Your Guide To Surviving Holiday Calories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Sports Research Sweet Sweat Stick, $29.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Enzymedica Digest Gold, $79.49 for 240 capsules

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

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

6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calories

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

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

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

1. You Feel Like A Sloth

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

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

2. You Can’t Focus

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

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

3. You’re Sore ALL The Time

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

Featured Products

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

4. You’re Not Making Muscle Gains

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

5. You’re Eternally Grouchy

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

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

6. You Can’t Sleep

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

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

How To Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calories

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

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

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

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

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

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

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

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

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

What ‘Mindful Eating’ Really Means

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

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

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

4 Ways To Eat More Mindfully

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

1. Check in with yourself before eating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eat without distractions.

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

Featured Products

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

3. Really ‘taste’ your food.

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

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

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

4. Keep a satiety log.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My goals included:

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

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

Featured Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

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

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

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

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

1. Cut Out Processed Foods

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eat Your Veggies

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

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

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

3. Build Your Plate Properly

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

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

4. Follow Hunger Cues

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

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

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

5. Identify Food Sensitivities

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

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

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

6. Get More Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Skinny-Fat Looks Like

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

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

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

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

Why It Can Be An Issue

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

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

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

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

Muscle Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Ways To Burn More Fat

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

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

1. Adjust Your Grub To Create A Caloric Deficit

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

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

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

Related: 10 Protein-Packed Meals In Mason Jars

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

2. Cut Back On Certain Carbs

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

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

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

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

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

3. Load Up On Protein

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

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

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

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

4. Start Lifting Weights

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

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

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

5. Supplement Your Routine With HIIT Or Circuit Training

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

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

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

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

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

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

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

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

6. Get Moving Outside Of The Gym

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

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

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

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

7. Prioritize Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

Is There A Best Time Of Day To Eat Carbs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carb Up Pre- And Post-Workout

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

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

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

Cut Down On Carbs Later In The Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cycle Between High And Low-Carb Days

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Gym

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Kitchen

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

Related: 5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Plan ahead.

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

2. Don’t call it cheating.

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

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

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

3. Keep it rational.

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

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

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

4. Fill in the gaps with healthier goodies.

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

5. Go into your treat meal well-fed.

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

6. Eat mindfully.

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

7. Check in with yourself.

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

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

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

Watch Out For These Treat Meal Saboteurs

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

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

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

2. Never eat until you feel sick.

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

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

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

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

4. Avoid emotional eating.

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

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

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

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

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

7 Ways Extra Calories Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save this handy infographic for future calorie-saving reference:

7 Hormones That Can Mess With Your Weight

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

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

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

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

1. Ghrelin

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

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

Related: Shop supplements that support a healthy snooze.

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

2. Cortisol

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

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

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

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

3. Estrogen

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

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

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

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Kick-Start Your Metabolism

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

4. Testosterone

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

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

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

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

 5. Thyroid Hormones

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

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

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

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

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

6. Insulin

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

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

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

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

7. Leptin

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

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

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

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

Should You Stop Weighing Yourself? Probably.

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

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

Why You Should Step Off The Scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Scale-Free Goals

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

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

Related: 11 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Metabolism

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

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

How To Track Your Health And Fitness Without The Scale

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

1. Track Your Energy Levels

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

2. See How Your Clothes Fit

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

3. Track Body Fat Percentage

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

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

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

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

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

5. Track Overall Strength, Speed, And Flexibility

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

6. Measure Waist Circumference

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

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

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

Special Cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Qualifies As A Pig-Out?

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

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

Why You Feel So Crappy After A Pig Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

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

What Are The Long-Term Effects?

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

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

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

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

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

Get Back To Business

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

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

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

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

So You’ve Lost The Weight—Now What?

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

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

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

The Food: Fuel Yourself Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?

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

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

The Workouts: Sweat With A Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

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

The Max Amount Of Calories You Should Cut And Burn In A Day

If you’re on track to shed some serious pounds, you still need to watch your pace. (Insert inspirational ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ quote here.) While it’s tempting to go all in, cut back on calories, and crank up your workouts, a hardcore approach to losing weight often leaves you stressed beyond belief and physically burnt out. And, dropping too many pounds too fast can actually backfire on your goals—and your health.

Do your grumbling tummy, your metabolism, and your waistline a favor: Read on to make sure your weight-loss pace is healthy and sustainable—and free yourself from the whiplash of ‘yo-yo dieting’ forever.

How Much Is Too Much?

The number of pounds you can safely lose per week depends on your body size—but for most people, losing more than one or two pounds a week is overdoing it, says Partha Nandi, M.D., F.A.C.P., leading physician and author of Ask Dr. Nandi.

“The more body fat you carry, the more you’ll be able to safely lose per week,” he says. Generally, you can lose about one percent of your total body weight per week, which is about a pound and a half per week for someone who weighs 150 pounds and two pounds a week for someone who weighs 200 pounds.

Crash Dieting 101

Losing more weight per week requires some extreme measures (like swearing off carbs and overdoing it at at the gym) that drive your willpower into the ground—and ultimately aren’t very healthy for your body, Nandi says.

Even when you’re doing it the healthy, slow-and-steady way, losing weight is a numbers game. To lose a pound a week, you need to create a 500-calorie daily deficit, according to Nandi. To bump that up to two pounds per week, you need a 1,000-calorie daily deficit.

In order to accomplish that, you need to consistently burn more calories in the gym and put less on your plate. So if you normally eat 2,000 calories a day, you’d need to cut 500 calories out of your grub and burn another 500 through exercise—every day.

That sounds tough enough as it is, right? To lose any more than that per week, you’d need to create a caloric daily deficit closer to 1,500 or 2,000 calories, which would likely require a dangerous combination of calorie restriction and over-exercising, Nandi says.

First of all, when you cut calories this hard, you end up missing out on the nutrients you need, he explains. But beyond falling short on important vitamins and minerals, you also don’t give your body the calories it needs to fuel your day, which becomes an even bigger problem if you’re cranking up your workouts, says LA-based celebrity trainer Astrid Swan.

Getting ample calories—and the carbs, fats, and protein they provide—is crucial for powering through and recovering from exercise. So if you try to go hard at the gym while on a very low-cal diet, chances are you’ll feel exhausted while you’re there, crazy sore afterwards, and possible even land yourself with an injury, she says.

Related: Not getting enough protein? Try a powder or bar.

And, ultimately, crash dieting wrecks your metabolism (which determines how many calories you need), backfiring on your weight-loss efforts, says Nandi. “Drastically cutting your calorie intake will slow your metabolism to a point where your calorie deficit is significantly smaller than what you planned it to be,” he explains. Basically when you give your body too few calories it adapts by slowing your metabolism down so you can survive on the calories you are getting. (Ever heard of ‘starvation mode’? Yeah, this is it.)

With that slower metabolism, your weight loss stalls—and you’ll put pounds back on as soon as you go back to your old ways. So begins the vicious cycle of “yo-yo dieting,” many people get trapped in, Nandi says.

Are You Digging Yourself Into A Calorie Deficit Hole?

If you’re losing weight too rapidly, your body will let you know. You’ll probably feel fatigued 24/7, and may notice a slew of digestive issues, like nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, says Nandi. You may also feel lightheaded and sick to your stomach when working out. These symptoms all indicate that your body is running on empty—and constipation in particular can signal that you’re not getting enough fiber or calories to keep things moving, Swan says.)

You may even have trouble sleeping and experience mood swings, according to Swan. Eating too little and exercising too much can affect your hormones and blood sugar, which then leave you tossing and turning at night and stressed out during the day. The stress on your body and the mental and emotional stress of depriving yourself and working so hard make for a slippery slope to feeling pretty terrible. In extreme cases, this stress can even make your hair fall out, says Swan.

Get Your Sanity—And Your ResultsBack

First things first, make sure you’re getting enough calories to lose weight safely. “The average woman needs to eat about 2,000 calories per day to maintain weight, and 1,500 calories per day to lose one pound per week,” says Nandi. “The average man needs about 2,500 calories to maintain, and 2,000 to lose a pound a week.”

Nandi recommends meeting with a dietitian or doc to determine how many calories you need for your body size, lifestyle, and goals. From there, you’ll begin to add calories back into your diet to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to thrive.

You may also need to rethink your workout routine. If you’re not taking a rest day, make sure to add one, says Swan. “When I am working with clients, they are shocked to see that when they eat more calories (and the correct nutrients), and take a rest day, their results improve,” she says.

Focus your workouts on strength training, which builds muscle and supports your metabolism, and turn to HIIT for cardio, so you can reap extra benefits in less time, Swan recommends.

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Kickstart Your Metabolism

 

Why You’re Losing Inches But Gaining Weight

Ever started a new fitness program and found yourself feeling more in-shape than ever—but weighing more than before you started? Don’t worry, that’s actually pretty common!

“Almost all of my personal training clients, even athletes, notice weight gain at the onset of a progressive strength-training program,” says Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. “They get worked up over the number on the scale, yet they’re delighted and tell me their clothes fit better.”

Sure, it’s frustrating when the numbers on the scale don’t decrease—but here’s why you shouldn’t fret.

What The Scale Can’t Tell You

First of all, the number you see on the scale can be influenced by a number of factors, like what and when you last ate, all that sodium in your last meal, the last time you pooped, or, if you’re a woman, where you are in your menstrual cycle, says Suter.

And even if you step on the scale when none of these random variables apply, it still can only tell you how many pounds you weigh in total—not what those pounds consist of. Here’s why that matters: Often when we eat well and exercise (and strength train, in particular), we lose fat and build muscle at the same time, says Suter.

And because muscle is about 18 percent denser than fat, it takes up less space pound for pound, she says. So if you replace, say, five pounds of fat with five pounds of muscle, you can look completely different and drop a dress size without seeing any change on the scale.

It’s hard to overcome the mentality that health and fitness success is measured in pounds lost, but trust us, making that muscle is worth it. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it requires more calories to maintain, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even at rest, says Suter. (One pound of muscle burns about seven calories a day, while fat burns about two.)

So having more muscle—and the higher metabolism that comes with it—helps you keep your weight down and allows you to eat more calories to maintain your weight, says William Yancy, M.D., Director of the Duke Diet And Fitness Center. More muscle also means a lower risk of injury, an easier time taking care of day-to-day tasks and, usually, an invaluable boost in confidence.

Related: 6 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight

If that hasn’t convinced you to worry less about the scale, consider this: Someone who has more muscle may weigh the same as someone with more fat, but they’re less likely to deal with a number of health issues, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and sleep apnea, according to Yancy.

When we lose weight it’s typically two-thirds fat and one-third muscle, so holding onto those pounds can actually be a good thing, says Yancy. “Even though you may lose less on the scale, shifting weight loss in any way so that you lose less muscle is a win,” says Yancy. (To do this, you’ll need to down enough protein and hit the weights regularly. Suter suggests starting with full-body weight training about three times per week and eating 15 to 30 grams of protein at every meal.)

Better Ways to Gauge Your Progress

Instead of hopping on the scale to evaluate your progress, try snapping progress photos and taking note of any differences in how your clothes fit, recommends Suter. You can also use a tape measure to record and track the inches lost around your chest, waist, and hips as you go.

For more precise info, a doc or trainer can evaluate your body composition (like how much of your bodyweight comes from fat). They may pinch your skin folds with a caliper and measure them to estimate your body fat, or use a body composition scale, which shoots electricity throughout your body to measure your percentage of body fat, explains Yancy. Some trainers or weight-loss clinics may even have access to more sophisticated options, like underwater weighing (which uses your buoyancy to determine body fat), the BOD POD (which uses air displacement to measure body fat), or DEXA scanning (a type of X-ray that looks at body composition).

A standard blood test can also show that you’re getting healthier even if the scale doesn’t budge. Look out for improvements in your cholesterol, glucose, and insulin levels, Yancy says. Sleeping better, having more energy, and feeling less pain are also signs that your healthy lifestyle is paying off beneath the surface, he says.

Suddenly the scale doesn’t seem so important, does it?

Related: Shop supplements that support muscle building.

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.