TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Email Habits of Very Productive People

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Here's how to practice good email hygiene

Ping! Check email. Ping. Check email again. Ping. Check. Ping. Check. Ping. Check.

If you’re like most people who sit in front of a computer all day, this probably sounds like you: When you’re not currently replying to an email, you’re looking to see if you have any new ones. Then when something new does come in, you read it, debate how to respond, then deem it too time-consuming for the moment. “I’ll get to that later,” you think. And if there’s nothing new, you’re nervously wondering why. “Is it because my inbox is full?!” So you keep checking back every 15 seconds until something pops up—in the meantime deleting all the junk mail that has since clogged your inbox.

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But a life tethered to your email means those other projects you want and need to do—be they big reports or personal tasks—can get postponed by days, weeks, or months. Not to mention, a new Canadian study found hyperchecking your email can make you (surprise!) more stressed. So we asked five people who have a barrage of emails to answer to tell us how they tame their inbox.

Read on for their strategies to deal with the deep, dark email crevasse.

Set designated “reply times”

“I do many quick checks of email throughout the day to see if there’s something high priority and urgent that has come in, but I only allocate two times a day to fully deal with the email that has accumulated. By batching all of the heavy duty email processing into bigger chunks, I can be much more efficient and reduce the feeling of constantly switching tasks.”

—Jacob Bank, computer scientist and co-founder and CEO of the Timeful calendar app

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Pick and choose what’s key

“I respond to priorities as soon as possible, and keep correspondence clear and super positive. Knowing that I’ll still never get through all the emails, I prioritize people who are asking for help and opportunities that support my intention. I’m also not afraid to use the “!” for high priorities or dramatic effect.”

—Tara Stiles, yoga instructor, author of the Make Your Own Rules Diet ($25, amazon.com), and W Hotels’ fitness partner

Email only the quick things

“Email works for quick day-to-day correspondence, but when I have something important to discuss or decisions to be made, I pick up the phone. It is always better to hear the person on the other end—the inflection in their voice. Emails can often be misunderstood.”

Bobbi Brown, makeup artist and Health‘s contributing beauty and lifestyle editor

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Sort all your stuff

“I have found that treating my online mail just like post office mail works wonders. I created folders: Everything from mom folder, workout class folder, celebrity clientele folder, house folder, summer cottage folder, medical folder, kid folders, etc. With emails organized into categories, I can easily do my three steps…find, take action, or delete. You’ll also need to unsubscribe from junk. The volume of junk email is tremendous and spending time deleting each one is taking precious time away from you. Finally, prioritize emails that need attention that particular day. I hit reply and drag them to the corner of my desktop if I can’t get to them at that moment, otherwise I use my other rule, don’t leave an email request—answer asap.”

—Kathy Kaehler, celebrity trainer, author, and founder of Sunday Set-Up, a healthy eating club

Respond—don’t mull

“I try to respond to emails as soon as I see them because otherwise they can get pushed further down the inbox and may be ignored. I recommend you be responsive but not superfluous. By responding quickly and writing short, non-flowery emails, you can create an image of efficiency and attentiveness. Even short words like “Thanks” or “Got it” will help you build a culture of trust and signal that you are on top of your inbox.”

—Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, Health’s contributing medical editor, and cofounder of Tula Skincare

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Exercise/Fitness

8 Genius Ways to Sneak in Exercise Over the Holidays

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Sweating a little each day will go a long way

Here’s the scenario: You’re visiting family for the long holiday weekend. It’s too cold to go outside and there’s no gym or equipment within miles. It would just be so tempting to roll over and drift off into a Godfather-rerun-and-endless-eggnog haze.

But you’ve made big promises to yourself: You’re going to get in some exercise, consistently, this holiday season. But how to make the space—both physical and psychological—when the overwhelming urge is to pull on your ugly sweater and plop down on the couch like everyone else?

Thankfully, our favorite celebrity trainers are always in a giving mood. They’ve shared their best tips on motivation and workout etiquette, along with simple, effective exercises you can do just about anywhere.

Try one or all of these moves over the holiday break for some extra calorie blasting.

1. Be an early bird

“If you can muster it, wake up 30 minutes before everyone else to get your workout in. That way no one will be surprised and no one will bother you. But whenever you do it, the key is to have a time that’s consistent. Schedule it into your holiday week and commit to it like a job.”
—Anna Kaiser, founder of AKT InMotion studio, trainer of Sarah Jessica Parker, Sofia Vergara

Steal this move from Anna: Heel Click
Stand with your feet two to three feet apart, then sit your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a half squat, raising your arms in front of your chest, elbows bent. In one motion, press through your heels to jump into the air while swinging your arms down to your sides, clicking your heels together in midair. That’s one rep. Immediately lower back into a squat position. Do 10 reps.

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2. Indulge…within reason

“Remember that health and fitness are a part of your everyday life. It’s not something that you can turn on and off. Do everything in moderation. Allow yourself that one day to indulge with one meal of your choice during the holiday season, and then get back to it the next day.”
—JR Allen, owner of 2 Day Be Fit, trainer of Mary J. Blige

Steal this move from JR: Inchworm with Mountain Climbers
Clear enough space so that you’ll be able to get into a push-up position. With feet together and legs straight, bend over and touch the ground. With your legs still straight, walk out with your hands until you are in a push-up position. Then do a mountain climber: bring your knees to your chest one at a time. Return to push-up position. Walk back with your hands until your legs are straight again. Repeat 10 times.

3. Respect your hosts

“Getting your sweat on doesn’t need to spark drama or be some clandestine operation. To slip away from the festivities discreetly, say something casual like: ‘I’m gonna pop into the basement for a fast body-weight workout. Takes less than 10 minutes.’ Above all, remember: you’re a guest in this house. Be respectful and go with the flow.”
Adam Rosante, author of The 30-Second Body and creator of The 21-Day Reset Challenge

Steal this move from Adam: Stick-Up Sprints
Raise your fingertips to the sky, keeping your biceps in line with your ears. Sprint in place as fast as you can for 30 seconds, raising knees up to at least hip-height. (Holding your arms overhead works your shoulders and challenges your core, he says.)

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4. Pack wisely

“I’m a huge fan of Thera-Bands. They’re inexpensive and portable, and they make great stocking stuffers! You can even use them on the couch when everyone’s watching TV. Keep one in your pocket over the holidays to use whenever you have a spare minute. Just having it with you will give you peace of mind to know you have control over your fitness.”
Michelle Lovitt, trainer of Lauren Graham and Laura Vandervoort

Steal this move from Michelle: Bow and Arrow
Hold Thera-Band in both hands. Extend the left arm forward. Grab the band close to the left hand with your right hand. Keeping both arms at shoulder height, pull the band back leading with the right elbow. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.

5. Keep your goal in sight

“If you’ve got parties lined up, then try to live lean and clean on the days you aren’t going out. Eat lighter, hydrate, stick to proteins and less starchy carbs. For motivation, keep your New Year’s Eve dress in plain view, and try it on during the holidays to make sure you’ll be able to fit into it.”
Ramona Braganza, trainer of Paula Patton and Dominic Cooper

Steal this move from Ramona: Stick ‘Em Ups
Stand with your back against a wall. Keep knees slightly bent and place arms bent at 90 degrees against the wall, elbows and wrists touching, with head against wall. Slowly slide your arms up 6 inches, then back down. Repeat for 1 minute. (You should feel it working between your shoulder blades once you step away from the wall, she says.)

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6. Help me…help you!

“If you need to steal away in the middle of the day to work out, say ‘Hey guys, it’s time for my break. ’I’ll be back in 15 minutes.’ Then, offer to watch the kids for 15 minutes later on. Above all, if you remind people that you’ll be happier if you get your workout in, they’ll be happy for you to do it, too.”
—Anna Kaiser

Steal this move from Anna: Skater Tuck
Sit on the ground with your right arm extended slightly behind you supporting your upper body and your left foot flat on the floor. Squeeze your left glute as you lift your hips up and extend your right leg out in front of you, then stretch your left arm upward into a modified side plank. (Keep your left knee bent at 90 degrees.) Next, do a tuck by hinging at the waist and bringing your left elbow and right knee toward each other while tucking your bent right leg underneath your torso, then return to modified side plank. Do 10 reps, then switch sides.

7. A little goes a long way

“Stick to your workouts, even if you cut the time in half from 40 minutes to 20, or even 20 to 10. Sweating just a little each day will keep you in touch with your body and activate endorphins. You will feel more inclined to keep the sweat going if you don’t stop doing it for too long.”
—Ramona Braganza

Steal this move from Ramona: Stair Step-Ups
Stand facing stairs. Place your right leg 2 or 3 steps up. Press into the heel of your right foot and lift your left leg up onto the step. Step back down on your left foot. Repeat for 1 minute, then switch legs.

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8. Share the wealth

“When the time seems right to work out, invite anyone who is inclined to join. If your offer draws blank stares or riotous laughter, laugh it off with them and promise to be quiet. You never know, you may just ignite a new healthy, holiday tradition.”
—Adam Rosante

Steal this move from Adam: High/Lows
Start in a push-up position, hands below shoulders, legs extended. Lower to a forearm plank, one arm at a time, then return to a push-up position, pressing one hand up from the ground at a time. Continue repeating the move, up and down, for 30 seconds.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Family

Just in Time for Your Family Gathering, the 4 steps to a Good Apology

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Think about the their needs, and not yours

Apologies are on everyone’s mind these days, what with Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin at Sony groveling for sending racially-charged emails speculating on our President’s fave movies; Greenpeace International sniveling sorrowfully about defacing a sacred Peruvian site; and a Korean airline magnate begging forgiveness for his 40-year-old daughter’s flight-delaying macadamia-nut-based tantrum.

Thankfully, your own faux pas may never happen on quite so international a stage. But since it’s the holiday season—full of spiked-nog-infused lapses in judgment, gift-induced hurts, office party pitfalls, and inter-familial tensions—odds are good that you’ll have to apologize for something in the coming days. And as co-founder of SorryWatch, our nation’s premier web site for apology education, I’m here to tell you how to do it right.

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Name your sin

In an initial statement, reported by the New York Times, the airline exec’s daughter said, “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did”—but didn’t actually name what she did. You have to tell the person you’ve wronged exactly what you’re sorry for to prove that you truly understand your offense.

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Fully acknowledge that you screwed up

Amy Pascal said her emails were “not an accurate reflection of who I am.” Um, nope. If you said it (or wrote it in an email), you have to own it. No weasel-y “I was kidding” or “this was so unlike me” or “I never meant for you to find out.” Offer no excuses; step up and own what you did.

Along the same lines, apologize for your actions, not how they “may have seemed” or “might have looked.”Greenpeace International expressed regret that “we came across as careless and crass.” No, they werecareless and crass.

Make it about them, not you

Apologize in the way you think the other person would most prefer, whether that’s in person, in a phone call, or in an email—even if it’s awkward or inconvenient for you. Think about their needs and desires, not yours.

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Make reparations however you can

Pay for dry cleaning if you drunkenly tossed red wine all over your host, send flowers to your mom for calling her a meddling helicopter parent, or make a donation to your colleague’s favorite charity if she overheard you gossiping about her. And spell out what steps you’ll take to make certain that whatever you did will never happen again.

One last thing: Don’t ask for forgiveness. That’s the other person’s holiday gift to give.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Biggest Food and Weight Loss Stories of 2014

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I can’t believe it’s been a year since I compiled my last round-up, but it’s that time again! As a research junkie, I think this year’s crop of studies in the areas of nutrition and weight management have been particularly fascinating.

Here are my top 10 picks for discoveries that have either broadened our knowledge, or shed new light on the best ways to stay nourished and lean.

Night shift workers burn fewer calories

This intriguing study found that shift workers burn fewer calories, which means that the amount of food needed to maintain weight becomes excessive, promoting weight gain. The lesson: if your job requires working when most people are sleeping, find ways to curb your calorie intake, or employ healthy habits to help regulate or suppress your appetite.

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Gut bacteria play a major role in weight control

Number one on my list of the compelling revelations in 2014 is the handful of studies about the role of gut microorganisms in weight management. One study found that there is a relationship between body clock regulation, gut microbiota, and metabolism. When mice received gut bacteria from jet-lagged humans, they gained significant amounts of weight and had abnormally high blood sugar levels (yikes!). Another found that gut bacteria affect cravings, mood, and food choices. And a third concluded that the healthfulness of gut bacteria may play a role in metabolic syndrome risk. All of this research may lead to a future that involves personalized gut microbe testing, special diets specifically designed to alter these organisms, or tailored probiotic therapy. Stay tuned!

Coffee may help prevent obesity

If there’s one thing my clients love, it’s hearing that a food they enjoy is actually beneficial. Two studies this year offered some good news about java. Animal research from researchers at the University of Georgia concluded that a compound in coffee called CGA allowed mice fed a fatty diet to not only stave off weight gain, but also maintain normal blood sugar levels and healthy livers. Another Spanish study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, found that athletes who took in caffeine pre-exercise burned about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise, compared to those who gulped down a placebo. For more about other potential health benefits of enjoying your morning cup of Joe, check out my post 6 Healthy Reasons to Keep Loving Coffee.

HEALTH.COM: Best and Worst Health News of 2014

Obesity tied to autoimmune diseases

We’ve heard plenty about the connection between obesity and chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But research from Tel Aviv University concluded that obesity leads to a breakdown of the body’s protective self-tolerance mechanisms, which results in a pro-inflammatory environment that may lead to or worsen autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s Disease and multiple sclerosis, or hinder their treatment. The silver lining: adequate vitamin D may help, both with immunity and weight control. Here’s more about vitamin D, and 6 other nutrients to zero in on as you age.

In women, optimism affects diet quality

There aren’t a lot of feel-good studies tied to weight management, but I loved the conclusion of this one from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, researchers found that those with higher levels of optimism made healthier choices, and had more success in making dietary changes over a one-year period. Those who scored better on the healthy eating index also had lower BMIs, smaller waist measurements, and fewer chronic health conditions. More proof that attitude is everything.

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There’s a new type of good fat

When scientists say they’re blown away, it’s pretty big news. And that’s just what researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center declared when they uncovered a previously unidentified class of fat molecules that enhance blood sugar control, and may offer a promising avenue for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Unlike omega-3 fatty acids, which are not made in mammals, these “good” fats, called FAHFAs, are produced and broken down in the body. Feeding mice extra FAHFAs resulted in a rapid and dramatic drop in blood sugar. Scientists also looked at FAHFA levels in humans, and found they were 50 to 75% lower in those who were insulin resistant and at high risk for developing diabetes. The data suggest that changes in FAHFA levels may contribute to diabetes. Groundbreaking. Surely there will be more research to come in this area.

Produce is connected to happiness

I love getting my hands on any research related to happiness, so I was thrilled to find this study, which tied healthy food choices to mental health. Scientists at the University of Warwick’s Medical School found that five daily servings of produce may just keep the blues away. More than a third of subjects with high mental well-being consumed five or more daily servings of fruits and veggies. In contrast, happiness was high in less than 7% of those who ate less than one daily portion of produce. In another study in young adults, a higher fruit and veggie intake was tied to “flourishing,” which includes greater happiness, creativity, curiosity, and positivity. For more about how eating well can bolster your mood, check out my post 5 Reasons to Eat Healthier Than Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight.

Umami may curb eating

A very foodie-forward study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that umami—also known as the 5th taste—boosts appetite but also increases post-meal satiety, which may help support weight control. Naturally found in mushrooms, truffles, green tea, seaweed, and tomatoes, incorporating more of this this unique palate pleaser may help you naturally eat less overall. To give it a try, check out my tips on umami, which include suggestions for now to sneak it into healthy meals.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Foods That Control Your Appetite

“Fat shaming” causes weight gain, not loss

I think we all intuitively know this is true, yet weight bullying persists, even if it’s self-directed. In this U.K. study, researchers found that over four years, those who reported weight discrimination gained weight, whereas those who didn’t actually shed pounds. So if you tend to berate yourself, with a goal of weight loss motivation, stop. And for techniques that work check out my post 5 Dos and Don’ts for Weight Loss Motivation.

Language stimulates the brain in the same way as food

This compelling study found that the reward region of the brain that drives us to eat (and also enjoy sex, gambling, drugs, and games) is stimulated by learning new words and their meanings. Interesting! I can’t guarantee it will work, but when a craving strikes, try visiting a site like vocabulary.com to see if logging some lingo time will satisfy your fix.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME Healthcare

Should You Video Chat With Your Doctor?

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When to embrace the digital doc

In a world where you can manage your money, order a ride to the airport, and shop for pretty much everything via your phone, going to the doctor’s office is probably one of the only things you still do face-to-face. For the most part, that’s for a good reason. Your medical care requires much more specialized expertise than depositing a check, after all.

But if you’ve ever waited more than an hour at an urgent care clinic for a sore throat, you know that the whole business of going to a doctor can seem frustratingly antiquated. How many times have you wanted to see a doctor, but decided to postpone it for as long as possible on account of the hassle? The trek there, the rude receptionist, the waiting room—all for just three minutes of doctor time. Oy.

Well, it looks like change might finally be on the horizon: Thanks to the growing availability of telemedicine or telehealth services, you can now skip all of that noise and video conference with a doctor from home any time–even in your pajamas. Sounds amazing, if also a little too good to be true. We talked to experts to find out whether it’s worth a try.

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Is it safe?

Telemedicine has actually been around for some time. Right now there are about 200 telemedicine networks and more than half of U.S. hospitals are using it in some way to better connect doctors with patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, according to the American Telemedicine Association. Certain health insurance companies are also hopping on-board to reimburse for online visits. But because of the wide availability of smartphones it’s only now that we’re starting to see new services for everyday health complaints.

Even the always conservative American Medical Association agrees that it can be helpful, though it’s not a total substitute for in-person care.”We need more research, but there are plenty of circumstances where a video call with a doctor could work,” says Robert M. Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association and a reproductive endocrinologist in McLean, Va. That said, he adds: “Better information is what leads to better decisions, so on balance, face-to-face is best. Being in the office with your doctor offers a more complete picture of whatever is going on.”

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But according to some of the brains behind the phenomenonexecutives who see a business opportunity in making healthcare more accessible, and yes, the physicians moving their practices onlinewhen used appropriately, telemedicine is not only safe, it’s a much-needed option.

“The fact is my doctors are treating patients every day who have gaps in their care,” says Peter Antall, MD, a pediatrician in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and president and medical director of the Online Care Group, which provides doctors for patients to see online via Amwell. “We don’t aspire to be your primary care physician, but we recognize that many people don’t have a primary care doctor. Even if they do, it’s not convenient or even feasible for that primary care doctor to be available 24-7.”

On top of that, “using a whole afternoon to see a doctor in-person is in many cases, unnecessary,”says Ron Gutman, the CEO of HealthTap, an app and healthcare platform that like Amwell, allows you to log in, choose a doctor, and see him or her via video within minutes. According to Healthtap’s research, “between 35 and 40% of visits are for simple issues that can be solved with a conversation. But doctors ask you to come in because of the way payment works: the only way they will get reimbursed by your insurance is if you make the trip.” (With Healthtap, you pay $44 per visit via their concierge service, or for unlimited access to on-call doctors for $99 per month with Healthtap prime. They don’t take insurance, but some platforms, like Amwell, do.)

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And if you’re worried about who you’ll meet on the other end: “We’re working with real, board-certified doctors that we’ve vetted for you,” Gutman continues. “They are very protective of their medical licenses. If you’re dialing in for a scary situation they will say, get to the ER now. They will tell you when you need in-person care.”

When can I use it?

As Dr. Wah says, online visits aren’t going to replace seeing your doctor in real life. But it may be helpful to have the option in your back pocket when certain situations arise.

Let’s say you wake up one morning and your eye is red, puffy, and oozing. For something like that, Dr. Antall explains, you can be connected within minutes with a doctor who can confirm whether you have pink eye and send a prescription for eyedrops to your local pharmacy, if needed. Same goes for when you have say, a lingering cough or a sinus infection.

If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma, you might want to look into it as an extra resource. “It’s useful when it’s a Friday night. Your sugars are out of whack and you can’t figure out why, and the regular doctor is unreachable until Monday,” Dr. Antall explains. “Or maybe you’re an asthmatic who’s out of your inhaler refills.” It’s also helpful for skin issues: A new study published in JAMA Dermatology found that people with eczema who were treated remotely by sending pictures to dermatologists fared just as well as those treated in-person.

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You can also easily get a second opinion. Maybe you have fibroids and your doctor has recommended a certain type of surgery. Signing up for something like Healthtap, which has a database of more than 64,000 doctors in 137 specialties, can be an easy, convenient way to get advice from a handful of experts. You can spend an afternoon asking all the questions you want before making your final decision.

And finally, you know those times when you’re in some pain or have a weird symptom, but you’re not quite sure if you need to see a doctor or not? You can use one of these apps to ask a few questions, explains Buck Parker, MD, a general surgeon who sees patients via HealthTap eight hours a week. “A lot of what I’m doing is simply answering basic questions: ‘I smashed my finger in the door, does it look broken?’ for example. It’s almost like ‘pre-doctor’s visits’ where we can really save people a lot of hassle by counseling them on whether they need to see a doctor in-person or not.”

But how much can you really do over video?

You can’t do blood tests or urinalysis, that’s for sure. “But you can direct the patient to push on lymph nodes or a swollen ankle in the right spot (so the doctor can see how it reacts), and you can ask all the necessary questions,” Dr. Antall says.

To stretch the video capabilities, there are also solutions like HealthSpot, which creates kiosks that are sort of like the medical version of an ATM, says the company’s CEO Steve Cashman. Staffed with doctors from big health systems like the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente and located in places like community centers and strip malls, all you do is step inside and the doctor appears on screen. The kiosk is equipped with diagnostic devices like a digital stethoscope and thermometer as well as digital scopes for looking in ears, throat and getting close-ups on your skin.

Right now Healthspot only has about 20 stations across the country, but soon you might see them at a Rite-Aid near you.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Tips for Keeping Off the Weekend Weight

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Choosing protein-packed foods can help you stay on track

Around the holidays, weekends are always jam-packed with opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry. Of course, it’s the most wonderful time of year (you should enjoy yourself), but if you’re not careful with your choices, weekend splurges can really add up and wreak havoc on your health and your waistline.

Even though festive holiday get-togethers might be the perfect excuse to let loose, you probably don’t want your healthy habits to fall by the wayside all together. I mean, no one wants to ring in the new year a few pounds heavier, right?

Here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re enjoying yourself during the weekends around the holidays.

Aim to maintain, not lose weight

The holidays are a time to relax and enjoy quality time with family and friends, so putting pressure on yourself to lose weight can potentially stress you out and lead to emotional eating—neither of which will make you feel very festive. Instead of making your goal to lose weight this holiday season, take a more realistic approach and aim to simply maintain your weight. That way, when Friday evening rolls around, you can enjoy yourself, but not overdo it either. You’ll feel much better about yourself when Monday morning arrives.

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Eat breakfast and lunch (and maybe dinner too)

It might sound a little counterintuitive to eat before a holiday event, but sticking to your normal meal schedule will help you make smarter decisions when it comes to what you eat and drink. During mealtime, be sure to choose foods that are high in protein to keep you satisfied and your blood sugar steady. It’s tough to resist such delicious holiday fare when you’re hungry or experiencing crazy cravings, so be sure to fill up on healthy, high-quality foods before your next holiday soiree.

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Choose your calories wisely

The food and drinks at your next holiday gathering will likely include many of your favorites, so making a decision about what to enjoy might be difficult. Instead of wasting your calories on the same-old, same-old, like cheese and crackers or chips and salsa, save them for the best of the season. I’m talking bacon-wrapped dates and sugared gingerbread cookies! You want to make sure your splurges are worth it, so choose your calories wisely.

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Enjoy a true splurge

Whether it’s a second cocktail or a slice of warm pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, allow yourself to enjoy one true splurge each weekend. Having an indulgence like this to look forward to will help you make better choices when it comes to the rest of your eating and drinking decisions. You’re less likely to go overboard if you know you have a splurge coming to you. Plus, if you plan your special indulgence at a time when you’re around loved ones, it will make it that much more enjoyable—and isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?

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Use Sunday to get back on track

If you lived it up on Friday and Saturday night, use Sunday as the day to get back to your healthy habits. Start your morning with a healthy breakfast and a heart-pumping workout. Then, prepare some nutritious and satisfying foods for the upcoming week, such as overnight oatmeal for breakfast and hard-boiled eggs as a protein-packed snack. And, finally, plan out the rest of your workouts for the week by scheduling them into your calendar like appointments that you can’t miss. Getting yourself organized on Sunday sets you up for a healthy week ahead.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME toxins

4 Easy Ways to Cut Down on a Nasty Chemical That’s Everywhere

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Don't heat up plastic, for one

The thing I hate most about shopping is not navigating a crowded store or staring at my pasty reflection under the dressing room’s harsh lighting. Nope, that stuff doesn’t bother me. If you ask me, the most dreaded store moment is watching the machine spit out a footlong receipt, and then swimming in awkwardness because no way am I touching that thing.

“Um, can you just toss that for me?” I always ask—as I back away in horror.

“Sure,” the cashier replies, frowning at my apparent paper phobia.

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OK, so that’s a slight dramatization, but it does accurately represent my feelings regarding receipts. My reason: they’re coated with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that the National Toxicology Program deemed worthy of “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures” after reviewing the research in 2008. Two studies just this year linked handling receipts to elevated levels of BPA in the body.

Previous research has shown an association between BPA and heart problems, as well as asthma and obesity risk in children. And now, in a recent study published in the journal Hypertension, South Korean researchers found that drinking from cans lined with the chemical may raise blood pressure immediately.

The issue with BPA isn’t just that it’s linked to health issues—it’s that it’s so widely used in a variety of consumer products like car seats, food packaging, dental sealants, and electronics, to name a few, explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Everyone is exposed to this chemical every day.”

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Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contends that BPA “is safe at the current levels occurring in foods,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that the levels we’re exposed to from all our daily contact with it are “entirely safe,” Vandenberg says. “Pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies, and small children are especially vulnerable. The new study about blood pressure is a big deal because it shows for the first time that there are measurable health effects in human adults.”

All of this means that perhaps my over-the-top receipt anxiety isn’t misplaced. If you’re concerned about BPA, here are a few changes to make that really can put a dent in your exposure.

Skip canned goods when possible

The plastic that lines the inside of your can of beans or soup serves a very important purpose: without it, the can would corrode over time, allowing metals to leach in your food. The problem? The lining is made with BPA which can get into your food, too. “The majority of the exposure is thought to happen this way,” Vandenberg says. Some companies, like Amy’s, Eden Organics, and Muir Glen use BPA-free cans, but very few follow their lead because it’s so much more expensive. Outside of those companies, this leaves you with few options other than choosing fresh whenever possible and looking for soups, broths, and tomato products packaged in glass jars or Tetra Paks (aka those paperboard cartons).

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Don’t microwave plastics

BPA helps make plastic materials hard and strong, so they keep their shape and don’t break. “A lot of plastics say on them ‘microwave-safe’, but that only means it won’t totally ruin the plastic,” Vandenberg says. “It doesn’t mean it’s safe for you or your food.” When microwaved, plastic food containers can break down from high temperatures, allowing more BPA or other chemicals into your food, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Put your leftovers in ceramic or glass before heating. (It’s also a good idea to wait for food to cool before putting it in plastic containers.)

Say no to receipts

This is one of the easiest ways to limit BPA in your life: ask the cashier if she can skip printing one (this saves her the exposure, too) and press “No” at the ATM or gas station. Simply touching a receipt allows your skin to absorb the BPA, and “so many people don’t realize how much they’re actually handling receipts. I’ve seen women use it to blot their lipstick or put it in their mouths while they go through their wallets,” Vandenberg says. For those times you absolutely need a receipt, store it in an envelope away from the rest of the things in your purse, and be sure to wash your hands after touching it. This may help reduce the amount that ends up in your system.

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Buy a BPA-free water bottle

The FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups back in 2012 because of the known risks to children, and BPA-free water bottles became all the rage. But if you still haven’t picked one up, here are some options:

Lifefactory Glass Bottle with Silicone Sleeve ($15, amazon.com)

Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle With Stainless Loop Cap ($17, amazon.com)

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Ways to Prep Healthy Breakfasts Ahead of Time

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Smoothies, eggs and (more with almost no effort)

Do your weekday mornings feel like a mad rush? Yeah, us too. Wake up, work out (sometimes), shower, dress, get the kids ready…oh, and have a balanced, healthy breakfast, too.

Sound crazy? It is possible, but to me, the only way to have even a shot at it is to do some advance prep. Don’t worry, we’re not going to crowd up your nights: a bit of easy work either on Sunday or during the week can set you up with nourishing breakfasts for days.

Try these 5 make-ahead tricks.

Hard-boiled eggs

Sure, eggs can make a quick breakfast—but sometimes even the 5 minutes it takes to make a scramble is too long. Instead, cook up a dozen eggs on Sunday and keep them in the fridge all week. Be careful to avoid overcooking the eggs; that leads to rubbery whites and that icky ring around the overcooked yolk. Luckily, perfect hard-boiled eggs are easy to make.

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Mini frittatas

If you’re looking for something jazzier than plain eggs, try baking up mini frittatas in a muffin tin. You can mix in chopped, cooked vegetables, cheese, herbs—anything you like. You can even make a variety within the same batch to please different family members. Take them out of the pan and store in a covered container in the fridge, then heat up one or two each morning.

Quality grains

Oatmeal is the king of breakfast grains, but other whole grains can make delicious hot cereals, too. Make it super-easy by prepping a big batch of a grain on Sunday. Store it covered in the fridge all week, and take out ½ cup to 1 cup at a time to whip up something quick. (Quinoa, brown rice, and millet work especially well.)

Warm it on the stove mixed with some milk (dairy, almond or coconut), cinnamon, and a little maple syrup, then top with a chopped apple or sliced banana. Heartier and lower in sugar than instant oatmeal, and way more interesting. Bonus: Those pre-made grains can help you put together a quick dinner, too. Can’t imagine anything other than oatmeal in the a.m.? Overnight oats and baked oatmeal are great options.

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Pre-measured smoothies

Smoothies are a fantastic quick breakfast, and all you have to do is toss everything in a blender, right? Well, even that can take up precious time in the morning. Make them lightning-fast by pre-prepping. Measure out your frozen fruits and vegetables and store in a plastic bag—just make a different one for each day. I tend to make my own mix of add-ins instead of using pre-made protein powder, so I prep that in advance, too (I use 2 Tbsp. hemp seeds, a small scoop of maca powder, a tsp. of cinnamon and sometimes 1 to 2 Tbsp. raw cacao, if I need a chocolate fix). In the morning, toss one fruit-vegetable mix, one powder mix, and some water or milk in the blender, blend and go.

Leftovers

Breakfast doesn’t have to mean traditional breakfast food. Make a few extra portions of dinner, keep it in the fridge, and warm it up in the morning. I’ve done this with my spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs, salads (store the salad and dressing separately so it doesn’t get soggy), soups and stews, and casseroles. Even a fruit crumble—have it with a dollop of plain yogurt instead of ice cream, and suddenly it’s breakfast.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Sex/Relationships

5 Weird Ways Love Affects Your Personality

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If you feel like you’re “addicted” to being in love, you might be onto something

Beyoncé may be a musical genius, but can you really be “drunk in love”? According to science, yes, you can. In fact, feeling head-over-heels does more than just make you feel a little warm and fuzzy; it can actually transform the way you think and act.

Check out some of the freaky ways love can affect your mind and body, and prepare to feel (mostly) exonerated from your past in-the-name-of-love behavior.

1. It can make you feel high

There’s a scientific explanation for why you feel so blissfully overjoyed during a new relationship, and it has nothing to do with romantic dates. Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City studied the MRI scans of college students and found that falling in love activates the same neural system in your brain that lights up when you take cocaine, giving you an intense feeling of euphoria. So if you feel like you’re “addicted” to your new beau, you may not be as crazy as you think.

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2. It can make you dumber

Or at least really, really spacey. Research published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in 2013 found that people who are in love are less able to focus and perform tasks that require attention than people who aren’t enamored. In addition, the more in love the participants in the study were, the more difficult it was for them to concentrate on assignments. The study authors aren’t quite sure why exactly love makes your brain go fuzzy, but they do theorize that a balance between focus and fantasy is crucial for a successful relationship (and probably a productive day!)

3. It can make you meaner

Think back to every rom-com where two guys duke it out over a girl or a pair of best friends become scheming enemies because of a man. What causes such intense hostility in the name of love? According to a recent study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the answer lies in neurological hormones that are linked to aggression and empathy. Researchers at the University of Buffalo asked participants to describe a time when someone close to them was threatened and how they reacted, and they found that caring for someone predicted aggressive behavior. So when you’re with someone you love, these hormones can turn your brain’s warm, compassionate empathy into protective aggression, readying you to defend your mate against attackers, stressful events, and even sadness. Cute, huh?

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4. It can make you obsessive

If you’ve ever fallen in love, you know how the infatuation that occurs in the early stages of a relationship can feel all-encompassing and exhausting. Researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy set out to find the reason why and discovered that the biochemical effects of romantic love can be indistinguishable from having obsessive-compulsive disorder. The scientists found that people who fell in love in the previous six months had similar low levels of serotonin (a calm-producing hormone) as individuals with OCD, which might explain why you can’t stop thinking about your baby all day and night.

5. It can make you feel invincible

Ever wonder why all your aches seem to disappear when you’re cuddling with your partner? No, it’s not a coincidence. According to researchers at Stanford University, the areas of the brain that are affected by feelings of intense love are the same areas that painkillers target. Participants brought in photos of their significant other plus an equally attractive friend and the photos were flashed in front of them while researchers heated up a thermal simulator on their palms. Brain scans showed that the “love” photos reduced pain more than the friend photos, possibly by activating reward centers that block pain at a spinal level, like opioid painkillers do. Of course, a passionate romance isn’t a good alternative for chronic pain meds, but, hey, it could help.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Eating Habits You Should Drop Now

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These food faux pas are holding you back

In my one-on-one work with clients, there’s a dual focus: I help them adopt a healthy new eating regimen, but in order for new patterns to stick, we also have to zero in on unhealthy habits that tend to keep them stuck. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I know what I need to do, but I just can’t seem to do it!” my bet is lingering detrimental habits are the culprit.

Here are seven that come up often, and why breaking them may just be the final solution to achieving weight-loss results that last!

Drinking too often

For most of my clients, drinking alcohol has a domino effect. After one drink, their inhibitions are lowered and their appetite spikes. That combo—in addition to the extra calories in the cocktails themselves—results in consuming hundreds of surplus calories. And it happens more often than they realize, because most people underestimate how much they drink until they begin keeping a food diary. The good news is when they consciously cut back, they drop weight like a hot potato. If you think you may be in the same boat, become a teetotaler for a 30 days, or commit to limiting alcohol in specific ways, such as only drinking one night per week, and a setting a max of two drinks. The results can be dramatic. For more info check out my previous post 6 Ways to Handle Alcohol If You’re Trying to Lose Weight.

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Eating “diet” foods

I loathe “diet” foods. First, they’re usually packed with lots of unwanted additives and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients. And let’s face it, they’re just not filling or satisfying. Dozens and dozens of clients have told me that after eating a frozen diet entrée, bar, or dessert, they were left with lingering hunger and thoughts of food, which led to nibbling on other foods—grabbing a jar of almond butter and a spoon, a handful or cereal, or a second (or third) “diet” product. As a result, they wind up taking in far more calories than they would have if they had prepared a healthy, satisfying meal. And here’s the kicker: a 2010 study found that we burn about 50% more calories metabolizing whole foods versus processed foods. This is likely why I’ve seen clients break a weight loss plateau when they ditch diet foods, and start eating more calories from fresh, whole foods. Are you in? Dump those diet products, check out my post called What Is Clean Eating? and make a fresh start for 2015.

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Overeating healthy foods

I’m over the moon when clients fall in love with healthy fare like veggies, lentils, avocado, and whole grains. The only sticking point is they sometimes eat too much. I recall one client who swapped fast food breakfast sandwiches for oatmeal, which was fantastic. But his oatmeal portion was too large given that he sat at a desk all day, and in addition to topping it with fruit, he combined it with a smoothie, which was really a meal in and of itself. The truth is while whole foods are nutrient rich and they enhance metabolism, you can overdo it. To prevent that, listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and use visuals to guide your portions. For example, a serving of fruit should be about the size of a tennis ball, a portion of cooked oatmeal should be half that amount, and if you add nuts or seeds, stick with a golf ball sized addition. For more about how not to overestimate your healthy food needs, check out my 5 Biggest Salad Mistakes post.

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Skipping meals

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it’s a biggie. Going long stretches without eating can create two unwanted side effects that undermine weight loss. First, you’ll likely burn fewer calories as a way to compensate for not having fuel when you need it. Second, you’ll up your chances of overeating at night, when your activity level is low; and because it’s impossible to retroactively burn calories, the unneeded excess gets sent straight to your fat cells. In other words, timing is important. Several studies have found that it’s not just your overall daily calories, but also when you eat them that matters. A good rule of thumb is to eat larger meals before your more active hours, smaller meals before less active hours, and never let more than four to five hours go by without eating.

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Counting calories

Aside from the fact that the quality and timing of the calories you consume is critical for weight loss success, the practice of counting calories can backfire. One study found that even without limitations, calorie counting made women more stressed. Nobody wants that. Plus, an increase in stress can cause a spike in cortisol, a hormone known to rev up appetite, increase cravings for fatty and sugary foods, and up belly fat storage. Also, the calorie info available on packaged foods or on restaurant menus isn’t a perfect system (check out my post Why Calorie Counts Are Wrong). I’m not saying that calorie info is meaningless, but I do think there are more effective and less cumbersome ways to shed pounds. Check out my 5 Healthy Habits That Regulate Your Appetite and 6 Fascinating Things a Food Journal Can Teach You.

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Shunning good fat

Despite the best attempts of nutrition experts (including me) to dispel the notion that eating fat makes you fat, Americans have remained fat-phobic. Just yesterday someone told me they avoid avocado because it’s high in fat, and last week a client was shocked when I recommended using olive oil and vinegar in place of fat-free salad dressing. But eating the right fats is a smart weight loss strategy. In addition to quelling inflammation—a known trigger of premature aging and diseases including obesity—healthy fats are incredibly satisfying. They delay stomach emptying to keep you fuller longer and research shows that plant-based fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts up appetite-suppressing hormones. Plant fats have also been shown to boost metabolism, and they can be rich sources of antioxidants, which have been tied to leanness, even without consuming fewer calories. Aim to include a portion in every meal. Add avocado to an omelet, whip coconut oil into a smoothie, add nuts to your oatmeal, drizzle garden salads with olive oil, and enjoy dark chocolate as a daily treat.

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Emotional eating

The habit of reaching for food due to boredom, anxiety, anger, or even happiness is by far the number one obstacle my clients face when trying to lose weight. We’re practically taught from birth to connect food and feelings. Many of my clients share stories about being rewarded with treats after a good report card or a winning game, or being consoled with food after being teased at school or going to the dentist. We bond over food, bring it to grieving loved ones, use it to celebrate, or turn to it as a way to stuff down uncomfortable feelings. It’s a pattern that’s socially accepted (even encouraged) and it’s challenging to overcome. But it’s not impossible. And even if you found non-food alternatives to addressing your emotional needs 50% of the time, I guarantee you’ll lose weight. Instead of a fad diet, consider making this your New Year’s resolution—while you can’t break the pattern overnight, this change may be the most important and impactful for weight loss success. For how to get started, check out my posts 5 Ways to Shut Down Emotional Eating and How to Beat Stress-Induced Weight Gain.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Cure an Unhealthy Relationship With Food

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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