I Got Naked In -250 Degrees—All In The Name Of Health

Plenty of people suffer from inflammation, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that whole-body cryotherapy—submersion of one’s entire body (except for the head) in freezing liquid nitrogen mist—is gaining traction for athletes and non-athletes alike.

I’ve got arthritis and capsulitis (extreme swelling of the joint capsules) in both of my feet. I’ve been icing multiple times a day for months, which means I submerge my feet in ice water and then pull them out to encourage a rush of oxygenated blood to the areas that need to heal. When a friend mentioned how much cryotherapy has helped her painful knees, I decided to give it a go. After all, my feet were used to the icy cold.

Related: I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like

My appointment took place on a hot and humid day in late June. Sweat dripped down my temples as I got in the car. I kept telling myself the cold would be welcome on a summer day. Little did I know just how cold it would actually get.

The concept of harnessing the healing powers of the cold dates back to ancient Egypt. Starting from the 1700s, doctors used hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for all sorts of treatments, from migraines to surgery.

After I checked in, the cryo-operator had me pick out neoprene mittens and booties, similar to those I wore while scuba diving in Iceland (also super-cold). Then he showed me into a small changing room where I would step into a robe.

“Be sure to dry off completely,” the operator warned. “You don’t want any moisture on you.” I suddenly worried about whether my armpits were damp or if sweat still clung to the hair at the nape of my neck. I dabbed at these parts with my towel. Moisture freezes, so you want to avoid that.

“Do you have any piercings?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Ears, nose, and belly button.”

“Ears and nose are fine,” he said, “but you’ll want to cover up the belly button piercing with this.” He handed me a roll of masking tape. I found myself wondering just how cold the metal in my belly could possibly get and how helpful the tape would even be.

I stripped down to my underwear and put on the robe, booties, and mittens. Then I approached the chamber and a massive nitrogen tank. The chamber looked like how you’d imagine a shower stall on an airplane—neck-high and barely big enough to move inside.

Related: Shop joint health products to stay feeling your best.

After he shut me in the chamber (my head stuck out the top, which is good for people who are claustrophobic), I handed the man my robe. He stood outside of the chamber to control the settings. At first it felt strange to have him in the room—I was naked except for my underwear and the neoprene, after all. But it was helpful to talk to him during the process. He told me he uses cryotherapy every day and loves it.

I told him I was ready—and then he opened the valve of the tank. Liquid nitrogen mist whooshed in and filled the chamber. For a few seconds an instinctive fear-like reaction kicked in, like being in a room suddenly filling with smoke. But with my head over the edge of the stall I could breathe just fine. It actually all looked pretty cool, like I was standing in the middle of dry ice.

It works like this: Cryotherapy cools down the patient’s skin by exposing it to -160 to -250F liquid nitrogen mist for two-five minutes, typically. When the skin comes into contact with such cold, it sends messages to the brain to initiate survival mode, pulling blood from the extremities to the body’s center, where it gets oxygen and other nutrients. (FYI: Frostbite affects the hands and feet first, so this is why patients wear mittens and booties in the chamber.)

When patients step out of the chamber, the newly-fortified blood rushes through the body, which is good for the organs, cells, and skin. Oh, and the process also sends the body’s metabolism into overdrive; each treatment reportedly burns around 500 calories.

Cryotherapy cools down the patient’s skin by exposing it to -160 to -250F liquid nitrogen mist for two-five minutes, typically. When the skin comes into contact with such cold, it sends messages to the brain to initiate survival mode.

But it’s hard to think about calories or the benefits when you’re in the chamber. The cold is shocking, and I had goosebumps immediately. The man had me turn in slow circles and said I could cross my hands over my chest if I needed extra warmth. I managed to keep my hands at my sides for the entire three minutes, and couldn’t talk for the last minute or so because my teeth were chattering. And then I was done. The man closed the valve, opened the door, and just like that, the mist evaporated and I stepped out. I was back on the road inside of 15 minutes.

The concept of harnessing the healing powers of the cold dates back to ancient Egypt. Starting from the 1700s, doctors used hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for all sorts of treatments, from migraines to surgery. Treatments using cold progressed from water and ice to solidified carbon dioxide to liquid oxygen and finally to liquid nitrogen in the 1950s, which was used to kill cancer cells on contact. Cryotherapy is also used to freeze off warts!

In the late 1970s, a doctor in Japan developed whole-body cryotherapy to mitigate the pain and inflammation of rheumatic diseases. Today, it’s widely used for post-game recovery by athletes. Even day spas are offering the treatment to boost skin regeneration and metabolism. As cryotherapy becomes more accessible, people are using it for everything from anxiety to weight loss to decreasing the pain associated with Crohn’s disease.

It’s hard to determine whether cryotherapy will decrease my inflammation or help me manage my pain—I should go more regularly for a few weeks to assess that. The issue? Cryotherapy is a bit pricey (lots of places charge about $75 a pop per session) and not terribly convenient, since the nearest cryo-center is about 40 minutes away.

People with certain health conditions, like deep vein thrombosis or cancer, can’t use cryotherapy. There’s a list of them here.

My results? My feet didn’t actively hurt that day, and I felt a major rush of endorphins. The exhilaration I felt afterward left me whistling while driving home in my car. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that my cheeks were rosy red all day long, either.

How I Finally Forced Out The Negative Thoughts And Got Happy & Healthy

I used to be best friends with the negative voice inside my head—a voice so normal to me that I never questioned it.

It would say things like:

Are you really wearing that outfit?
You’re. Not. Good. Enough.
Please. He’ll never talk to you.
I bet you can’t do that.
Of course she ran a marathon. You won’t.

Harping on what made me feel sad or discouraged became a vicious cycle. I was hyper-aware of what I was not and what I did not have. I could articulate these things, but I didn’t do much to change my life beyond that.

poet in vacation mode. 🌷

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The spiral of negativity never let me do anything. It held me back. It helped me not apply for jobs I was more than qualified for. It helped me linger in an abusive relationship. It helped me not take care of myself. You see where I’m going here?

Related: Shop vits and supps for mood support. 

Basically, this attitude saturated my life. Everything was washed in a grey stain. My friends had negative sides—and we’d link up and look at everything with a dark tinge. Instead of being happy for other people, I just focused on my own loss or lack of achievements. I was often jealous of others. Essentially, I was on the fast track to nowhere.

Then one day, I started to daydream. I imagined myself happier, more successful, at peace. I found myself wondering: If I spent less time feeling bitter, then could I do other things? Like, say, get a book published? Take up running? Approach a potential new friend after a Pilates class? Feel more confident?

They all seemed like lofty ideas. Yeah right, Stephanie, that’ll never happen. Just stay here, where it’s comfortable.

Then, I snapped. I finally realized I wasn’t accomplishing much (or anything) with this kind of thinking. In fact, most experiences and interactions seemed smudged with negativity and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like looking at the world, my life, or other people that way.

This is not to say that I didn’t have happy or feel-good moments. I did, but they weren’t plentiful–because I was hell-bent on manifesting a life full of no’s.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

I needed a change stat. I took stock of the things that I was experiencing: poor body image, inconsistent sleep, low energy, irritability. Honestly, who wants to feel like that all the time?

I wanted to see the light in situations and my life as a whole.

It started by making a pledge to myself to stop seeing myself as weak. If I wanted feel better, I had to be better. And letting go of negativity helped me start a life journey full of health and wellness.

High heels off, I'm feeling alive 🦄

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Not all of this change happened over night. It took a few years. And I sometimes still struggle with it. But, looking back, I’ve accomplished so much more: I went from being inactive to being a HIIT workout warrior, a runner who completed my first timed 5k (!), a meditation enthusiast, and positive force in my own life and in the lives of my nearest and dearest friends and loved ones.

How did I get here? Here’s my tool-kit for wellness, fitness, and contentment. You can modify my ideas to fit your needs and take from this list what you want and need. You’re worth it and so am I.

1. Recognize your feelings and then let them go.

Being human is awesome because that means we have a myriad of experiences, emotions, and deep connections. Yeah, it can also be tough, bleak, and crushing. You are allowed to feel angry, jealous, jaded, mad, and upset. These are all valid feelings. Talk about it with a friend, a coach, a trusted mentor, or journal them out.

Then, release them. You said your piece. Now move on. Whatever your situation may be, there might be one, two, or three things you can do to change it or cope with it better. Start moving.

2. Let go again and again.

Yeah, you’re going to still feel negativity. You are human, after all!  Practice the art of letting go again and again. How can you cope? Distract yourself. Call a friend. Go for a run. Try a workout video in the comfort and privacy of your own home (I’m partial to Yoga with Adriene–she’s super zen and fun!). Meditate. Journal. Watch a movie. Develop a self-care plan. There’s so much more that you can do.

3. Get physical.

In my case, my negativity fueled my desire to avoid taking risks. Working out was too risky because I was convinced I would for sure, 100 percent, fail at it. And I did fail for a long, long time. This is because I already not-so-secretly decided that I wasn’t a “fitness person” (whatever that means). So essentially, I made a prophecy and I fulfilled it tenfold because I consciously and subconsciously told myself that I just could not do it.

Well, change it up! I dove deep into HIIT, Crossfit, and running. I didn’t do them all at the same time, but I did explore each of them at my own pace. And my life certainly changed for the better with these mega awesome fitness journeys. I convinced myself that I could never be a runner. Now, in 2017, I ran my first timed 5k.

Related: How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I was so happy when I crossed the finish line that I burst into streams of tears. I accomplished a three-mile run in just 32 minutes. The joy I felt after finishing my first run was priceless. And now, I want to recreate that joy again and again. I try to do so by accessing a support network of other people who care about these things and will maybe take a fitness class or go for a run with me.

4. Be present.

My go-to trick? Meditation. It helps relax me and feel at peace. And, it’s a great way to zone out when my brain is constantly barking about something negative or self-deprecating. I like to re-center myself and keep my mind healthy (because our minds and feelings are some of the most precious things in this world).

There are dozens of amazing meditation apps like Calm, Breathe, and Happify. I suggest starting with a low-key and relaxing bedtime routine and test the waters with a two-minute meditation before bed. Start easy, go at your own pace, and go from there.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

5. Begin each day with a quick gratitude session

I write down three things I’m happy or grateful for. (For starters, I have an amazing little pup named Pepperoni Pizza, so it’s hard not to start my day with a sweet smile or laugh.) Beyond that, I smile at strangers. I approach people I want to know. I make sure to laugh a lot and often.

It took a huge battle to shake off negative feelings of feeling weak and lazy. Once I was over the hump, the world opened up for me: I left an abusive partner, I published a second book, I succeeded at a new job at a tech company. I slept better.

It felt like magic, or that the universe was conspiring in my favor. In fact, it was just me.

I Became A Fitness Instructor At 44

I’m in the front of the studio, surrounded by full-length mirrors, racks of weights, and stacks of steps. Loud dance music plays through my iPad, a microphone is strapped to my head, and there are 15 people waiting for me to tell them what to do.

“Please grab a step, a few medium and light weights, and a mat,” I say into the mic.

A year ago, standing in front of this crowd, saying these words, would have been my worst nightmare. But now, it’s just an ordinary Sunday morning and I’m about to teach my weekly HIIT (high intensity interval training) class.

Related: How Bodybuilding Transformed My Life At Age 42

Sure, I’d attended fitness classes for nearly 25 years, but I never, ever, thought I would teach one. That was for someone else, someone peppy—a dancer or a gymnast who could touch their first toes easily and with grace. I was not that person. I was shy and tall and inflexible. I could barely speak up in a client meeting, and I avoided all forms of public speaking in grad school. Blasting instructions to a room of people staring back at me? No, thanks.

So how’d I become an instructor? I knew that I loved the energy of group fitness. And my gym had such a strong sense of community that I felt like I wanted more. My instructors were friendly and approachable, and after a few months of going to Bootcamp and HIIT, I decided that I wanted to lead a class, and not just participate in one. Really, I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I had so much holding me back, though: In addition to utterly despising speaking in public, I was in my early 40s with a full-time job and a young daughter.  There was a lot on my plate—but I chose to take a leap of faith and dive in, head first.

I made a last-minute decision to register for my fitness instructor certification, and walked into class after studying for just three days (others had prepared for months). I took copious notes, paid close attention to choreography tips, and walked out with a 93 percent passing grade.

So, at that point I was certified—but was I actually qualified? There’s definitely a difference.

I wanted to be the one to inspire people to move faster, lift harder, and do one more rep. I wanted to share the joy I felt after a good workout, when I’m sweaty and accomplished and happy.

I continued to attend classes and I got to know a couple of the other instructors more personally. When I told one of them I had passed my certification, she encouraged me to interview at the gym. It took me 18 months to build up to it, but I did.

Related: I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

When I showed up to interview (more like audition), panic set in:I can’t do this. I’m too old to teach. I’m too quiet to teach. I’m not flexible enough to teach.

Seven minutes into my audition, they cut me short and told me they’d be in touch. My panic turned to heartbreak.

I was too old, too quiet, too everything. However, six months later I got an email from the place I interviewed: “We have a HIIT/CORE opening on Sunday mornings, would you like to teach it?”

Cue the panic, yet again.

What had I just done? The worries flooded through me: I’m too busy to teach, too scared to teach, too inexperienced to teach.

I needed to quell these worries so I began co-teaching with another instructor as practice. I was a total wreck. I let her do the talking, while I quietly worked out next to her. She said I did fine, that I’d be fine.

I wasn’t convinced.

Regardless, I was going to be teaching the class and I needed a class plan. I wrote one up and went down to my basement each evening to rehearse. I played music on my iPad and had a timer on my phone. I practiced the movements again and again until I felt I could get it right in front of the class.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life.

The Saturday night before my first class I fell asleep going over the routine in my mind. That Sunday morning, I went to the basement to rehearse one more time. I had my plan and my devices were charged. I paced around my house, nervous and unsettled, until it was time to leave for the gym. I arrived well before class started and snuck into the studio the moment the preceding Zumba class was over.

With the music on and the microphone working, I set up my mat and weights. Then it began; the door opened and the class members trickled in. One woman approached me and told me it was her first time doing HIIT. I laughed nervously and said, “That’s okay. It’s my first time teaching HIIT!”

She still took my class, and I still taught it. I didn’t fall and I didn’t fail. And every single person left sweaty and happy.

Teaching classes has changed me. I’m more confident at work. I ask what needs to be asked. I approach my boss with concerns or issues. I request more client meetings. And I put myself out there for other opportunities, both at work and in life. I even volunteer more often at my daughter’s school and within the community.

Because I’m not too old, or too quiet, or too boring.

I still get nervous on Sunday mornings and I still plan the class days in advance. I worry that the music or microphone won’t work. But the moment the class starts I find that I just become… myself.

Related: Shop protein powders, bars, and supplements to fuel your next workout. 

Berberine Is The Power Extract You Didn’t Know You Needed

Ever heard of berberine? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Berberine might just be the best kept secret in the supplement world. It offers a broad range of health-boosting qualities—and it’s got science on its side.

Let’s start with the basics: Berberine is an alkaloid (a plant compound that causes physiological reactions in humans) extracted from several different plants, including the barberry, tree turmeric, goldenseal, and prickly poppy, among others. It’s usually found in the roots, stems, or bark of these plants. It’s known for its stunning yellow color and has been prized by ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medical systems for thousands of years. And while berberine may not be a household name, it’s got serious star qualities.

Healthy Blood-Sugar Levels

Berberine is perhaps most popular for its potential in promoting stable blood-sugar levels. In a study done by Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, patients with metabolic syndrome (which is marked by high blood sugar, weight gain, and high blood pressure) were given berberine for three months, and saw more stable insulin responses, as well as lowered body mass indexes.

What’s more, a study published by Natural Medicine Journal found that a mix of berberine and lifestyle modifications (like exercise and healthy eating) caused significant hypoglycemic and antidyslipidemic (stabilizing lipids in the blood) benefits.

Healthy Heart

A study published by the journal Metabolism found that berberine also helped to promote lower cholesterol levels. After giving patients with high cholesterol berberine extract over a period of three months, the study’s subjects saw a 25-28 percent improvement in their cholesterol levels.

Related: Shop berberine products, from capsules to liquids.

Berberine has also been shown to reduce triglycerides (a fat that increases risk of heart attack) levels, as another study published in Metabolism found.

In fact, more than a few studies have found that berberine promotes overall cardiovascular health. Research published in the American Journal of Cardiology even showed that berberine promotes increased life expectancy for patients with congestive heart disease. Berberine, anyone?

Weight Management

Great news for those of you who want to shed a few pounds: Berberine promotes thermogenesis (the burning of fat), according to the Journal of Natural Communication. In fact, in a study published by Evidence Based Alternative Complementary Medicine, patients who used berberine extract saw their BMIs decrease by a lot—specifically, from 31.5 to 27.4. Together with a smart healthy eating and fitness plan, it’s possible that berberine can help you shrink that waist.

In addition, a study published in Phytomedicine looked at obese patients who took 500mg of berberine three times daily for 12 weeks. The results? An average loss of five pounds, on top of improved triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Win-win.

Gastrointestinal Health

Tummy issues? According to a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, berberine can be used to promote relief from diarrhea. Take note, however: If you ingest a lot of berberine or too much at once, you may find yourself with a bit of a stomach cramp.

Taking Berberine

Berberine is typically taken in capsule or liquid form. It’s generally dosed at 500 mg-2,000 mg a day, but it’s best to break up the doses into many smaller doses in order to avoid stomach upset. Berberine extract is typically safe, but it should be taken with or after a meal.

8 Tips For Picking The Healthiest Packaged Foods Possible

We’ve all been told to eat lots of whole foods—like fruits, veggies, meat, poultry, and dairy—and to watch our intake of processed foods. But let’s be serious: Most of us aren’t about to blend up our own mayo. Avoiding supermarket aisles stocked with jars, bag, cans, and boxes just isn’t always doable.

When we buy food from a bag, box, or jar, it can be tricky to tell just how healthy (or unhealthy) it really is. After all, plenty of packaged foods contain terrifyingly long lists of ingredients, which often include preservatives and additives we don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. (What the heck is ‘dextrin,’ anyway?) Not to mention, many packaged foods come with a boatload of extra calories—on top of added sugars, fats, and sodium, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D.N.

To save you from spending 20 minutes trying to pick between two jars of tomato sauce or boxes of crackers, we asked dietitians for their supermarket navigation tips.

1. Check the sugar content.

Natural sugars that are found in whole foods like fruit and dairy have a place in a healthy diet, but sugars added to many packaged foods and drinks can lead to weight gain and health concerns, , says Amidor. So how much sugar a food contains—and whether it’s naturally-occurring or added—is something you’ll want to look at.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars to just five percent of our total daily calories, which is 100 calories or 25 grams. So if a food contains more than 10 grams (or 40 calories) of added sugar per serving, it should probably be a no-go, Amidor says.

And don’t expect that added sugar to reveal itself willingly in the ingredient list: “Added sugars can show up on food and drink labels under names like anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar,” says Amidor. Yikes.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

That said, you don’t necessarily have to nix a food because it contains a little added sugar. If the other ingredients are simple and offer health benefits like fiber or other nutrients, you can cut yourself some slack.

2. Feel out the fat.

One of the reasons packaged snacks can be so dang addicting: They contain added fat for enhanced flavor, says Amidor.

And while fat can be healthy (think of the unsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, and olive oil), many packaged foods are higher in saturated fats and contain trans fats.

Trans, or ‘hydrogenated’ fats have been linked to heart disease and should be avoided as much as possible, says Amidor. Meanwhile, the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent or less of your daily calories, since excess consumption can affect cholesterol, she says.

So when you’re deciding between two packaged foods, compare the amounts of saturated fat per serving and go with the product that has less. Stay away from anything that contains 15 percent of your total daily allotment of saturated fat, Amidor suggests.

3. Beware insane amounts of salt.

The recommended daily max for sodium is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt, but many packaged foods are bursting with the stuff, sometimes packing half your daily allowance in one serving.

Ideally, though, you want somewhere around 200 milligrams of sodium max per serving, says Benjamin White, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. So look for foods labeled ‘low-sodium’ or ‘no salt added’ and add flavor with herbs and spices at home.

4. Count the ingredients.

To keep your eats as clean as possible, pick packaged foods that contain as few ingredients as possible, says White. A food with few ingredients is less processed, and often healthier, than one with a long laundry list, he says.

And, since ingredients are listed in order of the amount contained in the food (high to low), looking at the first three can tell you a lot about what you’re eating, White adds. If one of the food’s first three ingredients is a sweetener, non-whole-grain flour, or oil, it’s probably not a great choice.

5. Do some quick nutrient math.

To make our snacks and meals as filling and waistline-friendly as possible, make sure they pack two things: fiber and protein. (You generally want at least three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein, White says.)

To figure out if a packaged food has enough of this good stuff to outweigh the bad stuff that may also be lurking, add up the grams of protein and fiber on the Nutrition Facts. Then add up the grams of total fat and sugar. If the total grams of protein and fiber are higher than the total grams of fat and sugar, you’re good to go, White says.

6. Look for added nutrients.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there are four nutrients in particular that Americans fall short on: vitamin D, calcium, fiber, and potassium. (Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium are found in milk and many dairy products, while potassium and fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, according to Amidor.)

Related: 9 Nutrients You May Be Short On If You Don’t Eat Dairy

But since so many of us miss out on these four nutrients, they’re often added to packaged foods (like breakfast cereal) to help us get our fill. So if a food packs a boatload of these important nutrients despite having some rather unappealing qualities—like some added sugar—it might still be worth eating, she says. Just make sure the food provides at least 10 to 19 percent of your daily value of one or more of these nutrients per serving.

7. Cut out artificial colors and flavors.

You’ll want to avoid as much artificial anything as possible, and nixing artificial colors and flavors is a good place to start. “Color additives are used for aesthetic purposes, and do not provide any nutritional value to the food,” says Amidor. The same goes for artificial flavors. So go ahead and leave that cupcake icing colored with ‘blue number whatever’ or artificially-flavored nacho chips on the shelf.

8. When in doubt, use an app.

If you just can’t decide whether to put a product in your cart or leave it on the shelf, let your phone do the thinking for you. An app like the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores, gives you quick feedback on the overall quality of a food, says White. “The app gives a rating for thousands of foods based on their nutritional value, ingredients of concern (like additives), and the extent to which they’re processed,” he says. The closer to a rating of ‘1,’ the more worthy the food.

Related: Check out a selection of packaged staples and snacks that keep your health in mind.

A Newbie’s Guide To Juicing

Sure, you’ve probably picked up a delicious post-workout juice before, courtesy of your local juicer or fancy gym snack shop. But if you’re looking to get some extra nutrients into your diet by juicing on the reg—without the steep price tag—you can easily start juicing at home on your own. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

Chugging juice might be super-popular way to get a healthy between-meal snack in, but it’s also considered a type of fasting and an ancient spiritual practice, according to holistic health nutritionist Valentina Olivadese.

“During juicing, the mind and body have a chance to disconnect from the daily work of digestion,” Olivadese says. “The juice extracted from fruits and vegetables is a powerhouse of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that strengthens the immune system, helps heal physical and emotional wounds, and fights inflammation.”

But why drink your fruits and veggies instead of just munching on an apple? There is no evidence to suggest that juicing is better than consuming a whole fruit, but proponents believe that juicing helps your body absorb nutrients better by limiting the amount of fiber your body has to process. (Whole fruits are loaded with fiber and juicing strips the fruits and veggies of it.)

Related: I Tried Clean Eating For A Week—And It Wasn’t Actually Awful

What’s more, making your own juice allows you to have more control over the quality of what you will be drinking—from the actual ingredients themselves (including organic versus not) to the freshness of each fruit or veggie. Or, if you’re not into eating your greens, juicing is a good way to get them into your diet with a little help from sweet, not-so-green flavor enhancers.

Pro-tip: “Exposure to air causes oxidation and it’s always best to drink the juice ideally within a few minutes or at the latest by the end of the day,” explains Olivadese. “Store-bought juices are often purchased several days after production and are therefore of lower quality.” This goes for the pre-bottled stuff and even juices made on the spot (with pre-mixed ingredients or not-so-fresh fruits).

What type of foods can you juice?

Juices can be made from all kinds of fruits and vegetables, so feel free to try out the produce you like the most when you start making juice. Some of the most popular fruits for juicing include citrus fruits, apples, pears, mangoes, grapes and melons, according to Olivadese.

Many vegetables also make for a nutrient-dense juice, like celery, cucumbers, leafy greens (especially spinach!), beets, and carrots. Herbs make a great addition to juice when used in small quantities—basil, mint, and ginger are some favorites among seasoned juicers, says Olivadese.

Before You Juice

No matter what type of produce you select for your juice, make sure everything is washed before you put it through the juicer.

And you’ll need a lot of produce—you can expect to need a pound to a pound and a half of produce to make a 20-ounce serving of juice (you’ll be left with the pulp). Feel wasteful throwing away all that extra pulp? Vegetarian Times offers plenty of ways to use it up healthfully, such as blending it into a smoothie for fiber, adding it to a soup, making pulp popsicles, using it for a broth, making tea with it, or adding it to foods for thickening.

A Word of Warning

If you’re juicing to add healthful foods to your diet, you can get a full day’s worth of fruit and veggies in one juice. However, if you plan to commit to a juice fast for detox purposes, there are a few things you should expect, says Olivadese. Juicing for fasting purposes could cause some common side effects, including hunger, headaches, fatigue, dizziness or irritability. Check with your healthcare provider before embarking on this sort of dietary adjustment.

Related: Shop juicers and blenders. 

“Side effects of juicing are usually worse in the first 24 to 48 hours,” she explains. “Listen to your body. Energy levels vary during a cleanse, ranging from feeling very energized to very tired.”

Consuming only juice is intended as a short practice and shouldn’t be done for extended periods of time. If you plan to complete a juice fast, Olivadese suggests taking time to ease your body into it by eating light meals (think: whole fruit, steamed vegetables, or a salad) the day before you begin. Once you begin your fast, it shouldn’t last more than 72 hours unless you have consulted with a doctor first. You should ease your body back into a typical diet by beginning with light meals.

What about weight loss? “Don’t juice for weight loss or as a long-term diet,” Olivadese adds. “Juicing is not a diet and its purpose is not to lose weight.” Juices lack in several essential nutrients for the body—primarily protein and fats.

Ready to Juice?

Having a few tried and true combinations on hand sure can lessen feelings of overwhelm when you first try your hand at juicing. Olivadese recommends that all new juicers find a basic fruit juice and green juice they love to make on a regular basis (see Olivadese’s favorites below). Plus, you need a reliable juicer—check out the Omega juicer. 

 

Should You Be Using Melatonin For Better Sleep?

You’re lying in bed, in the dark, eyes wide open—again. There are few things more frustrating than needing to sleep and being unable to do so, and yet, according to the American Sleep Association, about 30 million Americans have trouble getting adequate shut-eye.

Among the handful of go-to techniques for catching z’s (which can include a consistent nighttime routine, turning off screens at least an hour before bed, magnesium, a warm bath, and warm tea or milk) is melatonin, a supplement which many sleep-deprived people swear by.

What Is Melatonin?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are cued for sleep by exposure to light and dark. Exposure to light (your phone included!) stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to your brain—specifically, the hypothalamus. Here, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (say that three times fast) tells your body to release certain hormones, like melatonin, that have to do with sleep.

Related: Here’s Exactly What To Do At Night To Have A Great Sleep

Melatonin, which modulates sleep and wake cycles, is released by the pineal gland in your brain. In the daylight, your pineal gland is inactive, but when nighttime (and, therefore, darkness) comes around, melatonin floods your body and you begin to feel sleepy. Having low melatonin is one possible reason why a person may have insomnia, according to Scientific World Journal.

Who Should Take Melatonin?

Keri Glassman, RD, recommends melatonin supplements for her clients struggling with occasional sleeplessness, which can be the result of garden-variety sleep issues: jet-lag, a night-shift at work, or anxiety.

Although Glassman does suggest melatonin in supplement form (one capsule is about three mg), she also makes sure her clients are aware that melatonin can also be found in food: “Foods like tart cherries actually have naturally-occurring melatonin, and you can reap the benefits just from adding them to your diet,” Glassman says. “Not to mention the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you’ll also get from them.”

Related: Shop melatonin products for a restful night of sleep.

If you’re tossing and turning instead of floating away to dreamland, melatonin might be a good tool to add to your sleep arsenal. But if waking up in the middle of the night is your trouble, melatonin won’t be very helpful, as it eases the transition from wakefulness to sleep but does not promote staying asleep.

Side Effects

Anytime you use a supplement, you want to take possible side effects into consideration. One known side effect of taking melatonin is grogginess the morning after. “Side effects would most likely occur if you’re taking too much [melatonin],” says Glassman. “Another common complaint is that it doesn’t work. But it’s important to keep in mind that adding it to your daily routine is meant to regulate your sleep and wake cycles. It’s not a magic pill to make you fall asleep.”

There is no research on melatonin’s possible long-term side effects to general health. The long-term research that has been done focuses on cause and effect and does not look at other aspects of health impacted by the hormone. The short-term research that has been done bounces back and forth between its positive effects and potential negative effects to the body. For instance, a Clinical Investigation report found that melatonin could cause dizziness, fatigue, headache, or nausea, but then concluded that even taking melatonin in extremely large doses had no major negative effect on health.

Related: I Drank A Gram Of Caffeine A Day—Here’s What Happened When I Went Cold Turkey

Melatonin & Children

Another study in the same research journal, Clinical Investigation, recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women do not take the hormone. Also, the Pediatric Journal of Medicine raises concerns about the unknown effects of melatonin on infants and adolescents, especially in light of the lack of long-term research.

Melatonin & General Health

Melatonin is now being studied in research trials as a health-promoting supplement, specifically as it relates to immunity. That’s because the sleep-wake cycle, which melatonin controls, is such a powerful factor in how diseases react in the body. For example, research in the journal Neuro-Chirurgie proposes that the hormone has therapeutic potential.

If you are a healthy adult who wants to use melatonin for occasional sleeplessness, speak with your doctor before giving it a go.

6 Delicious Ways To Eat Kefir (Plus How To Pronounce It)

Fermented foods have never been trendier. And while you’ve probably eaten your fair share of Greek yogurt and sipped on some kombucha, I’m willing to bet there’s one fermented food you’ve never tried (or were even able to pronounce): kefir.

For the record, it’s pronounced kuh-FEER.

Kefir is a milk drink cultured with yeast and bacteria. Like yogurt, kefir contains protein, calcium, B vitamins, potassium, and probiotics—you know, those good bacteria that support your gut health. But while you eat yogurt with a spoon, you can drink kefir—it’s just a little thicker than regular milk. It’s typically made with cow’s milk, but you can also find non-dairy alternatives made with almond milk, coconut milk, or rice milk. A cup of plain kefir is tart, and weighs in at around 110 calories, 11 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of sugar, and two grams of fat per cup.

Stick to the plain stuff to avoid the added sugar in flavored varieties. (Some have 15 grams of added sugar per cup.) If your taste buds really can’t deal with the tartness, mix half a cup of plain kefir with half a cup of a flavored one—and choose the brand with the least sugar.

While a tall glass of kefir makes for a good breakfast or late-afternoon snack, it can do so much more! Here are six delicious, nutritionist-approved ways to use it:

1. Whip up homemade salad dressing.

We all love creamy dressings, but they’re often high in fat and devoid of protein—unless you use kefir as your base. I like to add mustard, horseradish sauce, a spoon of balsamic glaze, and spices to plain kefir for a dressing that bursts with flavor.

photo: Bonnie Taub-Dix

2. Bake sweet potato muffins.

Whether it’s fall or not, these muffins are a flavorful pick-me-up and a great after-school snack. Just bake up a few sweet potatoes—which are a great source of vitamin A and provide fiber—and you’ve got the makings of a delicious treat. Plus, the kefir adds some protein and a heavenly texture to this recipe. These muffins freeze well and pair perfectly with a dollop of cottage or ricotta cheese for an extra protein bump.

3. Add it to pancake or waffle batter.

Starting the morning with a warm stack of pancakes or waffles? Swap the buttermilk in the recipe out for kefir to nix some fat and gain some protein.

photo: Samina Qureshi

4. Blend up a smoothie.

According to Samina Qureshi R.D.N., L.D., of Wholesome Start, LLC, a solid smoothie needs five things: a liquid base, nutrients, protein, flavor, and a natural sweetener. And good ‘ole kefir covers three of the five, with its creamy texture and the protein and nutrients it provides. Qureshi’s berry kefir smoothie combines plain kefir, frozen berries, frozen banana, mixed greens, nut butter, and chia seeds for a balanced smoothie that makes a great snack, on-the-go meal, or post-workout fuel.

photo: Jessica Levinson

Or, keep things simple by blending plain kefir with frozen strawberries, lemon juice, and honey, for a sweet and easy snack. This smoothie, from Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., founder of Small Bites by Jessica provides vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. It’s a good starter smoothie for those a little intimidated by kefir’s tart flavor.

Related: Is That Smoothie Bowl As Healthy As It Seems?

photo: United Dairy Industry Association

If you’re feeling adventurous, mix up your flavors and add a little spice with a kefir-based pumpkin pie smoothie. All you need is plain kefir, ice, canned pumpkin puree, almond butter, pumpkin pie spice, and maple syrup or honey to whip up a drink that’s much more satisfying than the average pumpkin spice latte. In addition to a number of nutrients from the kefir, you’ll get fiber, potassium, and vitamin C from the pumpkin, according to Lanier Dabruzzi, M.S., R.D., L.D., of the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association.

photo: Liz Weiss

5. Soak some overnight oats.

Overnight oats starring kefir are a convenient make-ahead breakfast. Stash a simple combo of kefir, rolled oats, fruit, and chia seeds in the fridge overnight, and add toppings in the morning. These strawberry peanut overnight oats from Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D.N., taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and provide seven grams of fiber and 16 grams of protein.

6. Bake, well, anything.

You can swap kefir in for milk, cream, or yogurt in pretty much any baking recipe, whether it’s for bread or cupcakes. Why not treat yourself to some extra protein and probiotics?

Related: Check out a number of flours, sweeteners, and more for healthy baking.

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.

What You Should Know About Probiotic Foods Before Chowing Down

When you think of bacteria, your mind probably jumps right to germs and infections—but there’s more to these microorganisms than their bad reputation.

We have billions of bacteria living in our guts, and they don’t all lead to illness or disease. In fact, some of them are straight up good for us. “The bugs that colonize us are not just waste; they’re hugely important to our health,” says Neil Stollman, M.D., chairman of the Division of Gastroenterology at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, CA.

The good microorganisms in our digestive systems are called probiotics. Research suggests these bacteria may bolster our immune systems, keep us regular on the toilet, and even support our blood pressure and cholesterol, says Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N. The good bacteria hype is so real that about four million adults in the U.S. reported using probiotics in the past 30 days, according to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey.

Though many people take probiotic supplements, the bacteria are also found in a number of fermented foods and drinks, like yogurt and kombucha. But when it comes to these bacteria-packing eats, there are still a lot of questions out there: Which probiotic foods should you eat? Are all probiotic foods alike?

Read on to clear up some of your probiotic food confusion and get the most bacteria benefits from your diet.

When you’re looking to get a rich dose of probiotics from your grub, you’ll turn to fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt. But not all of these foods are created equally.

“Not every single yogurt and sauerkraut contains probiotics,” says Gorin. Make sure a brand packs the good stuff by checking the label or visiting the company’s website for more information, she says. For instance, a yogurt containing probiotics will generally list “live active cultures” on the label. Some probiotic foods may even list the specific bacteria in them, the two most common being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And when shopping for sauerkraut, specifically, look for an unpasteurized variety, since the pasteurization process can actually kill off probiotics, Gorin says.

From there, just how much good bacteria your yogurt or kombucha packs may vary quite a bit. “It’s hard to say for sure how many probiotics a specific food contains,” says Ryan D. Andrews, M.S., M.A., R.D., coach at Precision Nutrition and author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating. That’s because a number of variables—like the strains of bacteria used in the food, how long it’s been fermenting for, and the temperature it’s been stored at—can determine a food’s total probiotic count, he says.

The good news: “In the naturally fermented food world, stuff like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, and so forth all seem to be beneficial for health on some level, no matter the specific level of probiotics they contain,” he says. So, though there’s no one probiotic-packed food to rule them all, that sauerkraut or yogurt provides some benefit. (Just check that label!)

Though probiotics sure seem to be great for our gut, there is no ideal, universal recommendation for probiotic intake that has been backed by science yet, says Satish Rao, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of Augusta University’s Digestive Health Center. Researchers are still pinning down the specific benefits of individual types of bacteria.

Related: I Drank Kombucha Every Day For 2 Weeks—Here’s What My Gut Had To Say

Still, doctors take a number of factors—like whether you have ongoing stomach issues, are taking antibiotics, or are just an average person looking to maintain a healthy gut—into consideration when recommending probiotic foods or dosages of probiotic supplements, Rao says.

That said, if you’re healthy and want to supplement your diet with good bacteria, eating one or two servings of fermented foods daily is great for your overall digestion and colon health, he says. If you’re turning to probiotics because you’re having stomach issues, though, consult with your doctor first, since probiotics may not be the solution for whatever underlying issue you’re dealing with.

Given probiotics’ supreme popularity these days, companies are adding them to anything from frozen burritos to protein powder to breakfast cereal in order to increase their value. But the fact that a food contains probiotics doesn’t necessarily make it worth eating.

“Always look at the nutritional make-up of the food containing probiotics,” says Gorin. At the end of the day, brownies and ice cream that contain probiotics are still brownies and ice cream, and likely loaded with excess calories and sugar, both of which can lead to weight gain and other health problems when you eat too much, too often. Ask yourself: Would you consider this food healthy if there weren’t probiotics in it?

If you’re truly looking for a boost in good bacteria, stick with naturally-fermented foods, which are loaded with other nutritional perks like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, says Andrews.

Sure, naturally probiotic-packed foods offer health benefits—but you won’t fully reap them if you’re eating a food that doesn’t agree with your system. Yep, we’re talking about dairy here.

Take kefir, for instance. This drinkable, yogurt-like food is loaded with probiotics, calcium, and magnesium, but if you’re lactose intolerant it’s probably going to cause discomfort like bloating, gas, or diarrhea, says Stollman. It’s not worth it to suffer through a slew of tummy symptoms in the name of probiotics!

Related: Take a lactase enzyme to help your body break down dairy.

If you find that your stomach is sensitive to dairy, just stick with dairy-free probiotic foods. Sip on kombucha, sauté some tempeh, or top the night’s protein with a spoonful of kraut. (If you’re really hung up on the kefir thing, there are brands out there made from coconut milk, says Stollman.)

While eating probiotic-rich foods has shown promise, a diet rich in a wide variety of nutrients is just as important for maintaining the countless types of healthy bacteria in your gut, says Stollman.

“Eating a diversity of fiber-rich foods, plant-based foods, and fermented foods, is probably the best way to fortify your biome,” he says. Perhaps the most important factor here is fiber, which acts as food for the probiotics in your gut. According to a review published in Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, eating fiber can actually boost the number of probiotics in your body. So for optimal gut health, probiotic-containing foods should be just a part of an overall healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

On the flip side, an unhealthy diet loaded with sugars and processed foods may actually negatively impact your gut health and microbiome, Stollman adds. Case in point: A study published in Nature suggests that drinking diet soda may actually mess with your gut bacteria so much that it could raise your risk for metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes. So when it comes to making your gut microbiome happy, stick to that whole ‘let food be thy medicine’ thing.

Related: Give your gut an extra boost with a probiotic supplement. 

Everything You Need To Know About Vitamins A-K In 3 Minutes

Sure, you take a daily multivitamin—but do you have a solid grasp of what’s actually in it? There are a whole lot of letters on that label…
Don’t worry, you’re not alone if you don’t know the difference between vitamin A and vitamin K. After all, there are 13 vitamins in total, and each has a unique, health-benefiting function. We’ve got the CliffsNotes so you always know what nutrients you’re taking.

Bad Posture Can Lead To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

Standing up straight seems easy enough, but thanks to the excessive amount of sitting we do, many of us struggle to maintain posture that would make Grandma proud.

Spending too much time on our butts, hunching over our phones, and even using crummy form in the gym can really wreck our posture, according to Stuart McGill, Ph.D., professor emeritus of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and author of Back Mechanic.

And that has a greater impact than just making us look shorter and schlumpy. Bad posture can lead to stress and pain in your back and hips that can affect your ability to move and exercise, McGill says.

The tricky thing is, not all crummy posture is created equal. Your personal breed of poor posture (whether it’s sloping shoulders or shifting hips) stems from your daily routine and lifestyle—and if you’re not in pain, you might not even realize how out-of-whack your back is.

Below are the four most common posture-wrecking issues, and what you’ll need to do to correct them:

Issue #1: Your Hips Are Stuck Back

If it takes you a while (like 30 seconds) to fully stand up after sitting for a few hours and you notice that you cannot pull your hips forward and stand upright, chances are you have tight hip flexors (a.k.a. psoas muscles), which connect your lower spine to the front of your thigh bones. This is a common issue for people who sit for long periods of time—like those of us who work sedentary jobs, McGill says.

Not only do tight hip flexors make walking uncomfortable and stiff, but they prevent our hips from moving forward, which then pulls our lower back out of its natural hollow curve, he says. And being in this unnatural position puts a lot of extra pressure on our lower spine.

The Fix: Perform Forward Lunges with Hand Internal/External Rotations

To help your lower spine relax back into its natural curve, you need to stretch.

Start in a standing position with your arms at your sides. Step your right leg forward and bend at the knee to lower into a lunge. Your legs should be bent at the knees. Reach your left hand up overhead, drop your left shoulder slightly back, and push your palm towards the ceiling. As you push your left palm up, you’ll feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. (Your muscles’ protective tissues connect all the way from your arm, down your torso, to your hip flexors.) In this position, rotate your left hand back and forth a few times.

Do two or three reps on each side, holding each rep for about 10 seconds.

Issue #2: You’re Slouched Too Far Forward

If you stand with your shoulders slouched forward, your stomach relaxed out to the front, and your butt tucked under, we’re talking about you here. In this classic image of poor posture, we exaggerate the natural curves in our backs (a hollow curve at the neck, and outward curve at the upper back, and a hollow curve at the lower back), says McGill.

Related: Do You Really Need To Stretch After A Workout?

Normally, the muscles in our torso support our spine and help us maintain the slight curves our back has in proper posture, says McGill. But when we don’t have enough muscle, the discs (the pliable shock-absorbers between the vertebrae of our spine ) and elastic tissues (like ligaments and fascia)—especially in our lower back—bear the pressure of our body weight, says McGill. And that’s a recipe for pain and impaired mobility over time.

The Fix: Re-Train Your Hips

To take that pressure off your lower back, you need to move your spine back into a more neutral position. To do this, imagine straight lines extending down from your ears, through your shoulders, through your hips, and into the middle of your feet, McGill says. This will help you shift your hips beneath the center of your weight and pull your shoulders back. Simply being aware of your body position and reminding yourself to stack your spine back in that neutral position can help you re-learn proper posture, he says.

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

You should also consider this posture issue an invitation to work on your core strength. That might mean hitting the weights regularly or using your own body weight to build strength. One bodyweight option is Pilates, which can increase core stability, according to a study published in Isokinetics and Exercise Science. (Participants saw improvements after eight weeks of three weekly Pilates sessions.) 

Issue #3: Lifting Weights Improperly Has Landed You With A Disc Bulge

When you excessively flex or extend your back while under stress (like when lifting weights with poor form), the repeated pressure over time can make the discs between your vertebrae bulge or full-on rupture.

Sitting puts pressure on a disc bulge, while walking reduces it, so if you have back pain after just a few minutes of sitting but can walk around okay, this may be your issue.

For some people, disc bulges occur from squatting or deadlifting beyond their natural range of motion. It all depends on your hips. Some people have deep hip sockets, so at some point when they squat deep or reach to deadlift a barbell up off the floor, their thigh bones hit the front of those sockets. This point should be the end of their range of motion, but most people allow their lower back to flatten so they can continue lowering. Putting your spine in this unnatural position while bearing extra weight puts immense pressure on your discs, and can lead to a bulge or rupture. (This is less of an issue for people with shallow hip sockets, whose hips have a greater range of motion, and who can squat deeper or deadlift from the floor without having to flatten their back.)

The Fix: Correct Your Form and Support Your Back

A certified strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist can help you identify your safe range of motion for the aforementioned exercises.

Follow the video above to determine the best squat depth for your hips and avoid deep “ass-to-grass” squats if you have deep hip sockets. Similarly, those with deep hip sockets should deadlift a barbell off of raised blocks instead of off the floor. Widening your stance for squats and deadlifts can also increase your hip mobility and help you get lower without straining your back.

You also don’t need to drop it super-low to benefit from squatting. Hit the rack and make sure your form looks like the following to guarantee you’re squatting safely:

Step underneath a racked barbell and allow it to rest on top of your upper back muscles. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale and un-rack the bar by stepping both feet backwards. Keeping your core tight, sink your hips back and bend at the knees to lower the bar until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Then, exhale as you press through your heels to drive your hips up vertically and push the bar back towards the ceiling until you’re standing straight up.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

If you suspect you already have a disc bulge, it’s time to see a doc. You can also use a LumbAir back pad whenever you sit for an extended period to restore the natural curve of your back and reduce the pressure on the disc, McGill says. Slowly, over time, the disc bulge should heal.

Issue #4: You Have Weak Glutes

Strong glute muscles help keep your hips centered beneath your weight. Weak glutes, though, whether from too much sitting or not enough strength training, can allow your hips to shift too far back and cause hip or lower-back pain, says McGill.

The Fix: Hip Thrust

With the right technique, the hip thrust can target and strengthen your gluteal muscles to help get your hips back in proper placement.

How to do it: Lie on your back, bend your knees, and put your feet flat on the floor. Grip the floor with your feet, squeeze your glutes, and drive them towards the ceiling, bringing your pelvis off the floor. Push your pelvis up until your torso forms a straight line from your shoulders to your tailbone. “Focus on squeezing your glutes and imagine pushing your feet and knees away from your body,” says McGill. This will ensure that you’re using your glutes and not your hamstrings.

Perform three sets of three to five reps at the beginning of your workouts or once a day.

Related: Grab training equipment and accessories, from resistance bands to yoga straps.

Raise Your Hand If You Have Trouble Digesting Dairy

There’s a pretty good chance you know the feeling: a threatening rumble in your gut that comes after an extra scoop of ice cream or a particularly milky latte. With it begins your torturous wait for tummy issues like bloating, gas, and gotta-go sprints to the bathroom to subside. And every time you’re left wondering whether your belly’s reaction to dairy means you’ve become a little (or a lot) lactose intolerant.

The likely answer? Well, probably, considering more than two thirds of people worldwide develop some degree of lactose intolerance in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Here’s how it happens: Dairy contains a sugar molecule called lactose that needs to be broken down in your digestive system by an enzyme called lactase, explains Niket Sonpal, M.D., gastroenterology fellow at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. When you don’t have enough lactase enzymes in your system, you can’t digest that lactose—and boom, you’re lactose intolerant. “[That lactose] is then taken up by the bacteria in the gut, which causes it to kind of ferment and produce a lot of gas,” Sonpal says.

Some people are born without any ability to produce lactase enzymes, so they spend their entire lives lactose intolerant, says Sonpal. (A lifetime without Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby? Let’s all take a minute to pray for those unfortunate souls.) But what about the adults who suddenly find themselves struggling with dairy?

Basically, everyone’s production of the lactase enzyme declines over time—but how much it declines varies from person to person. “Depending on their genetic makeup, lifestyle, and other factors, everyone’s individual lactose intolerance is different,” says Sonpal. Some people may lose such an inconsequential amount of lactase that they can continue to enjoy dairy without problems for their entire lives, while others may lose so much that even a splash of half-and-half sends their tummy into panic mode.

To learn your true level of lactose intolerance, you can take a quick test at your doc’s office. You’ll consume some dairy and then breathe into a special bag that can measure your ability to digest the lactose you consumed based on the particles in your breath.

But you can also get a general idea of whether dairy is an issue for you by running a little experiment at home, which Sonpal dubs “Lactose and Chill.” Simply eat a dairy-heavy meal (get some cheese and a glass of milk in there) for dinner one night and monitor how you feel. The next night, eat a dairy-free meal and compare your gut reactions (heh).

Quick note: If both meals wreak havoc on your stomach, your issue may be a condition like irritable bowel syndrome, not lactose intolerance, Sonpal says. (People with IBS deal with frequent digestive distress involving anything from bloating to constipation to diarrhea.)

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why Your Stomach Is Killing You All The Time

But if going ham on dairy does, in fact, leave you gassy, uncomfortable, or running to the bathroom, it’s time to change your diet, says says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet.

“Some people, even with lactose intolerance, can tolerate small amounts of lactose,” she says. So if your belly symptoms weren’t too terrible, you might be okay to enjoy hard cheeses like cheddar (which are naturally lower in lactose), or a bit of milk in your coffee.

But if a glass of milk messes you up bad, you’re best off eliminating dairy from your diet completely. You’ll just need to make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D, the two primary nutrients you miss out on without dairy in your life, Gans says. Look for plant-based milks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and load up on green leafy vegetables, she suggests. (You may also want to consider a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough of these bone-supporting nutrients.)

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support your bones.

When you just can’t avoid dairy (we all need pizza sometimes!), you can try taking a lactose supplement before your meal to help your body deal.

9 Quick Ways To Crush Your Cravings

Cupcakes! You suddenly started thinking about their sweet, frosty goodness and now you want—no, you need—to have one. But seeing as you had a satisfying lunch and don’t make a habit of eating sugary snacks every day, you can’t help but wonder how this torturous temptation popped into your mind. Even more pressing: How do you get it out?

“First and foremost, be mindful of your why,” says Erin Clifford, J.D., a Certified Holistic Health Coach. “Are you really hungry or is it something emotional? Are you lonely? Bored? Stressed? Pay attention to your patterns and figure out an alternative plan for when your cravings hit.”

We all know that unnecessary constant snacking (a snack once in a while is totally normal and fine!) interferes with your weight loss or weight-maintenance goals, but it also makes you sluggish and irritable, which, in turn, sets up a never-ending cycle of even more cravings.

Related: Shop appetite-control products. 

Since the trick is to avoid your triggers and recognize when you’re teetering on the edge, these tips, straight from Clifford’s playbook, can help you shift your focus away from those midday cupcake cravings.

1. Stop the Cycle

If you always reach for a bag of cookies after a stressful day at work, call a friend and hit up a yoga class instead. Redirect the energy you’re giving your craving toward something positive. Once you do the work, you’re less likely to destroy it by bingeing on junk that rewinds your progress.

2. Change Your Environment

If you’re bingeing on caramel-coated popcorn while you’re Netflix-and-chilling, get off the couch, pop a Crave Crush lozenge (which blocks sweet taste receptors), and go take your dog for a walk. If you give yourself a time out, the cravings will usually subside.

3. Aim for Satiety

Including protein at every meal (lean meat, beans, eggs, nuts, yogurt, etc.) will boost your energy levels and keep you feeling satisfied—which should keep your cravings at bay. According to the Nutrition Journal, high-protein snacks improve appetite control and satiety, and reduce subsequent food intake.

What triggers a craving, anyway? Check out our Science of Cravings video:

 

4. Meal Frequency

Eating smaller meals more frequently was related to lower body mass index (BMI) and maintenance of weight loss, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Not only will this approach to eating stabilize blood-sugar levels and keep your energy levels on track, it’ll leave you less likely to give into your cravings.

5. Don’t Skip Meals

Set yourself up for success by sticking to regular meal times. And always have breakfast (you’ll want to reach for a protein-packed morning meal like overnight oats, a goat cheese frittata, or a banana with almond butter).

6. Stay Hydrated

Next time a big craving hits, try drinking a large glass of water. Many times when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually simply thirsty, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A word to the wise: We’re talking about regular ol’ water here—sugary liquid calories from sodas, juices, lattes, sports drinks, or iced teas will spike your insulin and blood sugar levels, causing cravings. Not into plain H20? Add fruit, herbs, or ginger for a special kick. Or, drink tea, unsweetened.

Related: Shop yummy electrolyte fizz and kick your water up a notch.

Aim for 64 ounces (or 1900 milliliters) of water per day.

7. MEDITATE And Breathe Deeply

When you’re feeling the urge to plow through a bag of potato chips, take 10 minutes to center your mind and induce a feeling of calm. Or focus on your breathing, explains Clifford, in the ratio 1-4-2 (inhale for eight seconds, hold for 32 seconds, exhale for 16 seconds). Many devices and apps, like Fitbit and Breathe, have programs to help you meditate or count. Furthermore, according to the Mayo Clinic, practicing mindful eating and remembering that food is actually fuel (and not just fun, tasty stuff) can help prevent overeating.

8. Get Your ZZZs

If you don’t get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you might feel the urge to eat carbs and sugar, since you disrupted the hormones ghrelin and leptin. According to the International Journal of Endocrinology, hormones like these are closely associated with sleep and circadian rhythm. Ghrelin is the go hormone that tells you when to eat, while leptin is the stop hormone that tells you when you’re full. Thus, more ghrelin plus less leptin equals non-stop cravings. In short: Get enough sleep so that your hormones work appropriately.

9. Brush Your Teeth

When all else fails, pop some gum in your mouth or brush your teeth—mint is a palate cleanser and can help to crush your craving.

Cravings You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

“If you simply cannot help yourself, then stick with foods offering nutritional value, such as non-fat Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit, a handful of veggies and hummus, or a handful (10) of almonds,” says Clifford. And, according to a new study in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, walnuts can help as well: The study suggests that these tasty little nuts decrease feelings of hunger and appetite. So, grab a handful of walnuts and munch away.

A few of Clifford’s other favorite go-to snacks:

Sweet:

  • Chocolate smoothie: A scoop of chocolate protein powder, half a banana, and ice. Add 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds or chopped almonds/almond butter for a nutty flavor.
  • 4 celery sticks with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cranberries or raisins, and cinnamon.
  • 1 serving of dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon almond butter.
  • ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with ½ cup berries or pineapple.

Salty:

  • 2 Wasa crackers with ¼ cup hummus or 1 piece of part-skim string cheese.
  • 10 blue corn chips with ¼ cup hummus and salsa.
  • Pizza crackers: 5 flax seed crackers topped with 1 piece of Munster cheese or low-fat Jarlsburg divided and sprinkle with red pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.
  • Homemade herb popcorn (makes 6 servings): Pop 3 oz. of popcorn without oil in an air popper, melt 4 tablespoons coconut oil and drizzle over the popcorn with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, and 2 tablespoons mixed dried herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, and oregano). Toss to coat.

Conceding to Cravings: A Last Resort

We get it. Sometimes you just need to give in because life is too short.

“If you’re only eating for emotional reasons, then you want to do your best to avoid indulging in your cravings,” says Clifford. “But if you’re craving pizza because you love pizza, then go for the occasional sampling—in moderation. For instance, if you have plans to meet your girlfriends out at your favorite Neapolitan pizza place, be sure to eat clean all day, order a salad to complement your meal, and stick to your clean eating and workout routine the following day.”

How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with fitness. As a teenager, I pretty much went out of my way to do anything but exercise.

Throughout college and grad school, I continued the tumultuous relationship with working out. I fasted, I yo-yo dieted, I ran for two miles every day for a week—only to drop off for months at a time. I consistently felt like a failure, and I was discouraged. I didn’t like the person I saw in the mirror. And, I didn’t like the person inside—sluggish, racked with low-self-esteem, and disappointment.

Related: I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

I failed every workout and healthy eating routine every single time. Why? Because I had subconsciously decided that I couldn’t do it. That I wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t be able to finish the workout. I self-sabotaged and succeeded in failure each and every time. I was caught in a cycle of never being strong enough, pretty enough, good enough, smart enough.

Then, I hit a wall. I was tired of feeling tired. I was tired of telling myself that I just didn’t have the knack for this kind of lifestyle or a new sport. It was time to reset my life’s settings for my physical health and mental well-being.

I didn’t need to remind myself of the major advantages to working out: cardio health, better sleep, less stress, better cognitive function, and stronger memory. I knew these were all things I should want from working out—on top of a better physique.

I failed every workout or healthy eating routine every single time. Why? Because I had subconsciously decided that I couldn’t do it.

But I needed a workout that was exciting, a little challenging, and something new. So when an exercise buddy told me about HIIT—high intensity interval training—I was intrigued. HIIT is a series of cardio and strength moves which alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity. For example, you might have 30 seconds of burpees (killer!) and then 60 seconds of kettle bells.

High intensity interval training. It’s short phrase that packs a big, daunting punch. Could I do it? Did I want to? Yes, I could and I did! I gulped and pulled the trigger with my debit card: I signed up for a ten pack of HIIT classes.

I didn’t know it then, but my self-confidence would be the biggest gift I’d give myself.

My First Class

The HIIT studio (I went to Athleta’s studio in NYC) was minimal and clean: all you need is a yoga mat, some small weights (I chose 5 lbs), and water—um, lots of water. You will get super thirsty as you zip and zag from one rep to the next. Take advantage of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in your local spots: You’ll want to focus on your form with each movement. Usually, I avoid watching myself in the mirrors (low self-esteem, yay!) but this time I just focused on what my body was doing and it was doing a whole lot.

My first HIIT class was on a Saturday morning (yep, I signed up for a 9 a.m. torture sesh), and I was prepared to hate it. But I knew the drill: running around, panting, red skin, a chest burning with fire. I’ll be honest: the first class (even the first three!) weren’t the easiest. I didn’t fly through all of the moves with ease and grace. I had to take my time and study my form in the mirror. I definitely did not cycle through 25 burpees in under a minute.

Related: Shop protein bars to fuel your next workout session.

And then, something unexpected happened right in the middle. I fell in love with my HIIT class. I loved the high energy, the racing music, and the constantly-shifting exercises. I wasn’t bored by repetitive movement (because there’s none of that!) and I was using all the different parts of my body.

Time whizzed by. I did have some low points in the class: feeling winded because of asthma and not being able to do all of the moves. It was actually a life-changing experience. I tried to take on as much as my body could handle without feeling light-headed or completely out of breath.

Instead, I felt strong as I moved through crunches, squats, stretches, starfish jumps, and kettle bell lifts. I felt a sense of pride when my instructor said my squat form was “ah-mazing.” That was me, I did it. And just me alone. Oh, and did I mention that workouts like this HIIT class can burn up to 700 calories? It’s no joke.

I fell in love with my HIIT class. I loved the high energy, the racing music, and the constantly-shifting exercises.

I left the class a smiling, sweaty mess. I did it—I beat my own odds and I felt completely fabulous. I was so convinced that I’d drop out of the class early or stop frequently to take breaks and I didn’t do any of that. I stayed true to the workout course and saw it through. Then, my body showed me what it’s really capable of.

I can do all of that and more. I’m a workout warrior now.

Beyond My First Class

I’ve been working out with HIIT for over 60 days now (!). I certainly feel a little trimmer and my overall stress is reduced. Oh, and I fall asleep in a mere minute at night. But my self-confidence regarding my own body and my self of personal strength and power is what really motivates me —and what changed my life. I now look at my body with a sense of pride. I don’t look dramatically different, but I’m stronger and faster. I love myself and what I can do.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Instead of looking at my life and my body as a series of cant’s, I look at myself as a vessel for opportunity. I can be a badass. I can change my life with just a simple workout. I’m ready to keep on my HIIT journey like a real champion.

Who knows—maybe I’ll break into weight-lifting, too! I’ll see you at the next gym class, fellow warriors. I did it, and you can too.

Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

Solid glutes make your waist seem smaller and your booty look amazing in anything form-fitting, says Melody Scharff, C.P.T. trainer at Fhitting Room in New York City. But beyond that, they improve speed, agility, and power, and help protect the back from injury. Not to mention, since lean muscle tissue requires more calories to maintain, a strong booty means a faster metabolism and more calories burned every single day.

The key to glorious glutes? Hit all of its major muscles—the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus—which work together to abduct, rotate and extend your hips, and generate power, says Dennys Lozada, C.S.C.S., fellow Fhitting Room coach. And while there are plenty of exercises that will leave your glutes sore, like walking lunges and step-ups, no single exercise optimally activates and builds all three of those glute muscles, he says. To fully activate every bit of your booty, you need a workout that involves a variety of exercises.

This four-move booty circuit hits your glutes from all directions so you can grow the perfect peach, says Scharff. Run through the circuit three to five times at least once a week, in addition to your usual strength-training routine, which should focus on big, heavy movements like squats and deadlifts, recommends Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. The combination of these two types of training will help you pack on glute size and tone your entire lower body and core, he says.

Move #1: Banded Quadruped Hip Extension or Banded “Donkey Kicks”

 Targets: gluteus maximus and quadriceps (primary) and hamstrings (secondary)

How to do the move:

  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees planted.
  2. Loop a resistance band around one foot and hold the handles beneath your hands.
  3. Tighten your core and contract your abs to stabilize your spine.
  4. Keeping a 90-degree angle at the knee and foot flexed, push the banded foot backward and up until the bottom of your foot is facing the ceiling and your hip, thigh, and knee are parallel to the floor. (Focus on contracting the glute and keeping the knee joint still as you push backwards.)
  5. Slowly lower back to the start position.
  6. Perform 15 reps with one leg before switching sides.

Why it works: This movement really isolates the glute muscles, which makes it effective for muscle activation, strength, and growth, says Scharff. Newbies can perform the move without a resistance band and add one once the reps feel easy. More experienced booty-builders can increase the thickness of the resistance band used for an additional challenge.

Move #2: Hip Thrusts

 Targets: glutes and abdominals

 How to do the move:

  1. Begin with a flat bench and a barbell handy. (Put a pad on the bar to make the move more comfortable.)
  2. Sit with your back (just below your shoulder blades) against the long side of the bench, with your feet planted directly under your knees, your neck neutral, and the padded barbell in your lap.
  3. Position the bar directly on your upper thighs, just below your crotch, and grip it with palms facing down.
  4. Drive through your feet to extend your hips vertically and push the bar up until your knees form 90-degree angles and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Focus on moving the weight with your glutes—not your lower back or hamstrings.
  5. Contract your glutes hard and push your hips as high as possible while maintaining a neutral spine.
  6. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Maintain tension in your glutes as you lower the weight.
  7. Repeat for 20 reps total.

Why it works: Hip thrusters support everything from glute size, strength, and appearance, to sprint speed, squat and deadlift performance, and general body power, explains Wickham. Start out with bodyweight hip thrusts, and from there add resistance by looping a resistance band just above your knees, or adding a barbell to the mix, he suggests.

Related: Power your workout with a performance supplement.

Move #3: Bulgarian Split Squats

 Targets: quads, glutes, and hamstrings

 How to do the move:

  1. Find a box, bench, or piece of furniture that is 20 to 36 inches high and put it behind you.
  2. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and reach one foot back so the ball of your foot rests on the platform and your knee is bent.
  3. Bend your front knee and lower your hips toward the floor (like in a lunge) so that your rear knee moves down towards to the floor. Keep your torso as upright as possible as you lower down, and make sure your front knee doesn’t extend past your toes. (If it does, hop your front foot forward.)
  4. Pause when your front quad is parallel with the floor.
  5. Then, drive through your front heel to push back up to the starting position.
  6. Perform 10 reps on each side.

Why it works: Bulgarian split squats are a surefire way to fire up your glutes and increase lower-body strength, along with balance and stability, says Scharff. Perform this move with just your bodyweight at first, and hold dumbbells in your hands when you’re ready for an extra challenge.

Move #4: Jump Squat

 Targets: glutes, hamstrings and quads (primary), and calves, core, and lower back (secondary)

How to do the move:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart. Keep your weight in your heels and find a comfortable position for your hands, either clasped behind your head, on your hips, or dangling at your sides.
  2. To begin the movement, bend at the knees and lower your hips to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Pause in the squat position for two to five seconds.
  4. Then, without using your arms, explode through your legs to jump up as high as possible.
  5. Land softly by slightly pushing your hips back and bending your knees.
  6. Readjust your feet so they’re hips-width distance apart.
  7. Perform as many as you can before your form starts to break.

Why it works: A jump squat is a basic movement, but it’s essential for building glute, calf, quadricep, and hamstring strength, improving muscle stabilization, and developing the back squat movement, says Wickham. Not to mention, they’re a great cardiovascular burner, adds Scharff.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

Why You Get Sick When The Weather Changes

We’ve all come down with the sniffles when the weather changes drastically. And the timing isn’t exactly a coincidence or an old wive’s tale; you’re getting sick for a reason—and here’s why.

1. Major drops in temperature 

“The main weather changes that can set you up for illness would include severe changes in temperature,” says Mark Sherwood, ND, author of Fork Your Diet and co-founder of the Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, OK. The main culprit: temperatures that go from warm to cold.

Not only does frigid weather restrict blood flow and narrow blood vessels, but in colder conditions, our immune systems may actually be less capable of fighting off the common cold (also referred to as rhinovirus), according to a 2014 study out of Yale University, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that at body temperature, antiviral proteins could keep rhinoviruses at bay. When temperatures were lowered to just 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the researchers saw that cells’ defense was far weaker, making it easier for the rhinovirus to take hold.

2. Environmental pollutants 

If the wind has picked up, you might also be at risk of respiratory symptoms. That’s because winds bringing in dust and other pollutants can affect your lungs and sinuses, notes Dr. Sherwood.

Related: Shop immune support products to stay healthy this fall season. 

A variety of issues—from respiratory illness to heightened trouble for asthmatics—may stem from winds. Research published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research notes that climate change and climatic factors (think: temperature, wind speed, humidity, thunderstorms) can trigger respiratory allergies and asthma.

3. A change in barometric pressure 

If you feel a headache come on suddenly, it may be due to the weather—specifically, the barometric pressure, or an increase in air pressure. “The theory behind higher barometric pressure or changing weather as it relates to headaches is the belief that the headaches are a protective mechanism against adverse environmental stressors,” explains Dr. Sherwood. And, according to Internal Medicine, there’s a direct correlation between barometric pressure and migraines.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these kinds of weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin—which can also set off a migraine. For some migraine sufferers, weather changes may be enough to warrant staying inside or changing plans around in order to avoid the potential of a debilitating headache or migraine.

But It’s Not Just Colds That Weather changes Can Cause…

Ever had a little extra knee pain, say, when it rains? According to a study in Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society, plenty of people attribute joint pain to weather conditions. In a study including 92 patients with rheumatic disorders (80 with osteoarthritis and 12 with rheumatoid arthritis) compared to a control group of 42 subjects, it was found that weather variables (like temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure) caused increased joint pain.

Related: What Exactly Is Rhabdo—And Are You At Risk?

Specifically, less barometric pressure and lower temperature equal more joint pain. Thus, if possible, you may want to modulate your response to pain (for example, taking meds) when the weather changes.

Keeping your immune system strong can help

Ultimately, no matter what kind of climate you live in, you’re bound to encounter weather shifts that may affect your wellness. Thankfully, keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders can make you less likely to suffer the consequences of a changing weather pattern.

“The absolute best [way] to boost your immune system is to consume six to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables during the day,” says Dr. Sherwood. Why? Antioxidant-packed produce can boost your ability to keep viruses and other health issues at bay. If that many servings of fruits and veggies sounds unrealistic, there are many dietary supplements that can help support immune health.

Also useful: Getting a good night’s sleep, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, will bolster your body’s ability to produce infection-fighting antibodies and cells.

I Lost My Belly Fat By Addressing The Core Issue: Stress

Stress, for me, has always triggered overeating. And when my metabolism took a drastic dip in my twenties, all of my weight gain went straight to my belly. I knew that if I kept up this lifestyle of living on stress and cheeseburgers, I was going to be in terrible health by 40.

Stress and belly fat are a potent pair: It has long been believed that cortisol, a hormone which our body releases in response to stress, plays a role in fat accumulation around our midsections. According to one 1994 study by the Department of Psychology at Yale University, people with a high waist to hip ratio had higher cortisol levels when exposed to stress. These people also reported having no coping mechanism in place to deal with the stress.

I’m in my thirties now, and I recently got engaged, so I’m embracing adulthood and the future it will bring. I want to be healthy and not burnt out in my later years. I want to enjoy them. Sure, I miraculously still have my hair, but the belly fat is there too. Well, it was, up until recently.

Related: The Truth About Belly Fat

People gain weight for different reasons (their macros are off, they don’t sleep enough, they don’t work out properly, etc.), so I can’t say what will work for everyone. But what worked for me—on top of dieting (I love the keto diet) and exercise—was making sure I did daily activities that centered me.

I think of my body as a computer. Stress is the pop-up ad or the malware on the hard drive. What I need to do is find ways to boot myself up so stress doesn’t crash my system.

What worked for me—on top of dieting and exercise—was making sure I did daily activities that centered me.

I was one of those people. Throughout my life, I’d gotten used to feeling stress when I’d first wake up. I’d be groggy and anxious and I’d carry it throughout the day. Food cravings—and all that cortisol—would be coursing through my body before noon. That would, of course, make me want to eat.

Then I figured out that I needed to boot up correctly—I’d need to get centered and calm during that first hour after waking. I came up with daily routine to help curb the cortisol and create a mindset of mindfulness and calmness.

Right when I roll out of bed I start free writing (or journaling). I get all those panicked, worried, and weird thoughts out of my head and onto the page. It’s an effective morning meditation. I do up to three pages (or more if I am feeling particularly stressed!).

I think of my body as a computer. What I need to do is find ways to boot myself up so stress doesn’t crash my system.

Then, I make my bed and do some actual meditation. I just sit and focus on my breath. Then I eat a healthy, fat-filled breakfast (fat keeps us sated for longer), and lastly I exercise (for the endorphins and the energy boost).

I try not to look at my phone or email while I focus on getting centered for the day. No, I haven’t magically transformed into a morning person, but I have become a morning routine person.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

Work issues and personal stressors will never go away, but I can harness a mindful attitude, practice acceptance, and look for solutions instead of stress eating. I remind myself that mistakes will happen and they are not the end of the world. I remind myself that I need to only learn from the mistake. I don’t judge the negative thoughts; I just observe them and let them pass. Let it be and move forward is a mantra that helps me.

I also make sure to do something physical each day that is fun and relaxing. I take a hobby break in the afternoon. I garden and walk nature trails. Getting out in nature always helps me have perspective; being in greenery is like nature’s sedative.

On rainy or cold winter days I’ll play some music and hit a ping-pong ball against the basement wall. What all of these hobbies have in common: me being physical and me being present.

By being aware of your impulses—and choosing constructive outlets—you will begin to walk the path towards a higher quality of life and a lowered stress level.

So what happens when I start stressing late night before bed—when the munchies hit? Some people can do healthy midnight snacks (or easily avoid snacking altogether), but for me it’s not so easy.

Related: Shop natural products for stress and anxiety. 

Just like I practice mindfulness when I wake up, I do the same at night. I use that time to power down properly. I read for pleasure, I watch something for entertainment, and I make an effort to be mindful and not let stressful thoughts rule me. I focus on my breath and just breathe. I let go of the worries and focus on the present, and I prioritize sleeping over worrying.

Sure, keto and exercise have helped me, but so has practicing mindfulness, keeping up my healthy daily habits, and accepting that I will never be free of stress.

I’ve learned that wellness is a mindset. By being aware of your impulses—and choosing constructive outlets—you will begin to walk the path towards a higher quality of life and a lowered stress level. And, bonus points: You will see results in all areas of your life, not just in your stomach.

5 Healthier Versions Of Your Favorite Comfort Foods

We all have foods we turn to when we want to soothe our souls. It’s easy to go straight for the cheesy and carby goodness of a pizza, or a full plate of Entenmann’s finest—but it is also possible to enjoy the flavors of our favorite comfort foods in a way that’s a little healthier. With a few tweaks and swaps, you can make your favorite meals or treats more nutritious and less food baby-inducing, and savor every bite without a shred of guilt.

Below are a few of the classic comfort foods I turn to, and how I transform them into lighter—but still delicious—dishes.

1. Meatloaf

Nothing beats pulling a juicy meatloaf out of the oven—but depending on the type of meat you use and how breadcrumb-crazy you go, the calories can really add up.

I like to lighten up traditional meatloaf by swapping beef for lean turkey to save fat and calories, and boost the protein. (While 3-ounces of 85 percent lean ground beef is 212 calories, with 13 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein, the 93 percent lean ground turkey I use is just 129 calories, with 7 grams of fat and 16 grams of protein.) Ground turkey also provides vitamins B6 and B12, along with niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc.

I also add diced veggies—like onions, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and carrots—to my meatloaf to bulk it up and add some additional fiber and nutrients. When it comes to breadcrumbs, I prefer whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs because they offer a light and crispy crunch, but if you’re looking for a gluten-free option, you can use gluten-free oats, crackers, or even some cooked brown rice.

Check out my full turkey-veggie meatloaf recipe here. You can even transform this meatloaf into meatballs to serve over zucchini noodles!

2. Cake

Anyone with a sweet tooth knows how hard it can be to beat back sugar cravings. Instead of turning to sugar and fat-laden cake, brownies, or cookies, bake up a lighter sweet treat, like banana muffins.

Your average cupcake or muffin comes in around 220 calories with 12 grams of fat and 22 grams of sugar. (Plus, most are made with white all-purpose flour, which is pretty devoid of nutrients—especially fiber.) My banana-almond bread muffins are just sweet enough (they have chocolate chips in there!) and offer the added benefit of potassium and fiber from the bananas and whole-wheat pastry flour. They’re about 200 calories, but with eight grams of fat and half the sugar of a cupcake. No, a banana muffin may not be quite the same as a funfetti cupcake, but I promise it’ll get the job done!

You can boost the health value of this baked good even further by swapping out the oil for an equal amount of mashed avocados. Unlike oil, avocados are a good source of fiber and potassium. Applesauce can also be subbed in for oil—you’ll save tons of calories—but fair warning: While the muffins’ flavor will still be spot-on, they may have a slightly different texture.

3. Pizza

Pizza is the perfect marriage of cheese and carbs—but it’s often a one-way ticket to Food Coma City. Swapping takeout for a DIY pie makes it easier to cut back on calories and bump up the healthy factor of your meal.

In my house, we start with a whole-wheat crust and top it with a variety of vegetables, like fresh spinach, crushed tomatoes, garlic, and mushrooms, and a medley of cheeses. We go lighter on the cheese and heavier on the vegetables to reduce calories, while adding vitamins, minerals, fiber and all the powerful antioxidants vegetables offer. Stick to two cups of shredded mozzarella, so each slice has just about 90 calories worth on it.

To add even more veggie power to your pizza (and slash carbs), build your pie with a cauliflower crust. Cauliflower provides an assortment of nutrients, like vitamins C, K, and B6, folatepantothenic acid, choline, and dietary fiber—and one cup is just 22 calories and five grams of carbs. You can buy cauliflower pizza crusts pre-made in many supermarkets these days (check the freezer aisle) or make them at home.

I like to make my own by mixing together a bag of riced cauliflower, three eggs, half a cup of grated mozzarella cheese, half a cup of chopped nuts (like almonds, pecans, or pignoli nuts), and fresh herbs and Italian seasoning. After combining the ingredients, I flatten the crust onto a pizza stone and bake in the oven at 425 degrees until lightly browned. To really keep the calorie count low, cut down on the amount of mozzarella you use in the crust.

4. Spaghetti

I’m a huge pasta fan, but this often-heavy meal doesn’t always fit into a day of healthy eats. To boost the nutrition of any pasta dish, I always recommend going for a whole-wheat pasta. (While a cup of cooked white pasta has two grams of fiber, a cup of whole-wheat pasta packs around five—and that makes it easier to feel full and stop twirling after one serving.)

Related: 5 Healthier Noodles (That Aren’t Zoodles) For When You’re Craving Pasta

When I want to put veggies at the center of this dish, I use a spiralizer to curl out some zucchini noodles, which saves about 150 calories and 28 grams of carbs. I top my zoodles with tomato sauce, a few chunks of chicken, tofu or cheese, sliced veggies (like red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, and mushrooms), and garlic.

5. Pie

A traditional slice of pie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream can set you back close to 700 calories, often with around 25 grams of fat and 95 grams of carbs (most of which come from sugar). Delicious, yes, but definitely worth saving for special occasions.

I love the flavors of pie, though, so I ditch the dough and create a cobbler instead. You’ll mix together your favorite fruit—like apples—with seasonings and just a bit of sugar, and top them with an easy and scrumptious crumb topping made from granola and chopped nuts. Top my apple cobbler recipe with a scoop of frozen yogurt and you’ve got a dessert that hovers around 350 calories.

To kick the health factor up yet another notch, go for a baked apple. Core an apple and fill the core with crunched-up graham cracker and cinnamon. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Top it with a small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt or a few spoons of vanilla Greek yogurt. It may not be a piece of pie, but at 200ish calories, it’s a bargain in comparison.

Related: Check out protein snacks and puddings to satisfy cravings on-the-go.

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.

Pair These Nutrients Together For Maximum Absorption

It’s important to get your greens in, but keeping a healthy diet doesn’t always mean you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. Some nutrients actually maximize or interfere with one another’s function within your body—so depending on what you eat and when, you may be boosting or missing out on the benefits of those healthy foods (and supplements!).

To get the full nutrient bang for your buck and prevent wasting any of the good stuff, you’ll want to pair some nutrients together and avoid eating others together.

Perfect Pairings


There’s a reason you find many bone support supplements combining vitamin D and calcium. These two nutrients work together in our bodies, says Rebecca Lewis, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for HelloFresh.

Here’s what’s going on: “The majority of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones, and vitamin D helps absorb, carry, and deposit that calcium into our bones,” she says. So if you’re short on vitamin D, your body won’t be able to carry the calcium into the bones to be absorbed and stored, she adds.

Vitamin D can be found in animal-based foods like eggs, fatty fish, dairy, and fish oils, while calcium can be found in dairy, beans, and kale, she says. You can knock out both of these nutrients at once by eating dairy—but otherwise try to pair calcium-rich foods with vitamin D-rich foods. (Good to know: A lot of foods, like milks and cereals, are fortified with vitamin D.)

Another way to better absorb calcium: Pair it with inulin-type fructans (a type of nondigestible carb), suggests research published in The Journal of Nutrition. You can find insulin-type fructans in wheat germ, bananas, garlic, onions, and leeks. So consider adding some wheat germ or banana slices to your morning yogurt.


In addition to pairing vitamin D with calcium, one of the best ways to increase your absorption is to ensure you are getting enough dietary fat, says Andrea Conner, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D.E.

“Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it needs fat to be absorbed,” says Conner. For that reason, she always recommends pairing vitamin D-rich foods with a high-quality fat, like olive oil, flax seeds, avocado, fish, chia seeds, or nuts. Just a couple teaspoons of oil or a handful of nuts will do the trick, she says.

Those healthy fats will also help you get the most benefit from carotenoid-packed foods (think yellow, orange, and red produce, like peppers, carrots, and tomatoes), according to research out of Ohio State University. The fats make plant compounds like beta-carotene (which we convert into vitamin A) and lycopene more available to our body.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health


Iron can both enhance and mess with the absorption of other nutrients, says Kelly R. Jones M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. So, while the mineral is a pretty important staple in our diet, what you eat iron with is especially important. 

The biggest concern about iron absorption is whether you’re getting it from plant or animal sources. “Iron from animal foods, like beef, is much more absorbable than iron from plant foods, like spinach, beans, and whole grains,” says Jones. That’s because other factors in plant-based sources can inhibit your uptake of iron—like oxalic acid in spinach, she says. So vegetarians and vegans who get their iron from plant-based sources should be extra vigilant about what they eat it with.

This is where vitamin C comes in handy, Jones says. (You’ll find vitamin C in all sorts of citrus fruits, red peppers, kale, and broccoli.) The vitamin enhances your absorption of iron, so Jones recommends that vegetarians pair the two together whenever possible. “It can be as simple as adding lemon juice to their water while eating a plant-based meal,” Jones suggests. Or just make sure vitamin C-containing veggies make it onto your plate along with those beans or whole grains.


As with iron, any acidic food can also help increase your absorption of vitamin B12, says Jones.

“We all produce stomach fluid in response to hunger and smelling and eating food, and part of that stomach juice is hydrogen chloride, which helps us break down protein and absorb B12,” explains Jones. Adding acidic foods, like vitamin C-containing citrus fruits, can help boost the acid in your stomach needed to absorb that B12, which is found in organ meats, fish, eggs, and feta cheese. Jones likes to spritz lemon on fish or add it to salad dressings to help that B12 get to where it needs to go. You can also sip on some apple cider vinegar and water to boost that acid, she suggests.

 

Sparring Sources


All three of these nutrients are essential for a healthy diet, but they can interfere with one another’s absorption if consumed together in high amounts, says Jones.

“Because the same receptors in the digestive tract absorb zinc, iron, and copper, if there is an excess of one nutrient, it crowds out the others from making it through the intestinal wall,” she explains.

You know you’ll find iron in meats, spinach, beans, and whole grains. But what about copper and zinc? Copper is found in shellfish, organ meats, whole grains, beans, and nuts, while zinc is found in oysters, red meat, and poultry. You’ll want to avoid eating too much of these foods at one time, but the real concern here is with iron supplements. If you take an iron supplement, leave a few hours between popping your pill and eating a meal that includes zinc or copper-containing foods, says Jones. She recommends taking your supplement with a piece of fruit, crackers and hummus, or avocado toast, which are all low in zinc and copper.


Like with copper and zinc, iron competes with calcium to be absorbed in your intestines, so these two minerals reduce each other’s uptake in your body. (And this impairment can occur in either supplement or food form, according to research published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.)

The competition between these two nutrients is particularly serious for people with certain health conditions. Many people with anemia are told to avoid taking their iron supplements for up to four hours after eating something high in calcium (like a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese), says Jones. Similarly, women with osteoporosis should avoid taking calcium supplements within a few hours of eating foods high in iron (like beef, spinach, or beans.)

So, you might want to consider avoiding combos that go heavy on meat and cheese, especially if you’re suffering from one of these health conditions.


Sadly, there are a couple circumstances in which you should turn down avocado toast: If you’ve just taken a vitamin K supplement or noshed on a bunch of cruciferous veggies. Why? Vitamin E (which is found in avocado) can mess with vitamin K (which is found in cruciferous veggies and many supplements).

“Excess amounts of vitamin E can actually reduce the absorption of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting, calcium metabolism, and bone mineralization,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T. While moderate amounts in combination—like spinach (vitamin K) and oil-based salad dressing (vitamin E)— shouldn’t do much harm, higher doses can be problematic, she says. Just be sure to stick to a tablespoon of oil in your salad dressing, she adds.

Foods rich in vitamin E include wheat germ oil, grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado, and dried prunes, while veggies, like broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin K.

Related: Check out a number of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements to fill in nutritional gaps.

Free Weights vs. Weight Machines: Which Are Better For You?

The benefits of strength training are seemingly endless. For starters, since lean muscle is more calorie-hungry than fat, building a little extra brawn can ramp up your metabolic rate. And strength training has also been shown to have other less outwardly-noticeable effects, like reducing resting blood pressure, enhancing heart health, tanking bad cholesterol and upping the good kind, and even promoting bone density, according to research published in Current Sports Medicine Reports.

At many gyms you have two options for getting that strength training in: free weights (barbells and dumbbells) and weight machines (all those contraptions you typically sit down on). Both weight machines and free weights have perks and downsides—but weight machines seem to get a lot of hate from the fitness community.

Is one approach to muscle building really better than the other? We asked the experts for the lowdown.

Weight Machines

Weight machines force you into a fixed track of motion, explains Sean De Wispleaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive and owner of Sean D. Thrive. (Picture someone sitting in a shoulder press machine, pushing the handles, which move only up and down.)

This makes using weight machines beneficial if you’re a beginner, De Wispleaere says. “Staying in a fixed track of movement can help you learn how to pattern some complex exercises, like the squat and deadlift,” he says. You’d perform both of those moves on a Smith machine, which has a barbell fixed to steel rails.

Additionally, they can help you truly isolate certain muscles, meaning you work only one or two muscles at a time. This is helpful for bodybuilders looking to hone in on specific muscle groups as much as possible in a given workout, along with anyone recovering from an injury that needs to avoid working certain parts of their body, according to De Wispelaere.

The issue is, if you don’t fit a machine just right, you could be forcing your body to move in an unnatural way, says De Wispleaere. And that’s a recipe for injury down the road.

Related: Your performance is only as strong as your preworkout.

Plus, if torching max calories is your goal, using weight machines won’t give you the biggest burn for your buck. “Since you’re not often engaging multiple muscle groups at once, the effect on your metabolism is smaller than it would be with free weights,” explains De Wispelaere. After all, performing seated bicep curls demands a lot less of your body than performing curl-ups or a compound free-weight movement like a curl-to-press.

Free Weights

On the flipside, free weights allow you more flexibility and freedom in how you perform an exercise, according to De Wispleaere. Since the weights aren’t on a track or cable system, you need to use more muscles than just the ones you’re specifically targeting in order to keep the weight stable. “This causes you to work harder overall and build more well-rounded strength,” he says. (Picture someone pressing two dumbbells up overhead. The dumbbells wobble side to side and front to back, engaging the small muscles all around the shoulder joint. Plus, you’ll engage your core to maintain your posture and balance.)

And because you’re recruiting additional muscles when using free weights, you’re giving yourself a metabolic edge. While the individual effects might be small, the cumulative effects of hitting more muscles with each move and each workout mean you burn through more calories, while further enhancing your strength, control, and stability.

Related: Should You Lift Full-Body Or Bodybuilder-Style?

While free weights allow you to move in a way that’s more natural for your body, that freedom also means there’s plenty of room for you to perform an exercise incorrectly, which puts you at risk for aches, pains, and injury, Di Wispleaere says. So when lifting free weights, using proper form an appropriate weight need to be top of mind.

The Verdict

Weight machines do come in handy in some cases—especially for beginners who need to build a foundation of strength, or anyone who needs to lay off an injury—and they can certainly be a part of a body-building style strength-training session. But ultimately, De Wispleaere prefers and recommends free weights.

As long as you use lift safely, using free weights will build well-rounded strength and a fit physique more efficiently.

Pin this infographic to keep the pros and cons of each strength-training style top-of-mind: