TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Ways to Get Slim on Autopilot

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Streamline your day-to-day diet decision making

“Just tell me what to eat.” Weight-loss experts say that’s the number one thing they hear from women who are trying to slim down. And no wonder: Whether it’s the endless aisles of food at the grocery store or a seemingly harmless salad bar, research shows that the more options you have, the more likely you are to blow your calorie budget.

The culprit? Decision fatigue. When faced with lots of choices, the regions of your brain responsible for willpower and regret become overstimulated, upping the odds that you’ll make poor decisions—and feel less satisfied with the selections you make even when they’re good ones.

“We think choice makes us happy, but the truth is, it can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety,” says Judith Beck, PhD, author of The Diet Trap Solution and president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Philadelphia. Most of your eating habits should be automatic, similar to putting on a seat belt when you get into a car, she says: “Making choices in advance helps you stay on track because it eliminates the ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ struggle every time you need to decide something.” (Like when your co-worker brings in brownies—again.)

Here are five ways to streamline your day-to-day decision making so you can drop a few and feel less stressed in the process.

No. 1: Forget your “free day”
It’s a popular allowance among conscientious eaters, many of whom chronicle their mouthwatering splurges (waffles and whipped cream!) with #cheatday. But chowing down on whatever strikes your fancy as a reward for sensible eating the rest of the week can undo your hard work. Data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that people who lost a significant amount of weight are more likely to regain it if they allow themselves to eat with abandon on weekends and holidays. Even one day of chasing fries and cake with bottomless margaritas can more than double your regular calorie intake—and those calories add up. “When you step on the scale on Monday and see you’ve gained, you’ll probably feel discouraged, which undermines your resolve to keep eating healthy,” Beck notes. Plus, she adds, “it’s difficult to get back on track after a day- or weekend-long blowout. Normal eating feels like deprivation.”

No. 2: But treat yourself every day
Beck tells her patients to enjoy just one indulgent food a day. “Cookies, chips, fudge: Everything is fair game, provided you choose your treat in advance and stick to a moderate portion that fits into your daily calorie allotment,” she explains. If you’re going to have some chocolate after dinner, it’s easier to turn down a tempting cupcake at your nephew’s birthday. (And if it pains you to pass on the cupcake, you can make that the next day’s treat.)

No. 3: Say yes to soup Sunday
Or Tuna Taco Tuesday, or a big salad with protein as your go-to weekday lunch.

Self-control is like a muscle: The more you exert it (burger or branzino? Candy bar or nutrition bar?), the more fatigued it becomes, until you almost unconsciously make the decision you normally wouldn’t (burger and a candy bar, please!). Willpower is overrated,” says Jane Burrell Uzcategui, RD, instructor of nutrition at Syracuse University. “If you’re constantly relying on your brain to make the right choice, you’re constantly going to be disappointed.”

Having default snacks and meals reduces the number of decisions you make on any given day—so you’re more likely to eat well at other times. “I tell clients to have 5 to 10 staple recipes and switch them up: Make a different cut of meat one night, or try a new sauce in your weekly stir-fry,” says New York City dietitian Lauren Slayton, RD, author of The Little Book of Thin.

No. 4: Have backup meals at the ready
Don’t let an insanely busy day or burned dinner send you straight into the arms of the Papa John’s deliveryman. Instead, stock up on a few fast-fix meals that fit your diet criteria, so you’re prepared when things go awry.

Preplanned meals are smart even when you’re not crazed. In a recent study, researchers at ConAgra Foods asked people to have a light (270-calorie) frozen meal in place of their usual lunch three days a week for a month. Not only did folks report feeling satisfied hours later, they consumed 500 fewer calories per day.

“Having to measure portions or calculate calories can be tedious, and if you’re tired, it’s not going to happen. The reason frozen meals worked is because they offer options but eliminate guesswork,” explains Kristin Reimers, RD, whose study inspired a wellness program that helped more than 2,000 employees lose as many as 2 pounds a week by eating a microwave meal with under 450 calories at least once a day.

No. 5: Cut yourself off
Willpower can be weakest at night—which is why it’s so easy to intend to have just a little ice cream before bed, only to look down and discover that you’ve emptied half the pint. An easy fix: Tell yourself, “I don’t eat after 9 p.m.” (or a similar time that makes sense for your schedule). Says Beck, “Rules work, even when they’re self-imposed.”

What’s more, knowing that the kitchen is closed may make it easier to hit the hay—and being well-rested bolsters your willpower so you can make wise, waist-friendly food choices tomorrow.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME public health

4 Health Products You Should Never Buy Online

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Beware these sketchy online purchases

Whatever you need, you can get it online. That can make shopping for health products a little bit, shall we say, sketchy. “The people selling certain products to you don’t care about your health and just want money. With greed comes a lot of fraud,” says Josephine Dlugopolski-Gach, assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Loyola University Health System. While you have to be careful with whatever you buy, these four products below can run you into a lot of trouble—and harm:

Certain prescription medications

If a site will let you buy meds without a prescription, that’s a big red flag—especially for certain medications. Listen to this warning from the Drug Enforcement Administration: “Buying online could mean doing time.” Even if you have good intentions, you can’t legally buy “controlled substances” online like Xanax or Ambien without an Rx. And prescriptions from cyber docs won’t cut it, says the DEA. The law is different depending on your state, but most require you to see a doctor you have a relationship with in person. In addition to that, buying from a bad site could leave you with medication that’s fake or contains dangerous ingredients. For example, the FDA purchased the flu-stopping medication Tamiflu online in order to test it. They found it wasn’t Tamiflu at all, but a combination of talc and acetaminophen.

It’s perfectly fine to buy prescription medication from a state-licensed US-based online pharmacy; these sites often can help you save money. To know if they’re legit, Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach suggests making sure they have an actual phone number, have a licensed pharmacist on staff, and require an Rx to fill your order. You can check the legitimacy of the site at the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. And use common sense. “If the deal sounds too good to be true, you’re probably not going to get the right medication,” she says.

Weight loss supplements

You never know what you’re going to get when you buy a weight loss supplement online. The FDA points out that in their testing, they’ve discovered supplements—even herbals—were tainted with hidden and unsafe ingredients. Many are also not FDA-approved, meaning their claims haven’t been checked out and aren’t regulated. (It’s on the individual companies to tell the truth. They don’t always do that.) “A lot of times, these weight loss pills are just stimulants. They contain a lot of caffeine, which is not safe, especially if you have a cardiac condition,” says Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach. “I’ve seen people go into the ER on the verge of a heart attack.” While building long-term healthy habits is often the best way to keep weight off, if you want to check out something that promises to help you lose weight or rev your metabolism, “tell your doctor what you’re interested in before you buy it, even if it’s marketed as natural,” she adds.

Breast milk

You hear “breast is best”—but it’s not if it comes from an online source, suggests an editorial in The BMJ. The problem is, breast milk online is an unregulated industry, so it can be contaminated with viruses (like hepatitis or HIV), bacteria (if not stored or shipped properly) alcohol, prescription medication, and illegal drugs, notes Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach. What’s more, in a new study in the journal Pediatrics, researchers tested 102 samples and found 10% were topped off with cow’s milk, which can cause an allergic reaction. It’s understandable that people might want to buy breast milk–aka “liquid gold”–if they can’t produce their own due to cancer treatment or other reasons. Or that other women would want to donate or sell their milk if they produce more than enough. However, the temptation to make more money by adding cow’s milk might be too much for some online sellers. Organizations like Eats on Feets and Only the Breast (which broker such sales) do recommend pasteurizing all milk and screening donors for HIV and other diseases (among other safety suggestions), but many people don’t follow the guidelines, according to a CNN report. “If you can breastfeed that’s wonderful, but if you can’t, formula is the next best thing,” says Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach. “It’s not worth risking going to an online source and getting breast milk from a stranger.” If you do want to donate milk, there are nonprofit milk banks that collect, test, pasteurize, and store human milk for infants, mostly at-risk neonates in hospitals; go to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America for more information.

Hormone products

If you are approaching menopause, you might be tempted to buy hormone replacement medications, creams, or herbs online. “Some women want a quick fix to get their sex drive or chutzpah back,” explains Diana Bitner, MD, an ob/gyn at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, MI. “I have patients who have bought testosterone pellets on their own. They end up taking so much of the hormone they have really bad side effects, like hair growth, voices deepening, and rage issues,” she explains. Many of these products are not effective, safe, and contain variable amounts of active ingredients.

Same goes for buying soy. “Women will buy a ton of this online and say it doesn’t make them feel better, so they buy more and more,” Dr. Bitner explains. Only about 30% of women’s bodies can actually utilize soy to lessen menopause symptoms, so you may be wasting your money. For any hormone treatment, even if it’s labeled “natural” you need a doctor’s guidance; she can ensure you get the right hormones in the right amount every time that work.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Pros and Cons of Running on the Treadmill

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Running on a treadmill is easier on your joints

Is it better to run on a treadmill or outside on the pavement? It’s an age-old question and the truth is there are pros and cons to both. There are definitely some types of workouts you can do better or more efficiently on a treadmill. However, running on a ‘mill can create that aimless, never-ending ‘hamster wheel’ feeling for some. It depends on your goals, injury history, and preference, too.

Here are 6 pros and cons to running on a treadmill versus running outside on the pavement or trail.

Pro: The difficulty level is the same

The question of difficulty level always arises when it comes to running indoors versus out. People assume that running outside is empirically harder than logging miles inside on a treadmill. However, research has proven that setting the treadmill to a 1% incline accurately reflects the same energy costs of running outdoors. So, it’s just as effective as long as you add a little incline.

Read more: 15 Running Tips You Need to Know

Pro: It’s easier on your joints

The smooth, cushioned belt is more forgiving than hard pavement or cement. Running on a treadmill can help reduce some of the impact on the joints and the body as a whole. This can be especially helpful when rehabbing or coming back from an injury. Make sure you ease your way back to the road following an injury by alternating treadmill and outdoor runs a few times a week, instead of going cold turkey.

Read more: 7 Running Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Pro: You can simulate race environments

Many of the more advanced treadmills allow you to create your own unique course profile, which you can use to simulate the exact course you’re training for. Even if you’re not training for a race, you can switch up your workout by choosing a certain trail or terrain from around the world, depending on the options, to make you feel as though you’re half a world away. You also have no worries of weather, temperature, or terrain issues while running on a treadmill, which can mean everything if you live in a very cold or wet part of the country.

Read more: 7 Ways to Make Your Treadmill Runs More Effective

Con: You could lose your agility

Although the treadmill might provide your joints with more cushion, you don’t get the added benefit of running on uneven terrain or pavement. Even if the ground outside might feel flat to you, it never truly is. Therefore, your foot and leg muscles are constantly making small adjustments to adapt to the changing surfaces. These adjustments are great for coordination and balance and will help improve your ability to do everyday things. While treadmill running can help improve your overall fitness, it won’t mimic the real-life situations that are simulated through running outdoors.

Read more: Here’s How Much Running Is Healthiest for You, According to One Study

Con: You don’t work as many muscles

Because there is a machine powering the belt, the muscle mechanics differ when you run on the treadmill. Outside, you typically rely on your hamstrings to finish the stride cycle and lift your legs behind you, almost kicking your butt. But on a treadmill, the propulsion of the belt does much of that work for you. You use your quads to push off, but your hamstrings aren’t firing as much as they would if you were running outdoors. If you’re only running on the treadmill, be sure that you’re also doing cross training to work the muscles on the back of your legs, including your hamstrings and glutes.

Read more: 10 Exercise Cheats That Blow Your Calorie Burn

Con: It’s boring

There are no two ways about it: Running inside is boring. Even if you have the best playlist or you’re watching TV, it’s just too easy to look at that clock directly in front of you—and see that only 30 seconds have passed since the last time you checked it. (You can try covering the display with a towel to keep that clock out of sight). When running outside, the time naturally seems to move faster because you are literally covering more ground. Plus, you set a literal finish line for your run and see it getting closer and closer as you approach it. This provides you with a more natural sense of distance and will give you that extra push to finish strong when you feel like giving up.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Surprising Tricks to Beat Pain

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Give acupressure a try

You’ve slammed your finger in the door (ouch!), and in that first minute, well, you pretty much think you’re going to die. But don’t freak: Instead, stay calm and cross your fingers. That simple move may be enough to numb the pain a bit, according to a recent study study published in Current Biology.

Really.

After inducing a harmless burning sensation in the fingers of volunteers, researchers found that it’s possible to lessen the feeling by crossing one finger over the other. Why? Turns out how you feel pain is related to where you feel it. By crossing your fingers, you change where your fingers are in relation to one another, and that confuses your brain (in a good way).

“[The burning] feels painful because of a three-way interaction between the nerve pathways that tell the brain about warmth, cold, and pain,” study co-author Elisa Raffaella Ferrè, a research student at the University College London, explained to Health. Having volunteers cross their fingers helped them feel better, suggesting that “changing body posture might trick the brain” in a way that reduces pain, Ferrè added.

But what about all your other aches and pains? There are plenty of other surprising natural tricks to try when you’re hurting. Here are three more science-backed tactics to fight back.

Listen up

Putting on some tunes you love can help soothe your aches, according to a recent study in the journal Plos One. Researchers applied heat to people’s skin in order to cause discomfort. Those who got to jam to their favorite songs reported less pain than those who listened to other sounds or silence, even when the researchers controlled for the placebo effect.

Press here

After giving people with recurring headaches a chance to try either muscle relaxants or acupressure, researchers in a 2010 study found that those in the acupressure group had less pain than those treated with pills. Try it: When you feel a head pounder coming on, apply steady pressure with both thumbs at the base of your head on either side of your spine on and off until you feel better.

Fantasize about food

Next time you have killer menstrual cramps, try imagining chocolate ice cream or your mom’s perfectly buttery mashed potatoes—a 2008 study found that food visualization worked better for pain relief than other imagery, like scenery, or walking around.

Additional reporting by Amelia Harnish

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Mental Tricks to Beat Cravings and Lose Weight

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Try the 'apple trick'

Using pure willpower to overcome cravings doesn’t always work. (If it did, dieting would be easy and we’d all be at our own healthy, feel-great weights.) Guess what? You don’t have to tough out an unrelenting yen to house a box of Cheez-Its; you just need to fool yourself into thinking you didn’t actually want to eat the junk food in the first place. It’s easier than you think. Here are tips from experts and recent studies to help you stay on track.

Visualize an internal pause button

The next time you want to reach for a big bowl of Chunky Monkey, picture yourself hitting a pause button in your brain. “If someone were to ask to borrow a lot of money, most people can stop and say, ‘I’ll think about it,'” says Coral Arvon, PhD, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity in Miami, FL. But when that chocolate cake or bottle of wine is in front of us at the end of day, the majority of us don’t hesitate to indulge. “Think ‘pause,’ and consider your decision for 10 minutes before making an actual decision,” Arvon suggests.

Watch the video: 6 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Less

Substitute junk food with healthy foods that resemble junk food

Find a healthy alternative that shares some of the same qualities as the fatty food you’ve got a craving for, says Jonathan Alpert, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Craving the crunch and salt of potato chips? Make a batch of satisfyingly crispy kale chips. Eyeing the carton of ice cream in your freezer? Whip up a fruit-packed smoothie bowl instead. “Over time your taste buds and brain will adjust and learn to like these healthier options,” says Alpert.

Watch the video: 5 Healthy Baking Swaps

Imagine yourself eating

Thinking about eating a bag of candy makes it more likely you’ll eat less of it when you actually start eating it, according to a 2010 study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers. Study participants who visualized eating 30 M&Ms before indulging in a bowl of the candies ate fewer M&Ms than two other groups who imagined eating only three candies or no treats at all. Researchers say the key lies in thinking about eating the food versus merely thinking about or visualizing it.

Tell yourself you can have anything

When you think about going on a diet, hunger pangs, deprivation, and waving goodbye to your favorite foods probably come to mind. Problem is, denying yourself your favorite foods immediately sets you up for failure, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys and co-author of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon. “You want to make changes you can do for the rest of your life. The key is to eat what you want, but not everything you want,” says Goodson. “You can still enjoy one to two splurges during the week as long as you stay on track the rest of the time.”

Read more: 10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

Go back in time

Cut back on calories by learning to snack like a preschooler, says Goodson. “Many people get in trouble with snacking because they eat too much. So trick your mind into eating less by portioning your snacks in small baggies. This helps you feel as if you’re eating ‘all’ of something, which satisfies your brain.” Ideally, break out portion sizes of chips, snacks, and other goodies as soon as you bring them home from the store so you’re not tempted to dip your hand in the entire 10-serving container. To further avoid temptation, keep the portioned snacks out of sight hidden in a cupboard.

Read more: A Slacker’s Guide to Losing Weight Without Trying

Use the “apple trick”

The next time you’re standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what you’re craving, maybe you’re not really hungry, says Goodson. Here’s how to figure out if you’re genuinely hungry or just trying to satisfy a craving. “When you crave a salty or sweet treat, ask yourself if you’d eat an apple,” says Goodson. “If the answer is yes, you’re hungry and it’s okay to have a small snack. If not, drink some water, because you’re not really hungry.” Since thirst often masquerades as hunger, drinking a glass of water should silence your craving.

Watch the video: 4 Tricks to Eat Healthier

Plan your junk food

Instead of waiting for a temptation to strike and only then trying to handle it, plan to have one indulgent or “junk” food a day, preferably after dinner, says Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Philadelphia and clinical associate professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s easier to resist cravings during the day if you know you are going to have your favorite food that night.” And when you finish a moderate portion of that food, remind yourself that if you want more, you can have more tomorrow night, and the next night, and the next night, and so on.

Create a top 10 list of distractions

Before a craving strikes, be ready to combat it by having a ready list of alternative activities to keep you on the straight and narrow. “Play a video game, call a friend, take a walk, read to your kids, groom your dog, polish your nails,” says Beck. “Watch how the craving has diminished when you firmly focus your mind on something else.” Other distractions include brushing your teeth, doing a set of crunches or push-ups, deep breathing, or meditation.

Read more: 20 Little Ways to Drop the Pounds and Keep Them Off

Fool your eye

Use smaller plates. A moderate portion on a large dinner plate looks small, says Beck. “Part of feeling satisfied is visual satisfaction. Another part of feeling satisfied is when hunger diminishes. So pledge to eat all your food sitting down, slowly, while enjoying every bite.” Keeping junk food out of sight and eating in only the kitchen or dining room—not in front of the TV—can also help you lose weight, according to a Cornell University study.

Read more: 10 Signs Your House Is Making You Fat

Train your resistance muscle

Every time you have a craving and you resist it, you build up your “resistance muscle,” which makes it more likely that the next time you have a craving you’ll resist it. On the other hand, each time you give in to a craving, you strengthen your “giving in muscle,” says Beck, “which makes it more likely that the next time you’ll give in and the time after that and the time after that.”

Set your phone to send you motivational messages

Spontaneous eating is what gets almost every dieter into trouble, says Beck. One way to counteract it is by turning your phone into your conscience. She suggests setting a reminder on your smartphone so every time it goes off, you read a message that encourages you to stick to your diet: “I could eat whatever I want, OR I can lose weight and be healthier,” or “If I eat food I haven’t planned to eat I’ll get momentary satisfaction but I’ll feel bad later.” You’ll want to have these ideas at the forefront of your mind every time you’re hit with a craving.

Read more: How the Pros Curb Food Cravings

Stay clear of TV while eating

Turn off The Walking Dead while eating dinner and you’ll eat fewer calories. Watching TV makes you overeat, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. Two groups of women were studied while they snacked with or without TV. One group was offered one type of snack, while the other group had the choice of four snacks. Everyone ate more while watching the tube. “Avoid this by never having the box or bag of snacks next to you while watching TV,” says Goodson. Get a serving on a napkin or small plate and take the serving to the TV room.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Healthcare

How to Tell When Feeling Tired Is a Sign of a Health Problem

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When should I see my doctor about my low energy?

In our go, go, go lives, it’s not always easy to spot problematic lack of energy. But if you’re sleeping a solid seven to eight hours a night and still feeling sluggish, that should raise a red flag. The best advice is to pay close attention to exactly how it feels so you can describe it to your doctor in detail. If your fatigue is more like weakness, for example, the problem might be your thyroid gland, which regulates energy levels; either an overactive or underactive thyroid can zap you. Blood tests will show if there’s an issue, and your doctor can prescribe medicines that help.

Read more: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

More general daytime sleepiness or fogginess, on the other hand, is more likely related to stress or a lingering infection. Your doctor might order a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea, which causes your breathing to pause while you snooze. This can disrupt your z’s, even if you don’t notice. To treat it, your doctor might prescribe a mouthpiece or breathing machine so you can get good rest.

Read more: A Sleep Meditation for a Restful Night

If you also have breathlessness, that’s a possible sign of a heart condition like cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes overgrowth of the heart muscle. Treatment ranges from diet changes to surgery to remove tissue or implant a pacemaker. Finally, if you feel apathy, too, that’s a sign of depression or grief. Thankfully, most of the time persistent tiredness can be solved with a little detective work.

Read more: 11 Secrets to All Day Energy

Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Healthcare

7 Kinds of Coughs and What They Might Mean

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Answers may lie in what the cough sounds like

Allergies? A cold? Acid reflux? No matter what the cause, there’s a simple reason behind all your hacking: “A cough is a protective mechanism to clear your airway,” explains Jonathan Parsons, MD, Director of the Cough Clinic at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

While it’s impossible to always pinpoint a cough by how it sounds, there are some key differences to give you clues as to what’s going on. Here’s how to tell what that cough really means.

Read more: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong

Postnasal drip

Sounds like: Either a dry or wet cough. It’s caused by mucus dripping down your throat (due to either allergies or a cold), which tickles nerve endings, triggering coughing, Dr. Parsons says.

Other telltale symptoms: The cough is worse at night; there’s a tickly feeling at the back of your throat. If it’s due to allergies you may also have itchy eyes and sneezing.

Diagnosis and Rx: If you suspect allergies, try an over-the-counter antihistamine. But if that doesn’t help after a couple weeks, see your doctor, who can refer you to an allergist for skin testing. If it’s due to a residual cold, you can try natural remedies like saline washes and steam to help relieve congestion, but if the cough lingers for more than a week see your doctor to rule out a sinus infection, which might require antibiotics.

Read more: Your 12 Worst Allergy Mistakes

Asthma

Sounds like: A dry cough that ends with a rattle or wheeze. People with asthma have inflamed airways, which can cause difficulty breathing as well as wheezing and coughing.

Other telltale symptoms: The cough gets worse at night or while exercising; chest tightness; shortness of breath; fatigue

Diagnosis and Rx: To check for asthma, your doctor will most likely order spirometry, a lung function test, he says. To treat it, there are two types of medications: quick-relief drugs (bronchodilators like albuterol, which make it easier to breathe) and drugs you take daily to keep asthma under control, such as leukotriene modifiers (like Singulair).

GERD

Sounds like: A dry, spasmodic cough. Short for gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD is when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus. It’s actually the second most common cause of chronic cough, causing about 40% of cases, according to a 2006 review published in Nature.

Other telltale symptoms: Your cough gets worse when you’re lying down or eating. “The classic sign is coughing that starts as soon as you lie down in bed at night,” says Dr. Parsons. About 75% of GERD patients with chronic cough have no other symptoms, but if you do they can include heartburn and hoarseness.

Diagnosis and Rx: Tests may include an x-ray of your upper GI tract and/or an endoscopy (where your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube down your throat to examine it). GERD is treated with OTC or prescription meds to reduce acid production, like Pepcid AC, Zantac, or Prilosec.

Read more: 11 Surprising Symptoms of Acid Reflux

COPD

Sounds like: A chronic, hacking cough that produces a lot of mucus, particularly in the morning, Dr. Parsons says. COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, includes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema; the main cause is smoking.

Other telltale symptoms: The cough gets better as the day progresses; shortness of breath, especially with physical activity; wheezing, fatigue, and chest tightness.

Diagnosis and Rx: Your doctor will usually recommend lung function tests such as spirometry and a chest x-ray. The disease is treated with meds like bronchodilators and inhaled steroids; it’s also imperative to stop smoking. In extreme cases, you may need oxygen therapy.

Medication-related cough

Sounds like: A dry cough. A group of drugs known as ACE inhibitors are commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure; they can cause cough in about 20% of patients.

Other telltale symptoms: Cough begins a few weeks after starting these meds, Dr. Parsons says.

Diagnosis and Rx: Talk to your doctor. If your cough is mild, you may be okay switching to a different ACE inhibitor, he says, but if it’s severe, you’ll want to switch to another type of blood pressure med entirely, such as an angiotensin receptor blocker or ARB, like Cozaar.

Read more: 11 Weird Things That Make Your Seasonal Allergies Worse

Pneumonia

Sounds like: Initially a dry cough which after a few days turns to a wet cough with yellow, green, and/or red or rust-tinged mucus.

Other telltale symptoms: Fever, chills, trouble breathing, pain when breathing in deeply or coughing

Diagnosis and Rx: Your doctor can usually tell if you have pneumonia by listening to your chest with a stethoscope, although she may order an x-ray and blood tests to determine if it’s viral or bacterial, Dr. Parsons says. Treatment for the latter is antibiotics; if it’s viral, the only remedy is rest, OTC cough meds, and chicken soup.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Sounds like: A severe, hacking cough that ends with a whooping sound as you breathe in. While this disease used to be extremely rare thanks to vaccines introduced back in the 1940s, it’s now seeing an upswing—in 2012, there were more than 48,000 cases reported, the most since 1955, according to the CDC.

Other telltale symptoms: The first symptoms are similar to the common cold: stuffy, runny nose, watery eyes, fever, and cough. But after about a week the classic coughing signs emerge, with hacking so intense you may throw up or turn red or blue, he says.

Diagnosis and Rx: Pertussis is diagnosed with blood tests and a chest X-ray. It’s treated with antibiotics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

4 Low-Sugar Food Swaps

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Try these trades to lower your blood sugar

Diabetes has become an epidemic, affecting 29 million Americans. But here’s the good news if you’re concerned about your blood glucose: “One of the best ways to stay healthy is to make better food choices,” says Mitchell L. Gaynor, MD, author of The Gene Therapy Plan. Try these trades to lower your blood sugar and pack more protective nutrients into every bite.

Read more: Diabetes-Friendly Desserts

Breakfast
Instead of: Fried egg + bacon + American cheese + bagel
Eat this: Scrambled egg whites + onion + tomato + spinach + black beans + sprouted whole-grain tortilla

The classic breakfast sandwich is packed with saturated fat and refined carbs. But wrapping an egg-white scramble in a 6-inch sprouted whole-grain tortilla cuts calories and cholesterol and boosts fiber content to balance your blood sugar. “Throw in some color for extra nutrients,” says Tami Ross, RD, a diabetes educator in Lexington, KY and author of What Do I Eat Now? Onions, tomatoes, spinach and black beans all contain minerals essential to glucose metabolism.

Read more: 10 Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes

Lunch
Instead of: Romaine lettuce + carrot + cucumber + Thousand Island dressing
Eat this: Kale + dandelion leaves + radishes + chicory + scoop of tuna + olive oil + vinegar

A basic green salad is OK, says Dr. Gaynor, who is clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York City. “But you can make it a lot better if you’re worried about diabetes.” He tells his patients to add kale, dandelion leaves, radishes and chicory: “It’s amazing what they do to prevent blood sugar spikes. You won’t be hungry for hours.” A scoop of tuna offers a dose of protein and heart-healthy fat, while olive oil fights insulin-blocking inflammation.

Watch the video: Smart Swaps That Cut Hundreds of Calories

Dinner
Instead of: Breaded white fish fillet + corn + couscous
Eat this: Whole baked trout + collard greens + quinoa

Trout is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease. Just skip the extra carbs in breaded fillets, suggests Amy Stephens, RD, a diabetes nutritionist in New York City. Pair your fish with collard greens, a good source of alpha lipoic acid, which lowers glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity. For your grain, go with nutrient-dense quinoa over couscous. “People get these mixed up because they look alike, but couscous is essentially pasta,” Stephens says.

Read more: Swap Your Way Slim at Every Meal

Snack
Instead of: A granola bar
Eat this: Cacao nibs + almonds

Avoid all the fillers (and empty calories) in a snack bar by noshing on cacao nibs and almonds. Both are loaded with magnesium, and a large Harvard University study found that high dietary intake of the mineral reduced women’s risk of developing diabetes by 34 percent. Happy bonus: “The tryptophan in cacao raises serotonin levels in your brain to help you feel full,” Dr. Gaynor says. “And you get your chocolate fix, too.”

Read more: 15 Diabetes-Friendly Vegetarian Recipes

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Meet the Transgender Man Leading the Men’s Health Cover Contest

At first glance, Aydian Dowling looks like the average reader of Men’s Health magazineand an excellent contender for the title’s annual cover contest. Besides his handsome, bearded face, he’s got a solid six-pack and plenty of cool tattoos.

But Dowling is actually on the cusp of marking a historic first for the magazine and for men like him. The 27-year-old proud transgender man is currently destroying the field of candidates in the reader’s choice portion of the contest.

“It’s crazy,” Dowling told People. “It’s phenomenal, the amount of support it’s gotten—how many people have re-Tweeted and re-blogged and re-posted and liked and shared and commented and voted.”

Read more: Meet the Transgender Teen Who’s One of the New Faces of Clean & Clear

Will he be the next Men’s Health “Ultimate Guy” cover star? Well, he is surpassing the No. 2 contender by more than 27,000 votes as of this writing. And he certainly fits the magazine’s criteria: “a guy who is fit and fearless, a doer who gives back and leads by example.”

Assigned female at birth, it took Dowling most of his life to come out as trans. From an early age, he identified as male, but faced criticism from the people around him. “I just wanted to act a certain way, but I was told that was not how girls act,” he told Men’s Health as part of their feature series on each of the contestants.

He came out as a lesbian during his teenage years, but it wasn’t until he was 21 that his then-girlfriend asked him: Have you ever wanted to be a boy?

At the time, Dowling didn’t want to be trans, he told Men’s Health. “I was scared, and I thought being a lesbian was hard enough.” But shortly after that question, he started to think about it. He began searching for information online about transitioning, according to The Daily Beast.

Read more: Coming Out at School Better for LGBT Youth, Study Finds

This was in 2009. Before Bruce Jenner announced he’d sit down with Diane Sawyer and before Laverne Cox (from Orange Is the New Black) was named one of TIME magazine’s most influential people. Dowling couldn’t find much of anything about being trans save for a clip from the Maury Show in which a man revealed that he had transitioned from a woman. Still, “that little three-minute clip was life-changing,” Dowling told The Daily Beast.

He spent the next five years vlogging about his own transition via his YouTube channel, which he still updates, now with advice for others going through the process.

Dowling lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife of three years, and stays busy selling and promoting his clothing company, Point 5cc, which offers free chest binders to trans men in need. (These garments are often worn my female-to-male transgender people to flatten their chests. They can be pricey, but they often curb the intense discomfort associated with gender dysphoria.) Each year, Point 5cc awards the Transgender Surgery Fund to a person pursuing a gender-confirming surgery.

On top of that, Dowling maintains another YouTube channel called BeefHeads Fitness, a collaborative page dedicated to bodybuilding and lifestyle tips for people who have transitioned from female to male.

“I started bodybuilding because I wanted my outer body to feel more masculine like my inner soul does, so I started training and it really just changed my whole life,” he told People. “I started to feel better. You’re forced in front of a mirror to make sure that you’re doing an exercise properly, and after five days a week in front of a mirror, you start to get used to your body. You start to appreciate it.”

Read more: Here’s Why Sam Smith Says Accepting His Body Helped His Career

Dowling started BeefHeads Fitness in the hopes that it would help others in the community feel more confident in their bodies. The feedback from the channel, along with encouragement from friends and family, pushed him to enter the Men’s Health cover competition.

“I want to break the stereotype of what a man should or shouldn’t be,” he said to People. “I think it would blow minds. I think it would be so affirming to young kids who are lost right now and depressed to see somebody on a magazine, to see if I can do it, they can do it too.”

If Dowling wins the overall competition, he would not only be the first transgender male to be featured on the cover of Men’s Health, but the first to ever appear on any major national magazine.

“Having a trans person on the cover would tell people that no matter who you are, you can be the man you want to be,” he told Men’s Health. “It’s fully possible if you put the time and effort and balance it takes to find the man in you.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Ways to Tell If a ‘Natural’ Food Is Actually Good for You

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Because 'natural' doesn’t always mean healthy

As a nutritionist I loathe “diet” foods, meaning processed products with labels including terms like reduced fat and sugar free—and according to a recent report, consumers are with me. Shoppers are curbing their consumption of foods with “better for you” label terms like low sugar, low carb, and fortified. In fact, the data show that these kinds of products are in their sixth straight year of decline.

Part of the shift is a movement toward foods that are real, rather than altered. As a fan of natural foods and clean eating, I’m all for it. But “natural” doesn’t inherently mean healthy. Here are three key points to consider when evaluating natural products, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Read more: 10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar from Your Diet

Read the ingredient list

You may be surprised to learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t developed a legal definition for the term natural. They allow its use if a product doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances, but there is definitely a lot of gray area regarding the interpretation of natural. For example, carrageenan is an ingredient that can be derived from seaweed, but I bet you’ve never seen it sold at your local farmer’s market or supermarket. And while it’s technically natural, its consumption has been tied to digestive problems and inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and diseases, including obesity.

What to look for: Use the term natural as a starting point, then always read the ingredient list. It should read like a recipe you could craft in your own kitchen. In other words, you should think, “I could have gone to the market, bought all of these ingredients, and made this myself, but I didn’t have to, because someone else made it for me.” I call that “homemade for you” and to me, it’s the true mark of a clean product.

Read more: 12 Crazy Things That Happen to Your Food Before You Buy It

Check the sugar content

I recently attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, where literally thousands of natural foods and goods are featured. As I sorted through the myriad energy bars, sports drinks, and snack foods, one thing was clear: many natural products are loaded with sugar! And while I would rather see someone consume a natural form of sugar over an artificial sweetener, the amount of sugar you consume still matters.

What to look for: The type of sugar you need to limit is called added sugar, the kind put into a food by the manufacturer—not what’s inserted by Mother Nature, like the naturally occurring sugar found in fruit. Unfortunately, the current Nutrition Facts label lumps these two together, which means if a food contains both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar (like yogurt with both real fruit and sugar added), there’s no way to tell how much comes from each type.

The only way to glean more info is to read the ingredients. If you see sugar grams listed on the Nutrition Facts panel, but no sweeteners appear in the ingredient list, you know that no sugar was added, so any grams listed are all naturally occurring. But if you see any terms like these, it means sugar was added: brown sugar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, agave, or date sugar. (And take note: some manufacturers use multiple types of sugar in the same product.) For added sugar, every 4 grams on the Nutrition Facts label represents one teaspoon, and the American Heart Association recommends that women and men limit their daily intake of added sugar to six and nine teaspoons, respectively.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Scope out refined grains

I’m all about eating real food, but it drives me bonkers when natural foods that contain refined grains are perceived as healthy. I was at a health food store with a client recently, and at least half a dozen foods he regularly buys contained refined starch, like gluten-free crackers made with white rice flour, and vegan cookies made with organic, but still refined, wheat flour.

What to look for: I’m not saying there isn’t a place for treats or splurges—there is. And I would absolutely rather see someone eat a cookie made with natural ingredients rather than manufactured ones, even if that cookie contained white flour and sugar. But I think it’s important to note that there are now plenty of natural and organic versions of processed foods are still, well, processed. To maximize the quality and nutritional value of your overall diet, you should limit these products and focus on whole food options, like hummus and veggies over chips, and fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate over sweet treats. Bottom line: quality is king.

Read more: 16 Most Misleading Food Labels

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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