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

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

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

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

Healthy Blood-Sugar Levels

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

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

Healthy Heart

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

Related: Shop berberine products, from capsules to liquids.

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

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

Weight Management

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

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

Gastrointestinal Health

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

Taking Berberine

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

Weight-Loss Efforts Failing? You Might Not Be Eating Enough

You’ve heard it a million times before: Weight loss comes down to the simple equation of ‘calories in versus calories out.’ Burn more calories than you take in—usually by eating less and working out more—and watch the pounds melt off, right?

“In theory, if you consume fewer calories than you expend, you should lose weight; and if you do the opposite, you should gain weight” says David Greuner M.D., of NYC Surgical Associates. Many people, though, make a calorie-cutting mistake that actually sabotages their weight loss—and that’s restricting calories too much.

Why Eating Fewer Calories Doesn’t Mean Shedding More Pounds

We all have a unique metabolic rate (the number of calories our bodies need throughout the day), which is influenced by factors like gender, age, activity level, and muscle mass.

“The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you’re burning,” says Leah Kaufman, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for NYU Langone Health’s weight management program. (Even when you’re doing nothing!) When you restrict calories consistently, though, your metabolic rate drops—and the more drastic the calorie restriction, the more drastic the metabolic spiral, she says.

This incredibly frustrating cause-and-effect actually stems from our caveman days, says Deepa Iyengar, M.D., associate professor at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Basically, when you don’t eat enough, your brain thinks you’re starving, and your body holds onto every calorie it’s given, she says. (This came in handy when our cavemen ancestors couldn’t hunt or gather enough food.) Your metabolism slows down to a sluggish rate, and even though you’re trying to lose weight, your results screech to a halt. You may even start to break down muscle for fuel.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

And if your extreme calorie-cutting is also paired with lots of intense exercise, you put yourself at risk for a scary condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which your muscle breaks down so rapidly that you’re left with severe muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and confusion, and potential kidney failure, says Greuner.

How to Tell if You’re Cutting Too Many Calories

As great as losing a few pounds sounds, going in to ‘starvation mode’ or risking your health isn’t so hot. If you’re going too far with calorie-slashing, the first signs you’ll notice are low energy, headaches, and fatigue, says Kaufman. Your mood may also take a hit, so you may feel irritable or depressed, or have trouble concentrating, adds Greuner.

And, of course, you’ll probably feel hungry all the dang time, because your calorie shortage causes your body to release hormones like ghrelin, which signal to the brain that you need some nourishment, pronto.

You can start to experience these symptoms as soon as you cut anything more than 500 calories per day, Iyengar says. But if your caloric intake dips below 1,000 calories a day, you enter into a real danger zone and risk damaging organs like your heart and kidneys, she adds.

Get Your Calories Back in the Safe Zone

Understanding the base number of calories your body needs to function (even if you lie in bed all day) can help you quit your extreme calorie-cutting ways. A qualified health professional can help you calculate your exact minimum needs with a machine that measures your oxygen consumption, which indicates your metabolic rate, says Kaufman.

Otherwise, you can use an online calculator from a medical or health organization (MyFitnessPal has an easy and free one) to estimate your daily calorie needs. Just keep in mind that this is the base number of calories your body needs to stay alive and do nothing else—not how many you should eat to lose weight. You’ll need additional calories to fuel daily activities and exercise. (A dietitian or doc can help you figure out the exact number.)

Men generally need more calories than women because they have more muscle mass, and therefore higher metabolisms, says Iyengar. Active men under age 55 who exercise for about 45 minutes four times a week should start with a baseline of 2,500 calories per day, while active women under 55 should start out at 2,000, she recommends. From there, if you want to lose weight (at about one pound per week) you can reduce your daily consumption by up to 500 calories, but not more than that, says Kaufman. Keep a food journal or use a food-tracking app to make sure you’re getting what you need, she suggests.

Taking this more moderate approach will help you lose weight safely—and sustain it. “You cannot survive on 800 calories a day for the rest of your life. It’s just not possible.” Getting enough calories will keep your body nourished so that you feel strong (instead of totally drained) when you exercise—which is a key piece of any sustainable weight-loss plan, says Greuner.

And one final tip for the road: When you’re in a (healthy) calorie deficit, it’s also important to consume enough protein to support your muscles and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need, says Kaufman.

Related: Shop multivitamins and minerals to make sure your nutritional bases are covered.

Does Losing Weight Slow Your Metabolism?

If you’ve ever tried to drop a good 10+ pounds, you know how hard it can be—and how it seems to get even harder as the scale starts to budge.

You’re definitely not imagining this uphill weight-loss battle. The culprit: your metabolism.

Your metabolism is a series of chemical reactions that occur inside your body to break down food and turn it into energy, says David Greuner, M.D., managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. Your body uses this energy to perform basic functions, like keeping your lungs breathing and your heart beating, and power you throughout the day.

The minimum number of calories we need every day to keep us functioning (even if we’re at rest all day and night) is known as our basal metabolic rate. For the average person, it’s usually between 1,500 and 2,200 cals per day, says Greuner. Your individual metabolic rate is determined by your body size, sex, and age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How many calories we need on top of that base number depends on factors like our activity level and how much muscle we have. (Muscle mass requires extra energy to maintain, so it really bumps up your metabolism.)

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism

When we want to lose weight, we create a caloric deficit, meaning we try to use more calories than we consume, usually by cutting calories and exercising, explains Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S. The goal is that our body will tap into the fat we have stored for to make up for that energy deficit.

Here’s where things get tricky, though: When most people lose weight, they tend to lose some muscle mass along with fat, says Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. And the less muscle you have, the fewer calories your body needs to sustain itself—which means your metabolism slows down. As this occurs, whatever caloric deficit you’d created when you first started losing weight becomes less and less effective.

So, yeah, it’s sad but true: Weight loss—especially extreme calorie-cutting—does slow down your metabolism, which actually sabotages your ability to maintain that weight loss long-term.

But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed! The solution? Take a slow-and-steady approach so that you can shed fat while keeping your metabolism revved and holding onto as much precious muscle as possible. To do that, shift your focus from cutting as many calories as possible to strength training regularly (at least three days a week) and eating ample protein—both of which support muscle mass, says Holland. He recommends eating roughly half your bodyweight in grams of protein each day. By continuing to boost your metabolism, you’ll naturally burn through more calories and make losing that fat easier.

Related: Grab a protein supplement for muscle support, wherever you are.

5 Weight-Loss Trends That Aren’t Worth The Effort

If you live a healthy lifestyle, you know there are a lot of pretty convincing fitness, wellness, and weight loss trends out there. The thing is, not all trends are worth your time—especially the ones that tout “fast” and “easy” weight loss.

It’s hard to resist a supposed shortcut to the body you want, but anything that promises results without much effort on your part is probably a sham, says Diana Mitrea, C.P.T., founder of Stronger With Time. “It took years to look the way you do today, and it’s going to take time to change that,” she says.

The best road to weight loss is a holistic approach that involves a diet based in whole foods, regular exercise, and a healthy mindset, says Mitrea. So forget quick fix-claiming trends—like the five fads we rounded up here:

Trend #1: Going Gluten-Free

Gluten-free menus, recipes, and products have been popping up like crazy over the past few years, and many people are eliminating this protein (which is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye) hoping it will help them lose weight.

But here’s the truth: Gluten itself isn’t an issue unless you have certain health conditions, like celiac disease, in which gluten causes inflammation in your small intestine, says Melissa Rifkin, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. And let’s be real: A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie, and a gluten-free diet can still be unhealthy if it’s highly processed.

For most people, ditching gluten is not only an ineffective weight-loss strategy. Actually, it can hinder overall nutrition, since gluten-containing grains contain micronutrients (like fiber and calcium) our bodies need for daily function, Rifkin says.

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

While going gluten-free won’t directly lead to weight loss, cutting back on processed wheat products like pasta and bread can support your efforts. “Reducing your wheat consumption and replacing those foods with whole foods like fruits and vegetables can reduce your overall calorie intake,” Rifkin says. (A cup of zucchini noodles contains more than 100 fewer calories than a cup of regular pasta, after all.) And cutting back on calories is a huge factor in dropping pounds.

Trend #2: Botox Injections

People are no longer using Botox just to smooth wrinkles—some have gotten injections of it in an attempt to lose weight.

The theory is that injecting Botox into the stomach can slow digestion and increase feelings of fullness. And while an initial study suggested it might be effective, a recent study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 24 weeks of gastric Botox injections did not affect weight loss in obese participants, even though it did delay the emptying of their stomachs after eating. In an American Gastroenterological Association press release, the study’s lead author Mark Topazian, M.D., recommended against using Botox for weight-loss purposes—so this trend is out.

Trend #3: Crystals

Could rubbing your lucky crystals each night help you wake up a few pounds lighter? Some folks—particularly those interested in new-age spirituality—are turning to these rock formations to power up and rejuvenate their bodies for better focus, motivation, and even weight loss.

For example, amethyst has been said to help its users overcome bad habits or addictions, like overeating, while apatite has been said to help—yep, you guessed it—suppress your appetite. Some crystal therapy experts recommend carrying the stones around with you, holding them for a moment before each meal, and placing them over your belly after eating.

While using a crystal as a symbol of willpower, self-reflection, and intention may be powerful for some people, there’s no scientific research to support the idea that crystals can help you slim down. “At the end of the day, weight loss is about creating a calorie deficit,” says Rifkin. It’s all about eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Trend #4: The Sirtfood Diet

The Sirtfood Diet, which hit the diet trend scene hard a few years ago, is popular because it allows two typically non-diet-y things: chocolate and red wine.

The diet is all about eating foods high in certain plant compounds (called polyphenols) that activate genes known as sirtuins, which may support anti-aging, increase metabolism, and boost fat loss, according to research out of MIT. While many of these sirtuin-activating foods are nutrient-dense—such as green apples, parsley, and kale—the Sirtfood Diet gets a little loopy by claiming you can lose seven pounds in seven days by eating them (and only them).

“People are intrigued by the sirtfood diet because of its scientific sound, and though there is science behind sirtuins, be wary of getting swept away by the diet trend,” says Rifkin. Because of their high nutrient content and cell-protecting properties, many ‘sirtfoods’ have a place in a healthy diet and can aid in weight loss, says Rifkin. But instead of eating all sirtuins all the time, focus on incorporating them into a healthy diet that also includes non-‘sirt’ (but still nutritious) foods like whole grains and lean protein.

Trend #5: Cryotherapy

Would you step into a freezing cold chamber to drop a few pounds? Cryotherapy, a three-minute treatment that involves standing in a chamber ranging from -200 to -300 degrees, has been touted for its sport and fitness-related recovery benefits—but it’s recently taken on a new M.O.

Now people are flocking to these ice chambers to “chill off” the weight—and understandably so, considering some cryotherapy providers claim the treatment revs your metabolism, reduces cellulite, and can help you lose inches from your waist.

Cold stimulation is an effective recovery method for athletes, according to a study published in Sports Medicine. The research on cryotherapy and weight loss, though? Lacking. According to the FDA, the effects cold temperatures have on metabolism, blood pressure, and heart rate are simply unknown. So while you may benefit from cryotherapy if you’re dealing with minor pain or swelling from exercise, there’s little evidence to support the treatment as a solution for weight management, says Mitrea.

Related: Shop recovery supplements to give your body a boost after tough workouts.

How 3 Super-Popular Diet Trends Benefit Men And Women Differently

Put two people on a diet and they will never (let’s repeat that: never) have the exact same results.

“The more we learn about nutrition, the more we see the need for personalized nutrition, and finding the right diet for the right person,” explains Donald K. Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. “One diet might be really good for one person, but really bad for someone else.”

And that’s especially true when it comes to men and women. The two sexes respond to diets quite differently—and understandably so, considering the differences in our bodies, namely in our hormones. (Read about how and why men and women experience weight loss differently here.)

This certainly applies to trendy nutrition protocols, like Paleo, intermittent fasting, and keto. We asked the experts how each might affect men and women differently, to push you one step closer to finding the diet that works for your body.

The Ketogenic Diet

The purpose of a ketogenic diet is to force the body to run on fat, rather than carbs, for energy. How do you do this? By getting about 80 percent of your daily calories from fat. You’ll eat a moderate amount of protein, but limit carbs as much as possible—about 20 grams a day, which is less than you’ll find in a banana. Eating this way shifts your body into a state of ketosis, in which the body breaks fat down into ketone bodies, a sort of stand-in for carbs.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Ketogenic Diet Trend

It can take anywhere from weeks to months to shift into ketosis and burn fat for fuel, and you’ll need to test your urine or blood to know for sure. Once the body makes the shift, though, increases in satiety hormones and fat metabolism may contribute to weight loss, according to a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

As you can imagine, this diet is hard for anyone to follow long-term, though men may have better luck. According to Layman, research has shown that a diet’s carb content is a large predictor of whether or not women will stick with it, he says. The more carbs women are allowed, the more sustainable the diet—as any gal who’s scarfed down half a pizza after going low-carb can tell you.

However, there may be worthwhile benefits for women struggling with hormonal issues, namely polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is often marked by insulin resistance and can lead to a snowball weight gain, infertility, and diabetes. In one study of obese women with PCOS, following a ketogenic diet for 24 weeks led to significant improvement in both weight and fasting insulin levels. “Because PCOS is driven by an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, and higher insulin levels, a lower carbohydrate diet may help to create a more insulin-sensitive environment and allow the body to use fats and proteins for fuel,” Smith-Ryan says.

According to the researchers, though, the results of this study were similar to those of previous studies in which women consumed up to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day, which qualifies as low-carb but not ketogenic—suggesting women with PCOS can improve their symptoms without having to cut fruit out of their lives. A low-carb—but not severely low-carb—diet is often recommended (and successful), says Layman.

Intermittent Fasting

By dividing days and weeks up into “fasting” and “feasting” periods, intermittent fasting protocols (which exist in a variety of forms, including high and low-calorie days or only eating during certain hours, like 12 to six P.M.), may promote weight loss by making it easier for some dieters to cut calories.

While more research is needed to know exactly how it works, studies suggest that there may be advantages to intermittent fasting beyond cutting calories, Layman says. For instance, a 2017 review from the National Institute on Aging notes that fasting triggers physiological stress pathways that enhance DNA repair and metabolic health. Additionally, a review out of Brazil notes that intermittent fasting can improve the blood lipid profile (lower triglyceride levels, specifically) and inflammatory responses of men.

It’s worth noting, though, that despite fasting’s potential health benefits, a 2017 JAMA Internal Medicine study concluded that it’s no better for weight loss than typical calorie-counting.

Though intermittent fasting can help some people lose weight, it’s not exactly easy to sustain. Case in point: A third of the participants in that JAMA Internal Medicine study we just mentioned dropped out.

And while throwing in the towel is an issue for both men and women, the psychology involved in fasting may pose a different, more serious threat to women. When it comes down to it, intermittent fasting is about “saving up” calories for later, a behavior that can lead to or worsen disordered eating. “Many women will penalize themselves so they can indulge later,” says Layman—a behavior that’s much less common in men. For that reason, he doesn’t recommend anyone—male or female—with a history of body image and eating disorders attempt intermittent fasting. Considering 20 million American women and 10 million men will deal with an eating disorder at some point in their life, fasting may not be a risk worth taking—especially for women.

Paleo

Rich in meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds—and devoid of dairy, legumes, processed foods, and refined sugars—Paleo is all about eating as closely as possible to how our ancestors supposedly did. But because the diet doesn’t address calories or how much of each macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbs) you’re eating, the results are largely contingent on what you do eat while following the diet, Layman says. (Eating a Paleo diet that’s all fruit and nuts will affect your body differently than one full of lean protein and vegetables, for example.) However, Paleo does offer one big benefit: a diet free of refined and processed sugars.

“Fifty-five percent of Americans’ calories come from carbs and roughly 90 percent of the carb calories come from grains. So if you stop eating grains, you likely lose weight,” Layman says. And since most of the processed foods people eat—like crackers, pretzels, pasta, and mac and cheese—are made from refined grains, which offer little nutritional value, nixing processed foods may be a good idea.

For many people, the Paleo diet tends to be pretty meat-heavy, and that may make it more mouth-watering to men, Layman says. After all, data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that the average man eats significantly more meat, poultry, and fish than the average woman.

That said, Paleo can be successful for men and women alike, as long as you can maintain a balanced diet after eliminating dairy, legumes, salt, processed foods, and refined sugars. However, it’s important to make sure that you don’t miss out on the calcium and vitamin D that dairy supplies. This is especially big for women, who are at an increased risk of osteoporosis and tend to require higher intakes to keep their bones strong, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. (You can get calcium elsewhere, like in dark leafy greens or sardines. Vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, especially those treated with UV lights.) Women should meet with their doctor or a dietitian to make sure their intake of these two nutrients is still adequate while following Paleo.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When Going Paleo

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

At my annual check-up in 2010, the doctor pointedly told me, “You have high blood pressure and it hasn’t gone down since your last visit.” The last visit was a month earlier, when I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.

I came to the follow-up appointment knowing that I had polished off a quart of butter pecan ice cream the night before and begun the day with a big syrupy pile of pancakes. Truthfully, I was surprised he didn’t tell me that I was diabetic. Still, this was worrying.

The doctor told me he’d have to put me on meds—and that I’d need to exercise and eat well this time around.

I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.

At that point, my weight had ballooned to 225 pounds (which was much higher than it was during my last pregnancy in 2003, seven years earlier). I was feeling every pound, too—breathing heavily and needing a half-hour of recovery time after carrying laundry up and down the stairs. My knees and ankles ached, and my back was on fire. Everywhere I went, it felt like my heart was going to beat right out of my chest.

I left that appointment frightened, thinking of all those serious blood pressure medicine side effects (like death!) you hear about in commercials. I also ruminated on all the rumors and myths (which I knew weren’t entirely true) I’d heard about blood pressure meds from people I knew:

You get on those pills and never get off. They’re addictive.

My cousin’s uncle’s wife got on blood pressure pills and had to have a liver transplant a month later.

They make you feel like crap.

I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation—so, after a tortuous mile-long walk through my neighborhood, where my kids rode along beside me and heckled me for being “soooo sloooow,” I got my big ass on a bike.

I had bought it a few seasons back at a yard sale, and had promptly shoved it to the back of the shed. It was an adult mountain bike with a few gears, and it totally worked once I cleaned off the cobwebs. I got on and pedaled around the yard to try it out.

The seat was a challenge. It was a tad too small for my big hind quarters, so I bought a wider seat and set off for my first ride.

I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation.

After one block, my knees ached. I stopped to flex them and started again. Soon, my calves were wailing and tightening and begging me to quit. I rode on, knowing that turning back would mean the bike would go back to the shed and my exercise attempts would end. I didn’t like walking and I knew that nothing else would get me up and out of the house. I also thought about those blood pressure meds and kept pedaling.

Related: Shop protein to fuel your next workout. 

By the time I reached the park about a mile from my house, I was cruising in the wind, feeling pretty good, and barely noticing my aches and pains. Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car. I got a little worried about tiring out on the way home, so I turned back. The sun was setting and the air was cooler, but I made it.

Over the next three months, I carved out time to ride every single day that I could, taking my kids along with me. We would drive to the park by the beach with our truck loaded up with bikes and gear. We’d ride the trails that ran throughout the park until the sun had all but set on the horizon. I even rode to the Saturday morning farmer’s market whenever I could, weaving through the crowds of tourists downtown to bring home fresh produce—which, incidentally, helped me improve my eating habits. I became addicted to that late afternoon ride for the rest of the summer.

Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car.

And because I was biking all the time, I drank loads of water to stay hydrated. I was drinking so much water that my soda intake had gone down drastically. I also brought portable snacks (like almonds, berries, protein bars, and fruits) to take with me on the bike. These little snacks helped reduce my appetite for junk food, and since eating huge, heavy dinners made riding tedious, I naturally sought out lighter meals.

One day, at the end of the summer, I went shopping. I tried on my usual size 16 pants and found that I was actually a loose-fitting size 14 (almost a 12!). I went home happily with my new duds.

At that point, I had lost 25 pounds. Plus, my blood pressure had come down to a much better range.

Now, seven years later, I’m still a big girl on a bike, but I’m way healthier.

Finding Keto Ended My Lifelong Search For The ‘Perfect Diet’

Searching for the right diet has made me feel like I’m Indiana Jones on an elusive quest for a lost and Holy Grail. I’d tried counting my calories and eating low fat foods, but I’d just end up starving—and then binging—after my first week.

I tried eating whatever I wanted and upping my exercise. This did not work at all. After all, unless I was going to exercise all day, I was not going to lose weight. I then tried eating low-carb. I lost some weight, but felt like I was starving.

When I hit 215 pounds, finding the right diet started to feel hopeless.

On top of over-eating, there were other factors at play. A lot of my work life involves writing or editing, so I often end up sitting for most of the day. I love working with words and reading them, but I don’t love the weight that comes with a sedentary lifestyle.

After eating way too much Pad Thai one night, I went to Barnes & Noble to see if I could find a book with a diet solution that didn’t feel like absolute torture. Before going to the diet and cookbook section, I ended up looking at the New Releases section and spotted, almost serendipitously, a book about Alzheimer’s and dieting. It was called The Alzheimer’s Antidote: Using a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease, Memory Loss, and Cognitive Decline, and its focus was on the ketogenic (high-fat) diet, something that felt seriously antithetical to what I’d been told before (“stay away from fat!”).

When I hit 215 pounds, finding the right diet started to feel hopeless.

My mother had recently passed away from Alzheimer’s and it had left me with lingering fears about my own health. The book brought up both the pain of her loss and my own struggles with eating. Nevertheless, I bought a cup of coffee and read through it, right then and there.

The book described keto as a diet in which you use fat, instead of carbs or even protein, as fuel. It explored the health benefits of a high-fat diet not only for weight loss, but for cognitive functioning. Win!

It really felt like what I was searching for, but it was difficult to wrap my head around the idea of eating fat as being a healthy act. I had vivid memories of the old-school Food Pyramid teaching us that fat would give us heart problems. But there I was, reading this book, which showed me study after study linking keto to health and, on top of that, satiety. I was sold.

Related: 15 Keto Snacks For All You Fat-Fuelers Out There

The first three days of going keto were rough. It reminded me of when I had quit smoking. On the second day, I had a headache the whole day and felt very tired; however, by day five, an amazing thing happened: I felt full and I had lost weight. I was burning off the fat in my stomach without feeling hungry. This was really working!

The only catch? In order to stay on this diet, I had to learn to cook.

It was difficult to wrap my head around the idea of eating fat as being a healthy act.  But there was study after study linking high fat dieting to health and satiety.

The keto diet isn’t just a diet. It’s a lifestyle. A lot of healthy fats need to be prepared and cooked (healthy keto fats include olive oil, avocado oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil). Favorite foods needed to become keto-friendly if I was to seriously focus on my goals. I learned to cook mashed potatoes, pasta, pizza (you can have cheese occasionally), pancakes, and even crackers the keto way. (You really need to avoid all grains, processed foods, refined fats like canola oil, and high-carb veggies, among other things.)

Related: 4 Crucial Insights I Learned Along My Weight-Loss Journey

Eventually it turned into a fun game—what favorite food could I make keto? Cooking became a new hobby and a healthy passion—and it also became a way to heal the little kid in me that liked to binge on food.

I stuck with it and embraced the lifestyle change. By the first month I had lost 10 pounds. I felt more energy and vitality. The weight loss definitely helped, but eating lots of good fat was also an effective way to naturally boost my energy. By the second month, I was down 15 more pounds, and by the fifth month I had hit an important weight-loss goal: 25 pounds lost.

I hope to be another 25 pounds lighter by the end of the year. I do have an occasional slip here and there (I’m not a monk!), and when it happens, I feel the difference in my body. But you don’t have to reject all the carbs; I just make sure every carb I eat counts.

Perhaps most important, I finally realize that there is no universal perfect diet; it really comes down to finding the one that works best for you. For me, that’s keto.

Should You Try Cayenne Pepper For Weight Loss?

A healthy diet and exercise will always be the best way to manage your weight, but who of us doesn’t keep an open mind when it comes to easier, natural solutions?

Drinking lemon water has been a huge weight-management trend for years (even though the effects are minimal), but it’s about to get its butt kicked by cayenne pepper. This nightshade (a semi-controversial group of flowering plants which yield foods like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and other peppers) is responsible for not only making your dishes more delectable, but giving your health a boost.

The cayenne pepper powder you buy at the grocery store is entirely made from ground cayenne peppers, whereas chili powder (which cayenne pepper is often confused for) is a pepper-based spice made with other plant products like garlic. Its main active ingredient? Capsaicin, a compound that gives the pepper its spicy zing—along with its health-boosting benefits.

Related: 5 Ways To Kick Excess Water Weight

So how does cayenne pepper work for weight loss?

Clinical nutritionist Tara Coleman, who specializes in weight loss, tells her clients that cayenne pepper can have a slight metabolic effect—specifically due to its thermogenic effects.

Thermogenesis, put simply, is a warm-bloodied organism’s process of heat production (basically, when your temperature rises). When the food you eat takes more energy (calories) to digest than were actually found in the food, that’s known as diet-induced thermogenesis. This process kicks your body heat into gear, increasing your metabolism.

Research seems to back up the theory: A review published in the journal Open Heart showed that ingesting capsaicin (the study had people take nine mg daily) can have positive effects on metabolic rate and fat oxidation, breaking down large fat molecules so they don’t stay large and stack up, leading to weight gain—all conducive to weight control.

And according to a study conducted by the International Journal of Obesity, cayenne pepper may help you stay fuller for longer, and not eat as much to begin with. The study found that subjects who took nine grams of capsaicin supplements consumed 10 percent less food, and subjects who drank a capsaicin-containing beverage consumed 16 percent less.

Related: Try this zingy cayenne shot for a health boost.

Another contributor to satiety: “Eating cayenne adds heat and spice to slow down how quickly you eat. Adding it as a toping to dishes can cut down on your speed and, in a roundabout way, cause you to eat less,” Coleman says.

On top of weight-management potential, a review in Cellular Signaling suggests that capsaicin also mediates the production of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Win!

Taking Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a super-versatile spice used in plenty of cuisines. You can add a dash or two of the powder to pasta, soup, eggs, tacos, chicken dishes, and even healthy detox drinks. You can also mix it into salad dressings and barbecue sauce.

If you don’t like spicy foods, you might want to get your cayenne through a supplement. Most supps will require you to take one or two capsules per day, each time with a meal. Cayenne also comes in liquid form.

Related: Shop cayenne capsules and liquids.

Cayenne isn’t for everyone, however: The capsules may cause acid reflux. If you have gastrointestinal issues, such as an ulcer, talk to your doctor before adding cayenne supps to your daily regimen.

People who take blood-thinners should also check with their doc before regularly consuming cayenne pepper, as it could possibly increase the risk of bleeding, according to the American Journal of Health System Pharmacy.

The Bottom Line

“As with anything, an excess is probably not the best thing for you,” says Coleman. “It would be hard to overdose on cayenne pepper, but if you eat too much, you may notice irritation in your mouth or experience diarrhea.”

Related: 7 Weight-Loss Myths That Can Sabotage Your Progress

Lastly, if weight loss is your goal, you’ll do well to adopt an exercise regimen and build healthy-eating habits. Because, as Mayo Clinic says, cayenne isn’t a miracle supplement. It doesn’t burn fat—but it does help to increase satiety and promote the healthy function of your metabolic system as part of a larger weight-management plan.

Stop Letting These 4 Carb Myths Run Your Life

Carbohydrates have been the enemy of the diet world for pretty much forever. They’ve been long accused of making us gain weight, and it seems like every trendy diet out there recommends we slash them from our daily eats.

But if you’ve ever tried a low-carb diet, you probably know the feeling of being absolutely drained that comes along with it. And that’s not surprising: Carbs are a powerful source of energy for our body. They’re composed of strings of glucose molecules, which our body breaks down into sugar molecules, says nutritionist Kara Landau, founder of The Traveling Dietitian. These sugar molecules are used as energy or stored to be used later, she says.

“Carbs are the preferred fuel source for our brain and our muscles,” she says. “They help us concentrate, perform optimally, and stay energized.” Sounds pretty important, right?

Still, misunderstandings about carbs are everywhere, so we’re busting some of the most popular myths out there in hopes of convincing you that carbs can be part of your life.

Myth #1: Carbs Make You Fat

We know you’ve heard this one before. But the connection between carbs and weight gain is a little more complicated than “carbs equal fat,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Whether or not carbs affect the scale comes down to quantity and quality, she says.  

Eat too many carbs—or too much of anything, for that matter—and you may take in too many calories, which leads to weight gain, Gans explains. You don’t have to completely break up with pasta and bread if you’re watching your weight—but you do need to control your portion sizes, she says. Just fill half of your plate with veggies, a quarter with protein, and the other quarter with high-fiber carbs. Choose carbs like legumes, beans, and whole-wheat pasta to get a dose of that filling fiber, she says.

Related: How To Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight

When these carbs are just a portion of a healthy, balanced meal—and not the focus—you’ll feel satisfied without going overboard. Gans recommends serving pasta with sautéed vegetables and olive oil instead of dousing it in cheese, and making sandwiches with grilled chicken breast and avocado instead of processed deli meats.

Myth #2: All Carbs Are The Same

If a serving of soda and a serving of fruit contain the same amount of carbs, they’re pretty similar, right? Wrong.

Foods and drinks that contain refined carbs (like white flour and added sugar) do a pretty poor job of keeping you full and providing nutrition, says Landau. “When you eat cookies, cake, or candy, your blood sugar spikes and then nose dives quickly,” Gans says. And when your blood sugar dips back down, you’ll want to eat again to bring it up a bit—explaining the vicious cycle of all-day cravings. Plus, refined carbs are often pretty devoid of valuable vitamins and minerals, hence why they’re often called ‘empty calories,’ says Landau.

That’s not the case with natural, whole sources of carbs, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and beans, says Landau. These wholesome carbs provide micronutrients our body needs, along with fiber. Dietary fiber is critical for slowing your digestion, making you feel full, and supporting your metabolism, Landau says. Some whole-food carbs even contain an indigestible type of fiber called ‘prebiotic fiber,’ which works to keep your gut healthy by supporting your digestion, immune system, and ability to absorb nutrients, she says.

So, yeah, go ahead and bit into that apple. The soda can go, though.

Myth #3: You Should Cut Carbs To Lose Weight And Be Healthier

When it comes to your daily diet, no food group should be ‘off limits,’ Gans says. If you swear off carbs, you’re practically guaranteed to go overboard when you do eventually eat them, she says.

Yes, cutting certain carbs can benefit your waistline and your overall health. If you’re going to slash carbs, just slash refined carbs and added sugars, says Landau. By now, you already know that whole-food carbs are better for your waistline—and they may also be better for your brain. You know that joke we’ve all made about being addicted to carbs? According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a super-high-carb meal activates the part of the brain associated with cravings, reward, and addiction.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Just swap out white pasta for pasta made from legumes (chickpea pasta is a good option) and ditch side dishes like white rice for sweet potatoes. This way, the carbs you eat provide fiber and nutrients to support your health and keep you from going overboard, says Landau.

Myth #4: You Should Only Eat Carbs At Certain Times Of Day 

Only eat carbs after you work out? No carbs after lunchtime? There are plenty of ‘rules’ about when you should eat carbs floating around out there. But ultimately, the quality of the carbs you eat—and how much total you consume—throughout the day is what really matters, says Landau.

Sure, if you’re snacking in front of the TV or computer after dinner, you might be more inclined to munch on foods that are high in refined carbs and sugar, like snack mixes or sleeves of cookies, says Landau. And because these foods don’t keep you full, you end up overeating. Instead, reach for a filling snack bar that’s made from nuts and contains fiber (like KIND’s Madagascar Vanilla Almond bar) or a serving of your favorite fruit. It’s all about eating healthy carbs in the proper portions—and pairing them with quality protein or fat, Gans says. We’ll have a spoonful of peanut butter on our evening apple, please!

Related: Check out fiber supplements to keep your gut—and waistline—happy.

4 Mistakes People Make On The Quest For Abs

It’s the hottest month of the year and everyone is striving for that coveted six-pack—or at least a slimmer middle. And everyone has their own ideas about what they need to do to score the results they want. Some of them are right on track. Others, not so much.

Here, experts share the four most common strategies that, although well-meaning, can sabotage your abs efforts and keep that dream middle out of reach.

1. Getting Caught Up with the Little Stuff

Spend too much time on the interwebs (or just talking with your health-fanatic friends about the latest diet craze), and you can quickly get sucked into trivial little ideas about fat loss, explains board-certified sports dietitian Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.C., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.

“You see people who won’t eat bananas because they are high in sugar or peas because they are high in starches, but who can’t lose weight because they are still eating too many calories overall,” she says. “They get so focused on the details that they can’t see the big picture.” Sound familiar?

The solution: Before you get too laser-focused on the little things, remember that shedding fat is about taking in fewer calories than you burn. So focus in on the few key behaviors that have the biggest impact on your calories-in-calories-out equation, Fear says.

Exercise is definitely a major way to help you move the calories-out needle, but adjusting your nutrition can be an even more effective strategy. After all, it’s far easier to swap out a 400-calorie dessert for a 100-calorie piece of fruit than it is to burn 300 calories at the gym. To start shaving extra calories out of your day, Fear recommends nixing sugary, processed foods and cutting way back on alcohol. For most people, those two simple changes make a significant difference, she says.

2. Skipping the Weights

In many exercisers’ minds, cardio is still king. But when it comes to torching that layer of fat hiding your abs from view, it’s anything but. In fact, 2015 research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that, minute-per-minute, strength training is far more effective at fighting abdominal fat compared to cardio.

Related: Why Cardio Isn’t The Best Way To Lose Weight

The solution: Cardio (especially high-intensity cardio) still has a place in your workout routine, but if you’re aiming for a tighter, more chiseled-looking stomach, resistance training is where it’s at. “Try to strength train at least four to five times per week, even if it’s only for 30 minutes at home,” says Mark Barroso, C.P.T. Barroso recommends focusing your lifting sessions on “structural exercises” that recruit one or more large muscle groups at once while loading the spine. Think barbell back squats, deadlifts, and standing shoulder presses. Because these moves recruit multiple major muscle groups, they give you a huge metabolic boost—but they also work your core in a big way. (But more on that next…)

3. Putting Too Much Focus on “Abs Exercises”

Crunches and planks are great, but if you spend so much time performing them that you don’t have time for all of those structural exercises we just mentioned, there’s a problem. After all, findings published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that structural exercises actually train the muscles of the core more than traditional core-specific exercises do (think supermans and side-bridges). And they definitely burn more calories.

The solution: Program your workouts so that you save exercises specifically for your abs for right before your cool-down. That way you can make sure every single upper, lower, and total-body exercise you perform also hits your core, says Barroso. Squeeze your core like you’re about to get punched in the gut and maintain good posture with a long, neutral spine as you perform your structural lifts, he says. You’ll immediately feel (and see) your core working like never before. Bonus: Engaging your core increases your total-body strength, meaning you might even be able to go up in weight.

Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Exercises

4. Going Super-Low on Carbs

Despite what fad diets everywhere would have you believe, cutting carbs can easily throw your six-pack results into reverse. “It can sap your body of the energy you need for tough workouts and decrease sleep quality, which is repeatedly linked to weight gain and higher levels of abdominal fat,” says Fear. Research published in Nutritional Neuroscience even shows that people following very low-carb diets spend less time in the restorative REM stage of sleep. (This may be because the hormones your body produces to help convert fat into energy when carbs are M.I.A. also affect sleep.) Plus, when you cut down on whole-food carbs, you automatically reduce your fiber intake, she says. That can trigger constipation and bloating, and leave you feeling hungrier—none of which will give you the sleek-looking middle you want.

The solution: Fear recommends paying less attention to cutting all carbs, and more attention to replacing refined carbs (like white bread, crackers, and pretzels) with whole ones (like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and fruit). “Focusing on good-quality choices is all most people really need to do,” she says. To keep your carb intake under control, fill a quarter of each meal’s plate with starchy carbs like whole grains or potatoes and half of your plate with non-starchy veggies (like leafy greens or zucchini) or fruit. (Save that last quarter for carbs.) If you exercise for more than an hour, you may need some additional carbs to fuel your performance and promote recovery on those days, says Fear. On more intense workout days, up your starches to fill a full third of your plate, she says.

Related: Check out a number of protein bars to support recovery on the go.

I Never Sweat When I Worked Out—Until I Tried Sweet Sweat

Picture this: It’s a hot, sunny summer day, and I just finished an outdoor workout on top of a three-mile run. And I’m not sweating—at all. OK—now picture this: I’m at a hot yoga class filled with people literally dripping sweat everywhere, and I’m still not really sweating.

Even though I go as hard as the next gal (or at least I think I do), I just don’t sweat that much. On a sweat scale of one to 10, I’d say I’m about a three. I’m not that happy about it, either. I’ve always thought that if you sweat a lot during a workout it means you’re really torching those calories and flushing out those toxins—and I want that sign of a workout well-done. Hey, I’m working my butt off over here!

(I have to admit, there is one positive thing about never sweating that much: I can totally skip the shower after my lunch-break workout and jet back to my desk when I’m short on time. Don’t judge—you normal sweaters have probably done it yourself!)

Given my inability to perspire, a few of my co-workers recently approached me about a doing a sweat challenge (full disclosure: I work at The Vitamin Shoppe, which sells the product). They were buzzing about this stuff called Sweet Sweat, which apparently makes you sweat like crazy when you work out, and they wanted me to be the true test of its powers. I was intrigued, so I volunteered myself as tribute.

Sweet Sweat is a system of products (including a topical gel you can apply all over, a waistband, and arm bands) designed to help boost circulation to your working muscles, turn up your body’s production of heat, and make you sweat like you’ve never sweat before. But could Sweet Sweat actually make me sweat buckets? I was skeptical.

Related: Why Do Some People Sweat More Than Others?

To make sure my experiment was scientifically sound, I needed a control to test the Sweet Sweat against. So I decided to repeat the same workout two days in a row—one day as normal and the other with the Sweet Sweat gel and waistband.

I picked a tough HIIT workout from Fitness Blender to do. Check it out:

Fat-Burning HIIT Cardio Workout

What you do: Start with Circuit 1 and perform the first move for 20 seconds (as hard as possible.) Then rest for 10 seconds. Follow that pattern for each exercise and repeat the circuit three times total. Then do the same for Circuit 2.

Circuit 1:
Skater Jump Burst
Twist Jump Drops
Jumping Lunge + 2 Lifts
Plank Jack Spider Hops
2 Hooks + 2 Upper Cuts + 2 Jumping Jacks
Squat Hold

Circuit 2:
Plank Taps + Lifts
Squat Jack + Kicks
Bicycle Crunches
3 Ducks + Side Kick
Up and Out Jacks
3 Squat Hops + Jump
Split Jumps
Squat Pulses

Related: Should You Be Doing A HIIT Workout?

Workout #1: Without Sweet Sweat

I wanted my body to have all the fluids it needed to work up as much of a sweat as possible, so I drank tons of water in the morning before my first workout—and another glassful right before. I felt pretty exhausted throughout that HIIT session. My muscles were really feeling the burn! I know I worked really hard, but if we judged my workout based on sweatiness, it looked like I didn’t do too much. Sweat level: 3.

Here I am after that first workout. Totally dry.

Workout #2: Bring On The Sweet Sweat

I made sure I drank just as much water before my Sweet Sweat workout as I’d guzzled before the workout without the stuff. (Gotta keep those results as accurate as possible!) Before I got to it, I applied the Sweet Sweat gel up and down my arms, on my calves, around my neck, and all over my stomach and lower back. (I was wearing a sleeveless, loose-fitting cotton top, sports bra, and high-waisted cropped leggings.)

My first thought was that the gel was a little greasy—but it smelled great (like fresh-outta-the-shower scent) and went on easily. It had a petroleum jelly-like consistency, and any initial glops melted into my skin. I immediately felt a warming sensation all over the parts of my body where I’d applied the gel.

I really wanted to sweat, so I also put on the waistband under my shirt, too. It fit well and was surprisingly comfortable—you couldn’t even tell I had it on!

As soon as I started the workout, I felt the sweat building up beneath the waistband. Everywhere else still felt warm, but I wasn’t quite dripping yet. (Honestly, I was a little distracted at first because I kept checking my arms for sweat.) I had some pretty noticeable sweat in my elbow creases, but that was it.

Something I really liked about wearing the product was the psychological element: I actually think I worked a bit harder knowing I had this sweat-enhancing product on my skin (win!).

When I finished the workout, I couldn’t wait to take off the waistband—I could feel the sweat building up in there. My arms and legs still weren’t too sweaty, except for in and around the creases around my joints. But beneath that waistband…Waterworks! Sweatfest! Glorious evidence of my hard work! Sweet, sweet SWEAT. Sweat level: 8.

Beads of sweat covered my stomach and lower back, and they were literally dripping onto the floor. I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself. Seeing my sweat all over the place was hugely motivating—I wanted to work out again with this stuff now!

The Final Verdict

After hearing so much hype about Sweet Sweat—and knowing a couple of people who love it—I came in with pretty high expectations. For me, it was the waistband that really made the sweat pour—but I imagine someone sweatier than myself would be waterfall-status with just the gel.

I know there are plenty of Instagrammers who consider their Sweet Sweat a vital part of their gym routine. Just search #sweetsweat and check out the sweat party for yourself.

Since my experiment was short, I can’t attest to whether it helped me sweat away any softness in my midsection, but I am definitely a fan and will continue to use it.

If you’re cool with being a bit of a shiny greaseball at the gym (hey, why not?)—and leaving major puddles behind—then you’ll probably love this product. Just make sure you’ve got a shower waiting for you afterward.

Related: Let’s get sweaty! Try Sweet Sweat for yourself.

4 Crucial Insights I Learned Along My Weight-Loss Journey

On my 40th birthday, I joined a gym. “I want to be fit and 40, not fat and 40,” I quipped to my husband, mother, and friends. I hit a high of 180 (at 5’4”), and wanted to lose 40 pounds to reach my ideal weight, which I had easily maintained for years before and between my two pregnancies.

When women hit their late 30s and early 40s, they often report that it’s harder to lose weight either by dieting alone, or relying on the diet and exercise routines that worked before. “Typically, this happens when a woman with a normal or fast metabolism could eat without gaining much weight,” says Rachel Myers, a NASM-certified personal trainer in Atlanta. “After having children or becoming premenopausal, her metabolism slows. This is why it’s important to maintain a balanced diet, and cut added sugars and processed foods because your body doesn’t handle them like it did.”

Friends of mine who embrace the body positivity movement (supporting bodies of all shapes and sizes) discouraged my weight-loss crusade, saying I should accept myself: “Your new decade means your body has naturally changed. Love it.” But my 40-pound weight gain was due to stress-eating during a year-long recovery from injuries I’d sustained in a car accident when I was 37. And I wanted to look and feel healthier.

So, I enlisted help from a personal trainer, a Weight Watchers coach, and a nutritionist to win the battle of the bulge. Here are four important things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Quick-Fix Diets Are Just That.

I lost my first 15 pounds (down from 180 to 165) in two-and-a-half months by quick-fix dieting and doing regular workouts. Then, I joined Weight Watchers. At first, I was gung-ho about tracking everything I ate through an online app, excitedly logging in my handful of chocolate-covered almonds or serving of pesto. Then, I stalled out and stopped tracking.

Sometimes, women (like, well, me) alter their diets drastically to lose weightcutting gluten or dairy, switching to a low-carb or ketogenic diet, or following a fad or crash diet. My 41-year-old friend with three young kids and an overnight job always searches for the holy grail of diets to finish off that last 10 to 15 pounds. Recently, she dropped 10 pounds on the Egg Diet (lots of eggs, grapefruit, and not much else for two weeks). She looked great in her smaller jeans, but within a month, the weight came right back as she fell into old habits.

Related: Yes, I Take My Toddler To The Gym

Many people look for a quick fix,” says Renee Angelucci Cancelliere, personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Williamstown, NJ-based Rush Fitness. “Bottom line: They don’t work. Change your lifestyle and educate yourself on eating clean. Treat yourself to a cheat meal to satisfy a craving. Cut it in half, since portion control is a big factor in healthy eating.” 

Ultimately, my Weight Watchers coach suggested the Weight Watchers Simply Filling plan, which works for me. Quick summary: You can eat as much lean protein, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and good grains as you want, and you track foods not on the recommended list. Because I generally eat unprocessed and gluten-free, this lifted a mental burden. I lost 17 more pounds, down to 148 in four months.

2. find the right workout for you—and stick to it. 

When I’m at my goal weight (sporting chiseled arms and a V-shaped torso), working out is a pleasurable must-have. When I struggle to lose weight and build endurance again, it’s a nightmare.

My personal trainer recommended rigorous high-intensity interval training. “HIIT has many benefits,” Angelucci Cancelliere says. “You burn fat more efficiently and increase your metabolism. You can incorporate cardio and weights into the same workout. I always say, ‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.’ Interval training is challenging: That’s why I use it for myself, my clients and my classes.”

My endurance has grown from strength and cardio HIIT training. It has also grown from treadmill use; I walk at a 4.2 speed on a 15 incline for 35 to 60 minutes. It’s killer, but it’s enabled me to start jogging and then running. Nowadays I can run a good length of beach with my kids and not get winded. It pays off to work hard.

3. The Scale Doesn’t Always Matter

“I don’t focus on a number,” Angelucci Cancelliere says. “Most women obsess over the scale – you can be 150 pounds untoned or 150 pounds of toned, defined muscle. Which would you rather be?”

Related: Shop protein to fuel your kick-butt workouts.

Instead, she recommends focusing on body composition. “By reducing overall body fat and increasing muscle, you improve your quality of life,” she says. “Other benefits: normalizing blood pressure levels, reducing joint pain, improving sleep quality, and upping your mood, energy levels, and self-confidence.” 

I had lost 32 pounds—hitting 148. Then, the loss stopped cold. But at that point, my primary measurement and motivator was the scale; as the 149, 148, 150 winked back at me week after week, I fought the idea that the number suddenly didn’t matter.

When my nutritionist checked my body composition, she found that my fat had gone down a few percentage points and that my muscle had gone up the same amount. “If you lift weights, remember one pound of muscle takes up less space than one pound of fat,” Myers says. “Focus on body fat percentage.”

I now focus on how my body looks and performs (while tracking muscle growth), rather than the number on the scale.

4. healthy habits are not optional

Along the way, I’ve hit rebellious days and weeks where I’m just done with food tracking and workouts. That said, eating clean and going to the gym are must-dos. These healthy habits are not contingent on whether I want to or not.

“Negativity sabotages success in all aspects of life,” says Angelucci Cancelliere. A big mistake people make after losing some weight is relaxing and letting bad habits creep back in. “They lose 10 pounds and ease up,” she says. “It becomes a yo-yo of lose-gain-lose.”

When I reflected on habits I developed through Weight Watchers (not stress-eating at night, not eating after 8 p.m., avoiding trigger foods like cheese and chocolate, eating clean with only some cheat meals), I realized many were second nature, and they would get me to my goal weight in time.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

“Expecting fast results will sabotage you,” Myers says. “If it were easy, everyone would be in great shape.”

While I work to lose the last few pounds, I know what works for me. So whether I lose more weight or continue to replace fat with muscle and stay the same weight, I can be comfortable with who I am and rock my awesome body.

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

I’ve always loved to swim, but about two months ago I started doing it pretty regularly. The impetus: I was in the midst of a minor health crisis. A metabolic test had shown that I was about 20 pounds overweight, my blood pressure was a bit high, and my HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol) was low. The extra weight was putting pressure on my bones and joints—the last thing I needed as someone already dealing with chronic autoimmune arthritic symptoms.

It was time to make a change for my wellbeing and my future.

I didn’t need scientific proof of water’s benefits, but there are plenty: Water exercises improve body fat percentage, increase physical strength, and decrease blood lipids (fatty substances found in the blood), according to the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. Plus, I hated the gym. So when a friend who learned of my newly-minted mermaid status told me about Aqua Studio, a breezy, chic “wellness sanctuary” in New York City, I felt a magnetic pull. The boutique studio offers salt water aqua cycling classes (yes, you bike under water, where the bottom half of you is submerged) in addition to “land” classes (like yoga on the mat), health coaching, and boutique-y goodies like creams and turquoise swim gear.

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

The studio is a haven. The scent of mint wafts throughout, and it’s immaculate, airy, and stunningly beautiful. Oh, and it’s the only studio of its kind in NYC (we can thank the French for inventing this workout, as well as Aqua Studio’s owner, Esther, for bringing it to NYC; merci!). Did I mention yet that the classes can burn up to 800 calories?

I decided to do a 30-day challenge (I managed 18 45-minute classes in one month), not only because I am an insane person, but because if you’re going to take care of yourself, you might as well go hard.

My First Class

I took the Blend class first (composed of three of their popular classes: Power, an utterly intense, legs-only class; Interval, an arms-and-legs class; and Restore, a calming, stretch-focused class). The instructor, Ed, was thoughtful, enthusiastic, kind, and nurturing. He helped me adjust my seat and figure out the four bike positions (one sitting, two standing, and one in the water), and I felt super at ease. P.S. They dim the lights, line the room with candles, and play great music—like a cocktail party!

Me with Aqua Studio instructor Alexia.

We powered through the different focuses. I was a mess. The water offers a billion times more resistance (take that, SoulCycle), while also massaging your cellulite away, limiting impact on your joints, and increasing circulation.

Because you’re in water, the pressure is on YOU to pedal faster to increase resistance (unlike a normal bike, you don’t set a level—you work for it). This means you use your core to seriously round out each pedal, which, in water, is difficult as hell.

I was like a kid at the beach. Totally intoxicated by the water’s power and fully detached from any worry. I felt alive, I worked hard, and I didn’t feel out of place. Unlike many other studios, there’s no sense of clique or exclusivity here. People of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels share the pool and work hard together. (This, for me, is key; fitness is personal and shouldn’t be a competition or social status symbol.)

The Next 17 Classes

In the beginning, I sat down a lot. I needed to take a break because I wasn’t strong enough. My body quickly adapted, though. By week two, I started trusting my body and pushing past those awful lactic acid bouts. I cycled harder and harder, working closely on my form.

I cycled through their various classes (you can see them all here) and found that my favorite is Plyo, a full-body class that combines exercises on and off the bike. For folks who want a hardcore workout, I recommend their Boost, Plyo, or Power classes. For yogis who want to stretch and ‘be one with the water’, I recommend Restore. Their schedule also includes classes in French, some live music classes, and some with specific music (like all-90s playlists. Yes, please).

By week 2, I started trusting my body and pushing past those awful lactic acid bouts. I cycled harder and harder, working closely on my form.

Halfway through the month, a death in my family occurred. My natural response was to hide away, but I pushed myself to attend classes, since they gave me a chance to be quiet in my thoughts. I found myself grieving silently while in the water. The grounding effects of exercise allow you to focus on the now, which can you help you find hope and purpose.

Related: How Zumba Helped Me Lose 30 Pounds And Become The Life Of The Party

But it was the kindness of the instructors that actually helped me the most. They didn’t know it, but their encouragement was healing. I took most of my classes with the wonderful Ed; Alexia, who is detailed and calm and caring; Moses, who is fun and fiery while pushing you harder (he calls you a warrior); and JC, who is exceptionally form-focused and super encouraging (he regularly gives you high fives). They are all full of light (yay for non-judgmental instructors!)

I was like a kid at the beach. Totally intoxicated by the water’s power and fully detached from any worry.

The Results

With my mental state as it was, Aqua Cycle became a second home for me. It truly is a wellness sanctuary, and a place where you can work out in a meditative and beautiful setting. I felt I was able to not only work on my body but move through my pain while there, and that’s not something I say lightly.

For anyone who’s unsure of whether this is actually a workout, please let me illuminate you: You absolutely get what you put into it. You could slowly peddle and wiggle your arms about. You could forget your core and overcompensate by jerking around on the saddle. OR you can engage your core, peddle hard, and move your arms through the water with utmost focus on resistance. Your choice. Although, at the risk of sounding like a PR person (Dear Aqua Cycle: Let me please be your PR person), the instructors are so encouraging you will not be left in the dark; they will inspire you. You will leave there having worked really hard, but thanks to the water, you won’t be sore.

On the cash front, Aqua Cycle is a bit pricy (and it should be; it’s worth it!). It’s an investment in your mental and physical health. An intro class is $35, and they offer several packages.

You will leave aqua cycling having worked really hard, but thanks to the water, you won’t be sore.

I know you’re all waiting for the results. I can sense you there, scanning this article. So without further ado: I eat a mostly healthy diet but I do not believe in depriving myself of the finer things in life (I’m the anti-Gwyneth Paltrow, although I bet she’d love this studio). So, combined with a mostly-healthy diet, the physical benefits of these classes were 100 percent measurable.

I lost three inches off my waist, along with about 10 pounds (maybe more? I don’t look to the scale for results). My legs and hips have tightened up, my arms are more toned, my tummy is stronger and flatter, and my butt is noticeably perkier. Verification? An honest mirror and even more honest boyfriend.

Related: Shop products directly related to your health goals

Other important benefits are less physical, which I must impress upon you. Aqua Studio claims its classes can promote better sleep, less stress, increased flexibility, and better cardiovascular performance. I can attest to all of this, and I emphasize better sleep and less stress.

Since I began regularly attending Aqua Cycle classes, I’ve been a happier person. My feel-good hormones are through the roof, and I have connected with my body in a deeply spiritual way. I trust myself, I push myself, and I love myself. Sounds a bit cheese, right? Just wait until you try it. You’re welcome.

Want to locate an aqua cycle class near you? Good news: It’s growing in popularity all over the country. It exists in Los Angeles,   Miami,   Washington DC, New York state, and in plenty of other locations. And if you can’t get onto the bike, you can still find a local pool and experience the proven benefits of water exercise. 

 

3 Weight-Management Supplements That Aren’t Stimulants

When it comes to managing weight with supplements, many people go the route of caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine. It’s understandable, considering caffeine (and other stimulants) ramp up our metabolism. But if caffeine makes you jittery—or if you’re already overloaded on the stuff—there are a few other supplement options that can support your goals.

Here’s the scoop on the ‘big three’: EGCG, CLA, and L-carnitine.

EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate)

Some of green tea’s weight loss-supporting cred comes from its caffeine content. But other reasons for green tea’s many health benefits? Antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols—the most well-known of which is EGCG. (Antioxidants help fight damage from free radicals and support our cardiovascular health and immune function.)

This powerhouse antioxidant does you some good in the weight-management department by helping your body ward off the stress of a reduced-calorie diet or frequent workouts, according to Brian Tanzer, M.S., C.N.S., manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe. “When you’re exercising and consuming fewer calories to manage your weight, you may not be taking in enough antioxidants, so having extra antioxidant support is helpful,” he says.

Plus, EGCG blocks your body’s uptake of the hormone norepinephrine, which is released to shift your body into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode when it’s faced with stress—like working out. Because norepinephrine boosts your heart rate and blood pressure, it also kicks up your metabolism. So, by keeping norepinephrine circulating in your system, EGCG helps your body stay stimulated, and burn more calories, Tanzer explains.

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Kick-Start Your Metabolism

Check this out: According to a study published in Clinical Nutrition, obese women who supplemented with 857 milligrams of EGCG daily for 12 weeks saw better improvements in waist circumference and body mass than those who did not.

Picking A Supp: Many supplements list just “green tea extract” on their labels, but if you want to maximize the benefits of EGCG, look for a supplement that specifically says it’s standardized to 50 percent EGCG, says Tanzer. You’ll want at least 500 milligrams of EGCG throughout the day, so look for two to three daily doses of between 500 and 1,000 milligrams total. Just keep in mind that in many supps, EGCG is paired with caffeine, so look for something that’s just straight-up EGCG if you’re staying stimulant-free.

CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)

CLA is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid naturally found in animal proteins like beef and dairy products. Yes, we’re talking about a fat in relation to weight management. Why? “CLA inhibits an enzyme that’s involved in activating fat storage,” says Tanzer. Basically, CLA can reduce how much of the fat you consume actually gets stored as fat.

CLA is well-researched, with a meta-analysis published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluding that CLA consumption has a small, but notable impact on body composition. For example, a study published in Journal of Nutrition found that when postmenopausal women consumed 5.5 grams of mixed CLA daily for 16 weeks, they experienced better improvements in body weight and fat mass than those who did not.

Picking A Supp: Since the dosage that’s been effective in studies is fairly high, you’ll want to look for a CLA supplement that provides between three and six grams total per day, says Tanzer. (Often that’s broken up into one or two grams at a time, two or three times per day.)

L-Carnitine

Made from the amino acids lysine and methionine, L-carnitine is a natural-occurring compound that helps the body turn fat into energy. (It’s also found in red meat.) “Basically, L-carnitine carries fatty acids into the mitochondria, which is the cell’s furnace, where they can be turned into cellular energy called ATP,” says Tanzer. Because of its role in fat metabolism, L-carnitine may play a role in body composition and support weight management, according to a review published in Obesity Reviews.

Plus, being well-stocked on L-carnitine is also especially important if you’re doing lots of cardio—since your body relies mostly on fat for fuel after an hour or so, when you’ve probably burned through your glycogen stores, Tanzer says. (Glycogen is the fuel we store from carbs.)

Picking A Supp: L-carnitine is a common component of preworkout formulas, so there’s a chance you’re already taking some! To make the most of its benefits, though, Tanzer recommends supplementing with between one and three grams of L-carnitine per day. Since many preworkouts don’t include quite that much, you can also find L-carnitine in some recovery supplements or as a stand-alone liquid.

Like with any supplement, just make sure to talk to your doc before adding these to your daily regimen.

Related: Find the recovery supplement of your dreams.

 

Is That Smoothie Bowl As Healthy As It Seems?

It’s Instagram official: Smoothie bowls are the Breakfast of Summer 2017. These colorful blends can be more satisfying than traditional smoothies because they offer mouthfuls of tasty ingredients like fruit and granola, plus they’re just so pretty to look at! However, as healthy as they appear, not all smoothie bowls are created with balanced nutrition in mind. In fact, depending on what you dump in your blender, you could end up with a calorie bomb that’s more dessert than health food.

“While the ingredients are often considered ‘healthy,’ it’s very easy to have too much of a good thing,” says Lindsey Pine, R.D. “And while many smoothie bowls that we see on social media are beautiful, they are often way too large!” For example: Though Juice Press’s Açai Blueberry Bowl serves up a reasonable 370 calories, it packs a whopping 41 grams (that’s 10 teaspoons!) of sugar and just six grams of protein—not the ideal nutritional balance.

Here are some common mistakes that make for a not-so-healthy smoothie bowl, along with tips for building a better one.

Mistake #1: You Overdo it on the Fruit

No nutritionist is going to argue that fruit on your plate (or in your bowl) is a bad thing—most of us don’t eat enough of it! But that strategy can backfire when you’re dumping fruit into the blender and then also topping your smoothie with it. Although fruits contain antioxidants and other valuable nutrients, they also contain natural sugars—which is why the USDA recommends the average adult stick to about one and a half to two cups per day.

It’s pretty easy to surpass this recommendation when you make a smoothie bowl—especially if you also use fruit juice as your liquid. Plus, when your smoothie bowl is fruit-focused, you miss out on the opportunity to balance fat, protein, and carbohydrates (which makes for a filling and healthy meal), says Emily Kyle, R.D. After all, your body needs fat and protein for a number of functions, and the two macronutrients help keep your blood sugar more stable when you consume carbs.

Mistake #2: You Skip Out on Veggies

If there’s one food group we should be incorporating into as many meals as possible, it’s veggies. “Smoothie bowls are an excellent way to incorporate vegetables into your diet in a way that even the most picky eater is likely to enjoy,” says Kyle. Mild-flavored veggies like spinach, cauliflower, and yellow squash are totally undetectable in a flavorful smoothie bowl and provide a number of important vitamins.

Mistake #3: You Opt For Flavored Yogurt or Sweetened Liquid

When you’re already including naturally sweet fruit in your smoothie bowl, you don’t need extra sugar coming from flavored yogurt. Plus, some flavored yogurt blends don’t provide as much protein as plain Greek yogurt or skyr does, says Pine.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

The liquid you use in your smoothie bowl can also be a sneaky source of extra sugar. Plant-based milks like almond or soy milk can also contain a few grams of hidden sweeteners, says Kyle. Same goes for fruit juice—just another contributor to a sugar-bomb smoothie bowl.

Mistake #4: You Load Up on Granola

Granola, as delightfully crunchy and sweet as it may be, has definitely come under fire for being loaded with sugar—and that goes for both store-bought and homemade varieties. Often, you’re just adding extra sugar and calories to the bowl, says Pine. A tablespoon of chopped nuts or seeds would provide the same crunch factor, plus some protein, she says.

Mistake #5: You Treat Your Bowl Like Dessert

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but a heavy-handed drizzle of chocolate sauce, spoonfuls of chocolate chips, or other undeniably indulgent ingredients end up transforming your smoothie bowl to a sundae. “I’ve seen smoothie bowls with chunks of candy bars,” says Pine. Even in crumbles, a Snickers bar isn’t a health food—no how many Instagram foodies say so.

Mistake #6: You Go Overboard on Toppings and Extras

The more ingredients, the prettier and more satisfying the smoothie bowl, right? When you’ve got avocado, nut butter, walnuts, chia seeds, and coconut flakes on top of your bowl, you’re surely adding some nutritional value, but you’re also adding a ton of extra calories and sugar, says Pine. Choosing a couple of toppings and actually measuring them out (two tablespoons total, tops) is key to avoid overdosing on extras. And if you just can’t go without the banana slices or berries on top of your bowl, set aside a few pieces of the fruit you’re blending into the smoothie itself for your toppings later.

Mistake #7: You’re Getting Honey Involved

You get the picture by now—extra sugar in your smoothie bowl is a no-no if you’re trying to make it a health conscious meal. “Smoothie bowls made with fruit generally don’t need added sweeteners because the fruit provides natural sweetness to the bowl,” says Kyle. If you’re blending a veggie-heavy and low-sugar smoothie and need that hint of sweetness, make sure you don’t get carried away with that drizzle of honey. Use as little as possible!

Blend Up and Spoon Out a Better Smoothie Bowl

Mastering the healthy smoothie bowl is all about limiting sugar and balancing your macros. You want your smoothie bowl to be about 50 percent complex carbs, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent heart-healthy fats, according to Kyle. “A balanced bowl should contain a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some elements of either plant-based or animal-based milks or yogurts.”

Make your next smoothie bowl a healthier one by following Pine’s formula for a balanced blend:

Step 1: Start with veggies. Add either one heaping cup of leafy greens (like spinach or kale) or a half cup of other veggies (like zucchini, cauliflower, or cucumber).

Step 2: Then add one cup (or less) of fruit. If you like your bowls on the sweeter side, use half a banana.

Related: The 5 Fruits With The Most (And Least!) Sugar

Step 3: Boost the protein. Add a half cup of plain Greek or skyr yogurt, three ounces of silken tofu (it blends well, don’t worry!), or a scoop of your favorite protein powder.

Step 4: Add your liquid, starting with a quarter cup of water or milk, (add more if you prefer a thinner texture). For an extra protein bump, you can use cow’s milk or plain kefir (which also contains gut-supporting probiotics), since they pack more protein than plant-based milks.

You can add a tablespoon of nut butter or a third of an avocado for a thicker smoothie, but keep in mind that it counts toward one of your toppings. (We’ll get to that below!)

Step 5: Add superfood powders. Unsweetened cocoa or matcha powder, for example, provide a healthy dose of antioxidants. (You’ll probably need about a tablespoon each.)

Step 6: If you must, add honey. Just keep it to one teaspoon max, says Pine.

Step 7: Topping time! This is the fun part, right? Choose two or three toppings and add a tablespoon max of each. Think nuts, avocado, nut butter, or chia seeds.

Related: Check out smoothie bowl ingredients galore.

Pin this infographic to make a healthier smoothie bowl, every time: 

Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

Want to lose fat? Then you need to get your butt on the treadmill. At least, that’s what most people assume—and why most weight-loss warriors aren’t getting the results they want from their workouts.

Consider this: When obese participants followed a diet and either a strength-training or cardio program for eight weeks, the two groups lost a similar amount of weight—but the strength trainers lost less fat-free mass (a.k.a. muscle) than the cardio-doers, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Meanwhile, when Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years, they found that strength training was better than cardio at warding off belly fat. (Cue the collective sigh of relief from cardio haters everywhere.)

We’re not saying you should cut cardio out of your life, but if strength training isn’t already a major part of your weight-loss plan—well, it needs to be.

Cardio vs. Strength Training

“People think to lose fat mass they need aerobic exercise and to forget about resistance training,” says Rania Mekary, Ph.D., a researcher with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the 12-year study.

On the surface, that assumption makes sense. After all, when you perform moderate-intensity cardio like running, biking, or swimming, the vast majority of your calories burned come from fat, she explains. (Hence why, when you’re cruising along at an easy pace on a cardio machine, it rewards you by telling you that you’re in the “fat-burning” zone.) Meanwhile, during resistance training, the bulk of your calories burned come from glycogen, stored carbs housed in your muscles and liver.

The first option seems far more advantageous for those trying to shed fat. That is, until you consider the fact that your muscle mass —which, when left to its own devices, decreases after age 30—is a key driver of your metabolism. And rather than building muscle, cardiovascular exercise can actually burn up some of it.

“Fat is the major energy source during aerobic training, but many people don’t realize that protein also contributes. And that protein comes from muscle,” Mekary says. “So if you are running, running, running, it can make you lose even more muscle than you would otherwise.”

The result: a slower and slower metabolism. That partially explains why, after many people lose weight, they tend to put it right back on. In fact, research from Columbia University shows that losing just 10 percent of your body weight significantly lowers your basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn just to stay alive.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

Meanwhile, strength training increases your metabolic rate in a big way. Over the short term, it causes just enough microscopic damage to your muscles that they have to work hard to recover—a process that requires a lot of energy (a.k.a. calories). Known as ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’(or EPOC), your metabolism can stay elevated for up to 72 hours after your strength training session, according to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. You just don’t get that lasting boost with cardio, especially when it’s steady-state, Mekary says. Over the long term, by building the amount of muscle mass you have with strength training, you can increase your metabolism even further.

What’s more, strength training helps to dull the spikes in hunger-stimulating hormones that often come with weight loss, explains Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a board-certified family and bariatric physician, diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. That makes losing weight—and keeping it off—that much easier.

Better Together: How to Combine Cardio and Strength for Optimal Fat Loss

Still, for the best fat-loss results, you don’t want to ignore cardio altogether. “By combining anaerobic and aerobic exercise, you maintain muscle, burn more calories, and are able to burn both fat and glycogen,” says Mekary, noting that, according to her research, combination training is even better for fat loss compared to strength training alone. “It’s a win-win situation.”

While the best way to divide your workout routine depends in part on what you actually like to do (what does your schedule matter if you won’t stick to it?), Mekary recommends devoting about 70 percent of your workout time to strength training and 30 percent to cardio. If you hit the gym five days per week, that works out to roughly three strength days and two (slightly shorter) cardio days per week.

“Ideally, you would schedule strength and cardio workouts on different days,” says Nadolsky, noting that performing cardio right before a strength workout can slightly inhibit muscle-building results. (Another study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that men made comparable strength gains after 24 weeks regardless of whether they hit cardio or strength training first. But the guys who did cardio first initially had lower levels of testosterone—a marker of recovery and muscle-building potential—than those who hit the weights first.) It’s not a huge difference, but if you’re focusing on building muscle and can schedule your workouts like that, by all means, go for it.

Making the most of both your strength training and cardio sessions just takes some simple strategizing. During your strength workouts, focus on hitting as many muscle groups as possible by performing compound moves such as squats, deadlifts, thrusters, pull-ups, and bench presses. Spend the bulk of your cardio time on high-intensity intervals (HIIT) such as sprints on the treadmill, bike, or rowing machine. However, some moderate-intensity, steady-state can be good from time to time, too—especially when you feel like you need a little extra recovery from your lifting sessions and don’t want to go too hard with HIIT.

Related: Find a supplement that supports muscle-building.

Consider This Weight-Loss Study Your Green Light To Sleep In On Weekends

When it feels like there just are not enough hours in the work week, getting to bed on time is one of the first things to go out the window—which can worsen the negative health effects of stress, such as that pesky weight gain.

Good news, though: You can escape the downward spiral of drowsy mornings, extra-large coffees, and mid-afternoon sugar binges. According to a new study published in Sleep, it may be as simple as sleeping in for a few extra hours on the weekend.

In a study of more than 2,000 Koreans, researchers found that those who had poor sleep during the work week but slept in on the weekend had lower BMIs (a.k.a. ‘body mass indexes’) than those who slept poorly during the week but did not sleep in on weekends, says lead study author Hee-Jin Im, M.D., Ph.D., of Korea University’s Department of Neurology.

The researchers surveyed and interviewed thousands of participants—who ranged from 19 to 82 years old—about their sleep habits, occupations, and other components (like mood and stress levels) that may influence BMI, Im says. While age, physical activity level, and occupation all played roles in each participant’s BMI, the total number of hours of sleep they got per week—and how they slept on the weekend—turned out to be key for those who had lower BMIs, she says. (Im calls the practice of sleeping in on the weekends “catch-up sleep.”)

The participants got an average of seven hours of sleep per night, with those who slept for longer on the weekends banking an extra 90 minutes to three hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Those who caught up on sleep over the weekend had an average BMI of 22.8, while those who did not had an average BMI of 23.1. (BMIs in the range of 18.5 to 24.9 are considered ‘healthy,’ according to the National Institutes of Health.) The change seems minor—but that difference of just 0.3 is statistically significant, making it clear that poor sleep can impact other aspects of your health, the researchers said.

How does missing out on sleep mess with your BMI? Those who don’t get enough sleep tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which can increase blood pressure and promote fat storage), and often crave high-fat, calorie-dense foods, Im says.

Related: The Truth About Belly Fat

When you sleep well throughout the week, or catch up on sleep over the weekend, you not only help your body function at its best throughout the day, but you also reduce your risk of weight gain and long-term health concerns like heart problems, she says.

Sounds like a plan, right? Just remember that since we all have individual sleep needs, there’s no one ‘dose’ of Zzz’s that will keep your waistline in check, Im says. To put things in perspective, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night—and in 2014, just 35 percent of Americans reported having ‘good’ sleep quality.

For the other 65 percent of us, making up for lost sleep on the weekends may be our best bet at getting out of sleep debt and keeping our weight—and health—in check. Getting a few extra hours on the weekend isn’t the ideal strategy (getting a full, quality sleep every night is the ideal, of course), but it can clearly make a difference, Im says. Just don’t try to re-stock on sleep by way of napping. “A nap is a fragmentation of sleep,” she says, meaning you can never fall into the deep sleep your body needs to recover from sleep loss.

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support a good snooze.

Your Hour-By-Hour Plan For De-Bloating In Under A Day

We’ve all been there—you’re a day out from a trip to the beach and you feel completely bloated. WHY, WHY, WHY? (Answer: Life is unfair.)

The good news? One day is enough to get your belly back to its usual state. By nixing certain foods, noshing on others, and taking a few other smart steps, it is possible to de-bloat fast—zero water pills required. Just use caution: You don’t want to be in de-bloat mode all of the time. Otherwise you may dehydrate yourself and put yourself at risk of fainting or of dealing with kidney stones down the line, says naturopathic doctor JoAnn Yanez, N.D., Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.

If you’re looking for a longer-term water-weight fix, Yanez suggests seeing a naturopathic doc or allergy specialist, since food allergies can often lead to inflammation, indigestion, and bloating. In the meantime, here’s a step-by-step, 24-hour guide to de-bloating.

7 A.M.—Down A Big Glass Of Cucumber Water

While it might seem a bit counter-intuitive, drinking more water can make you less bloated. “The more water you drink, the more you’re flushing out stored water and stored salt, which are causing you to feel bloated,” says nutritionist Christy Brissette, R.D., of 80 Twenty Nutrition. “And it helps to get rid of waste in your digestive tract and keeps you regular, so you’ll end up with flatter stomach.”

If you don’t drink enough you’ll actually end up feeling even more bloated, because your body holds onto the little bit you do drink, explains Revée (Ray) Barbour, N.D., a naturopathic doctor in Sacramento, CA.

Yanez and Barbour both recommend sipping on cucumber-lemon water, since both ingredients encourage your body to release water. Bonus: Cucumber can be soothing for your gut, says Barbour. Add your cucumber and lemon slices to a pitcher of water the night before, so the flavors can diffuse.

What not to drink: carbonated beverages. (The bubbles can add to that bloated belly feeling.) And avoid sipping through a straw, which can make you take in extra gas, Brisette says. Simply aim for 12 cups of water throughout the day before your event. The good news? Coffee and tea count!

7:30 A.M.—Hit The Treadmill Or A Hot Yoga Class

Barbour suggest avoiding eating immediately upon waking up. “If you go an extra hour or two before you eat, you increase your fasting time, which increases your levels of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full,” she says. As long as you’re used to working out without food in your stomach, a quick sweat session gets your heart pumping, revs your metabolism, and allows you to perspire out excess water and sodium before you start your day.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism

Barbour recommends going for a quick run, brisk walk, or doing your favorite form of cardio. If you’re already a yogi, a hot yoga session can get your heart rate up and bring on the sweat—plus specific yoga poses (especially twists) can help keep things moving along through your digestive system, she says. Whatever morning workout you choose, make sure to bring a big bottle full of water with you and sip frequently so you don’t end up retaining water or feeling faint after sweating it up.

The workout you don’t want to do: weight-lifting, which—because it can build up lactic acid and cause you to draw water into your muscles—might leave you looking even puffier.

8:30 A.M.—Have A Smoothie For Breakfast

Our gut is made up of billions of bacteria, both good and bad, says Yanez. Having healthy good bacteria helps keep the bad ones—which can cause gas, constipation, and stomach upset—in check. So eating foods that contain probiotics (which are filled with good bacteria) can promote a healthy gut and help keep gas at bay, she says.

Add plain Greek yogurt to a morning smoothie to reap the probiotic benefits, suggests Brisette. Just stay away from brands with added or artificial sugars, which can cause stomach issues and contribute to bloating.

To get even more de-puff bang for your buck, add fresh-cut fruit, like pineapple or papaya, to your blend. These two fruits contain natural digestive enzymes called bromelain and papain, which help you break down protein for easier digestion, Brisette says. Plus, they also provide potassium, an electrolyte that helps maintain the fluid balance in your body and flushes out excess water and sodium, she explains.

10:30 A.M.—Snack On Watermelon

Giant meals can be hard on your digestive system, so opt for five to six smaller meals throughout your de-bloat day. “We’ve all seen what happens after Thanksgiving, when a food baby appears,” Brisette says.

Switch up your snack game and make sure to avoid energy, fiber, or protein bars that contain any ingredients ending in “-ol” (like sugar alcohols sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol). “They’re designed so our bodies can’t digest all the calories,” says Brisette. And since we can’t fully digest them, they hang out in our gut and lead to gas.

Instead, snack on fresh fruit, which contains water to hydrate you, along with more de-bloating potassium and fiber to keep things moving through your digestive tract. Chomp on some juicy watermelon, a high-water, low-calorie, low-carb fruit that also contains citrulline, an amino acid that may help your body tackle swelling, says Barbour.

12:30 P.M.—Eat Grilled Chicken With A Side Of Tabbouleh Salad For Lunch

All day, you’ll be banning salty, processed, and greasy foods like burgers, chips and fries, which can upset your stomach and make you hold onto extra water (mostly because of their sodium content, according to Yanez). By making your meals at home today, you can replace salt with other herbs and spices for flavor, adds Brisette.

Grilled chicken is a lean and filling source of protein that’ll keep you nourished and satisfied. Pair it with a tabbouleh salad—a favorite of Yanez’s—for some extra de-puffing action. Tabbouleh salad usually includes tomatoes, parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion. Parsley, in particular, contains potassium and encourages your body to release water, says Yanez.

1:00 P.M.—Gargle With Mouthwash

If you normally chew gum and want that fresh feeling on the run, rinse with mouthwash instead today. Sugar-free gum contains those bloat-causing sugar alcohols, and the act of chewing makes you swallow extra air, adding even more bloat, says Brisette.

2:00 P.M.—Sip On A Glass Of Dandelion Tea

Swap your afternoon coffee for a tea that contains dandelion, hibiscus, burdock root, and/or lemon, recommends Barbour. Not only do you avoid caffeine that might keep you awake later, but these other herbal ingredients can help your body get rid of excess water.

3:00 P.M.—Cut Cravings With Celery And Peanut Butter

When those mid-afternoon munchies hit, stay away from packaged snacks and opt for a simple, wholesome alternative. Pair celery—another one of those high-water foods—with a tablespoon of nut butter, suggests Yanez. The fat and protein in the PB will hold you over until your next meal.

5:00 P.M.—Skip The After-Work Happy Hour

They don’t call it a “beer belly” for no reason! All alcohol tends to cause bloat, but drinks with bubbles do extra damage, Yanez says. Also, alcohol makes you all-the-more likely to reach for salty, high-calorie, puff-inducing foods. Not to mention, it totally wrecks your sleep.

6:00 P.M.—Take A Bath With Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is great for detoxifying the body and soothing joints,” says Barbour. While it’s not necessarily de-bloating, an Epsom salt bath can support the body’s response to inflammation and help it manage swelling, she says. Choose a bath salt that contains magnesium chloride (the mineral at work here) and pour three to four cups into a warm bath. Barbour recommends soaking for 20 to 40 minutes.

If you have any chronic conditions or health concerns (like low blood pressure), talk to your doctor before bathing in Epsom salts, says Barbour. And make sure to drink a big glass of water after your soak to stay hydrated.

7:30 P.M.—Fill Up On Salmon, Mesclun Salad, And Asparagus For Dinner

For every gram of glycogen (energy from carbs) your body stores, you retain up to three or four grams of water, says Brisette. This is why people on low-carb diets tend to lose a couple pounds of water weight in the first few days—and why all of our experts suggested scaling back on carbs in their de-bloating efforts

Like your lunch, your de-puff dinner focuses on protein and veggies. Breads, pastas, and white rice won’t help you in your mission. (Note: Many people feel exhausted on long-term low-carb diets, so Brisette doesn’t recommend them.)

You’ll also want to avoid gas-promoting cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, which are tougher to digest. Beans can also lead to some extra gas, especially if you don’t eat them regularly, Brisette says.

Related: 7 Foods That Can Make You Gassy

Instead, fill up on a big mesclun greens salad topped with high-water produce like tomatoes and cucumbers. Toss your salad in a quick combo of lemon juice and olive oil and serve with baked salmon, or your favorite protein source. You can also include a side of asparagus, which contains an amino acid, asparagine, that (you guessed it) supports the body’s release of water, says Barbour.

8:30 P.M.—Relax With A Cup Of Ginger Tea

Ginger is an anti-spasmodic, meaning it helps to soothe your digestive system, which is good news for eliminating gas, says Brisette. Sipping on ginger tea, especially after a meal, can support smooth digestion. Then, hit the hay so you’re well-rested!

Related: Find an herbal tea for every need.

Pin this infographic to put this de-bloat plan to use in a pinch: 

 

4 Whey Protein Myths—Debunked

Whether you’re a devout protein lover or a sometimes-post-workout protein shake drinker, you’ve probably wondered whether that whey protein you’re using is the be-all-end-all of protein. You might also wonder whether or not your whey supplement is even working.

To help raise your WQ (Whey Quotient), we’ve asked the experts to debunk four of the most common myths about whey protein.

1. Myth: Supplementing with whey protein alone can help you lose weight.

Fact: Anyone looking to lose weight quickly might find themselves turning to whey protein-based shakes or smoothies. Unfortunately, the supplement by itself—unsupported by a balanced diet and exercise program—probably won’t help you shed much weight.

According to The Mayo Clinic, research supports whey’s ability to increase feelings of fullness, in addition to its ability to boost energy and promote recovery—but it’s not a weight-loss quick fix. As with all weight-loss plans, there’s no magic bullet.

2. Myth: If you’re supplementing with whey protein, you can build muscle Without Going To the gym.

Fact: Whey protein is packed with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which the body needs to build muscle but cannot produce on its own. “Whey has the most potent and ideal amino acid profile for driving muscle growth, and an abundant amino acid pool is a requisite for muscle growth, but by itself, [whey] won’t give the same benefit,” says Brandon Mentore, a Precision Nutrition Coach and board-certified holistic health coach in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In other words, whey protein and workouts need to go hand-in-hand in order for you to bulk up. A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism concluded that taking whey protein while doing a resistance training program “offers some benefit compared to resistance training alone.” In fact, the study shows that when supplementing with whey, there is a “greater relative gain in lean tissue mass.”

3. Myth: All whey protein products are basically the same.

Fact: The way whey is processed can vary greatly by company and manufacturer. “There are different grades of purity and processing with whey,” Mentore notes. Looking for a clean line? Try the NSF Certified True Athlete brand.

You can also try native whey (which contains leucine and important immune-boosting proteins) or grass-fed whey (which may be higher in antioxidants, and is considered more ethical and sustainable).

4. Myth: Plant-based or other protein powders won’t give you the same results as whey.

Fact: While whey definitely has its benefits, plant-based protein sources are also good choices for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone with a dairy allergy. There are plenty of plant-based protein powders out there, too. And research published in Nutrition Journal found that both whey protein and rice protein, taken after resistance training, improved body composition and exercise performance.

Thinking of switching to a plant-based protein? Plnt’s chocolate protein powder packs 18 grams of protein in one serving, while Garden of Life’s organic vanilla protein kicks it up to 30 grams in a single serving.

8 Eating Habits That Could Be Messing With Your Weight

Sure, we know eating fast food all the time probably isn’t the best move for our waistline—but there are some less obvious, often overlooked eating habits that could be affecting the scale without you even realizing it.

You may be eating all of the right foods for your body, but have you ever thought about the way you are consuming these foods? Perhaps you’re skipping breakfast, inhaling your lunch, or just saving all of your calories for dinner.

Any of the following bad habits sound like you? In the end, your eating habits probably make more of a difference than you think. Time to reevaluate your routine and get that scale moving in the right direction!

Bad Habit #1: Eating At Your Desk

If your keyboard is basically your place mat, it’s time to change up your lunch game. First of all, sitting all day without so much as a lunchtime walk can wreak havoc on your long-term health. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a relationship between time spent sitting and all-cause mortality (including cardiovascular issues and cancer)—even in people who exercise. Plus, eating while hunched over your desk and focusing on your next deadline can lead to some major indigestion.

Use your lunchtime as an opportunity to get up out of that chair, walk around, and get your blood flowing after you eat—you’ll not only burn calories, but you’ll beat bloat, too, since exercise helps gas pass through the digestive tract more quickly.

Bad Habit #2: Multitasking While You Eat

Whether you’re staring at your phone, computer, or TV screen, munching while doing something else can lead to mindless eating and a lack of appreciation for the food that is in front of you. How many of us have accidentally blown through an entire bag of popcorn or finished our dinner without even realizing it because we were fixated on Netflix?

Next time you catch yourself snacking while staring at the screen, step away and focus on the flavor, temperature, texture, and sound of your food. You’ll eat more slowly, feel much more satisfied, and your stomach, taste buds, and waistline will thank you later.

Bad Habit #3: Not Balancing Your Plate

Ever feel like you need a nap after scarfing down a plate of pasta for lunch? When you go hard on carbs, without any protein or fat, your blood sugar—and energy levels—pay the price. That’s because when your body breaks down carbs your blood sugar soars and then it plummets, so you feel a rush of energy followed by a crash. Protein and fat help to slow down the digestion of carbs, so they keep blood sugar levels more stable, which is good for your satiety and waistline.

Still not a believer? Check this out: A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight participants who ate a diet of about 45-percent carbs (30 percent fat and 25 percent protein) lost more weight over the course of six months than those who ate a diet of 58 percent carbs (30 percent fat and 12 percent protein).

Set yourself up for a satisfying, stable, blood sugar-supporting, and weight-loss friendly meal by including each of the following in every meal or snack: healthy fats (like salmon, avocado, or seeds), complex carbs (like starchy veggies, oats, or brown rice), and quality proteins (like chicken, tuna, or lentils).

Related: What You Should Know If You’re Considering Cutting Refined Carbs

Bad Habit #4: Eating While Standing At The Fridge

When we stand there gazing into the refrigerator looking for just the right snack, we often end up picking bits from here and there (hello random cheese slices and cold leftovers) until we’re suddenly full from our nibble rampage.

Decide what you’re really in the mood for or what snack best fits your healthy eating or weight-loss goals before you go anywhere near the fridge. When you plan out your snacks ahead of time, you won’t be left with hands wandering around the fridge in a pinch. Instead, you can focus on really savoring your snack.

Bad Habit #5: Skipping Meals

If you’re trying to lose weight and think skipping breakfast is a good idea because it means you’ll eat fewer calories, think again. Regardless of the intention, a skipped meal welcomes wonky blood sugar, low energy levels, hunger pangs, headaches, and even a sluggish metabolism. (When you don’t consume enough calories, your body essentially thinks you’re starving and slows down your calorie-burn to conserve energy.) A missed meal can also impact your mood and make you “hangry” and irritable, possibly because of your plummeting blood sugar levels.

Your body depends on food for fuel; skipping meals pushes us into an anxiety-driven starvation mode, in which our body thinks there’s no sustenance to be found. To avoid this situation, try to eat breakfast within an hour or two of waking up.

As a general rule, try never to go more than five hours without eating a meal or snack, and make sure that when you do snack, it contains a balance of protein, fat, and carbs.

Related: 11 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Metabolism

Bad Habit #6: Eating For The Wrong Reasons

Stressed, bored, or blue? We’ve all been there—and while these emotions often make us want to eat, they don’t mean we’re actually hungry. Reaching for our favorite foods seems like a comforting idea, but when we eat with this sort of motivation, we often overdo it and end up feeling even worse. This can lead to a vicious cycle of emotional eating and guilt.

Next time you feel down, try writing down how you’re feeling or give yourself 20 minutes before diving into your comfort foods. You may realize that you’re not actually hungry, on top of starting the process of working through whatever is on your mind.

Bad Habit #7: Eating Too Fast

Crazy-busy days often lead us to eat on-the-run instead of at the table. But unless you’re planning on entering a hot dog eating contest (not recommended), it’s worth taking the time to slow down and just eat. When we rush through a meal, we often end up eating more than our body needs to feel satisfied.

Fun fact: It often takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to realize that your stomach is adequately full. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology found that the faster people reported eating, the higher their body mass indexes (BMIs) tended to be.

So sloooooow down! Take a few deep breaths before you begin your meal and put your fork down in between bites. It sounds silly, but you can even try closing your eyes as you chew to really tune into the textures and flavors of your food. These simple little tactics will not only help you enjoy your meal more, they’ll also keep you from overeating—good news for your pant size.

Bad Habit #8: Eating Because There’s Food In Front Of You

Whether it’s bagels at an early office meeting or dessert that comes with a fixed-price dinner—we often end up eating just because the food is there. And this extra, unplanned eating can be a problem when it means taking in more calories than our body needs.

Stay hydrated throughout the day so that you don’t confuse thirst for hunger in these random moments, and ask yourself, “Do I really feel hungry?” before grabbing that leftover meeting muffin. Just because it’s in front of you, doesn’t mean you need it!

Related: Shop a variety of health-conscious snacks for in-between meals.