6 Carbs That Can Help You Lose Weight

Carbs have it pretty rough. Meal after meal, they do their job, tirelessly working to fuel our bodies with the energy we need to thrive, be active, and, yes, even lose weight. And how do we repay them? By cutting them out of our diets.

“Many fad diets like the Atkins Diet have vilified carbohydrates as a dietary evil and blamed them for weight gain,” explains Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.C.S., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. These fad diets (and the slew of best-selling books that accompany them) have used cherry-picked shreds of evidence to suggest that obesity is caused solely by carbohydrates—and as convincing as they may be, they’re wrong, she says.

It’s time set things straight: Carbohydrates are not the enemy.

Carbohydrates are our body’s primary energy source, helping to power everything from brain function to our workouts. The key is making sure that the carbs we eat are from whole, nutritious foods—straight from good ol’ mother nature, says Canada-based nutrition counselor Abby Langer, R.D. These carb sources, like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, contain fiber, which increases satiety, regulates digestion, and is consistently linked to weight loss. (Men need 38 grams a day, while women need 25.) Studies have even shown that just increasing fiber intake can be as effective for weight loss as full-fledged dieting.

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To reach your daily fiber (and other nutrient) needs and hit your healthy weight for good, Langer recommends incorporating about half a cup of healthy carbs into each meal. Here are your six most weight loss-friendly options.

1. Potatoes

Potatoes are subject to tons of hate from the low-carb clan, but sweet potatoes, white potatoes—they’re all good. “I cannot say anything bad about potatoes. There’s nothing unhealthy about them,” says Langer. One particular perk: Potatoes are full of resistant starch, a type of fiber that literally resists digestion, filling you up but never making its way to your bloodstream. (It’s one reason potatoes are often identified as one of the most satiating foods around!)

Related: Why Everyone Needs To Stop Hating On White Potatoes

Carb up: Try serving up your spuds baked, and play around with healthy toppings like Greek yogurt, black beans, poached eggs, or cheese. Be creative; just don’t fry them or drown them in butter and sour cream.

2. Starchy Vegetables

Potatoes are technically starchy veggies, but the other carb-rich veggies out there—think carrots, squash, corn, and beets—deserve a shout-out too, Langer says. Starchy vegetables sometimes get a bad rap simply because they contain more carbs than non-starchy vegetables (think spinach or asparagus), but that’s not a bad thing! For example, a third of a medium carrot’s six grams of carbs come from fiber, plus a carrot packs a full day’s-worth of vitamin A.

Carb up: Exactly how you integrate starchy veggies into your meals depends on which you prefer. Fear’s personal favorite? Kabocha squash. “I love it cubed, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted,” she says. “It’s a great thing to toss on a salad to make it more filling than it would be with just leaves.” The cube, roast, and toss rule-of-thumb applies to pretty much any starchy veggie out there, whether it’s squash, beets, or parsnips.

3. Whole Grains

This is a big category, and includes everything from whole-wheat bread and brown rice to ancient grains like spelt, millet, barley, oats, freekeh, bulgur, sorghum, farro, quinoa, and amaranth. Unlike refined grains, these good-for-you grains all have one thing in common: fiber—and lots of it. Replacing any white carbs in your diet with whole grains can both reduce overall calorie intake and boost your metabolism, according to 2017 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Carb up: If you regularly eat white carbs, swap them out for their whole-grain counterparts. Or, cook up your favorite ancient grain and mix in your favorite veggies and protein for a satisfying, balanced meal, suggests Langer.

4. Legumes

Carb- and fiber-rich legumes (think beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils) are all over your weight-loss goals. After all, a single serving provides about half your daily fiber needs, and according to one 2016 meta-analysis, simply adding about three quarters of a cup of legumes into your daily diet can directly contribute to weight loss. Not to mention, legumes are also a great source of plant-based protein, which makes your meals more satisfying and revs your metabolism. A cup of cooked lentils packs 18 grams!

Carb up: Stock up on canned legumes, rinse them to remove excess sodium, and then throw them on top of everything from salads to pastas to potatoes to open-faced sandwiches—the options are endless!

5. Fruit

Fruit—be it bananas, apples, or blueberries—can absolutely be a part of your weight-loss plan. Despite the fact that they’re rich in simple sugars, fruits are linked to better blood sugar control, which supports healthy weight loss.

Carb up: When you need a healthy snack, pair your favorite fruit with a source of fat and protein, like string cheese or peanut butter, for example. The combo will help slow digestion and keep you feeling fuller, longer, says Fear. Just stick to three or fewer servings of fruit a day and you’ll be golden.

6. Dairy

Aside from being a great source of vitamin D, calcium, and protein, dairy can help your weight-loss efforts. In fact, one Harvard University review found that dieters who ate a serving of yogurt daily lost more weight than those who didn’t.

Carb up: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, and even regular cheese can all help you hit your goals. And, no, you don’t have to opt for low-fat; new research shows that full-fat diary might be more effective for weight loss, since fat is so satiating. As long as dairy doesn’t bother your stomach, feel free to incorporate up to one serving of full-fat dairy with each meal, Fear says.

Consider this infographic your quick healthy carbs guide:

How To Train And Supplement For Every Fitness Goal

When your workouts don’t reflect your goals, what you see in the mirror won’t either—and nothing is more frustrating than spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

How you spend your time in the gym—and which supplements you take to support your workouts—depends on whether you want to get strong, pack on muscle, shed fat, or boost your endurance. Use this quick fitness cheat sheet to make sure every rep you perform and supp you take accelerates your progress.

Goal: Strength

Training: When you’re training for absolute strength, you want your body to use the ‘phosphagen energy system,’ in which it breaks down a form of creatine to rapidly produce energy. Thing is, your body can’t produce energy like this for very long—we’re talking less than 30 seconds—so your workouts will need short periods of all-out work and long periods of rest.

To maximize strength gains, lift between 80 and 95 percent of your one-rep max and perform four to eight sets of just two to five reps, says New Jersey-based trainer Bryant Klein, C.S.C.S.  Rest for three to five minutes between sets.

 
Supplements: The more creatine stored in your muscles, the greater capacity those muscles have to churn out that fast and hard work when they need to—and research shows that how much you consume affects your stores. Studies have found that just two weeks of consuming between five and 20 grams of creatine a day can improve exercise performance and support strength gains.

“One study also showed that participants who took a daily creatine supplement while following a resistance training program significantly increased their resting testosterone levels after 10 weeks,” says dietitian Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition. Research suggests taking 20 to 25 grams of creatine a day for five days to increase muscle creatine levels, and supplementing with between two and five grams a day from there. Up your creatine stores deliciously with a powdered supplement like BodyTech’s Fruit Punch 100% Creatine Monohydrate.

Goal: Hypertrophy

Training: If you’re set on building muscle mass, you need to increase the amount of time your muscles spend under tension to tap into your body’s glycolytic energy system, which relies heavily on the glycogen stored in your muscles and is associated with stimulating muscle growth.

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

To ramp up that time under tension, perform three to six sets of eight to 15 reps (about 90 seconds of work) with 65 to 75 percent of your one-rep max, recommends Klein. Rest for one to three minutes between sets.

 
Supplements: Whey protein, which is made from cow’s milk, can be a major player in a muscle-building diet because it contains a high proportion of essential amino acids (which cannot be made by our body) and branched-chain amino acids (which play crucial roles in the muscle protein synthesis process responsibly for size gains).

In fact, supplementing with whey protein while resistance training regularly is the ideal combo for promoting muscle hypertrophy and exercise recovery, says research published in Nutrition & Metabolism. Studies suggest that 20 to 40 grams of protein both before and after exercise offers the most muscle-building benefits. Optimum Nutrition’s Vanilla Ice Cream Gold Standard 100% Whey and BodyTech’s Rich Chocolate WheyTech Pro 24 both pack 24 grams of protein per scoop.

Goal: Endurance

Training: “Muscular endurance training improves performance swimming, running, and other sports that require you to reproduce force over an extended period of time,” says Klein. To train your muscles for endurance, you’ll need to tap into the oxidative energy system, which can utilize fat (with the help of oxygen) to help your muscles work for long durations.

Endurance workouts need to be lower intensity, so you’ll drop your weight down to 50 percent of your one-rep max, says Klein. Perform three to six sets of 15-plus reps and rest for a minute between sets.

 
Supplements: When it comes to muscle endurance, a few minerals can be particularly helpful: iron, copper, and zinc. According to Warren, these minerals play key roles in the flow of oxygen to working muscles and throughout the body, and warding off oxidative stress. And since many young athletes don’t get enough of them, supplementing can help boost performance and workout recovery.

The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get about 900 micrograms of copper, eight (women) to 11 (men) milligrams of zinc, and eight (men) or 18 (women) milligrams of iron, per day. A daily multivitamin can help you reach your needs.

Goal: Fat Loss

TrainingBurning fat requires a strategic combination of cardio, strength training, and nutrition—but to lose fat in a sustainable way, you also need to preserve (or build) muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you need to live every day), and the fewer calories you need to slash to support weight loss, explains Klein.

To maximize muscle mass and shed fat, you’ll strength train just like you would for hypertrophy (that’s three to six sets of eight to 15 reps with a couple minutes of rest in between).

 
Supplements: Carnitine, an amino acid-like compound our body produces and that we get from food, helps our body convert fat into energy by escorting fatty acids into our cells’ energy-producing machines (called mitochondria), says Warren. “When you increase levels of muscle carnitine, you support the fat burning-process because your body becomes more efficient at processing fuel,” she explains.

One 2016 Obesity Reviews meta-analysis found that those who supplemented with carnitine lost significantly more weight than those who took a placebo. BodyTech’s Carnipure Carnitine supports fat metabolism—and tastes like raspberries (win-win!).

11 Smart Tips For Cleansing Your System, Straight From Health Experts

When someone utters the word ‘cleanse,’ a few things might come to mind—hunger and suffering among them. Thankfully, expert advice (and horror stories) has shown us that putting ourselves through the misery of week-long liquid diets doesn’t do our bodies any good long-term. In fact, these intense cleanses often deprive us of the calories we need to function properly and leave us lacking in important nutrients like protein, essential fatty acids, fiber, and electrolytes, according to Harvard Medical School.

So, no, you don’t need to go hardcore to press the ‘reset’ button, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump-start a healthier routine after slacking. To help you do it in a healthful, balanced way, we asked top health and fitness pros to share what they do when they’re in need of a clean slate.

In the Kitchen

Wake up with water. Every expert we talked to had the same top tip: drink more water. Why? “Your kidneys are your body’s natural cleansing organ, and they need water to make sure you’re flushing your system out so that you feel your best,” says Abbey Sharp, R.D., founder of Abbey’s Kitchen. It doesn’t matter so much how you drink it—whether it’s plain water, sparkling water, or lemon water—just that you do.

To make sure you’re getting enough, pay attention to your pee. “If you’re seeing bright yellow, it’s usually a sign that you’re not getting enough water,” explains Sharp. The goal is for it to be a pale-yellow hue—any darker and you need to grab a glass of H20, stat. “If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already really dehydrated,” she adds.

Add apple cider vinegar. If you want to level up your morning hydration routine, Molly Kimball, R.D., nutrition manager at the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans, suggests spiking your glass with apple cider vinegar, which supports healthy blood sugar, and contains B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants. She likes to add two to three tablespoons of ACV to warm water, green tea, or sparkling water every A.M. to start the day on a healthy note.

Related: What Happened When I Drank Apple Cider Vinegar Every Morning For 2 Weeks

Focus on fiber. If there’s one nutrient you should hone in on when hitting the reset button, it’s fiber. “It’s important for promoting a healthy gut, and also keeps us feeling full longer so we don’t get blood sugar spikes,” says Sharp. A few of Sharp’s fibrous go-to’s include: split peas (16.3 grams per cooked cup), broccoli (5.1 grams per cup), raspberries (eight grams per cup), pears (5.5 grams per medium fruit), and bran cereal (seven to eight grams per cup). Women should aim for 25 grams each day, while men should shoot for 38 grams.

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Juice your veggies. Though we’re definitely not suggesting you consume nothing but juice for days at a time, there are some upsides to keeping it in your daily routine. For instance, Kimball likes to drink cold-pressed veggie juice in the afternoon—typically a blend of greens (like spinach or kale), beets, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and cilantro—to help her get in an extra serving of vegetables and feel energized for the rest of the work day.

Pro tip: If you don’t have a juicer or a quality juice shop nearby, Kimball recommends adding powdered greens (Amazing Grass is her favorite brand) to water or smoothies. Just peek at the label to make sure your powdered greens contain a variety of different-colored vegetables and no added sugar, she says.

Add collagen to your coffee. “Instead of adding sugar or drinking it black, I make my coffee pull double-duty as breakfast or a snack by adding a scoop of Vital Proteins collagen to it,” says Kimball. This protein is important for strong, healthy nails, hair, skin, and joints—and can make your usual cup of Joe more satiating.

Switch up your shopping. When Carrie Underwood’s trainer, Eve Overland, C.P.T., needs to revamp her healthy-eating routine, she heads to the farmers market or grocery store with three missions: Buy a vegetable you like but rarely cook with, one that you’ve eaten before but have never cooked with, and one you’ve never tried or seen before. Once you’ve picked your produce, “find some yummy recipes and go to town,” she suggests. “Doing this with friends can also be fun and motivating.”

Watch your language. Don’t worry, potty mouths—we’re not saying you can’t drop an F-bomb when necessary, but a crucial part of giving your health that fresh slate is getting rid of the ‘good food’/‘bad food’ language we often use, says Sharp. “When we label foods as ‘bad,’ we tend to feel so deprived that we want them even more and end up bingeing,” she explains. The best way to approach a healthy cleanse is to concentrate on choosing the foods that make you feel the best and celebrating those awesome choices. Focus on the following: fiber- and nutrient-rich green veggies (like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard), eggs (for satiating protein and a range of nutrients), nuts (for unsaturated fats, fiber, and protein), and Greek yogurt (for calcium, vitamin D, and protein).

In the Gym

Prevent procrastination. It’s easy to stay in bed, scrolling through social media until—boom—all of a sudden a half-hour has flown by and you don’t have time to exercise. That’s why fitness coach Tiffany Rothe uses the “1,2,3 Go” trick. “The first thing I do when I wake up is count ‘1, 2, 3,’ then I jump out of bed, brush my teeth, and work out for at least 10 minutes,” she says. “I’ll even sleep in my workout clothes if I have to.” Why? Working out in the A.M. means there’s no ‘I need to exercise’ cloud hanging over your head later in the day—and Rothe says it encourages healthy decisions and productivity all day long.

Do a fasted workout. After going off the healthy diet and fitness rails, Joey Thurman, C.P.T., co-host of Home Sweat Home, often schedules fasted cardio first thing in the morning when his body is primed to utilize fat for energy, rather than carbs. Exercising before breakfast can significantly increase fat-burning throughout the day, according to a small study published in PLoS One.

Thurman recommends intervals: “I do eight rounds of 30-second sprints, followed by one-minute breathers.” He follows up his morning sweat with some greens, fruit, and a protein source to fuel muscle recovery.

Step in the sauna. “I am a big fan of infrared saunas,” says Overland. “Nothing says ‘cleanse’ to me more than a good sweat.” Many people leave the sauna feeling renewed—likely from sweating out so much water—and Overland finds the heat can also soothe sore muscles and rejuvenate the skin. Research suggests saunas work their magic by increasing circulation, and that regular sessions can support heart health long-term. Overland hops in the sauna for 30 minutes at a time, and follows it up with a cool shower. Just make sure you’re well-hydrated, and listen to your body when you’ve had enough.

Sign up for class. “If you’re used to doing the same old workout routine, it may be more of a challenge to get motivated to go back into doing it,” says Overland. That’s why she suggests signing up for a group exercise class. “You know you have to show up at a certain time, there is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and you won’t be tempted leave early,” she explains. “The energy is high, the music supports you, and you don’t have to think. Just do.”

If group classes aren’t your thing, consider hiring a trainer or online coach. “It doesn’t have to be for forever or a huge financial commitment,” says Overland. “Just enough time to change up your protocol.” You’ll get a fresh perspective that supports your goals and a workout that’s designed just for you.

9 Possible Reasons Why Your Fat Loss Has Plateaued

Anyone in the history of the world who’s ever tried to lose weight knows the struggle that is hitting a plateau. At first, the pounds practically fall off and you feel great (like motivational speaker-level great)—but then your progress starts to slow and suddenly you find yourself completely stalled. It’s the worst.

Plateaus are a total bummer, but before you swear off the veggies and running sneakers, know this: What you’re experiencing is completely normal—if not expected. Why? The leaner you get, the fewer calories your body needs, explains certified weight management specialist Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Fail to adjust accordingly (and most of us do), and your fat loss peters out. Plus, as our bodies get fitter and adapt to our go-to workouts, the same routine won’t continue to do the trick.

Fire up your fat-burning engines and bust straight through that plateau by addressing these weight-loss saboteurs.

1. You Hit The Gym Without A Plan

When you walk aimlessly into the gym, you pretty much set yourself up for a ‘meh’ workout. “It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be focusing on,” says Lisa Niren C.P.T., head trainer of CITYROW in New York City. “Having a plan ensures that you will be spending your workout time in the most strategic way.”

To get started, plan your workouts by the week. Aim for two to three days of strength training and two days of aerobic training (cardio) like a HIIT or kickboxing class, run through town, or interval workout on the rowing machine or stair-stepper. From there, use a notebook or an app to track the specifics, like how much weight you used for strength-training exercises or how fast you sprinted on the rower, she suggests. Tracking your progress will help you continue to push yourself—and know when it’s time to mix things up.

2. You Focus Too Much On Cardio

If you’re forcing yourself through endless miles on the treadmill or flights of stairs on the stair-master, chances are you’re sabotaging both your results and your sanity. While traditional cardio (in conjunction with a healthy diet) can help create the daily calorie deficit that’s essential to weight loss, it won’t keep you seeing progress long-term, says Danielle Bogarty, C.P.T.

The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest—and the only way to build significant muscle is strength training. If weight loss is priority number-one, those two to three strength-training sessions a week are essential, she says.

3. You Don’t Do HIIT

As nice as it is to zone out on the elliptical and watch TV for an hour, it’s not the most fat-loss-friendly cardio approach. To rev your results, switch out that steady-state cardio for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). By alternating between intervals of all-out effort and recovery, you push your body to its metabolic limits, meaning you burn more calories in less time and keep on burning for up to 24 hours afterward as your body repairs, Niren explains. For maximum plateau-busting effect, limit your rest periods as much as possible: “They should be just enough time for you to recover so you can go all-out in your next work interval,” she explains.

You can still have elliptical dates with your favorite Netflix show, just save them for recovery day. Speaking of which…

4. You’re Not Recovering Properly

As much as you may think that losing weight means never missing a workout, more exercise isn’t necessarily what you need when you hit a plateau. In fact, the muscle recovery that occurs between workouts is when the magic really happens. Without ample time to repair and grow back stronger, your muscles continue to break down and over time your total muscle mass may decrease. That’s bad news for both your performance and your baseline calorie-burning potential. Remember: Recovery means more muscle and more muscle means more fat loss.

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That’s why Barry’s Bootcamp trainer Ashley Rutkowski, C.P.T, recommends her clients incorporate two active recovery days into their weekly routines.

Related: 8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

If you’re stuck in Plateau City and feeling extra burnt out, consider taking a full recovery week to catch up on sleep, try a yoga class, or just relax, Rutkowski says. That week off will also slightly decondition your body, so you’ll burn more calories when you get back on your workout grind.

5. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep and weight are so closely tied that research suggests missing out on just 30 minutes can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes and that just one night of severe sleep deprivation can reduce your insulin sensitivity by as much as 25 percent, making it harder for your body to process sugar.

Plus, missing out on sleep has also been shown to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes belly fat storage.

To power through your workouts, resist avoid cravings, and keep your hormones as balanced as possible, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, suggests Taub-Dix.

6. Your Portions Are Generous

Even when you eat healthy, disregarding portion sizes can push you into calorie overload and undercut your fat-burning potential—especially when you’re trying to lose those last few pounds. For example: Topping your pre-workout toast with jumbo spoonfuls of PB alone can add 700 extra calories to your diet per week.

For optimal weight loss, make sure you’re following proper portion sizes to a ‘T.’ Three big ones to remember: a serving of protein (like chicken or steak) is three ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards; a serving of cooked carbs like pasta or quinoa is half a cup, or about the size of a tennis ball; and a serving of fats like nuts is just one ounce, or about a palm-full, Cording explains. If necessary, measure out and weigh your food until you’ve got your portion sizes down enough to eyeball them.

7. You’re Not Eating Enough Calories

When we want to lose weight, calories often become the enemy. The thing is, our bodies need the energy they get from calories, so when we deprive ourselves, we often feel sluggish and cranky—making everything from sitting through meetings to hitting the gym more difficult and less enjoyable, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N, author of Read It Before You Eat It.

The fat-loss sabotage doesn’t end there: According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, women who followed a 1,200 (or less) calorie diet produced more of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to issues like trouble sleeping and fat storage around the middle.

Not to mention, your body reacts to calorie deprivation by slowing your metabolism, so you can function off the few calories you do consume, meaning you burn fewer throughout the day, Taub-Dix adds.

If your weight won’t budge and you feel sloth-like or just plain hangry all the time, it’s probably a sign of too few calories, says Taub-Dix. Instead of focusing on calories, just concentrate on eating more quality foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

8. You’ve Been Drinking A Lot

Alcohol’s ‘empty calories’ provide zero nutrition or health benefits, so it’s no surprise that it’s not a worthy part of a weight-loss plan. Your average bottle of beer packs close to 150 calories, a glass of wine comes in around 120, and a small rum and coke contains a whopping 155. Those liquid calories add up—and mess with your fat-loss efforts—real quick.

“If you’re going to drink, drink what you’ll be satisfied with the least of,” recommends Cording. For example, if you want a margarita, but opt for a vodka soda because it has fewer calories, you’re more likely to drink four of them to quash your cravings and end up consuming far more calories than you would have with a single marg.

9. You Eat Well 90% Of The Time… But Completely Lose Control The Other 10%

Indulging is part of life—and there’s nothing wrong with it! If you rarely allow yourself to indulge, you eventually hit a breaking point and spiral into a cookie binge instead of savoring one or two.

While one out-of-control eating fest won’t automatically derail your progress, it can damage your relationship with food and make living a consistently healthy, balanced lifestyle more difficult, says Taub-Dix.

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

To manage cravings productively, keep track of what you crave long-term by keeping a food journal, suggests Cording. If you notice you’ve been craving bacon, make yourself a serving of bacon instead of continuing to feel deprived or going overboard on turkey bacon, or whatever ‘healthier’ food you eat instead. Stick to proper portion sizes and these treats will keep you sane without derailing your progress.

The Benefits Of Eating Frequent, Smaller Meals—And How To Do It Right

You know those days when it feels like you can never really stop eating? Sure, it might be an issue if you’re near-constant munching consists of the leftover donut holes and chocolate-covered almonds from the office kitchen, but grazing throughout the day can be a totally okay—and quite healthy—way to eat.

In fact, “eating more regularly can positively influence your metabolism, physical and mental energy levels, productivity, mood, and appetite later on,” says Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. Of course, what you’re eating matters (we’ll get to that). Do it right and you may notice that eating smaller, more frequent meals could be just the mind and body-boosting routine change you need.

Read up on what our go-to nutritionists have to say about the mini-meal way of life—and how to make it work for you.

The Basics

Americans’ long-held ‘three square meals a day’ attitude towards eating often means people eat a lot at once. “We love big portions,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Yet when we have so much food in front of us at a time, we often eat more than we need, and even more than we want—setting us up for bloating and food comas in the short-term and weight gain in the long-term.  

Plus, when we eat a full day’s-worth of calories in just a few sittings and go long periods of time without eating, our blood sugar drops, leaving us tired and more likely to reach for unhealthy foods (and too much of them), Rizzo says.

That’s where ‘grazing,’ or eating a bunch of mini-meals throughout the day instead of a few big ones, comes in handy. Grazers swap breakfast, lunch, and dinner (or lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks) for six balanced snacks throughout the day, says Rizzo. For example: Someone who eats about 2,000 calories a day would munch on six 330-ish calorie snacks instead of three 660-ish calorie meals.

The Benefits

One of the biggest potential benefits of eating frequently is that it can help keep blood sugar levels stable,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. In fact, research has even linked a ‘grazing’ eating style with lower fasting insulin levels—an indicator of healthy blood sugar function and metabolism. Meanwhile, the blood sugar roller-coaster often associated with infrequent meals and giant portions can contribute to weight gain and blood sugar control issues, like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, over time, says Rizzo.

Stable blood sugar also helps us maintain steady energy levels and a balanced appetite throughout the day, making us less likely to impulse-eat foods that are high in sugar, fat, and sodium (like a sleeve of sandwich cookies or nacho cheese chips) and better able to maintain or lose weight, says Rizzo.

Need A Little Help Conquering Cravings?

Case in point: One study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who ate smaller, more frequent meals ate fewer total calories, had lower BMIs, and were more likely to choose healthy foods compared to those who ate fewer, larger meals.

Finally, eating more frequently can also make you happier. How? The drops in blood sugar that occur when you go hours without eating signal your body to release stress-related hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline), which can contribute to sleep and mood issues. The more under-control these hormones are, the more likely you are to feel energized during the day and able to rest well at night. Plus, eating often supplies the brain with a steady stream of glucose, helping to bolster mental sharpness and productivity. All good things for both your work life and personal life!

Issues To Look Out For

First and foremost, regardless of when you eat, what you eat is hugely important. If you’re grazing on refined or sugary foods, you miss out on the balance of fiber, fat, and protein your body needs and experience the blood sugar spike and crash that grazing is meant to prevent, says Jones. To be as blood sugar-friendly as possible, avoid refined foods that contain white flour or added sugar, and pair carbs with protein and healthy fats.

Related: 9 Healthy Snacks Nutritionists Always Keep On Hand

Grazing can also go awry if you focus more on the digital clock than your body clock. If you tell yourself you need to eat every two hours or so, you can easily fall out of touch with your natural hunger cues and end up falling into a pattern of overeating.

To keep your mini-meals in-line with your needs, divide your total calories up evenly and plan out mini-meals that contain a balance of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs from whole ingredients like nuts, fresh fruit, roasted chickpeas, and low-sugar yogurt, says Rizzo. This way you set yourself up for the right amount of nourishing munching.

Then, tune into your body and let your hunger and satiety levels guide your grazing. Eat when you feel hungry, but don’t wait until you’re ravenous, says Jones. After each mini-meal, you should feel satisfied but not super full. If you’re still hungry (or just want to keep eating), wait 20 minutes or so and reevaluate your body’s signals before doing so.

Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It

8 New Year’s Resolutions Nutritionists Want You To Make

It’s that time again! Before you know it, we’ll be making and breaking (and then re-making!) another round of New Year’s resolutions.

Think about it: How many years have you resolved to lose a bunch of weight, exercise every day, or never touch junk food again? And how many years have these big, life-overhauling plans fallen off-course after a few weeks? (It’s okay—us too).

As a dietitian, I help people reach their health goals every day, and I promise you that reaching yours can be much easier than you think. This year, I want you to try a different approach: Instead of making a grand, Hollywood-style New Year’s resolution about your health, focus on small, actionable changes that will make you feel accomplished on a daily basis, boost your health, and help you both feel and look your best.

Put the following eight mini-resolutions (straight from nutrition pros) to work for you and you’ll have your healthiest year yet!

Don’t look for a ‘new you’ in this New Year. There’s nothing wrong with the current ‘you’! Sure, we could all improve, but I encourage you to celebrate your strengths instead of focusing on your shortcomings. Breaking bad habits and forming healthier ones can be tough, but having the right attitude is half the battle—so I want you to applaud every little victory (like making time to eat a healthy breakfast, bringing lunch to work one day a week, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator). Keep a running list of even your smallest accomplishments to ensure you give yourself credit for every change and see just how much these little wins add up.

A good breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day and fuels your body for whatever tasks you have coming your way. That’s why incorporating a healthy breakfast into your morning routine is a worth resolution this year, says dietitian Brynn McDowell, R.D. Take it one week at a time and make it easier by keeping your meal simple.

Breakfast-Friendly Protein Supplements

Try plain oatmeal with a spoonful of almond butter stirred in or a slice of whole-grain toast topped with cottage cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. When a healthy breakfast is a part of your routine, you’ll have a fresh start every morning—even if a day ends with a late-night snack and an extra glass of wine.

Not only does protein helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer and less likely to reach for lower-nutrient foods, but protein-rich foods—including dairy, eggs, meat, seafood, legumes, and nuts—are packed with many other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Your task this year: “Try eating enough protein (20 to 30 grams) at every meal and including some in your snacks,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. That’s roughly a three-ounce serving of meat (like chicken, which packs 21 grams of protein). Bump up your protein intake between meals by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds to your smoothie or dipping fruit slices in Greek yogurt.

“There are so many benefits to meal planning, including saving time and money, reducing food waste, and ensuring a healthier, more balanced plate,” says Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Start by planning out one day of meals per week and bump it up to two when you’re ready. As you start to see the benefits of thinking ahead, you’ll naturally want to plan out more, and before you know it you’ll be planning the whole week, she says. (Quick tip: Take stock of what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry so you can plan meals that use what you already have on-hand. This way, you can save money on groceries and prevent food waste.)

No, you don’t need to ring in the New Year with a three-day juice cleanse. As many resolutioners know, fad diets and cleanses may seem to work in the short-term, but inevitably end in weight gain after we call it quits. That’s why dietitian Sharon Palmer, R.D., warns against getting caught up in fads—especially if they eliminate whole food groups. Instead, find a more sustainable way of eating by focusing on upping your intake of whole plant foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

When we want to shed fat—as part of a New Year’s resolution or not—we tend to get caught up in calories in versus calories out. But not this year! “Fixating on the number of calories in food not only makes your overall eating experience less enjoyable, but can also welcome the wrong choices,” says Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Instead, your food decisions should be based on the foods’ overall nutritional value. When considering what to eat, ask yourself: Does this food contain vitamins and minerals? Does it have fiber? And, does it add to my health? Taking this approach will encourage you to eat more healthy foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, beans, nuts, and seeds, and save the nutritionally ‘less valuable’ treats for special occasions.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

Your stomach is about the size of two of your fists put together—and it probably gets full before your mouth and mind are satisfied. It’s so common for us to eat more than our stomach’s natural capacity—which is easy to do when we’re scrolling through our phones or eating foods loaded with added sugars and fats—that many of us have lost touch with the sensations of hunger and fullness. So, this challenge is two-fold. First: When you eat, just eat—no distractions! And second: Focus on the feeling of fullness as you eat. When your stomach is satisfied, stop eating. The more in-tune you are with your body’s sensations, the more physically and emotionally satisfied you’ll feel after eating—without going overboard.

Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It

According to a 2016 Harris poll, 40 percent of Americans gather for family dinner three times a week, or even less often. As busy as we may be with work, after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, and more, finding the time to come together for family meals has major benefits—especially for kids. Family meals are linked to better eating habits, healthier body weights, stronger academic performance, and lower risks of disordered eating and substance abuse, says Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D.N., of Liz’s Healthy Table. Even if it means having breakfast together instead of dinner or focusing on eating together over the weekend, every meal families share together makes a difference, she says. To make meals as enriching as possible, involve the kids in meal planning and prepping and put phones away.

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 and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

8 Cardio Myths It’s Time To Stop Believing

Cardio is a bit of a controversial subject in the fitness world. On one end you’ve got endurance die-hards who swear by the benefits of a nice, long run, and on the other end you’ve got strength training enthusiasts who limit cardio as much as they possibly can. Even if you don’t have a hardcore cardio opinion, you’ve probably got a few questions about this often-misunderstood form of exercise!

We asked three fitness experts to clear up the cardio confusion so you can save yourself time, energy, and loads of motivation. You’ll work out smarter, protect your health, and charge towards the results you really want.

Myth 1: Doing tons of cardio is the best way to lose weight.

When we want to lose weight, we think about burning as many calories as possible—and logging endless miles on the treadmill or flights of stairs on the stair-master seems like the way to do it. Though traditional cardio workouts will help you create a daily calorie deficit, they’re not your best bet long-term, says Lisa Niren C.P.T., head trainer of CITYROW in New York City.

The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even at rest—meaning you contribute to that caloric deficit just by living—and to really build that muscle, you need to strength train. Cardio can actually burn both fat and muscle, so doing too much can actually decrease your muscle mass, slow your metabolism, and undermine your ability to lose weight, Niren says.

Related: Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

A workout routine that supports lasting weight loss combines regular strength training (about two or three days per week) with some high-intensity cardio like interval sprints or kickboxing, suggests Christi Marraccini, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House in New York City.

Myth 2: You need to do at least 30 minutes of cardio for it to be worthwhile.

Any movement you can squeeze in does your body good, so don’t throw in the towel and stay on the couch just because you’ll only have 20 minutes to sweat. Maximize the health benefit of short cardio workouts by pushing yourself to keep your heart rate elevated to 70 to 85 percent of your max heart rate (220 minus your age) for at least 10 to 15 minutes, says Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., creator of Operation Bikini Body Abs. Working at this intensity will help improve your aerobic capacity and burn more calories.

To really maximize your workout’s calorie-burning potential, swap steady-state cardio for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Because HIIT involves bursts of intense effort, you’ll burn more calories in less time (and in the hours after you finish) than you would with steady-state cardio.

In HIIT workouts, you’ll alternate between bursts of all-out effort (they can last anywhere between five seconds and a few minutes) that rocket your heart rate to between 80 and 95 percent of your max and recovery periods that last long enough for your heart rate to drop back down to between 40 and 50 percent of your max, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. You can do HIIT workouts on cardio machines, or use bodyweight movements like burpees, jump squats, box jumps, and more.

Myth 3: You should do cardio every single day.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: if you want to lose weight, your workout routine will need to emphasize strength training, not just cardio! Plus, even if weight-loss isn’t your goal, hitting cardio every day can backfire. Why? When you work out, you break down your muscles so that they can rebuild to become even bigger, stronger, and more capable. To do that, though, your body needs ample time to recover.

Pushing yourself to exercise every day can actually lead to overtraining, a state in which your body doesn’t have enough time to recover and rebuild muscle, and you experience issues like muscle breakdown, fatigue, and moodiness. That’s why Marraccini recommends one to two days of active recovery per week.

Supps That Support Recovery

If you’re feeling uncharacteristically unmotivated, moody, tired, or sick, skip the cardio and take an active recovery day instead.

Myth 4: Yoga doesn’t count as cardio.

Yogis will be glad to know that according to research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, yoga can provide benefits similar to those of traditional lower-intensity cardio workouts, like decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and poor cholesterol, as well as improved triglyceride levels and lower body mass.

Not all yoga classes are created equal, though. If you want to swap your light swim, walk, or bike ride for yoga, look for a class described as ‘power, ‘fast,’ or ‘hot,’ which will be more intense and boost your heart rate, according to yoga teacher and ICE NYC mobility instructor  Gabrielle Morbitzer. At the end of the day, though, while can sub yoga in for lower-intensity workouts, it won’t have the same body and fitness effects of more vigorous workouts, like HIIT.

Myth 5: Fasted cardio torches the most fat.

If your body doesn’t have any calories from food to burn for exercise, it’ll dip further into your fat stores to power you through, right? As logical as the theory might sound, it’s not quite true in practice. Research shows that people burn the same amount of fat during steady cardio regardless of whether or not they ate beforehand. Plus, research has also shown that skipping a pre-workout snack can increase muscle breakdown, which sabotages your metabolism and ability to burn fat.

To perform at its best, your body needs fuel—so when you work out on an empty stomach, you may not be able to push yourself as hard. “That means your intensity may drop and your calorie burn ends up being lower than it could have been,” says Davis.

If working out first thing in the morning works best for your schedule, stick with it—but don’t force early-A.M. workouts or starve yourself before hitting the gym in the name of fat-burning. If you have time, eat a snack that contains some carbs and protein about an hour before getting sweaty.

Myth 6: You have to stay in the ‘fat-burning zone’ to burn fat.

The ‘fat-burning zone,’ which you’ve probably seen identified on cardio machines as being between 50 and 65 percent of your max heart rate, sounds like the place to be if you want your cardio workouts to help you lose weight. When you work at this intensity, you primarily use your aerobic energy system and burn fat for energy, explains Niren. Though a higher number of the total calories you burn will come from fat, you burn far fewer calories than you would exercising above your aerobic threshold, at 70 to 80 percent of your max heart rate. The higher the demand you put on your muscles, the more damage you inflict and the harder your body has to work to recover (all of which takes calories), says Davis.

Myth 7: You can skip leg day if you do cardio activities like cycling and running.

Cardio lovers and marathoners who avoid the squat rack, know this: Traditional cardio doesn’t build muscle or challenge your muscles through a full range of motion—both of which prevent injury—like strength training does. In fact, when you focus just on cardio, your body adapts and requires less and less energy to get through your usual routine over time—leading you straight into a plateau. While this is good news if you need to ration energy to get through a marathon, it’s bad news if you want to lose weight or build strength, says Niren.

Related: 6 Reasons You Should Never Skip Leg Day

Incorporate leg-strengthening exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges into your workout routine regularly in order to burn more calories, build strong legs, and lose weight more efficiently.

Myth 8: You should always do cardio before strength training.

Everyone and their mother has their own ideas about how you should structure your workouts, but whether you hit cardio or weights first really depends on your goals. “If you’re training for a race, I recommend doing cardio before strength” says Davis. In that case, your cardio pace and performance are higher priority than how much weight you use in the squat rack. If you’re not training for anything, though, strength train first so you’ll be as fresh as possible to lift heavy and maintain proper form and technique, Niren says. Plus, if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll use glycogen fuel your strength training and more likely to burn fat for fuel during your cardio.

6 Ways To Burn More Calories During Your Workouts

Whether you’re peeling yourself out of bed to hit the gym on a Saturday morning or lacing up your sneakers after a long day at work, you want your workout to really pay off—and chances are that means torching tons of calories.

A number of factors—like the type of workout you do and how long and hard you go for—determine how many calories you may burn. But there are a few things you can do during your workouts—no matter how crunched for time you may be—to turn up your burn.

These expert-backed tips will boost your sweaty efforts—without taking much effort themselves! Keep these strategies in mind when you work out and you’ll shed more fat and perform better than ever. And who doesn’t want that?

1. Hit The Weights

While many people might think that cardio is king when it comes to calorie burn, skimping on strength training is a sure way to stall your progress. Why? Unlike cardio, strength training signals your body to build muscle, and increasing how much muscle you have can boost your metabolism, according to Todd Nief, CF-L3, head coach and founder of South Loop Strength and Conditioning in Chicago.

Muscle is ‘metabolically active tissue,’ meaning you use calories just to maintain it. Having more muscle versus fat increases how many calories your body burns throughout the day—even when you’re resting—making it progressively easier for you to shed fat and get fitter.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Well-Being

You don’t need to quit your beloved cardio cold turkey, though. For maximum calorie-torching effect, Nief likes to combine strength moves with cardio in circuit-style workouts. Create your own combo workout by jumping back and forth between weighted exercises (like barbell squats, dumbbell presses, or kettlebell swings) and cardio bursts (like burpees, jumping jacks, or skaters).

 2. Focus On Compound Exercises

You can bicep curl until the cows come home, but if you want to burn major calories with strength training, you need as much of your workout as possible to involve as many muscles as possible.

While bicep curls isolate a single muscle in your arms, moves like squats and deadlifts (called ‘compound exercises’) require a bunch of your muscles, like your core, glutes, quads, and hamstrings to get working.  The more muscles you’re using in a single move, the more calories you’ll burn, says Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S., head trainer at Exercise.com.

Try to hit as many muscles as possible in a given workout by incorporating moves like pullups, squats, lunges, and pushups.

3. Try Interval Training

If you normally work out at a steady pace, mix things up—and torch more cals—with interval training. Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness, increase muscle, and promote fat loss more effectively than steady-state cardio.

When you alternate between periods of all-out effort and recovery, you put greater demand on your body and continue to burn calories long after you hit the showers. The experts call this ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,’ or EPOC.

Give Your Workouts A Boost

To boost the intensity—and benefit—of your workouts, try intervals like Tabata (20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of recovery) or AMRAPS (performing ‘as many reps as possible’ of a move in a certain amount of time), suggests Nief.

You can play around with HIIT by adjusting how long you work and rest for, but the key is to keep your rest intervals short. “Since you’ll have less time to recover, you’ll be spending more time with an elevated heart rate, which translates into additional calories burned,” says Spraul.

4. Use A Fitness Tracker

Tracking devices, which can sometimes be inaccurate, are a little tricky. Use them wisely, though, and they can both motivate you and help you work out smarter.

Trackers’ estimates about how many calories you burn may be a little off, but having a number to shoot for can encourage you to push yourself and burn more calories during your workout, says Nief. Just consider that number with a grain of salt and don’t use it to justify post-workout calorie overloads.

Devices that track your heart rate, though, can be incredibly helpful during your workouts, says Nief. If you’re doing a HIIT workout, keeping close tabs on your heart rate can motivate you to go harder during your sprints and ensure you get enough rest during your recovery periods.

5. Down Some Joe Before Working Out

You count on coffee to get you through Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday) mornings, but that sweet, sweet caffeine can also power you through your workouts.

“Caffeine is one of the few proven ergogenics, or exercise performance enhancers,” says Nief. If you’re able to move faster and work with greater effort and intensity with a little help from caffeine, you’re going to blast more calories and see better results.

Drink a cup of coffee (typically somewhere around 120 milligrams of caffeine) about 30 minutes before working out and it’ll kick in just in time for you crush every squat or sprint. Just keep it black or limit add-ins to just a splash of milk. Slugging a sugary, creamy drink before sweating will just make you feel sluggish and crampy. If coffee isn’t your style, try a pre-workout supplement that contains caffeine.

6. Switch Up The Temperature

Sure, we all prefer to exercise in the perfect-temperature setting—not too hot, not too cold. But research suggests that working out in a hot or cold environment can benefit your health and boost your results. We’re not talking either a desert or tundra-level extreme here—just hotter or colder than you’d like.

When you get moving in a hot environment, your heart and body have to work harder to regulate your body temperature and keep you from overheating, which requires extra energy and burns through calories, says Nief.

On the flipside, when you work out in the cold, your body begins to shiver to produce heat and increase your body temperature, which requires energy, too. Research published in Cell Metabolism shows that cold exposure also stimulates hormones and activates genes that boost fat burning

 7. Drink Cold Water

Okay, you probably don’t want to sip on a warm mug of tea during a workout, anyway, but filling your water bottle with ice cubes can give your calorie-burning a little lift.

For every icy glass of water you down, you’ll burn about eight calories, says Nief. As the ice chills your insides, your body burns through a little energy to warm itself back up. Eight calories a glass isn’t much, we know, but every little bit counts, right? And considering how crucial it is to stay hydrated when you exercise, we consider it just another reason to keep our water bottles handy in and out of the gym.

Pin this checklist to maximize your burn every time you hit the gym:

What One Serving Of 7 Popular Healthy Snacks Looks Like

When your stomach grumbles between meals, a healthy snack will keep you sane—and prevent you from downing half a pizza once dinnertime finally rolls around.

Serving sizes still count for even the healthiest of snacks, though, and you can still dig yourself deep into a calorie hole if you overdo it on the good stuff. (Okay, maybe you can’t overdo celery, but…). That’s why nutritionists recommend reaching for snacks that clock in between about 100 and 200 calories—which should be enough to satisfy you without becoming a full-on meal.

We know keeping portions in check can be tricky—so we did the work for you. Below are eight nutritionist-approved snacks, exactly how much of each will land you in that 100 to 200-calorie range, and what that serving actually looks like. Follow this guide and your snacks are guaranteed to fill you up (but not out) the next time hunger strikes.

1. Roasted Edamame

Have a hankering for chips? Reach for edamame instead. “If you are craving something crunchy and salty, this snack is a home run,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author The Small Change Diet. “It’s packed with fiber and protein, two necessary nutrients to help keep you full.”

One serving: 1/3 cup roasted edamame

171 calories, 17 g protein, 14 g carbs, 5 g fat, 12 fiber, 3 g sugar

2. Almonds + Apple

Nuts pack a lot of calories, so they’re a real doozy if you eat too many. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them! Nuts are packed with healthy fats, along with other nutrients. “Almonds are a great source of vitamin E, which protects your body’s cells from damage,” explains Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian.

Healthy Snacking Staples

“Nuts also pack protein, which, especially combined with the fiber in the apple, makes this snack a filling combination,” she says.

One serving: 1/4 cup almonds + one small, fist-sized apple

237 calories, 6 g protein, 28 g carbs, 13 g fat, 7 g fiber, 16 g sugar

3. Cottage Cheese + Berries

Cottage cheese and fruit is a naturally sweet and creamy combo. Plus, cottage cheese is packed with filling protein (more than 20 grams per cup!), calcium, and B vitamins, while antioxidant-rich blueberries add a dose of fiber, says Gans.

One serving: 1 cup two-percent cottage cheese + 1 cup blueberries

253 calories, 23 g protein, 27 g carbs, 6 g fat, 4 fiber, 21 g sugar

4. Crackers + Nut Or Seed Butter + Banana Slices

This crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty snack is the ultimate trifecta of good-for-you ingredients.

“The combination of fiber from the crackers and banana and protein from the sunflower seed butter makes for a satisfying snack,” says Meltzer Warren. Sunflower seeds are also a good source of magnesium, an important mineral that many of us fall short on.

One serving: 2 high-fiber crackers (like Wasa whole-grain crispbreads) + 1 tablespoon of sunflower seed butter + 1/2 a banana

213 calories, 7 g protein, 31 g carbs, 9 g fat, 8 g fiber, 9 g sugar

5. Yogurt

Yogurt is a great calcium-packed snack—but it’s hard to find a flavored option that’s not jammed with added sugar, says Ansel. That’s why she recommends reaching for skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt that contains more protein and less sugar, instead.

One serving: 1 cup of low-fat skyr, like Siggi’s Non-Fat Vanilla Icelandic Skyr

110 calories, 15 g protein, 12 g carbs, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 9 g sugar

6. Air-Popped Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain, so when you eat it you’re not just scratching that snack itch, but you’re also giving your body fiber and valuable nutrients, says Meltzer Warren. Thing is, though, many packaged varieties are cooked in tons of oil and topped with a hefty dose of salt, so you may end up eating a lot more calories than you expect.

The solution: Make your own! “I love air-popped popcorn drizzled with a little olive oil and some spices,” says Meltzer Warren. Just as satisfying as pretzels or chips—but much more health and waistline-friendly.

One serving: 3 cups of air-popped popcorn + 1 tablespoon olive oil + pinch of sea salt

249 calories, 2 g protein, 13 g carbs, 22 g fat, 2 g fiber, 0 g sugar

7. Veggies + Guacamole

For a savory crunch, munch on vegetables and creamy guacamole, suggests Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., founder of Nutritious Life. Avocados are a great source of heart-healthy fats that can help tame your hunger.

Glassman likes to dunk brightly-colored veggies—like carrots and red pepper slices, which are great sources of beta-carotene—into guac. This plant pigment converts into vitamin A, which is great for your vision, immune system, and skin. These veggies are also super low in calories, making this an ideal snack if you’re looking to lose weight, according to Glassman.

One serving: ½ cup sliced carrots + ½ cup sliced red peppers + 4 tablespoons guacamole

119 calories, 2 g protein, 17 g carbs, 8 g fat, 7 g fiber, 7 g sugar

How To Boost Your Post-Workout Calorie Burn

When you think about burning calories, you probably think about burning calories during your workouts—like while you’re on the treadmill or under the squat rack.

Depending on your workout, however, you also continue to burn calories after you leave the gym—especially important if you’re trying to shed fat. These calories, which you’ve probably heard referred to as the ‘after-burn,’ come from excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC.

EPOC, simply put, is the amount of oxygen (and therefore calories) that your body churns through after your workout to restore your body to its previous state. Your body uses this post-exercise oxygen to restore the glycogen (energy) in your muscles, lower your body temp, and repair damage to your muscles, says Pam Geisel, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Tisch Sports Performance Center in New York City. EPOC gives your metabolism gets a nice little boost, which can last anywhere from three to 24 hours after you leave the gym.

The Higher Your Intensity, The Higher Your EPOC

To really ramp up your EPOC, how hard you work out is more important than how long you work out for and what type of exercise you choose.

For instance, according to one 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, when guys performed sprints and other high-intensity intervals, they burned 110 and 82.5 calories in the three hours after their workouts, respectively. Meanwhile, when they performed longer bouts of steady-state cardio, they burned just 64 calories in the three hours afterward.

“Think of intense exercise like trashing a hotel room and jogging like dropping the TV remote on the floor,” says Anna Swisher, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., director of education and performance at Eleiko. “It will take hours to repair the whole hotel room, but just a few seconds to pick up the remote. More damage takes more energy to clean up.”

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

While your age, sex, and fitness level do affect how long your after-burn lasts, exercise intensity is still your best tool for maxing it out. Incorporate these six must-try strategies into your workout plan to really ‘trash the hotel room.’ (Just take it slow if you’re used to lower-intensity, steady-state exercise, and think about ramping up bit by bit from week to week.)

1. Focus On Your Body’s Biggest Muscles

Moves that work larger muscles, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pullups, require more energy to perform and create a greater EPOC compared to moves that hit just one or two smaller muscles, like bicep curls, Swisher says. So focus your strength training efforts on these large compound moves as much as possible.

2.Lift Heavy

One Sports Medicine review found that when exercisers performed three sets of eight moves with 80 to 90 percent of their 1RM (one-rep max, or the most weight they could lift for a single rep), they had significantly greater EPOC compared to when they performed four sets of eight moves with 50 percent of their 1RM.

Supplements That Support Your Training

What that means for you: When performing these big lifts, make sure you’re picking up something (really) heavy, Swisher says. You should only be able to pull off four to eight reps per set.

3. Perform Isolation Moves As Supersets

Isolation work—like bicep curls and tricep extensions—can still have a place in your routine. To reap the most EPOC benefit, save them for the second half of your workouts, after you’ve given your more demanding lifts your all. Superset moves that work opposing muscle groups and perform them back-to-back, with no rest in between, to up the intensity, suggests Geisel. (Since isolation moves tend to put all their stress on one joint, use a weight light enough that you can perform more than six reps.)

4. Slow Down Your Lifts

Performing strength exercises slowly and under control cuts down on how much momentum you use and increases the demand placed on your muscles to boost your after-burn. Eccentric movements (a.k.a. the lowering or ‘negative’ part of a move) cause greater muscle damage, and can increase both the intensity and duration of your EPOC, according to one ISRN Physiology review. Pay special attention to slowing down the eccentric phase—like lowering into a squat or raising the lat pulldown bar back to start—of each exercise.

5. Increase Cardio Speed And Resistance

If you’re more into cardio than weights, swap your regular steady-state jogs for all-out sprints or turn the nob on your spin bike way to the right. Doing so increases the resistance against which your muscles have to work—and how hard your body will have to work to recover, Geisel says.

6. Cut Back On Rest Intervals

Whether you’re a lifting lover or a cardio bunny, reducing the amount of time that you rest between sets and sprints ups how hard your anaerobic energy systems have to work to fuel your workouts, Geisel says. As a general rule, your rest periods should be just long enough that you’re able to give each set or sprint your all while maintaining proper form, she says. Any longer and you’re limiting your EPOC potential.

Related: Add a protein supplement to your post-workout routine to support strong muscles.

5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

There are lots of misconceptions about the ketogenic diet swirling around out there—you know, like the idea that eating tons of bacon is totally okay, or that you can slather absolutely everything in oil. Or that keto’s just about cutting out bread. But this increasingly trendy diet is a tad more complicated than that.

Here are the basics: Keto requires eating close to 80 percent of your calories from fat, about 15 percent from protein, and just five percent from carbs. This shifts the body into a state called ‘ketosis,’ in which the body burns fat (in the form of ‘ketones’) for fuel instead of sugar. (You can learn more about the keto process here.)

First developed to treat epilepsy and now used as part of treatment plans for health conditions like PCOS, infertility, diabetes, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, the ketogenic diet has been said to improve energy, mental clarity, and focus. It’s also become a popular means of maintaining a healthy weight for some people.

Eating keto means cutting out processed foods, sugars, and starches—including bread, potatoes, and most fruit—and eating way more healthy fats than you’re probably used to. Foods like meat, fish, eggs, non-starchy veggies, and all sorts of fats are game—in the right amounts.

With so many foods off the table and such a high fat quota to hit, it’s no wonder so many keto newbies have trouble making the diet sustainable. It is doable, though! Make your keto lifestyle more balanced and successful by avoiding these common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Approaching It As A Temporary Fad Diet

Once you’ve nailed down your reason for going on the keto diet—whether you’re managing an illness, want to fuel your distance running differently, or want to lose weight—you have to seriously consider how realistic keto is for your lifestyle.

“Ketogenic dieting is not a halfway pursuit; it’s all or nothing,” says Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes in low-carb diets. Especially considering the fact that it takes more than cutting out bread and sugar for a week to shift your body to ketosis. It can actually take up to a few weeks to shift into using fat for fuel (during which you may feel tired and moody)—and because your body’s instinct is to use sugar for fuel, all that hard work can be undone with just one higher-carb meal. So keto really isn’t one of those diets you can follow Monday through Friday and ditch on the weekends.

Plus, if you use keto for weight loss and end up restricting your calories, you’re even more likely to regain lost weight (and then some) when you go off keto, according to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. This is even more likely if you’re using keto to keep yourself from going overboard on foods you consider weaknesses (like pizza or slice-and-bake cookies), because you’ll likely dive face first into these foods the minute you’re ‘done’ with keto.

If thinking of keto as a long-term lifestyle doesn’t seem sustainable for you—or enjoyable, for that matter—it may not be right for you.

Mistake #2: Eating Too Many Carbs

Even if you think you’re slashing carbs, they can often creep into your diet and throw you out of ketosis. This can happen if you don’t measure your portions, eat something without knowing its exact ingredients, or don’t track your carb intake closely, says Sarah Jadin, M.S., R.D., C.S.P., C.D., C.N.S.C, of Keto Diet Consulting. (The experts aptly call this issue ‘carb creep.’) Even medications and supplements, which commonly use carbs as fillers, can push your intake over the edge.

Keto done right means just about 20 to 50 grams of carbs total per day. To stay in that range, your carbs would have to come from non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower, according to Mancinelli. (A cup of broccoli, for example, contains four grams of carbs.) Even these a-okay veggies can push you over your carb limit if you’re not careful, though. While a cup of kale contains just about five-ish grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), a typical kale salad packs three or four cups of kale and clocks in at close to 20 grams.

As little as just a quarter cup of sweet potatoes (20 grams of carbs) or a medium apple (23 grams of carbs) could max out your carbs—or push you overboard—for the day.

Keto-Friendly Supps

Mistake #3: Mismanaging Your Veggies

Given the carb issue, maintaining a balanced intake of veggies on the ketogenic diet can be tricky. With many nutritious, higher-carb foods like sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and quinoa more or less off the table, you’ll have to work a little harder to build a balanced diet with the foods that are a-okay. If you ditch all veggies in favor of fat, you’ll just leave yourself wanting for a number of important vitamins and minerals, says Megan Ware, R.D.N., L.D., owner of Nutrition Awareness.

To keep your eats as nutritious as possible, look up the net carb content for the 10 vegetables you eat most often, so you can see how they’ll fit into your keto lifestyle, recommends Mancinelli. On top of that, try to incorporate nutrient-rich greens, like baby kale and spinach, into every meal, adds Ware. As always, use a food tracker to monitor your carb intake, and keep portion sizes in mind. To fill any remaining nutritional gaps, people living the high-fat life may also want to consider a multivitamin.

In the first few weeks of keto, when you lose water weight from slashing carbs, your electrolyte levels may drop a bit and you may be hit with what the community calls the ‘keto flu.’ If you experience any fatigue or muscle issues, Mancinelli recommends supplementing with electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Spinach, baby kale, and avocado also provide potassium, while hemp seeds, spinach, and oysters offer magnesium.

Mistake #4: Eating Too Much (And The Wrong Types Of) Protein

Many healthy eaters and fitness enthusiasts tout the benefits of high-protein diets—but too much protein is a major (and overlooked) no-no on the ketogenic diet. Your body can actually turn protein into glucose, so eating too much of the stuff can pull you out of ketosis and back into sugar-burning mode, says Mancinelli.

Keto allows for moderate protein intake, which would be about 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day for an active dieter (between 75 and 112 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds). For reference, a small piece of chicken or three eggs provides about 20 grams of protein.

Though you’re trying to load up on fat, you still need to take care of your heart health, so your protein should come from sources like chicken, turkey, and fish, instead of processed foods like bacon, says Clark.

Mistake #5: Not Eating The Right Fats

When fat needs to make up about 80 percent of your total calories, it’s all too easy to add coconut oil to everything or eat nothing but nut butter—but maintaining a balance and eating the right types of fats is key to a healthful keto diet.

It’s crucial to get plenty of unsaturated fats, says Jadin. Nuts (like peanuts, walnuts, and pecans), seeds (like flax, chia, and hemp), avocados, fatty fish (like salmon, trout and sardines), are all great sources of unsaturated fats. Plant oils like avocado, flax, grapeseed, and hemp oil, all also provide unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.

Related: Why Is Everyone Talking About MCTs?

What about saturated fats, which you’ll find in your beloved coconut oil? There’s been a lot of back-and-forth here recently, with some research questioning just how they impact our health long-term. As much as we love our coconut oil, the Harvard School of Public Health still stands by the advice that emphasizing unsaturated fats over saturated fats in your diet better supports your heart health long-term. For now, spoon out your coconut oil in moderation and keep your saturated fat intake to about 10 percent of your total calories (that’s 22 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet).

7 Healthy Foods You Might Be Overeating

Let’s face it: Eating healthy all the time can be tough. Nearly half of Americans fall short on the daily recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains put forth by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. On top of that, many of us regularly chow down on processed and sugar-laden foods that can wreak havoc on our waistlines. So if you’re already swapping out French fries for carrot sticks and double cheeseburgers for quinoa bowls, you’ve achieved a major victory.

As healthy as your grub may be, though, you do still need to consider calories. While experts agree that calories are not all created equal (a handful of high-fiber, high-protein almonds contains as many calories as six sugary ginger snaps, for example, but the almonds keep you fuller longer and ward off overeating later), our bodies still like to stay in a state of energy balance. This means that the calories we eat and drink should equal the number of calories we burn through living and breathing, digesting food, and being physically active.

Take in more calories than we burn and we often gain weight—even if those extra calories come from healthy, nutrient-dense foods. The following seven good-for-you foods are some of the easiest to overeat, so double-check your portions to keep your healthy diet on point.

1. Granola

A staple for yogurt lovers everywhere, this delicious combo of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit adds a satisfying crunch to your breakfast or snack, along with some fiber, protein, iron, potassium, and heart-healthy fats. But that doesn’t mean you can treat hearty granola like regular cereals.

While a serving of regular cereal is about one cup, a serving of most granolas is just about a quarter cup, says Marjorie Cohn, M.S., R.D., personal trainer and owner of MNC Nutrition. Granola is very calorically-dense, so that quarter cup often packs between 120 and 150 calories, while a full cup could clock in at close to 600.

While a quarter cup may not look like much, it goes a long way in satisfying your hunger. To get the most bang for your buck, look for a granola that lists added sugar as far down in the ingredients list as possible, Cohn says. If you need more crunch than a serving of granola can provide, try adding some low-sugar cereal to your yogurt.

2. Quinoa

This trendy superfood is definitely wearing a health halo right now. After all, one cup of cooked quinoa packs almost 10 grams of protein—nearly double that of grains like barley, couscous, and brown rice—while coming in around 200 calories per cup, which is calorically equivalent to other whole grains. Yes, it’s got more protein and sometimes more fiber, but you can still overeat it and it can still contribute to weight gain, says Cohn.

For example, many popular quinoa bowl recipes contain close to a cup and a half of quinoa, in addition to other ingredients, like avocado, black beans, chicken. These meals can clock in at more than 800 calories, with nearly half coming from the quinoa. So, quinoa super-fans, stick to a serving of one cup to keep calories in check while still getting its good-for-you nutrients.

3. Hummus

No party—or fridge—is complete without hummus. This creamy chickpea-based dip contains fiber and protein—a nutrient combo sure to help keep you satisfied. The problem is that it’s so darn addicting, making it way too easy to overeat.

Two tablespoons of hummus, depending on the variety, come in at somewhere between 50 and 70 calories. “I’ve seen people at parties scoop that amount of hummus with a cracker in one dip,” exclaims Cohn. While hummus is nutritious, be weary of how much you scoop up (a 10-ounce tub contains upwards of 500 calories). Kick-up your hummus game another notch by dipping with vegetables—like cucumbers, carrots, celery, sugar snap peas, or broccoli—which are more nutrient-dense than crackers and save you both salt and calories.

4. Coconut Oil

A superstar at health-food stores everywhere, coconut oil has become a popular cooking staple after a number of studies found that a specific type of fat it contains—medium-chained triglycerides (MCTs)—is used as a source of energy, bolsters “good” HDL cholesterol, and supports weight management.

Related: Why Is Everyone Talking About MCTs?

However, not all experts agree on these touted benefits. “Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and while this plant-based fat may not be as harmful for heart health as animal-based saturated fats, the jury’s still out on its overall health impacts,” says Jen Bruning, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

For now, use coconut oil in moderation and remember that this oil—like all other fats—contains a whopping nine calories per gram. The U.S. government recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 10 percent of our daily calories (that’s 200 calories on a 2,000-calorie diet), so keep in mind that two tablespoons of coconut oil contain 240 calories and plan your daily grub accordingly.

5. Chicken Breast

Skinless chicken breast is a lean, high-protein meat choice that’s easily paired with a side or two for a quick, delicious, and healthy meal. But if you eat the whole breast, or even two-thirds of it—which is common if you’re cutting back on carbs or ramping up your protein intake to build muscle—you may be getting more of it than your body can handle at one time.

A cooked whole chicken breast is typically around 10 or 12 ounces, according to Cohn. That’s about 500 calories and 103 grams of protein. That’s a lot of protein; experts recommend active individuals eat about two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (about 136 grams for a 150-pound person) throughout an entire day.

The issue is, our bodies lack a storage system for protein outside of our muscles, so if we eat more than our body can use at one time, that surplus protein is just extra calories that can be stored as fat, explains Cohn. Even eight ounces still packs 334 calories and 69 grams of protein, which is a little much for one meal.

That’s why research suggests splitting up your protein needs throughout the day to maintain and build muscle. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, people who ate 30 grams of protein (about four ounces of chicken) at each meal synthesized 25 percent more proteins in their muscles than people who ate 90 grams of protein primarily at dinner.

Sick Of Chicken? Try These For Protein

Follow this protein rule of thumb: Stick to between three and six ounces of chicken—about the size of the palm of your hand—per meal, suggests Cohn.

6. Bean Chips

A newcomer to the snack aisle, bean chips are a healthier alternative to potato chips because they contain more fiber, protein, and less fat per serving. That said, they’re not exactly a ‘health food’ and they don’t provide the same benefits as eating actual beans, says Cohn.

Whether made from potatoes or beans, a serving of chips still typically clocks in around 150 calories. So while bean chips are a better alternative to greasier varieties when your salty cravings hit, stick to a snack bag-full per sitting—not a party bag-full.

7. Avocados

If you’re an avocado super-fan, this is going to be guacward. Yes, your beloved avocados are full of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber—but those benefits come with a higher calorie count.

An entire avocado packs about 322 calories, while a serving of fat equates to just about an eighth of a fruit, which is about 40 calories, says Cohn. Not much, we know! Sadly, this means you can easily down a day’s worth of fat in one chips and guac snack sesh.

To keep your serving size under control, spread your guacamole on toast or bulk it up with larger chunks of chopped peppers and tomatoes.

Related: Shop a variety of heart-healthy cooking oils, like avocado oil.

What It’s Really Like To Have Weight-Loss Surgery—And Drop 140 Pounds

I’ve always been chubby. Food was comforting, sentimental even. When my grandmother cooked cakes, brisket, and roast beef, she’d cut off tiny “ah-ahs” and feed the kids like an aquarium seal trainer. I learned early to associate food with comfort.

Before I was 10, my parents separated and I started packing on the pounds. Food was there when no one else was, literally. I gained most of my serious weight over the course of hundreds of afternoons while my mother worked the night shift at her second job. The first thing I’d do after school was put on a pot of water to boil. I’d make rice or pasta as an afternoon snack, then later, more rice or pasta with a steak for dinner.

I was proud of my cooking. I thought it showed that I was self-sufficient and Mom wouldn’t have to worry about me. I could take care of myself. But as I kept cooking, my clothes stopped fitting. I had to start shopping at big and tall stores. There, I discovered that overweight people apparently aren’t allowed to live in the same fashion conscious world as everyone else. Everything was loud, obnoxious colors with elastic waistbands and illustrations of dogs wearing sunglasses.

I got called names like “Fatboy” by other kids. Adults called me “Big Guy,” which is kind of the Diet Coke of fat shaming. Note to adults: The sting doesn’t hurt any less, in case you were wondering.

When my grandmother cooked cakes, brisket, and roast beef, she’d cut off tiny “ah-ahs” and feed the kids like an aquarium seal trainer. 

When I first heard about bariatric surgery I was in my early 20s. It felt inevitable—a looming certainty in the distance. I’d researched it and read success stories online, bringing myself to tears looking at before & afters. I was a walking “before picture.”

I’d even gone as far as scheduling the surgery twice. I cancelled both times after seeing older, heavier people in doctors’ waiting rooms and convincing myself, “I’m not as bad as that guy.” 

By the time I hit my 30s I’d ballooned up to more than 300 pounds, though. And in early 2016 I was heavier than I’d ever been before. My joints ached, I had sleep apnea, and because I wasn’t sleeping right I had no energy throughout the day. My boss was even threatening to fire me for falling asleep in meetings. I had a three-year-old boy I couldn’t keep up with and my self-confidence was at an all time low. Something had to give.

It was about 140 pounds ago that I sat in my car at an Exxon gas station, sweating as I struggled to lean over far enough to pull the lever that opened my gas tank. In that moment, I made a decision that changed my life forever. That was the day I decided to get weight loss surgery (WLS).

Surgery Prep

There are a some practical matters that need to be sorted out before this type of surgery. First off, the finances. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about the insurance approval process, and mine was difficult—but not impossible. My carrier (Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield) covered the procedure at 80 percent, which meant my out-of-pocket came to about $2,500 altogether. 

There are a few different types of WLS, but the common ones are called Lap Band, Gastric Bypass, and Gastric Sleeve. Most of the people I met along the way were getting the Gastric Sleeve surgery, which is what my doctor recommended for me. The procedure, he explained, involved removing a part of my stomach, creating a “pouch” about the size of a small banana. This forcibly limits your food intake, leaving you feeling full after eating much smaller portions.

I’d researched it and read success stories online, bringing myself to tears looking at before & afters. I was a walking “before picture.”

I was required to sit through multiple seminars and meetings with nutritionists, psychologists, and doctors, who tracked my weight over a six-month period as I attempted (unsuccessfully) to lose the weight on my own. After jumping through all the hoops (and not losing weight), I was finally approved with a surgery date. I was ready.

The day of the surgery, my wife took me to the hospital and she and my father stood at my bedside until the moment the nurse wheeled me away. This was it. It was really happening. I thought I’d be nervous but I wasn’t. It was more like standing outside the gates of Emerald City, knowing something incredible waited for me inside.

The doctor administered the anesthesia and as I counted backwards from 10, the world faded away.

After the Surgery

Just a few hours after I regained consciousness, the nurses were encouraging me to get up and start walking around. This helped to relieve the gas pressure caused by the anesthesia. (A weird side effect: The anesthesia caused blood vessels to burst in my right eye. My son would call me “Blood Eye Daddy” for the next week and a half.)

There were five small scars from the incisions but they didn’t hurt very badly. The hardest thing was drinking water. I just couldn’t take in much as my newly smaller tummy got its bearings. Just a few small sips at first. I was able to drink about a cup by the time they discharged me.

I got home, sat on my couch, and let it sink in like a new tattoo. I’d followed through. This was a Decision with a capitol D. Irreversible. But it’s not like you have the surgery and suddenly life is a bunch of fluffy ducks.

I’ve heard people say that weight loss surgery is “taking the easy way out.” In my experience, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

Here’s what it really feels like: You’re still 300 pounds but the weight feels impermanent—like it doesn’t belong to you anymore. You begin to think of your body as a temporary shell from which the real you will eventually emerge. You obsess on everything you need to do to reach your goal. It’s all you think about. It’s all you talk about. For a while, it’s all you are.   

The next few weeks were the most radical in terms of dietary changes. For 14 days I could only have clear liquids as my pouch began to heal. Water, protein shakes, and chicken broth (I couldn’t stand the beef broth—ugh, gross). Then another two weeks of soft solids and mushy foods like sugar-free Jell-O, cottage cheese, and loosely scrambled eggs. 

It. Was. Miserable.

If I had to pinpoint the hardest part of the whole experience, it would be those first few weeks after surgery. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have a problem with food but an issue with my entire lifestyle. I’d built routines that gave me comfort. Tough day? Eat heavy and watch TV late at night. Feeling bad about myself? Drown my sorrows in candy and root beer.

Related: Check out Nu Life’s new line of bariatric support products

Now, without those crutches, I was forced to deal with my issues head-on. I can only imagine this is similar to what drug addicts feel when they go cold turkey. There were nights I laid in bed, crying because I physically couldn’t eat the way I wanted to. There were days I sobbed to my wife on the phone, cursing the doctors and regretting my decision. Sometimes I dealt with it by taking bites of the foods I missed, savoring the feel of them in my mouth and then spitting them out.

But the weight started coming off.

Then, slowly, I began introducing more solid foods: fish, hard-boiled eggs, sliced meats. I found ways to mix it up. Eventually, I was cleared to start eating normally and healthier patterns took root.

Through the Looking Glass

It’s been 16 months since the surgery and the world I live in today bears little resemblance to the one I grew up in. When someone laughs, I don’t assume they’re laughing at me. If people are nice, I don’t assume they feel sorry for me. My clothes fit and I don’t have to shop at big and tall stores anymore. I can chase around my toddler and play on the floor with my new baby boy—and feel no pain. I’m more confident, I smile in pictures, and I’m not embarrassed to eat in front of other people. I can even wrap a bath towel all the way around my body.

For those of us who have battled with weight issues all our lives, it’s difficult not to tie our self-worth into how we perceive our appearance.

Are there negatives? Sure. I miss eating a juicy hamburger and a mound of fries. But I’ll still eat about half a burger and a fry or two. I don’t deny myself the things I love—it’s more about moderation and making better choices consistently.

Nowadays, I’ll have a protein shake for breakfast, turkey and cheese roll-ups for lunch, and then I try my best to eat a balanced, normal-sized dinner (that’s protein, vegetables, and a small amount of carbs). Switching to smaller plates helps control portions and makes it look like you’re getting more. Multivitamins and calcium are a must to get in the nutrition I need due to the reduced amount of calories I take in. (Every day is a struggle to take in the 65 grams of protein and 64 ounces of water my doctor recommends.) I work out at least three days a week and now that my body doesn’t creak and groan with every step, I actually enjoy it.

Last Thoughts

I’ve heard people say that weight loss surgery is “taking the easy way out.” In my experience, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It isn’t a cure—it’s a tool. Total body transformation requires discipline, struggle, and support. My diet’s not perfect. I don’t always get to the gym and I’m still searching for those elusive abs (they’re in there somewhere!).

For those of us who have battled with weight issues all our lives, it’s difficult not to tie our self-worth into how we perceive our appearance. Whatever shape you are, my hope is that you have the courage to love yourself—whether that means taking pride in the person you are or working to transform yourself into who you’re meant to be. 

My journey is far from over. I’ve got a long way to go and my goals are always evolving. Today, I feel better than ever before and every day I’m one step closer to my best self.

 

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Your Guide To Surviving Holiday Calories

There are so many reasons to get excited about the holiday season: friends, family, delicious meals, office parties, classic movies, colorful decorations, and more. Not on the list, though: all those extra calories packed into a steady flow of wine, homemade stuffing, pie, and peppermint bark.

The endless eating and drinking that continues through November and December can be pretty anxiety-inducing—especially if you’ve been busting your you-know-what to eat your veggies and keep your body in tip-top shape.

With a little will-power and strategy—along with help from products designed to conquer cravings, manage your appetite, and support a healthy weight—that once-daunting ugly sweater party transforms into an opportunity to blissfully bust a move to Mariah Carey.

Consider these 12 supplements just the reinforcements you need to keep your healthy habits going strong this holiday season.

1. Crave Crush Spearmint Lozenges, $7.99 for a 15-pack

When turning down that second (or third) piece of pie seems downright impossible, Crave Crush will stop your sweet tooth in its tracks. By blocking the sweet taste buds on your tongue, these minty suckers can help you enjoy your favorite holiday flavors without spiraling yourself into a food coma. Sail through all the parties and cookie exchanges on your calendar with these bad-boys.

2. Garden Of Life Vanilla Raw Organic Fit Meal, $33.59 for 10 servings

With all the hustle and bustle—and never-ending supply of sweets and treats—during the holiday season, having quick and portable healthy snacks can make the difference between making it to January feeling fit and healthy and falling off the bandwagon. Garden of Life’s Fit Meal packs 28 grams of raw, organic plant-based protein, six grams of fiber, and 20 vitamins and minerals—all for just 190 calories.

3. Ultimate 10 Probiotic 13 Billion, $19.99 for 100 capsules

Probiotics, a.k.a the ‘good’ bacteria that live in your gut, help support good digestion, regularity, and immune function. And having a healthy population of these critters is extra important when your diet includes more cookies and cocktails than normal—and when gift shopping season stress skyrockets. The Vitamin Shoppe’s Ultimate 10 Probiotic in 13 Billion strength can help re-colonize that good bacteria for smooth sailing all season long.

4. Sports Research Sweet Sweat Stick, $29.99

A little too much holiday spirit? Maybe you need a good sweat. Make Sweet Sweat your gym buddy and you’re guaranteed to have a sweatier, more satisfying workout. (One of our never-sweaty staffers put this stuff to the test and dripped like she’d never dripped before!) Sweet Sweat has a fresh, clean scent so you can crush your workouts worry-free.

5. Tonalin CLA 1,000mg, $24.89 for 180 softgels

CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that can reduce how much of the fat you consume gets stored. This well-researched fatty acid has even been shown to have a small, but legit, impact on body composition (how much of your fat comes from lean mass like muscle versus fat). Supplement with 1,000 milligrams three times a day.

6. Atkins Advantage Café Caramel Shake, $5.99 for a four-pack

As much as we may want to indulge from Thanksgiving straight on until the New Year, sometimes we just have to tell our sweet tooth ‘no’—or do we? With 15 grams of protein, two grams of net carbs, just one gram of sugar, and 180 calories per shake, Atkins Advantage’s Café Caramel shakes are a guilt-free way to satisfy your sweet tooth and fuel your body. Four-shake packs are just $5.99 and easy to stash at work or at home.

7. Green Coffee Bean Extract, $31.49 for 180 capsules

Green coffee bean extract contains antioxidants that help maintain our body’s defense system against damage from free radicals. Plus, one of these antioxidants, called chlorogenic acid, has been shown to support healthy blood sugar and fat metabolism. The Vitamin Shoppe’s green coffee bean extract can be taken up to three times a day.

George’s 100% Aloe Vera, $29.99 a gallon

Soothing aloe vera does your digestive system good and can help keep you regular—two things we all cherish when our eating habits (and bathroom habits) get all out of whack during the holidays. Sip down those soothing benefits with George’s aloe.

9. Healthy Delights Naturals Appetite Control Soft Chews, $19.99 a bag

These natural acai berry chews taste like candy and may actually keep you from destroying half the batch of cookies you were supposed to bring to Grandma’s house. Made with ingredients like garcinia cambogia, green coffee bean extract, l-carnitine, and green tea extract, these chews may be helpful before big meals and nights out.

10. Sports Research MCT Oil, $29.99 for 32 ounces

MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) aren’t your average fats. MCTs can be used as an energy source and boost our metabolism more than many other fats—and they’re also less likely to be stored as fat. Sports Research’s unflavored MCT oil can be the way you’d use some other oils (like in salad dressings) or added to smoothies or coffee for lasting energy.

11. Enzymedica Digest Gold, $79.49 for 240 capsules

If your digestive system isn’t partaking in the holiday cheer this time of year, a digestive enzyme can help your body better break down all that gingerbread and Santa-shaped chocolate. Enzymedica’s Digest Gold formula contains digestive enzymes to help your system conquer everything from protein to fat to carbohydrates to fiber. Survive every rich, belly-busting meal with a 240-capsule bottle, $79.49.

Check out more holiday-friendly, weight-management products at VitaminShoppe.com, all 15% off!

6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calories

When we want to shed pounds, we usually think in terms of calories. After all, the many calorie-counting apps out there would have us believe that slashing our intake is the only way to make weight loss happen. But cutting too many calories can actually have some dire consequences—and going overboard is easier to do than you might think.

Eating too few calories can make you feel sluggish, shaky, and anxious—and it can actually make you gain weight in the long run, says Megan Casper, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Megan Casper Nutrition.

If you’re eating too few calories for your body and lifestyle, though, your body will send you some major signals that you need more fuel, says sports dietitian Kimberly Feeney M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., C.S.C.S. The following six signs indicate your body is undernourished and begging for more calories.

1. You Feel Like A Sloth

If you notice a slip in your overall energy level and declining performance during your workouts, it could mean your metabolism is slowing down because you’re not eating enough calories, says Jenny Mahoney, R.D., L.D., of Nutriformance. We all have a baseline number of calories our body needs in order to maintain basic functions like making our heart beat, brain work, and lungs pump oxygen. (This is known as our ‘basal metabolic rate.’)

To do anything beyond just staying alive—like move or work out—our body needs additional calories. So when we cut calories too close to that baseline, our metabolism slows down so we can survive off the little energy we do get, Mahoney explains. “Even if cutting calories is a choice we make in an effort to lose weight, our body still treats it as a famine and begins slowing down metabolic processes to preserve fuel,” she says. And so we feel tired and slow.

2. You Can’t Focus

If you find yourself zoning out even outside of boring meetings, insufficient calories may be to blame. That’s because your brain demands a constant supply of fuel—particularly glucose (a.k.a. sugar), says Casper. In fact, up to 20 percent of our daily calories and half our available sugar goes to our brains, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you don’t take in enough calories, your blood sugar drops, impacting your brain function and messing with your memory and ability to pay attention, according to Casper. A surefire way to tell if your brain fog is because of low blood sugar: Drink a small glass of orange juice, which contains easily-digestible sugars, and note whether your brain power perks up. Feel more awake and productive? You’re likely not eating often enough, not eating enough overall, or both.

3. You’re Sore ALL The Time

In addition to feeling sluggish during your workouts, you may also find it harder to recover from exercise if your calorie consumption is too low. While some soreness is normal after a tough workout, consider it a red flag if it persists for close to a week, says Feeney. Same goes if you’re a regular exerciser and feel sore when you normally wouldn’t.

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“When we consume too few calories below our total daily needs, our body prioritizes what it uses that energy for,” Feeney says. And healing is one of the first things to get the boot. Long-term, exercising regularly while falling short on fuel puts you at greater risk for injury—particularly for stress fractures.

4. You’re Not Making Muscle Gains

If you notice your muscle tone stall or even start to decline, consider it yet another sign that you may not be eating enough calories to fuel your workouts and build muscle—even if you’re strength training, says dietitian and personal trainer Lauren Manganiello M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., C.P.T. “When we don’t get enough calories, muscle begins to break down because our body is looking for sources of energy,” Manganiello explains. Our body stores carbs as glycogen in our muscles to use as energy later—but when we don’t have enough glycogen stored, our body may break down the protein in our muscles for fuel. So if you’re not getting stronger, struggling through your strength training, or even feeling a little flabbier than usual, there’s a chance you’re not eating the calories your body needs to make progress.

5. You’re Eternally Grouchy

It’s probably no shock that eating too few calories can leave you ‘hangry.’ In fact, mood swings are one of the top signs you’re not taking in enough calories, says Manganiello. Mood swings—like brain fog—are caused by dips in blood sugar. Get this: research out of Florida State University found that our self-control literally requires energy, and that we’re more likely to snap or lash our when our blood sugar is low.

Plus, even just monitoring our calories spikes how stressed we feel, while restricting them boosts our production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to research published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

6. You Can’t Sleep

A whacked-out sleep schedule is another major red flag that you’re not eating enough calories. If you feel hungry enough at bedtime or overnight that you have trouble sleeping, your calories are too low, says Manganiello. “Hunger is our body’s way of telling us that we need energy,” she says.

Related: Try adding a casein supplement to your routine to fuel muscle gains in your sleep.

How To Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calories

If any (or all) of these struggles hits close to home, it’s time to up how many calories you’re eating each day. Your caloric needs depend on your height, weight, activity level, and body composition (how much of your weight is lean mass, like muscle, versus fat), so meeting with a dietitian is one of the most accurate ways to figure out your daily calorie target. But you can also use a reputable online tool, like the USDA’s MyPlate Super Tracker, or do some quick math to estimate how many calories you need. Try this simple formula: Multiply your weight in kilograms (one kilogram is 2.2 pounds) by 20 to estimate the low end of your calorie range and by 25 to estimate the high end, says Casper.

How many calories you can cut healthily depends on how many calories total you’re starting with, but the average person can safely lose about a pound a week by cutting 500 calories per day, says Feeney.  And as a general rule, women should never eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day, while men should never eat fewer than 1,800.

If you’re too deep in the calorie-cutting trenches, you’ll need to gradually up your calorie intake until you’re meeting your calorie needs. If you need to up your intake by hundreds of calories, add about 100 calories to your total intake every few days to ease your body into consuming more energy, Mahoney recommends. If you only need to add about 200 calories or so, though, just go for it. Just remember that the quality of the calories you’re adding matters, and focus on eating more produce and whole-grain carbs instead of processed foods, Mahoney says.

Casper also recommends adding light snacks in between meals, or eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar and energy stable. And make sure to include protein, fiber, and some healthy fats in every meal or snack to keep your belly satisfied, which can help you maintain or lose weight over time.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It

In the era of 10-second Snapchats and endless digital notifications, it can be tough to slow down—especially when it comes to eating. We often find ourselves scarfing down some sort of breakfast on the commute into work or devouring lunch at our desk between meetings.

No good can come of this. For one, we disconnect from act of eating, limit enjoyment of our food, and lose the ability to register our body’s appetite and fullness. And this mindless approach can cause us to pack on the pounds over time, says Emily Kyle, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N.

Enter mindful eating, which promises freedom from diet rules and food stress, and encourages naturally healthier habits, she says. If you can figure out how to do it, that is.

What ‘Mindful Eating’ Really Means

Mindful eating is all about the mind-body connection. By tuning into how hungry you really are, the stimuli around you that may affect your meal, how you’re feeling, and what you really want to eat, you can become a more aware and balanced eater, Kyle explains.

“By turning our attention to how we feel physically and emotionally throughout a meal, we can learn more about what our bodies want and need from the food we consume,” she says. The more aware we become of our eating behaviors and patterns, the better we are able to control portions, keep from overeating, and maintain a healthy weight.

“Mindful eating is not about eating ‘perfectly’ all the time,” she says. “It’s about learning to listen to our bodies’ wants and desires and explore how those wants and desires make us feel physically and emotionally.” So, when we can quiet our cravings, slow down, and tune into our body, emotions, and the eating experience, we can better approach eating from a place of self-acceptance, health, and positivity.

4 Ways To Eat More Mindfully

Mindful eating sounds pretty great, right? After all, who doesn’t want to feel free and balanced about their food? Here are the experts’ four best pieces of advice to help you get there.

1. Check in with yourself before eating.

That glazed donut in the office might be staring at you, but before you grab it, ask yourself if you need it. If the answer is yes, go for it. If not, keep on walking. Regardless of your decision, asking yourself this question gives you the space to really think about your decisions instead of making food choices based on impulse, explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

“I always encourage my clients to ask themselves, ‘Does my body need this?’ before they eat something,” says Harris-Pincus. It’s okay if you make the choice to eat it, she says. If so, own it, savor it, and move on.

More often than not, though, asking yourself this question will help you make better choices. “It really creates enthusiasm for nutritious foods and discourages us from eating foods with empty calories,” Harris-Pincus says.

Related: Not All Calories Are Created Equal—Here’s Why

A few other questions Harris-Pincus recommends asking yourself before eating: Am I feeling tired? Stressed? Bored? Will I feel better or worse after eating?

One general rule of thumb: If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. Mindful eating is all about listening to your body, so you don’t have to eat lunch at noon just because it’s ‘lunchtime,’ says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Eating only when you feel hungry will help you establish a healthier relationship with food and appetite, long-term.

If you’re ready to eat, continue this evaluative approach throughout your meal. Check in with yourself mid-meal by asking: Am I still hungry? Does my belly feel full? Am I still really tasting and enjoying this food? And, afterward, consider the following questions: Can I step away for 20 minutes to evaluate if I’m satisfied or still hungry? Was that an enjoyable meal?

Asking these questions will help you get into the routine of really connecting with your body and how you nourish it.

2. Eat without distractions.

At mealtime, turn off the television and put your phone down, so you can really focus on your meal and how you feel, says Rizzo. If you need some sort of ambiance, light a candle, put on some quiet music, or enjoy your meal with good company.

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“TV and technology keep us from really thinking about our food and hunger levels,” she says. “If we ditch the screens, it’s much easier to listen to our bodies and be mindful about our meal.”

3. Really ‘taste’ your food.

When you sit down to eat, take it bite by bite. “Think of eating like a wine tasting,” says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., author of The MIND Diet. You want to take your time and experience your food.

“Look at the food on your fork, smell it, appreciate it,” says Moon. “Then place it in your mouth and just let it be. Try to identify all the flavors you’re experiencing. Then, chew slowly and completely, noticing how the bite changes in your mouth.” Honing in on each step of the eating process will help you slow down, savor each bite, and better identify when you feel satisfied.

To go even further, put your fork down between bites, she says. Allow yourself to look around, breathe, and be still throughout the meal. Your plate’s not going anywhere!

4. Keep a satiety log.

To really see your mindful eating progress over time, keep a journal of your food, appetite, and satiety levels.

Write down when and what you eat, how hungry you feel before eating (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being ravenous), how full you feel afterward (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being Thanksgiving-level stuffed, and what time you feel hungry again, Rizzo suggests.

By laying out all of your eats and satiety levels, you’ll be able to see if and when you eat for reasons other than hunger, like boredom or stress, which can be common, she says. The next time you’re tempted to eat impulsively, ask yourself if an apple would satisfy you. If you still want a chocolate donut instead, it’s a sure sign you’re dealing with cravings, not hunger. In these moments, distract yourself by taking a walk, listening to music, popping in a stick of gum, or calling a friend or family member, Rizzo suggests.

The more you can acknowledge and accept the emotions or triggers that lead you toward food, the more you can separate hunger and cravings, and the more mindful and temptation-free you can become, she says.

Related: Sip away cravings with a mug of soothing herbal tea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My goals included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

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

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

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

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

1. Cut Out Processed Foods

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eat Your Veggies

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

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

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

3. Build Your Plate Properly

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

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

4. Follow Hunger Cues

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

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

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

5. Identify Food Sensitivities

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

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

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

6. Get More Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Skinny-Fat Looks Like

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

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

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

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

Why It Can Be An Issue

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

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

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

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

Muscle Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Ways To Burn More Fat

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

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

1. Adjust Your Grub To Create A Caloric Deficit

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

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

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

Related: 10 Protein-Packed Meals In Mason Jars

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

2. Cut Back On Certain Carbs

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

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

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

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

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

3. Load Up On Protein

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

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

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

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

4. Start Lifting Weights

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

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

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

5. Supplement Your Routine With HIIT Or Circuit Training

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

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

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

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

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

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

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

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

6. Get Moving Outside Of The Gym

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

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

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

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

7. Prioritize Sleep

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

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

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

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

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