How Often Do You Need To Eat To Keep Your Metabolism Running?

The weight-loss world likes to describe our metabolism as an engine we have to rev throughout the day in order to burn through as much gas (a.k.a. calories) as possible. We’ve long been told that we can keep our metabolism fired up by eating right when we roll out of bed, and then frequently throughout the rest of the day. But if you’ve been forcing down breakfast before the sun comes up or lugging five square meals around with you for the sake of burning more calories and shedding fat, know this: The two theories behind this common advice are a little flawed.

The Thermic Effect Of Food

The first concept used to justify the idea that frequent meals ignite your metabolism is the ‘thermic effect of food,’ or TEF. TEF describes the spike in heat production (a.k.a. calories burned) that occurs in the body for up to eight hours after every time you eat—because it takes calories to digest food! On a given day, TEF accounts for about 10 percent of the calories you burn, explains Rob Danoff, D.O., director of the family residency program at Jefferson Health Northeast in Philadelphia. Hypothetically, if you could boost that TEF by eating more often, you could have a pretty significant impact on the total number of calories you burn, and thus, your metabolism.

While this idea sounds legit in theory, most studies have found no link between meal frequency and increased TEF. In fact, after examining four separate studies (in which people split the same total caloric intake among anything from one to seven meals), the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that increasing the number of meals consumed per day did not improve resting metabolic rate or 24-hour energy expenditure.

Ultimately, how many calories you burn digesting your food depends on how many total calories you eat, and what macronutrients  (carbs, fat, protein) that food comes from, explains Spencer Nadolsky, M.D., diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “As long your total calories and macronutrients are equal, your body will burn the same number of calories in the digestion process,” he says. So, regardless of whether you eat three 500-calorie meals (say one-third protein, one-third carbs, and one-third fat), or six 250-calorie meals with the same macro breakdown, you’ll burn the same number of calories processing your grub in the end.

If you really want to boost your TEF, what you can do is increase how much of your total caloric intake comes from protein compared to carbs or fat, since research shows that protein has the highest TEF of the three macros.

‘Starvation Mode’

The other rational for eating frequent meals to keep your metabolism going is the idea that going too long without eating switches your body into ‘starvation mode,’ in which it stores calories it would otherwise burn.

While ‘starvation mode’ is, in fact, a real thing, it isn’t exactly an ever-present monster hiding in the pantry waiting to strike any time you go more than four hours without eating, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “People think they’re going to go into starvation mode and halt their metabolism if they skip one meal, but that’s really not the case,” he says. “It takes longer than one day for the body to get to that point.”

Your body has plenty of fuel sources it can turn to—like the carbohydrates circulating as blood sugar or stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, ketone bodies made from fats, and even protein from muscle tissue—when it doesn’t have any calories from food immediately available. Your body can last far longer than a few hours on these stored fuel sources before it has to start hoarding calories instead of burning them, he says.

In Defense Of Frequent Feedings

But wait, the plot thickens: Even though eating every few hours like clockwork doesn’t directly spike your metabolism, it might have indirect benefits that can still help you lean out.

First of all, one surefire way to boost your metabolism is to increase your muscle mass, since muscle requires a lot of calories every day to maintain. According to a review recently published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, optimal muscle gain requires loading up on protein a minimum of four times per day. So if eating more frequently throughout the day helps you get the protein you need to build muscle, it can ultimately help you rev your metabolism.

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But that’s not the only way eating regularly can help you change your body. For example, research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who ate frequent mini-meals were more likely to choose healthy foods and end up eating fewer calories overall than those who ate fewer, larger meals.

Why? “One of the biggest potential benefits of eating frequently is that it can help keep blood sugar levels stable,” explains Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D. “When your blood sugar dips, your brain sends you signals to eat more—so in theory, eating more frequently keeps those dips from happening, which then keeps you from eating more.”

In fact, when researchers at the Agricultural University of Athens had people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes eat either three or six meals—but the same number of total daily calories—per day, the more frequent eaters experienced improvements in glycated hemoglobin and glucose levels (signs of blood sugar control), had fewer blood sugar and insulin spikes, and reported feeling less hungry throughout the day.

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

So even if eating smaller, more frequent meals doesn’t automatically power up your metabolism, it can be a major player in your fat-loss strategy.

How I Finally Stopped Yo-Yo Dieting And Became A Celebrity Weight Loss Coach

For most of my life, struggling with weight was my identity. As early as fifth grade, I noticed I didn’t look like the rest of my peers, and at 14, I attended my first weight loss meeting. I was by far the youngest person there. The then-trendy weight loss program, called Diet Center, involved weekly weigh-ins and an extremely restrictive eating plan of bland lean proteins and vegetables. And so began my life of dieting and fearing food.

Throughout my teens, 20s, and early 30s, I lost and gained the same 35 pounds over and over and over again. I tried every plan imaginable, from the Grapefruit Diet to the Soup Diet, and read as many diet books as I could get my hands on. While I could always lose the weight, I could never keep it off.

I thought I had to follow a strict eating plan, and that if I wavered it even slightly, I was failing. So when I did waver, I became so distressed that I ate everything in sight. I fell into a cycle of restricting food, breaking down, overeating, and punishing myself by restricting all over again.

My relationship with food and my body only grew worse when I started a career as a Broadway actress and singer after finishing my Master’s degree. I knew every extra pound could be the difference between landing a gig or losing it—because agents and casting directors thought nothing of telling me I was too heavy for a role. Food, exercise, and my weight took over my life. I felt great when my weight was down and terrible when it was up. I was either eating plain grilled chicken with salad and exercising for hours a day, or chowing down on anything I felt like and not exercising at all. Healthy balance felt impossible.

After 10 years in theater, I’d had enough. As I walked away from that career, I finally felt free from the constant pressure to be as thin as possible. So what did I do? I completely abandoned exercise and gave in to every temptation, binging on all the food I’d spent a decade trying to deprive myself of. I gained 35 pounds—fast.

Again, I was desperate—but I realized I would never live a healthy, fulfilled life, or maintain a weight I felt good about, with my extreme approach to food and exercise. So, after reading about their flexible, realistic eating plan, I decided to give Weight Watchers a try. Throughout the next five months, I finally shared my insecurities, unhealthy behaviors, and fears at support meetings, which was a huge weight off of my shoulders. I enjoyed pizza, occasional desserts, and wine (all workable in the Weight Watchers program), and shed the weight I’d gained.

I felt like I’d found a family of other people who had struggled the way I did, and the positive environment helped me maintain my weight loss for the first time in my life. When a receptionist job opened up at the company, I applied, thinking it would be a temporary gig. Quickly, though, I became a meeting leader, running 17 group support meetings a week, and found myself helping launch the Weight Watchers website.

As the months and years passed, and I was able to consistently wear the same size clothing, my confidence grew, and my yo-yo ways of the past finally faded. I realized that one slip-up did not have to lead to days or weeks of binging, and that I could return to my healthy eating patterns at my next meal. My life fell into a balance: Instead of thinking of workouts as erasers of bad food choices, I exercised joyfully, savoring walks outside, jogs, and kickboxing. I packed healthy snacks (like nuts or hummus and veggies) for work, and discovered my go-to recipes (like ground turkey and tomato sauce over spaghetti squash). The more consistent my routine became, the easier it was to sprinkle in indulgences without going overboard. Finally, I realized what it meant to be healthy.

After nearly eight years with Weight Watchers—during which I had two beautiful sons and successfully lost 50-plus pounds of pregnancy weight, twice—I became their Director of Brand Advocacy and National Spokesperson, appearing on programs like Dr. Oz, Oprah, and Good Morning America and collecting success stories from members across the country to be featured on our website and in our magazine. I flew from New York to Los Angeles every week to lead meetings for Jessica Simpson and a dozen of her friends and relatives, helped Katie Couric negotiate a healthier on-set buffet table as a newly-minted news anchor, and assured Jennifer Hudson that she could indeed fit Buffalo wings into her meal plan.

It was a rush, and forced me to really step up my own weight maintenance skills as I navigated constant travel, jet lag, time zone changes, and new stress. I learned I couldn’t always be perfect, but I could be consistent. I packed snacks for long flights, turned down alcohol, kept workout gear with me at all times, used hotel gyms, and stocked mini fridges with my own healthy food. No challenge could derail my healthy lifestyle!

After 11 years with Weight Watchers, I decided to take everything I’d learned about balanced living, self-love, and long-term weight loss success and go out on my own to help others get healthy and stay that way. I studied to become a certified personal trainer and nutrition exercise specialist, and have since consulted for weight loss and wellness companies all over the world, and helped all kinds of clients—from celebrities and CEOs to stay-at-home parents—achieve their health and fitness goals.

I think my personal weight loss journey has helped me better understand and support others—and just as my career develops, so does my personal health journey. As I learn and grow, I am constantly fine-tuning my strategy for maintaining a healthy weight and attitude. Maintenance is an active process, and if you want to continue to see success long-term, you have to keep your eyes open to the ever-changing landscape of your life! Sure, as I get older I may not be able to drink as much wine as I used to, or have as much for dinner as my growing sons, but these days I’m excited to find out where my next chapter will take me, and I know that health will be a part of who I am forever.

Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

Jumpstart Your Mornings (And Metabolism!) With This Tummy Tonic

Sluggish steps and belly bloat keeping you from starting your day off right? This tummy tonic from The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council member Sophia Roe is just what you need to jumpstart your metabolism and digestion for an energized morning. Made with health-promoting ingredients like fennel tea (which can ease bloating and gas), apple cider vinegar (a vitamin-, mineral-, and antioxidant-loaded all-star), ginger (another gut health booster), and green tea extract (which is high in antioxidants and supports metabolism), along with goji berries and raw honey, it’s a delicious power-up that’s great for your gut health and your waistline.

Here’s what you’ll need to whip up this day-brightening beverage:
– 1 bag fennel seed tea
– 2 Tbsp chopped ginger
– 1/2 cup Sunfood Superfoods goji berries
– 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 lemon
– 3 drops The Vitamin Shoppe brand green tea extract
raw manuka honey, to taste

Drink hot upon waking or pour over ice for a punch of refreshment, anytime.

 

A veritable ball of energy, Sophia Roe is a wildly talented yet relatable holistic chef, wellness expert, empowerment architect, and beauty bandit whose candid videos and posts on health and mindfulness light up social media.

 

How Much Do Genetics Factor Into The Speed Of Your Metabolism?

When it comes to weight loss (and gain), many of us believe our metabolism yields ultimate power over our success—and that there’s not much we can do to change it. After all, we all have that one friend who attributes his perpetually skinny frame to a ‘fast metabolism,’ just as we have that friend who blames her widening waistline on the sluggish metabolism she inherited from her mother. But are we really born with inner engines that run at different speeds—and does ours really determine our weight fate?

Metabolism refers to your body’s process of converting calories into energy,” explains exercise and obesity researcher Tim Church, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, professor of preventive medicine at Louisiana State University and chief medical officer of ACAP Health Consulting. How fast or slow you convert those calories into energy, though, depends on a few factors—some of which you are born with.

First off, there’s how tall and naturally muscular you are. People with larger frames—who also tend to weigh more—actually have faster metabolisms than their smaller-framed friends. “The more you weigh, the more tissues you have, and the more tissues you have, the more calories you burn,” says Church. Then there’s whether you’re male or female. Men, who typically store less body fat, have more muscle mass, and are all-around larger than women, also typically have faster metabolisms because their muscle and size requires more calories to maintain than women’s generally smaller, less muscular frames.

Those metabolism factors are pretty much out of your control—but they’re not the only factors that determine the ultimate speed of your metabolism. The baseline number of calories your body needs to fuel essential functions, like breathing and circulating blood, is also determined by other factors, like your age (okay, also your of your control), your hormonal function, and your body composition (how much muscle versus fat you have). This metabolic baseline is called your BMR, or basal metabolic rate.

While your BMR is roughly how many calories you’d burn if you literally slept all day and didn’t move or eat anything, it only accounts for about 60 percent of your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, which is the total number of calories you burn per day and includes the energy you use to move around, exercise, and digest food.

In a nutshell, the more you move your body, the more energy it uses, and the higher your TDEE—meaning you have a ‘faster’ metabolism on days you exercise than on days you binge on Netflix.

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Though it’s easier to boost your TDEE by moving more every day, it is also possible to boost your BMR over time, too. Remember when we said that the amount of muscle mass you have factors into your BMR? While you might be born with a more or less naturally muscular body than someone else, you can build more muscle mass and increase the baseline number of calories your body churns through every single day with strength training and proper nutrition (we’re looking at you, protein!). Research suggests muscle mass determines up to 60 percent of the variability in different people’s metabolisms, so putting in the work to build more is certainly worth your while.

Related: How Many Times A Week Should You Strength Train?

By the time you’re an adult, lifestyle behaviors like being active and building muscle outweigh the aspects of your metabolism you’re born with. In a perfect world, weight loss comes down to a simple equation, says Church: Use more energy than you take in. However, if you’re faithful to your healthy routine, move your body regularly, and nourish it with the appropriate calories, but still aren’t seeing any changes in your waistline, give your doctor a call. Underlying health issues, like a thyroid disorder or diabetes, could be throwing your hormones out of whack and sabotaging your metabolism.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Where Does The Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

After successfully shedding body fat, we’re often too busy basking in sweet satisfaction to question where that fat actually went. Did it transform into muscle? End up in the toilet? Seep out of our pores as sweat?

If you’re suddenly curious (and stumped), don’t worry: A 2014 survey found that 98 percent of health professionals don’t know where that fat goes either.

Most health experts surveyed assumed that fat we ‘lose’ is just transformed into heat, hence why we often talk about it as something we ‘burn off’—but it doesn’t just zap into thin air!

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Think back to high school chemistry. You probably learned about something called the ‘law of conservation of matter.’ It means that mass cannot be created or destroyed, so fat can’t just disappear, explains Spencer Nadolsky, M.D., diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription.

After losing 33 pounds, a physicist-turned-media-personality named Ruben Meerman wanted to get to the bottom of where those pounds actually disappeared to, so he teamed up with lipid (a.k.a. fat) researcher Andrew Brown of the University of New South Wales to investigate.

Meerman and Brown’s study, which was published in The BMJ, looked at the chemistry of what happens to a triglyceride a.k.a. body fat molecule (it looks like this: C55H104O6+78O2) when it’s oxidized or broken down to be used for energy. It’s a complicated process, but that process creates two by-products that explain where our fat goes when we lose it: carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

When the researchers measured what happened to 22 pounds-worth of triglycerides ‘lost,’ they found that about 18.5 pounds-worth of carbon dioxide were exhaled through the lungs, while the rest exited the body as water, whether in sweat, urine, or another bodily fluid. So even though we don’t quite breathe or sweat little fat particles, we do excrete the by-products produced when our body breaks down body fat, explains Pennsylvania-based family medicine physician, Rob Danoff, D.O., M.S., F.A.C.O.F.P, F.A.A.F.P.

(Just in case you’re wondering, the carbon dioxide you breathe out doesn’t harm the environment. The researchers encountered that question a lot…)

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

While this study doesn’t really give us any new information about how to lose weight, it does help us understand how losing weight works—and it’s actually pretty fascinating, right?

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Is The ‘Fat-Burning Zone’ A Sham?

If you’ve hopped on any cardio machine ever, you’ve probably seen the graph or different colored hearts (or whatever) identifying the different exercise ‘zones’ that use your heart rate to categorize the intensity of your workout.

Which zone we should be cardio-ing away in, though, isn’t so clear—and the enticing ‘fat-burning’ zone, in particular, is actually pretty misleading.

You’re in the ‘fat-burning zone’ when you exercise at a pace that gets your heartrate up to between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum (220 minus your age). “If you measured your exertion or effort on a scale of one to ten, the fat-burning zone would be a five or six,” explains exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness Podcast. This is a pretty low-intensity pace, and you’ll probably be able to carry on a conversation as you move.

Given its name, you’d think the fat-burning zone is where you want to be if you’re trying to lose weight, right? Well, not quite.

Workouts that focus on the fat-burning zone are a rooted in the outdated (but persistent) belief that long, slow workouts are more effective for weight loss than shorter, more intense workouts. Here, exercise experts break down why the fat-burning zone isn’t really your fat-loss friend.

The Fat-Burning Basics

To fuel literally everything we do, our body produces and uses a form of chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). What we create that ATP from, though, depends on what ingredients we have in our system (like carbs or fat from food, or stored body fat) and how much energy we need how quickly (depending on whether we’re just hanging out or sprinting, for example).

Technically, the fat-burning zone is legit: At lower intensities, our body’s primary ATP fuel source is fatty acids from food or body fat, whereas at higher intensities—usually an effort level of seven or higher—we primarily use the carbohydrates circulating in our bloodstream as sugar or stored in our muscles as glycogen.

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“Our body needs oxygen to turn fat into ATP, and when we’re resting or working out at a low intensity, that oxygen is readily available,” explains Tiffany Chag, M.S., R.D, C.S.C.S., sports dietitian at Hospital for Special Surgery. When we work out at higher intensities, oxygen becomes scarce and our body turns to carbs, instead. It’s never entirely one or the other—just a different proportion: Fat can still account for between 10 and 45 percent of our total energy expenditure during high-intensity exercise.

Exercise Intensity And Weight Loss

While it’s true we burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the fat-burning zone, that doesn’t translate to quicker fat loss. Burning more calories total—regardless of whether the energy used comes from fat or carbs—is what matters for fat loss, explains running coach and exercise physiologist, Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS, founder of Running Strong.

Unsurprisingly, we burn more calories overall when we work out at higher intensities—like 75 to 85 percent of our max heartrate, or an effort level of seven or eight—because our organs and muscles have to work harder to meet that high energy demand. For example, a 155-pound person burns about 260 calories cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, but churns through about 315 at a more vigorous pace.

That’s where HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which involves alternating between short intervals of max-effort and intervals of low-intensity recovery, comes in. By upping the intensity so much (even just for short bursts of time), we can burn just as much fat, if not more, in less time—even if carbs account for a larger percentage of our calories burned, explains Christi Marraccini C.P.T., Head Coach at Tone House in New York City.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

By pushing so hard during HIIT’s work intervals, we increase our body’s demand for oxygen during the rest intervals, and throughout the rest of the day after the workout, explains McCall. (This is called ‘EPOC,’ or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.)  Our body continues working harder-than-usual to deliver that oxygen, and we continue burning calories.

The Time And Place For The Fat-Burning Zone

HIIT is great, but too much high-intensity work can lead to injury or burnout over time—so our experts recommend your weekly workout routine strikes a balance between higher- and lower-intensity exercise. Every other—or every third—cardio workout can be HIIT, but the rest should actually land in that fat-burning zone. “This kind of breakdown will allow your body to recover and your muscle to repair after tough workouts, while still giving you the opportunity to move,” says Chag.

Like what you’re reading here? For more health information and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

I Tried Carb-Cycling For A Month—Here’s What Happened

Ever since cutting carbs became a thing back in the late ’90s, I’ve made it my personal mission to rehab their rep. Apart from the fact that mashed potatoes are the best, cutting out an entire food group has always seemed extreme to me. Plus, as a health and fitness journalist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist, I appreciate that carbs fuel our body for high-intensity exercise, are the prime energy source for our brain and red blood cells, contain heart-healthy fiber, and also pack B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients.

I also recognize that, as a whole, Americans eat far more carbs than we need. The current recommended daily carb intake is 140 grams per day, plus an extra 60 for every hour of intense exercise we do. However, the average American eats roughly 300 grams a day, the majority coming from highly-processed foods like frozen pizza and soda, says Donald K. Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. Carbs are, first and foremost, fuel, so it really doesn’t make sense to eat a ton of them if we’re not working out consistently.

I’ve always taken a pretty balanced approach to macros, typically eating between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day, with about 40 percent of those calories coming from carbs, 30 coming from protein, and other 30 coming from fat. (I’m five-foot-two, about 120 pounds, and about 23 percent body fat these days.) That’s about 180 to 200 grams of carbs per day, which is pretty consistent with carb recommendations considering I hit the gym most days.

Me, before a month of cycling carbs.

On days I don’t exercise (usually about two days a week), though, I can be shockingly sedentary. I work from home and my computer sits all of 30 feet from my bedroom… and about 15 from my kitchen. On some of these days, I bank fewer than 1,000 steps—all day.

Realizing that I don’t need nearly as much energy to fuel typing as I do deadlifting, I wondered if I should try carb-cycling, which involves eating different amounts of carbs on different days. Could this approach to eating help me shed fat and build muscle?

I hit up one of my favorite dietitians, Jim White, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to find out. Extreme carb-cycling protocols can cut carbs as low as 50 grams a day on low-carb days, but White (who isn’t a fan of these extreme protocols) proposed I cycle carbs just a little, cutting out just the amount of carbs I’d burn during a workout and need for exercise recovery on those sedentary days.

Here’s what he recommended for me:

High-Carb Days:
– 1,600 calories
– 50 percent carbs (200 grams)
– 25 percent protein (100 grams)
– 25 percent fat (44 grams)

Low-Carb Days:
– 1,400 calories
– 35 percent carbs (123 grams)
– 35 percent protein (123 grams)
– 30 percent fat (47 grams)

The macro breakdowns weren’t drastically different than what I was already doing, and felt pretty doable. The only thing that made me squirm: the fact that I’d eat just 1,400 calories on low-carb days. Not crazy low for a woman of my height and size (again, I’m only five-foot-two), but definitely lower than what I was used to. Luckily, White assured me that we could tweak calories should I feel super-hangry or fatigued.

White told me to use my extra calories and carbs on high-carb days to ‘pad’ my workouts, eating some extra carbs before and after to help fuel performance and recover.

Getting Started

I decided to use MyFitnessPal, which lets you set unique different calorie and macro goals for different days of the week, to track my food.

Day one was a low-carb day, and it took about one meal for me to decide that following this 1,400-calorie limit was obnoxious. Cutting 60 to 80 grams of carbs didn’t sound so bad in theory, but I certainly felt it. I tried to eat more fiber- and water-rich veggies to curb my hunger without going over my calorie and carb limits (read: lots of salads and zoodles), but I still felt a little hangry by the end of the day. I did discover an awesome new recipe, though! You throw one-zucchini’s-worth of zoodles and some cherry tomatoes in a pan, form them into little nests, crack an egg into each, and sprinkle some goat cheese on top for good measure. Low-carb deliciousness.

I also drank even more milk (I love fairlife ultra-filtered skim milk) than usual. I’m a vegetarian, and this milk, which packs 13 grams of protein but just six grams of carbs per serving, has long been a staple of mine—and it’s low carb count saved me!

The next day was high-carb, and felt pretty similar to my usual eating habits. I felt full, fueled, and satisfied—phew.  The calories, though a bit lower, were totally doable. I just made sure to save most of my grains and fruit for before and after my workout.

Here’s what an average high- and low-carb day looked like:

High-Carb Day:
– Breakfast: Skim milk latte, fat-free Greek yogurt with strawberries, and slivered almonds
– Snack: Two slices of Ezekiel avocado toast with edamame
– Lunch: A glass of milk and a spring mix salad with chickpeas, egg, tomatoes, and olive oil
– Snack: String cheese, an apple, and glass of V8
– Dinner: A glass of milk and a sweet potato topped with black beans, two poached eggs, Havarti cheese, and arugula

Low-Carb Day:
– Breakfast: Skim milk latte, crustless vegetable quiche, arugula salad (no dressing)
– Snack: Baked tofu
– Lunch: Protein shake
– Snack: Glass of milk
– Dinner: Zoodles with three eggs, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese

By the time I had a week under my belt, tracking became easier—especially considering I tend to eat a lot of the same foods throughout the week. It was just tracking meals and snacks at coffee shops and restaurants that was a pain, since many don’t have nutritional information available.

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My biggest issue was sometimes having to scramble to switch a high-carb day to a low-carb day (or vice versa) midday if I had to nix workout plans after something came up or randomly decided to hit the gym when I hadn’t planned to. I either had to get creative with my meals to stay within my calorie and macro constraints, or scarf down a bagel on my way to the gym.

Tweaking My Approach

By about two weeks in, I felt a little less bloated (a common issue for me). Since water hangs out with the carbs our bodies store as glycogen, though, I had a feeling this was just from losing water weight.

On the not-so-bright side, though, my workouts took a turn for the worse. I had to lower the weight I usually used for deadlifts—or I couldn’t get the barbell off the floor. I hoped it was a fluke and wondered if I just hadn’t gotten enough sleep, but the next workout felt just as terrible. I had to cut my bench reps short, and pullups felt extra challenging.

I talked to White, who told me to increase calories slightly. I added 200 calories to both my high- and low-carb days, bringing my high-carb days back to my usual 1,800 calories and my low-carb days up to 1,600. I hoped that would be enough to power my workouts and help me build muscle, and maintain a fat-loss-friendly caloric deficit on my off days.

Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?

I stuck with my same go-to foods, just ate more of them—though the extra calories also gave me some wiggle room to eat out and not have to order a dressing-free salad. (I’m not a proponent of starving yourself all day so you can splurge at one meal.)

Sure enough, within a few days I was lifting my normal weights again!

Final Thoughts…and Results

By the time I got my workouts back on track, I had just two weeks of my little experiment left. Knowing it takes months to build notable muscle and burn fat, and that I was cutting just 200 to 400 calories a couple of times a week, I didn’t expect any drastic results. My scale—which can also calculate body fat percentage—didn’t change, but I continued to feel less bloated than usual.

Me, after a month of cycling carbs. Pretty much the same.

The new calorie counts felt really doable, and as I got more familiar with the calories and macros in different foods, I was able to follow my carb-cycling plan without tracking throughout the day. Knowing I didn’t have to obsess about the numbers kept me from feeling like I was depriving myself. Score!

Since I’ve always had the most success when I focus on food workout fuel and letting fat loss be a happy accident of crushing it in the gym, this plan really did feel sustainable for me—and I’ll continue to follow it.

6 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Give Up Bread

Eating low-carb has been popular since the Atkins Diet blew up back in 1972—and the current buzz about the benefits of the super low-carb ketogenic diet proves the low-carb trend isn’t going anywhere.

The question on many people’s minds: Would we all be better off without any high-carb foods? There’s no black-and-white answer, really; different people thrive on different types of diets. But there are some surprising side effects most of us can expect to experience after a breakup with bread and pasta.

1. You Lose Weight Quickly

Oftentimes people go low-carb because they want to lose weight—and when you cut out high-carb foods like bread, that happens fast. That initial drop on the scale those first few days is just water weight, though. “Carbs hold onto water like a sponge,” says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, R.D., dietitian and certified diabetes educator in New York City.

When you stop eating carbs, your body starts using the carbs it has stored up in your body to keep functioning, ‘wringing out the sponge’ and releasing water as it does so. Start noshing on carbs again, and you’ll put that water weight right back on.

2. You Feel Tired At First

Carbs, which you break down into a form of sugar called glucose, are your body’s preferred source of energy. While you get a slow and steady boost from complex carbs (like potatoes and oats), which take longer to break down into glucose, simple, quick-digesting carbs (like white bread and rice) hit your bloodstream in sugar form fast, spiking your energy only to send you crashing later.

Regardless of whether you usually eat a lot of simple carbs—and ride the blood sugar rollercoaster that comes with them—or coast along the complex-carb freeway, cutting down on your total intake will probably leave you feeling pretty drained at first, says Toni Marinucci, R.D., registered dietitian in New York City.

When your body doesn’t have enough glucose to run on, it eventually turns to its backup generator—a state called ketosis—and burns fat instead. Your blood sugar and levels of stored glucose in your liver and muscles (called ‘glycogen’) have to drop significantly to get you there, though, and you’ll likely feel pretty awful as they do. (If you can hold out until you get there, most people feel better a few days into ketosis.)

Related: Want To Try Keto? Here’s What A Healthy Day Of Eating Fat Looks Like

3. And Crabby, Too…

You can expect not to feel your happiest when you’re depriving yourself of an entire food group—especially when you’re passing up on the bread basket during dinner out with friends. But the emotional impact of cutting carbs goes deeper than that: Eating carbs actually increases your brain’s production of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin (often called the ‘feel-good hormone’), says Malkoff-Cohen. The less serotonin you pump out, the more likely you are to feel bummed out.

4. You Might Even Feel Like You Have The Flu

Ever heard of something called the low-carb or ‘keto flu’? Yeah, it’s a real thing—and it’s not fun. When you cut down on carbs significantly, you might deal with flu-like symptoms like drowsiness, achiness, and nausea, says Malkoff-Cohen.

A lot of these issues have to do with your brain, which typically uses tons of glucose because it has so many nerve cells. When your brain doesn’t have enough glucose to run full-steam-ahead, but hasn’t transitioned to using fat, your neurons (nerve cells) don’t function properly and you feel terrible.

Plus, people on low-carb diets often lose out on electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which can lead to some of those flu-like symptoms, as well as issues like heart palpitations and muscle cramps, Malkoff-Cohen adds.

The low-carb flu should subside once you’re a few days into ketosis, but if you’re not quite low-carb enough to make the shift (like 20 to 30 grams of net carbs a day, ‘low’), symptoms might stick around.

5. You Have Trouble Going No. 2

Complex carbs, like whole-wheat bread and other whole grains, contain fiber, which keeps our digestive systems regular. If you cut out complex carbs and don’t make up for that lost fiber with other foods (like vegetables, legumes, and nuts), you might fall short of your needs and have a more difficult time going to the bathroom. (Men should aim for 38 grams of fiber per day; women should aim for 25.)

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6. Your Workouts Feel Pretty Meh

Just as putting the kibosh on carbs can tank your overall energy at first, it can also leave you feeling like garbage in the gym. Marinucci typically recommends snacking on something carb-y (like a granola bar or piece of toast) about 30 minutes before working out, to provide your body with quick fuel.

Lower-intensity exercise (like jogging) may not suffer much when you slash carbs, because your body can power it pretty easily with fat. However, you’ll likely have a harder time pushing through higher-intensity workouts (like strength training or sprint intervals), which rely heavily on carbs. Without those carbs, your body will have to use glycogen or even break down muscle tissue to scrounge up the energy you need.

Everything This Weight Loss Expert Eats In A Day

In my 16-year journey as a weight loss and fitness expert, I’ve tried just about every diet in the book, from bodybuilder-style macro-counting to high-fat keto. Though some experiments have proved more sustainable than others, each has helped me find the eating style that works best for me.

These days, my eating philosophy is to really listen to my body, eat whole foods in their whole forms (as little from packages as possible!), get enough satiating fat, and love what I eat. I keep a list of my five favorite healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, and a binder of all my favorite recipes—like slow cooker chicken chili—to make healthy eating easier when life gets busy. (And, trust me, it does when you have two kids, two dogs, a full-time job, and a hubby who works opposite hours than you do!)

Here’s what a full day of healthy—and delicious—eating usually looks like for me.

On a typical day, my alarm clock goes off at 5:20 in the morning and I enjoy the quiet with a cup of coffee—usually a cappuccino made with lots of whole milk and cinnamon—and my pup, Angus. I feel best following a modified intermittent fasting regimen and delaying my first full meal, so my frothy beverage usually counts as my breakfast.

Then I usually meet with a client in my gym, get my kids ready for school, and do a workout (often kickboxing or a run) of my own. From there, I’m off to work, running from private clients to speaking events to consulting meetings all over the place. I don’t eat my first real meal until around noon, but when I finally stop long enough to sit down and eat, I usually go for breakfast food, my favorite of which is an omelet (or some sort of egg dish).

I stuff two full eggs (the yolks contain all those vitamins, like choline) with vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, and onions—and, of course, cheese. I try to use seasonal veggies and different cheeses (like cheddar and goat cheese) and herbs to keep boredom at bay.

There are some days, however, that I’m crunched for time, so I go for a one-two punch of portable fruit and protein: yogurt parfait plus a banana and packet of nut butter (like Justin’s almond butter).

My yogurt bowls consist of two-percent plain Greek yogurt topped with raspberries, blueberries, two tablespoons of sliced almonds, and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds. I always recommend going for fuller-fat dairy because it’s more satisfying and swapping sugar-laden granola for nuts and seeds, which provide healthy fats, protein, and crunch. The bowl is low in sugar, but high in fiber and protein, so it really holds me over.

With that first meal, I take my supplements: a multivitamin to keep my nutritional bases covered, a probiotic to support a healthy gut, turmeric for an antioxidant boost, and collagen to keep my skin glowing and hair and nails strong.

I’m usually satisfied until late afternoon, when I grab a snack.

My afternoon munch pretty much always includes some dark chocolate, but I do have a few other staples, like apple slices and raw mixed nuts, hummus and sugar snap peas, a clementine and a cheese stick, and apple slices and nut butter. My criteria for a great snack: It must contain a fruit or vegetable for vitamins and fiber, and it should also provide some fat and protein. To make travel and portion control easier, I buy pre-made serving-size packets for nuts, nut butters, and hummus whenever I can.

Once work and after-school activities finish up, my family sits down together for dinner. So much research shows how vital this time can be for families, so we fight for it! We keep the TV off and put our phones away so we can focus on each other and eating mindfully.

Often, we all eat a slight variation of the same theme. My kids might have Italian-seasoned ground turkey over pasta with red sauce, while my husband and I might eat it over spaghetti squash, zucchini, salad, or steamed broccoli.

My goal at dinner is to fill half my plate with produce. Then I add a solid four-ounce serving of a lean protein like chicken or shrimp and some healthy fat like avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, or even a little melted butter. I always use a small plate to keep my portions in check.

During my own weight loss journey (I shed 65 pounds before starting my career in the industry), I realized that I snacked at nighttime just out of habit, and consumed hundreds of extra calories just to keep my hands busy while watching TV. These days, I don’t usually eat after dinner, and make myself a mug of one of my favorite teas—like decaf chai or Earl Grey, or Trader Joe’s Candy Cane green tea—instead.

If I’m truly hungry, though, I’ll go for a snack made of whole, natural foods, which are hard to overeat! My favorites are a sliced apple with a tablespoon or two of almond butter and baby carrots with hummus.

My personal eating style has evolved so much over the years, and right now this way of eating really works for my lifestyle, but I always keep my eyes open for areas where it might need to be tweaked. I truly believe that being willing to try new things and staying inspired are the keys to eating healthy long-term!


Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

How Much Can Willpower Really Do For Your Health?

If you think saying ‘no’ to that chocolate cake is the only thing standing between you and shedding those last few pounds, you’re in good company: Surveys show most people identify a lack of willpower as the biggest obstacle in weight loss. But for as much as we toss the term around, does willpower really make or break our journey to a healthier lifestyle? The answer isn’t so black and white.

“When people think of willpower, they define it as denying themselves something they really want, but for whatever reason think they shouldn’t have,” says certified health coach Anna Dupree. But that approach can be problematic. Research shows that relying too much on willpower can backfire pretty easily, as the more you restrict yourself from certain foods, the more likely you are to crave them. So when you finally meet your temptation face-to-face—say at a happy hour or birthday party—you’ll end up eating three slices of cake instead of feeling satisfied with one.

“It’s not empowering and it’s not inspiring [to focus on willpower alone],” says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., founder of Nutritious Life. “It doesn’t help in the long run because when you don’t change your mindset, you just force yourself to do something, and eventually you wear out.”

Thinking things like I can’t ever eat a slice of pizza, or I won’t lose weight if I eat those chips, has the potential to destroy your relationship with food. It can also trigger a pattern of restrictive eating, which has been known to lead to certain eating disorders.

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

Plus, you use willpower in so many other moments throughout the day—like during your morning commute (you want to scream at the top of your lungs, but you know you shouldn’t) and in meetings at work (you want to tell your co-worker to pipe down, but you know you can’t)—that your mental muscle is often exhausted by the time you get home, making healthy food choices more difficult to stick to. And research shows that stress, insufficient sleep, and weight loss all increase your production of hunger hormones, making it physically harder to resist your favorite foods.

One review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out that science has yet to answer whether it’s even physically possible to constantly suppress the urge to eat tempting foods. After all, your brain’s reward system (yes, the one that’s linked to sex, gambling, and substance abuse) plays a big role in food decisions, and it’s not exactly easy to fight.

And even after all that effort, willpower doesn’t have as much of an impact on your waistline or health as you might think. “People’s willpower does not predict their weight,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of Secrets from the Eating Lab. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad your willpower is; it’s not enough.”

Research shows that your physical environment plays a larger role in making and sticking to healthy lifestyle changes than a split second of mental strength, says Mann. So keeping chips and cookies out of your house is more important than turning down that bagel at a morning meeting.

The bottom line: No health, fitness, or weight-loss goal should ever rely on willpower alone. Use the following three tips to make your health journey less about willpower—and more about a lifestyle. Not only will you reach your goals quicker, but you’ll actually enjoy getting there.

1. Find Your True Motivation

Both Glassman and Dupree agree: Losing weight or getting healthy is all about mindset. Focus on your true motivation for wanting to make healthy lifestyle changes—whether it’s to be able to keep up with your kids or quit feeling so darn tired all the time. “It has to be something you have a deep-down desire to do,” says Dupree. “Instead of thinking about what you can’t have, think about what you’re trading it for.” For instance, you’re trading packaged foods (which might tank you energy or lead to weight gain) for nutrient-rich whole foods that give you more energy and help you feel fuller for longer so you can go on more family outings.

2. Focus On Simple And Gradual Changes

Overhauling your routine overnight is bound to stress you out. Instead, slowly swap out foods you’d like to eat less of (like packaged cookies and snacks) for foods you’d like to eat more of (like apples and carrots). When you don’t completely restrict yourself from day one, you’re more likely to see the changes you make as positive.

3. Practice Self-Care

Even when you’ve got your mind right, eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep can still be tough—especially if your schedule is jam-packed! But you’re more likely to keep up with healthy lifestyle changes if you still make time to do things you enjoy, says Dupree.

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So swap that gym session for a fitness class you really love, turn off your phone to read after dinner, or make breakfast with your kids on the weekend. The more fulfilled you feel, the more motivated you’ll be.

I Put On 12 Pounds Just So I Could Try Keto

I was raised on low-fat diets, Weight Watchers, and the idea that eating fat makes you fat. Despite the decades of experience I have as a weight loss professional, some of these ideas from my own weight loss journey (I lost 65 pounds before making health and fitness my career) have been hard to kick.

So you can imagine my surprise (and slight anxiety) to see how popular the high-fat ketogenic diet has become throughout the past few years. Super low in carbs (we’re talking like 25 net grams a day), this trendy diet requires eating between 65 and 85 percent of your daily calories from fat in order to shift your body from burning glucose from carbs to producing and burning ketones from fats (a state called ‘ketosis’). That means saying goodbye to carbs like grains, starchy veggies, and most fruit—and loading up on fats like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and butter. The exact opposite of what the mainstream diet world has been telling us for the past three decades!

But with so many people boasting the energy and weight-loss benefits of the keto diet, I had to say: I was intrigued. I wanted to try it!

So, I did what any curious health and fitness expert would do: put my fears aside, purposely gained 12 pounds (yes, really!), and gave keto a shot.

Getting Started

I pored through the internet (relying heavily on Mark’s Daily Apple, Dr. Axe, and even keto Reddit boards) to gather information and plan out some easy meals for my first week.

My everyday diet embraced healthy carbs like yogurt, fruit, and potatoes, but shied away from too many fats, so I knew I’d have to do some meal prepping to make this massive change stick. I decided to make egg cups (eggs, cheese, bacon, and spinach baked in a muffin tin) for easy grab-and-go breakfasts, spinach salads topped with avocado, bacon bits, cheese, and ranch dressing for lunches, and cheese- and bacon-wrapped chicken for dinners. Lots. Of. Cheese. I snacked on macadamia nuts, enjoyed small pieces of dark chocolate, and even made ‘fat bombs’ (frozen balls of coconut oil, nut butter, and cocoa mixed together) to keep me satisfied and ward off cravings.

I loved the food (I mean, who doesn’t like smothering things in ranch and butter?), but I still worried I would gain a lot of weight.

To my surprise, though, my weight dropped those first few days. I learned that these quickly-lost pounds came from water (which is stored alongside carbs in our bodies), not body fat, but I wasn’t complaining. Plus, all the newfound fat in my diet was so satiating that I simply stopped feeling hungry. Within three days, my cravings disappeared and I felt balanced and energized.

Attack Of The Keto Flu

And then, around the end of week one…the ‘Keto Flu’ hit! A common experience for new keto eaters, the keto flu occurs your magnesium, sodium, and potassium stores become depleted as your body shifts from using carbs to fat as its main source of energy. (These vital electrolytes regulate your heart beat, balance fluid levels in your body, and perform many other important functions—and losing too much of them can be dangerous.) I couldn’t believe how quickly it came on. I felt extremely lethargic and thirsty, needed naps in the middle of the day, and couldn’t even get through a workout.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

Following the guidance of my online gurus, I picked up a magnesium and potassium supplement (like Country Life’s Magnesium Potassium Aspartate), and started drinking chicken Boullion cubes (which contain more than a gram of sodium a pop) to replenish my electrolytes.

The struggle lasted on and off for about two weeks—and it seriously knocked me out.

Smooth Sailing

Once my body got used to being in ketosis and I nailed my electrolyte intake, the ‘keto flu’ passed and all of the perks I’d read about finally started raining down. I had incredible amounts of energy, zero cravings, and slept beautifully. My workouts got back to normal, too.

As the weeks passed, I experimented more and more with my meals. Eggs continued to be my go-to breakfast, but I tried out all sorts of recipes for lunches and dinners, including ‘meattza’ (pizza using a layer of ground beef as the crust) and Hasselback chicken (chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach). I enjoyed my broccoli with melted cheddar cheese on top, ate a lot of cauliflower (it’s relatively low in carbs), and loaded up on spinach (which provided much-needed potassium).

It's like Where's Waldo… can you find Gertie in the photo? 🐶🐾

A post shared by Liz Josefsberg (@lizjosefsberg) on

I lost weight steadily throughout those two months. By the end, I’d lost 15 pounds total, and my body fat percentage had dropped from 36 percent to 29 percent, meaning I shed fat but kept my precious muscle. (The only other time I’d seen such a significant body fat drop was during my high-protein bodybuilding days!) My results confirmed everything I’d read online: Once your body adapts to burning fat, it will turn to your fat stores for energy.

As impressed as I was with how keto changed my body, though, I don’t think it’s something I could maintain long-term. Since the diet is so restrictive and takes such an immense amount of work and attention to follow, I found it difficult to fully live life while on it. Knowing just one misstep could throw me out of ketosis and back into burning sugar, I stressed about social situations and eating out. Plus, I really missed fruit and wine.

I’m glad I did it, though! Keto taught me that fats are awesome—and I’m truly sorry I avoided them for so many years. Since my experiment, I’ve continued to eat a lot of healthy fats—and even though I’m not all-out keto anymore, my meals are more satisfying and my weight has been easier to maintain. It’s amazing how far a little whole milk goes in a cup of coffee!

 

Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

How Much Should You Work Out If Weight Loss Is Your Goal?

We all cherish the endorphin rush that comes with a good sweat—but whether we want to address a health concern or fit into a favorite pair of jeans, there’s no denying that many of us have ulterior motives for working out.

We often consider exercise the make-it-or-break-it factor in weight loss, but there are a lot of mixed messages out there about how often—and how intensely—we actually need to sweat to change our bodies. To clear up the confusion, we asked top fitness pros to share what a weight loss-friendly workout routine should really look like.

The Big Picture

Believe it or not, research suggests exercise has a pretty limited impact on weight loss.

And while working out is important for your cardiovascular health, mood, bone density, mobility, and flexibility—and does impact your body composition (how much muscle versus fat you have)—it’s just one part of a winning weight-loss strategy.

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

“Successful weight loss is the result of several efforts: a foundation of strength training, appropriate cardio, a supportive nutrition plan, proper recovery and sleep, and stress management,” says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S. and author of Lift to Get Lean.

Spend Your Time Wisely

Regardless of your weight-loss goals, how often you work out should be based on your current fitness level. Perkins recommends starting with four to five workouts a week: three full-body strength workouts (about 30 to 35 minutes) to increase metabolism-revving muscle, and two to three cardio workouts (between 35 and 40 minutes) to promote fat loss.

Once you’re used to this schedule, add one or two challenging interval cardio sessions (about 35 minutes) per week. Perform cardio after strength training—and feel free to mix it up by trying a new group class or swapping your usual elliptical session for a neighborhood run.

No matter how much gym experience you have—and how motivated you are to change your body—ample rest is also key to seeing results. “When we exercise, we break our muscle tissue and energy stores down, so we need rest, recovery, and proper nutrition to build them back up,” says LA-based trainer Shannon Decker, C.P.T. “I personally make myself take two rest days a week.” If at any point you notice less-than-stellar workouts or feel fatigued or dehydrated, add another rest day to your weekly schedule.

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In the long run, over-exercising can actually sabotage weight loss by elevating levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “Chronically elevated cortisol increases your appetite and food cravings, and decreases your ability to sleep deeply,” explains Perkins.

Extra Credit

Formal workouts aside, don’t forget that the physical activity you do throughout the rest of your day also contributes to your weight loss success! Not only does moving more mean burning more calories, but it also improves a number of general health and fitness markers, like mood, mental clarity, and energy, says Perkins. Add as much general movement—whether a morning yoga flow, a walk with your dog, or playtime with your kids in the backyard—to your day as possible, especially if you work a desk job.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, whether or not you squeeze in that extra workout won’t make or break your weight loss. “Losing weight takes time and dedication,” says Decker. “It’s a lifestyle change.” If you realistically only have time to work out three days a week, it’s okay! Just remember that what matters most is consistently living an overall healthy lifestyle.

6 Carbs That Can Help You Lose Weight

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

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

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

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

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

1. Potatoes

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

Related: Why Everyone Needs To Stop Hating On White Potatoes

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

2. Starchy Vegetables

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

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

3. Whole Grains

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

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

4. Legumes

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

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

5. Fruit

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

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

6. Dairy

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

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

Consider this infographic your quick healthy carbs guide:

How To Train And Supplement For Every Fitness Goal

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

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

Goal: Strength

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

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


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

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

Goal: Hypertrophy

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

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

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


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

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

Goal: Endurance

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

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


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

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

Goal: Fat Loss

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

In the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Gym

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Possible Reasons Why Your Fat Loss Has Plateaued

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

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

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

1. You Hit The Gym Without A Plan

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

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

2. You Focus Too Much On Cardio

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

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

3. You Don’t Do HIIT

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

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

4. You’re Not Recovering Properly

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

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

Related: 8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

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

5. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

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

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

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

6. Your Portions Are Generous

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

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

7. You’re Not Eating Enough Calories

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

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

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

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

8. You’ve Been Drinking A Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Basics

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

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

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

The Benefits

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

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

Need A Little Help Conquering Cravings?

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

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

Issues To Look Out For

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

Related: 9 Healthy Snacks Nutritionists Always Keep On Hand

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

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

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

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

8 New Year’s Resolutions Nutritionists Want You To Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

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

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

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

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

8 Cardio Myths It’s Time To Stop Believing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth 3: You should do cardio every single day.

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

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

Supps That Support Recovery

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

Myth 4: Yoga doesn’t count as cardio.

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

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

Myth 5: Fasted cardio torches the most fat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 6 Reasons You Should Never Skip Leg Day

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

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

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

6 Ways To Burn More Calories During Your Workouts

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

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

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

1. Hit The Weights

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

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

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

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

 2. Focus On Compound Exercises

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

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

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

3. Try Interval Training

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

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

Give Your Workouts A Boost

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

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

4. Use A Fitness Tracker

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

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

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

5. Down Some Joe Before Working Out

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

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

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

6. Switch Up The Temperature

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

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

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

 7. Drink Cold Water

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

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

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