohydrate intake and carefully tracking any starchy foods that I ate in order to keep my blood glucose levels in an optimal range. (Foods that contain carbs usually cause blood glucose levels to rise.)

On top of using a glucometer, which determines the approximate concentration of glucose in the blood, I thought tracking my food on MyFitnessPal might help me keep my diet on track and my carbohydrate intake balanced. I hadn’t actually tracked my food intake since my early eating disorder days, and while I worried that it could trigger some of my old issues, mostly I felt that I had a handle on it and it would be alright.

At first, it was hard. It seemed that anything starchy caused my blood glucose levels to skyrocket, even when I ate these foods with slow-burning proteins (which were supposed to help prevent that from happening). But even foods like beans and sweet potatoes were problematic for me.

Back in my eating disorder days, I used to classify food as “safe” or “unsafe,” and this list usually included sugary foods (“unsafe”) and low-sugar foods (“safe”). So as I tracked my intake, I started feeling the safe-unsafe binary pop up again and I even began to feel guilty if I had so much as a piece of fruit that wasn’t considered low in sugar. I longed for mangos, pineapples, and bananas, but I was stuck eating cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots.

Over a few weeks, I became nervous about literally everything I ate. I eliminated almost anything that had a carbohydrate count higher than 10 grams, and this bled into worrying about weight gain, which I knew was absolutely necessary during pregnancy. However, it became a double-edged sword— if I gained too much, would I then also be hurting my unborn child?

Teeth-grinding, moodiness, and fatigue gripped me—I knew these were all related to how I was eating, and not just from the surge of pregnancy hormones. I obsessed over which foods to eat and when, rather than following the natural hunger cues of my body. And I lost sleep at night planning out what to eat the next day. I become so tired that I didn’t want to go to the gym, which I knew also helped to regulate blood sugar levels in pregnancy.

Related: How To Get Off The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

If I became hungry outside of regular mealtime, I’d roll over snack options in my head for at least an hour before considering something that felt both low sugar and low calorie enough to consume.

Additionally, I was spending so much time calculating my food intake on the app during dinner time with my spouse—and this only took away from the time we had to spend together. My spouse remarked on how much I was on my phone, and that’s when I finally realized I was becoming obsessive over my food.

I had initially thought that tracking my carbohydrates in My Fitness Pal—along with using the glucometer to measure my blood sugar levels after meals—would help me stay organized and help me to figure out which foods would be best in order to stay healthy during my pregnancy, but what I was really doing was turning to old bad habits, like counting calories.

This was confirmed when I looked my eating history on the app: I saw that my calorie consumption was slowly dropping. And although I did need to track my starches (a.k.a. complex carbs, like pastas and breads and even fruits), I didn’t have to be so strict about it. As long as my blood sugar levels were in an optimal range based on the glucometer, tracking these foods to the gram or calorie was not necessary. I needed to eat more in general.

Affirmations like “This food is nourishing my baby” and “Your pregnant body looks fascinating and beautiful” really helped.

Following my natural hunger cues was a process I had to learn the first time I recovered from my eating disorder, and it was necessary more than ever during my pregnancy. Instead of attempting to suppress my desire to eat sweet foods, I allowed myself to indulge in decadent high fat, low-carb foods like cheese, nut butters, avocados, and rich cuts of meat.

I let myself eat until I was full, and spent a lot of time mentally reaffirming that this was for my child. I had to put my own feelings aside, stop counting calories, and think about the future. My doctor recommended combining starchier foods with proteins to allow for those starchier carbohydrates to burn off more slowly, and that helped, as well.

Related: Shop prenatal vitamins for you and baby’s health. 

In the end, I had to stop tracking my food, for the sake of my sanity—and for the sake of my unborn child. I deleted the app from my phone and worked on positive self-talk about food and my weight.

Affirmations like “This food is nourishing my baby” and “Your pregnant body looks fascinating and beautiful” really helped. My husband also gave me a lot of reassuring comments about how much he loved my pregnant body. After a few days, I felt like I could breathe again.

I marveled at the roundness of my belly, imagined what my daughter looked like inside there, and began to enjoy my body for what it could do.

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

If you look at the nutritional label before you buy or eat something, chances are your eyes first dart to the calories section. Sure, that’s a good start—but there’s so much more to your food than its calories.

We know what you’re thinking: Food labels can be super-confusing. How much does the amount of fat (and the type of fat) really matter? How much sugar is too much? What else should you be looking at?

You’re not the only one wondering. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration is rolling out updates to food labels to make them easier to digest as we speak. (You’ll see the new and improved labels in 2018.)

But even with easier-to-read food labels, you have to know what you’re looking for! This annotated nutrition label will walk you through everything worth checking on the back of that jar, bag, or box of food. Then, read on for more details about why these parts of the label are important.

1. Serving Size

Even if you’re super diligent about checking your labels for calories, you need to make sure you’re always looking at the serving size on the package, too, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S. R.D., founder of Nutrition à la Natalie.

For example—that granola you add to your Greek yogurt. Say the serving size is a third-cup at 120 calories. If you’re not careful with your pour, you can easily use double that amount and spoon down close to 250 calories of granola. Not a big deal once in a while, but consistently overlooking this small detail can quickly become a problem and lead to weight gain.

Plus, not only do you double up on calories when you ignore serving sizes, but you also double up on everything else in that granola—like its sugar. (We’ll address that one soon.)

Most current food labels just list a single serving size, but as labels sync up to the FDA’s new requirements, they should also list the number of servings in the entire container or package. What to do? Take a look at what that serving size really is, and if you need to measure it out, do it!

2. Ingredients

The ingredients list may be at the very bottom of your food label, but it’s one of the first things you should look at, says Rizzo.

Sometimes the ingredients list can be super intimidating, though—especially if it’s really long and full of words you don’t recognize. Put simply, a labyrinth of hard-to-say ingredients is a major red flag, since it signals that a food is heavily processed, says Rizzo.

You want a food’s ingredient list to be relatively short and made up of real whole foods you can easily identify and pronounce, she says. Keep in mind that the first few ingredients are the most important, since they’re the biggest components of that food. “If you choose a cheese, and the first ingredient is not milk, but water or some weird-sounding chemical, then you know it’s heavily processed,” Rizzo explains.

That means if you want a healthier strawberry jam that’s not loaded with added sugar, the first ingredient should be strawberries, not high-fructose corn syrup. Look for foods that list all whole foods as their ingredients. If you see one sketchy ingredient at the end of the list it’s probably okay, though, says Rizzo. If an ingredient list includes three or four (or more) processed-sounding ingredients—or any of the first few ingredients are sketchy—leave that food on the shelf.

3. Sugar

Many of us eat more sugar than we realize, which can lead to weight gain and contribute to poor cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Not all sugar is created equal, though. “There’s sugar that is added to foods, which is essentially empty calories, and sugar that naturally occurs in nutritious foods, like milk and fruit,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D. author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer.

If your banana had a food label, the amount of sugar would probably freak you out for a second, but that’s all natural sugar, says Rizzo. That banana is a whole food and full of other nutritional perks, like potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. That oatmeal crème pie, though, is a different story. So 20 grams of sugar from a pastry isn’t nearly as worth your while as that much sugar from fruit.

Health experts will typically recommend that no more than 10 percent of your total calories come from sugar, but most people eat roughly 13 percent, according to Ansel. Men should consume a max of 36 grams of added sugar a day, while women should cap the sweet stuff at 25 grams, according to the AHA. So keep those daily maxes in mind when food shopping. You wouldn’t want to knock them all out in one sitting, right?

Though food labels don’t currently distinguish between natural and added sugars, they will have to call out added sugar when the FDA’s new label requirements fully kick in.

For now, your best bet is scanning the ingredients list for words like sucrose, maltose, and dextrose, along with more natural-sounding sweeteners like corn syrup, honey, and agave, says Ansel. You’d be surprised how many ‘healthy’ foods, like granola and yogurt, pack a ton of added sweeteners.

It’s just not realistic to obsess over added sugar in small amounts, so start by rolling back on sugary foods that contain little nutritional value, like soda, iced tea, lattes, desserts, candy, ice cream, and some refined cereals, suggests Ansel. That will leave more wiggle room for sugar in other picks that contain some added sugar but also provide nutrition, like a lightly-sweetened whole-grain cereal. “You may get a few grams of sugar, but you also get a serving of antioxidant and fiber-rich whole grains,” she says.

4. Fat

Fat gets a really bad rap, but if you’re still riding the low-fat bandwagon, please get off. Not eating enough fat can tank your energy levels and increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. “Fat isn’t nearly as detrimental to our health as we once thought it was,” says Ansel. Some types of fat are more desirable than others, though. You’ll see four types of fat listed on your nutrition label: saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated.

First up, the big bad fat to look out for: trans fat. Since identifying that trans fats (also known as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’) increases your bad cholesterol levels, which can spike your risk of heart disease, the FDA has been working to have them removed from packaged foods. They’re most often found in foods like cookies, pizza dough, and crackers, so you want to avoid them as much as possible. Ideally, your label should list zero grams of trans fat.

From there, look for foods that contain more unsaturated fats than saturated fats. According to the AHA, unsaturated fats are beneficial for your health and can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Walnuts, for example, are full of good-for-you polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3s, which can benefit your heart health, triglyceride levels, and even your mood, says Rizzo.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

Meanwhile, research suggests that higher intake of saturated fat increases your risk for heart disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A good rule of thumb: Look for foods that contain a maximum of 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat, says Ansel.

5. Protein

This macronutrient gets hyped up for a reason: “We need protein to build muscle, manufacture antibodies and hormones, and repair tissues,” says Ansel. It also takes a long time to digest, so it keeps us feeling full and can help us eat less, she says.

Though many Americans get most of their protein at dinner, our bodies can make better use of it when we eat it consistently throughout the day. (Ansel recommends about 20 grams of protein per meal.) So check food labels for protein to make sure you’re incorporating it into your breakfast, lunch, and snacks, too.

If two cereals have a similar amount of calories and sugar, but one has significantly more protein, choose the protein-packed option, says Rizzo.

6. Sodium

People have feared salt for decades, but we actually need to eat at least 500 milligrams a day to help our bodies hold on to fluid so we don’t dehydrate, Ansel explains. The issue? Most of us chow down on much more than that—about 3,400 milligrams per day, which is actually a third more than the maximum recommendation of 2,300 milligrams, she says. (The AHA recommends ideally limiting salt to 1,500 milligrams a day.) Over time, this can make you retain too much fluid and spike your blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Since roughly 75 percent of the salt in our diets comes from packaged foods and foods from restaurants, checking your nutrition labels for sodium content can be helpful if you’re worried about overdoing it. Stay away from packaged foods that pack more than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, says Ansel. “Foods to be on the lookout for are ramen noodles, canned soup, hot dogs, sausages, and some frozen dinners,” she says.

While salt isn’t typically an issue for the average healthy person, anyone with high blood pressure or who takes cholesterol meds should be especially careful about their salt intake and talk to their doc to make sure they’re in a healthy range.

7. Carbohydrates

 Everyone loves carbs—but as with fats, the types of carbs you eat can make a big difference in your health.

So rather than obsessing about the amount of carbs a food packs, look at the source of those carbs instead. Check to see how many of a food’s total carbs come from its fiber content, Ansel recommends. Why? Fiber slows down your digestion, stabilizes your blood sugar levels, and can help you maintain a healthy weight. Pick packaged foods with two or three grams of fiber, minimum, says Ansel.

You also want to eat complex carbs, like whole grains and potatoes, which break down more slowly and give you energy for longer, instead of simple carbs, like cookies, soda, and crackers, which basically break down like sugar and tend to make you crash faster.

Look for packaged foods that have as much fiber (and as little sugar) as possible. And steer clear of brands that list enriched flour or the added sugars in the ingredients. Instead, look for terms like ‘whole-wheat’ and ‘whole-grain’ and other wholesome ingredients like oats, quinoa, amaranth, and barley, Rizzo adds.

Related: Make sure you’re reaching your daily fiber needs with a supplement.

So You’ve Lost The Weight—Now What?

If you’ve been watching what you eat and getting your sweat on to tone up and slim down, you deserve some major kudos when you hit your goal—whether that’s fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, setting a new personal best in the gym, or just feeling more confident in your own skin. But once you cross that major goal off your to-do list, you may wonder: Now what?

Hustling to get those strong, toned legs or slim midsection was hard—and now that you’ve got ‘em, you want to keep ‘em! At this point, you’re entering what’s called the ‘maintenance phase.’ That means staying smart about eating healthy choices and working out so you can hold onto your hard-earned progress forever and ever.

Here, experts share the next-steps that will help you eat and train to make your recent health accomplishments sustainable.

The Food: Fuel Yourself Right

When it comes to your grub, take a flexible but focused approach. Turning down ice cream, a glass of vino, or an extra-cheesy slice of pizza 24/7 is just exhausting. Besides, you can maintain your weight and enjoy the good stuff as long as you indulge with a strategy. Take an 80:20 approach to your eats: Focus on nutrition and eating for your goals 80 percent of the time, and on enjoying your favorite indulgences the other 20 percent. That might mean having a piece of dark chocolate after dinner every night, or saving treats for a special meal on the weekends, Trattner explains. Go with whichever approach keeps you sane and satisfied.

And whether you’re eating for your goals or for the pure bliss of your go-to comfort meal, keep an intuitive attitude. Any successful weight management nutrition plan should focus on hunger cues over calories, says dietitian Ilyse Schapiro M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you’re about 80 percent full so you don’t get stuffed or end up overeating. Also, keep proper portions in mind, she says. This way you can eat in moderation, indulge occasionally, and stay healthy and trim.

During that 80 percent of your eating (when you’re focused on clean eats and fueling your body right), be sure to eat a balance of lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, fiber, and drink plenty of water. Schapiro recommends eating 30 to 50 percent of your calories from carbs, 25 to 35 percent from protein, and 25 to 35 from fat for weight maintenance.

A food-tracking app, like MyFitnessPal, can help you understand how much of your total calories come from which macronutrient (carbs, protein, and fat), but the following guidelines should land you in that healthy balance.

Protein: Eat at least three servings of protein a day, recommends weight-loss specialist Elizabeth Trattner A.P., L.Ac., N.C.C.A.O.M. Healthy options include four to six ounces of fish or lean chicken, three to four ounces of red meat, a cup of unsweetened plain Greek yogurt, an ounce of nuts, and two tablespoons of nut butter. Eating ample protein is huge for weight management because it’ll keep you feeling full and help prevent mindless munching throughout the day, she explains.

Produce: Shoot for seven to 11 servings of produce—about eight servings of veggies and three of fruit—per day, Trattner says. And the more green veggies the better. Eat a variety of veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, and carrots, and enjoy fruits like apples, berries, pears, kiwi, and bananas. The great thing about fruits and veggies? They add lots of volume—but not a lot of calories—to your meals.

Fruits and veggies are packed with fiber, which slows your digestion and keeps you satiated, and helps keep your bathroom time regular, Trattner says. She recommends shooting for up to 40 or 50 grams of fiber per day.

Related: Add a supplement to your routine to get your daily fiber fill.  

Healthy Fats: Aim for three to four servings of healthy fat per day, she recommends. (Think half an avocado, ten olives, or one ounce of walnuts). Like protein and fiber, healthy fats also help us feel satiated—plus, unsaturated fats (like those in olive oil and nuts) are heart-healthy, according to Harvard Medical School.

Carbs: We may think of carbs as lean physique enemy number one, but that’s not necessarily the case. Our muscles store carbs for energy so we can power through workouts (as well as recover from them!) and move throughout the day, Trattner explains.

Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?

To get the most fiber—and other nutrients—possible, eat your carbs from complex, whole-food sources, like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, black beans, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and squash, says Trattner. Start with a quarter to a half a cup at each meal and gauge how you feel. If you trudge through your workouts and feel fatigued often, you may need to add more.

Water: Drinking enough water helps keep you regular, prevents you from eating when you’re not really hungry, and can ward off swelling and bloating, Trattner says, She recommends drinking at least 64 ounces of plain water, oolong, green, white, or herbal tea, or seltzer water per day.

The Workouts: Sweat With A Purpose

Nutrition is super important for weight management, but it needs a trusty sidekick. Enter exercise.

Chances are, regular dates with the gym were a big part of your get-fit journey—and you will need to keep up with them to maintain your fitness long-term. But if you hate working out every day, don’t worry, you should be able to hold onto your results with three or four solid workouts a week, says Andrea Fornarola, C.P.T. and founder of Elements Fitness Studio in NYC.

To make sure those three or four workouts get the job done, though, you’ll need to mix them up and give them your all. “Mixing interval training, cardio, and strength training and toning is your best bet,” says Fornarola. You might go for a run or do intervals on the treadmill in one workout, lift weights in the next, and take a Pilates class in the last, she suggests. Not only will this variety keep you motivated and excited for your workouts, but it will also challenge your body in different ways so you’ll continue to adapt, get fitter, and continue to see results.

Strength training with moderate-to-heavy weights can help you build muscle, which boosts your metabolism and helps ward off fat-gain, says Fornarola. And the muscle you build gives your body more shape and definition. Focus on compound movements, like squats, that work multiple muscle groups at once, to get the most benefit. The bodyweight resistance you use in Pilates and yoga—and in exercises like pushups and bodyweight squats—can also help you build strength and endurance.

When it comes to cardio, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a particularly effective way to reap major benefits without spending hours in the gym, she adds. By alternating between quick bursts of all-out effort and rest, you push your aerobic and muscle capacity to the limit, and burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time—and throughout the rest of the day. HIIT workouts offer more metabolic benefit for your time than steady-state cardio, which is a huge plus if you’re trying to maintain your weight.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Just limit HIIT to a few sessions a week, because the max effort required to charge through it (and recover) can lead to fatigue and muscle exhaustion if you hit it too often, she warns. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up steady cardio cold-turkey. Steady-state cardio still challenges your aerobic capacity (how efficiently your body can get oxygen to your working muscles) and puts less stress on your system than HIIT does, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Finding a balance of different types of training that you enjoy—and that fits your lifestyle—is key to staying active long-term.