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.

HEALTH.COM: 20 Weird Facts About Sex and Love

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?

HEALTH.COM: 13 Reasons to Have More Sex

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.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Natural Back Pain Remedies

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Research

You Asked: What’s the Best Way to Whiten My Teeth?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Pearly whites are just a dentist’s visit away, but they’ll cost you

Like a shiny new watch or a sparkling personality, white teeth are an ornamentation. Both men and women are attracted to a bright white smile, concludes a study in the journal PLOS One. Additional research has shown job applicants with white teeth are more likely to be hired than yellow-toothed applicants.

From whitening toothpastes and over-the-counter strips to dental office procedures, all tooth-whitening measures employ hydrogen peroxide to clean away stains. “The only differences are the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide employed and how they’re held against your teeth,” explains Dr. Matt Messina, an American Dental Association spokesperson who practices dentistry in Cleveland.

Of course, cost is also a factor. Starting with the least-potent (but least-expensive) whitener, Messina says toothpastes contain 1% to 1.5% concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. “That’s adequate to clean surface stains,” he says, “but it won’t penetrate your tooth enamel.” The enamel tends to hold the deepest, hardest-to-remove blemishes—that patina of black coffee or red wine that gradually accumulates on your smile like vehicle pollution on the sides of old brick buildings.

So if your teeth are seriously stained, a whitening toothpaste alone won’t get the job done—no matter how hard you brush. (In fact, brushing forcefully can damage your gums and is never advisable, Messina warns.)

Over-the-counter gels or strips are the next level up on the hydrogen-peroxide/price spectrum. “They’re usually in the 6% to 10% range, ” Messina says. At these concentrations, the hydrogen peroxide can penetrate microscopic holes and fissures in your enamel to bubble away stains.

While over-the-counter options can be very effective, Messina says the key is to apply them evenly and keep them on as long as directed. “I usually recommend the strips over the gels because they stay in place,” he explains. If the strips or gel are applied incorrectly, your teeth could look unevenly white. Gum irritation is also possible, he says.

But remember this important caveat: whitening agents do not work on caps, crowns or fillings. If you’ve had some dental work done, you should speak with your dentist before you whiten your teeth to be sure the results will look uniform, Messina says.

Another step up in both cost and potency is dentist supplied “tray-and-gel systems,” which contain hydrogen peroxide in the 10% to 15% range and can cost several hundred dollars. After custom fitting your mouth with a mold, your dentist supplies a take home tray and whitening gel for you to use at home. “The custom tray ensures the gel is evenly applied, and it can produce some pretty impressive results,” Messina says.

The final and most expensive option is settling into your dentist’s chair for a series of 10- to 15-minute whitening treatments. With hydrogen peroxide concentrations as high as 35%, these treatments can make your smile a dozen shades brighter, Messina says. They can also run you more than $1,000. “Whitening is a strictly cosmetic procedure, so it’s almost never covered by insurance,” Messina says.

So how white should you go? That’s really a personal preference thing, Messina says. While some people want their teeth as white as possible, the same PLOS One study mentioned above found that people with “natural” looking teeth scored just as highly in terms of attractiveness when compared to people with ultra-bright white smiles.

It’s also possible to over-whiten your teeth, Messina says. “If you whiten excessively, the tooth enamel can actually become translucent, which can make the teeth look blue or gray.” That’s not harmful in the long-term, but blue teeth isn’t a hot look.

While über-white teeth may not be any healthier than stained chompers, Messina says he thinks there are dental health benefits associated with a whiter smile. “I’ve found people who’ve had their teeth whitened are better at brushing and flossing,” he says. “When you’re proud of something, you take better care it.”

Read next: You Asked: Is Sleeping In a Cold Room Better For You?

TIME Cancer

How Calling Cancer a ‘Fight’ or ‘Battle’ Can Harm Patients

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War metaphors can lead to feelings of guilt and failure

Using hostile, warlike metaphors to describe cancer may make patients less likely to take steps toward certain treatments, new research suggests.

The study, which will be published in the January issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that patients are less likely to engage in important limiting behaviors, like reducing smoking and cutting back on red meat, when researchers associated cancer with words like “hostile” and “fight.” In fact, the study shows that war metaphors do not make patients any more likely to seek more aggressive treatment.

“When you frame cancer as an enemy, that forces people to think about active engagement and attack behaviors as a way to effectively deal with cancer,” says David Hauser, who led the study. “That dampens how much people think about much they should limit and restrain themselves.”

In earlier research, investigators found that war metaphors can lead to feelings of guilt and failure in patients who die of cancer, even though they have little control managing it.

“Blame is being put on the patient, and there’s almost a sense that, if you are dying, you must have given up and not have fought hard enough,” said the study’s author, Lancaster University professor Elena Semino, in a statement.

Semino based her finding on an analysis of 1.5 million words from interviews and online cancer discussions that she conducted with colleagues. She is now working on a manual of cancer metaphors for health care providers.

Still, it may be difficult to change such a deeply-rooted element of our lexicon. Words like “fight” and “battle” make the top-ten list of words commonly associated with cancer, according to Hauser. Straightforward words like “die” and “suffer” comprise the remainder of the list. According to Semino’s study, words like “journey” might be a better replacement for “battle.”

Hauser says that medical professionals and media outlets should try to help expand the way that people think about the disease. He cites the “watchful waiting,” a passive method of treating prostate cancer, as one such example.

“What would be more beneficial would be changing the sorts of stories about cancer out there to expose aspects of the disease that don’t fit with this enemy conceptualization,” he says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What Low-Carb Diets Do to Your Heart

The glycemic index distinguishes carbohydrates by how much they raise blood sugar, but the latest study shows it may not matter in lowering the risk of heart problems

We’re accustomed to thinking about the yin and yang of a lot of foods, from fats to carbs. But in the latest report in JAMA on carbohydrate-focused diets, researchers found that the type of carbs may not matter in lowering risk of heart disease.

Dr. Frank Sacks and his colleagues conducted a study involving 163 overweight or obese participants who followed four different diets, for five weeks each, for a total of 20 weeks. Previous studies have linked low-carbohydrate diets to a lower risk of overweight and obesity and lower risk of heart disease, but Sacks wanted to test whether it was simply reducing carbohydrates that helped the heart, or whether being vigilant about what types of carbohydrates dieters ate would make a difference.

Some studies have suggested that carbs with a low glycemic index—such as whole grains—led to fewer spikes in blood sugar, and therefore more efficient breakdown into energy, while higher glycemic index foods—including refined flours—led to larger peaks in glucose that the body couldn’t process and therefore stored as fat.

So two of the diets in the study were high in carbs overall, but one was made up of low-glycemic-index foods while the other was composed of high-glycemic-index foods. The other two diets were low in carbs overall, with the same breakdown or low- and high-glycemic items.

“What we were thinking was that the glycemic index of the carbs would be more impactful if the total amount of carbohydrates was higher,” says Sacks. “But what we found was against what we thought originally. The low glycemic index did not improve any of the things we measured.”

In fact, among those eating the high-carb diets, those consuming low-glycemic-index foods had worse insulin response and higher LDL cholesterol. Among dieters eating the low-carb diets, the high v. low glycemic index foods did not make a difference in insulin response, blood pressure, LDL or HDL cholesterol levels.

Overall, those eating the low-carb diets had lower risk factors for heart disease compared to the group eating more carbohydrates, but the type of carbs didn’t seem to make much difference. “We confirmed previous studies that showed reducing carbs is good, but we did not show that the glycemic index of the carb really had any favorable effect,” says Sacks.

That suggests that all the attention to knowing the glycemic index of various foods—and basing your eating habits on these numbers—may not be worth the effort. While bananas may have a high glycemic index compared to an apple, for example, always choosing the apple over the banana may not lead to benefits for the heart. That’s because glycemic index is only one aspect of how we break down and metabolize food; bananas are also high in potassium and fiber, which have been linked to lowering risk of heart disease.

“Consumers should just look at the food, and not worry whether it has a low glycemic index or a high glycemic index,” says Sacks. “If it’s a fruit or vegetable, or a whole grain, then it’s fine.” He also notes that glycemic index isn’t a set characteristic of a food; it’s how an individual person’s body processes the food so it may vary considerably among different people.

People with diabetes have more trouble breaking down sugar from carbs, so it may help them to avoid foods that cause peaks of blood sugar. But for the rest of us, when it comes to eating to keep your heart healthy, it’s more important to eat healthy whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, rather than trying to rank individual fruits, for example, by their glycemic index.

TIME Addiction

Here’s Who’s Most Likely To Black Out While Drinking

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Blacking out, or getting so drunk that you can’t remember anything that happened the night before, is all too common among underage drinkers, according to a new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

In the study, Marc Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and his colleagues looked at data on 1,402 drinking teenagers in England when they were 15, 16, 18 and 19. They discovered that by the time the teens reached 19, 90% of them had drank so much they experienced a blackout. About half of them had blacked out multiple times.

More than half of people reported having a blackout at every year of follow-up.

Teens who blacked out while drinking tended to be female—likely because they weigh less and have less body water to dilute the alcohol—to smoke, have sensation-seeking and impulsive behaviors, lack conscientiousness and have friends who also drank or used other substances. “It’s not as if a blackout in these kids was an isolated phenomenon,” says Schuckit. “Blackouts are unfortunately often considered to be a funny thing as opposed to dangerous. I am not sure the average person realizes the dangers associated with blackouts.”

A blackout can occur when someone drinks well over their limit. Alcohol is considered a depressant, and when the dose is high enough, depressants are known to impair memory acquisition. When someone blacks out, it means that while they appear to be awake, alert and intoxicated, their brain is actually not making long-term memories of what’s happening. If a person experiencing a blackout is asked what happened to them just 10 minutes ago, they will have no idea.

There are very few, if any, longitudinal studies that have looked at the impact of blacking out on the brain, but experts guess that it isn’t good. High blood alcohol levels are known to cause memory problems later in life, and blacking out is an indicator of drinking too much. Some people may hit that point with fewer drinks than others, and it’s possible that some have a genetically predisposed sensitivity to alcohol’s effects—but blacking out always means you’ve drank too much.

For young people, that behavior concerns experts. “When you really get drunk, literature shows you are opening yourself up to a huge number of problems,” says Schuckit, citing a greater likelihood of getting into accidents and fights, or doing things that one may later regret, including sex.

The study looked at British students, and prior data suggests that they drink more than American students. Still, Schuckit says it should be taken more seriously among young drinkers everywhere.

Read next: This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Tricks to Get More From Your Fitness Tracker

The Jawbone UP3, on sale in early 2015, will incorporate heart rate monitoring. Jawbone

You won't get healthier just by strapping on the new Jawbone. You need to learn how to game the system too

If you’re counting on using a new fitness tracker from Jawbone, Fitbit, Microsoft or the like to help get in shape for 2015, you may want to adjust your expectations: “We don’t know whether or not these devices really make people more active or healthier,” says Glenn Gaesser, an Arizona State University professor and Director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center. “There really is no evidence.” Still, even as some people complain of gaining unwanted weight after they started wearing a fitness tracker, many more say their gadgets are just what they need to move around more—and when you consider many Americans spend upwards of seven or eight hours a day on their tush, that’s a very good thing.

But since the devices are not a fast-track to fitness all on their own, we asked experts for tips on how to make the most of them—despite their shortcomings:

1. Assume at least a 10% margin of error for calories burned.

A recent Iowa State University study found that trackers’ calorie-burn estimates were off by 10-15%, on average. Anyone who wants to lose weight would be wise to assume that trackers are overestimating their efforts, suggests Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. “You only need to consume an extra 500 calories a day to gain a pound a week,” she warns, so it’s smart to err on the side of caution.

2. Realize that calorie-burn estimates can be completely off. Enter them yourself.

Unless your tracker includes a built-in heart-rate monitor (like the Microsoft Band, Jawbone UP3 and Basis Peak), it will grossly underestimate how many calories you burn during many activities, including biking, weight training and yoga, because its built-in accelerometer can’t as readily detect the movement. A 2013 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that trackers underestimate energy expenditure from cycling, for example, by up to 55%. “They don’t work as well on resistance exercises,” says the study’s co-author Ray Browning of Colorado State University. Even bands with heart rate monitors are imperfect because they don’t perfectly capture your radial pulse, especially during intense exercise when you are moving your wrist a lot.

3. The buddy system can be a double-edged sword.

Jawbone reports that its users who have at least 3 “teammates” with whom they share their activity data take 1,000 steps per day more than those who don’t. Fitbit, meanwhile, claims that users with at least one friend on their system take 27% more steps. Fitbit friends can also take challenges such as the “Work Week Hussle”—which tracks your steps for a week and awards a virtual trophy to the winner. But Colorado State researcher Browning points out that the motivating effect from being part of a group only works when you’re winning. As an alternative, consider setting short-term goals that build on your own baseline activity level instead. An increase of 20%, for example, is a good start.

4. It’s still on you to follow through.

An activity tracker can be fun to play around with for a few months. But it’s easy to get bored, take it off your wrist and never pick it up again. Ultimately, your motivation must come from within. “These devices get you thinking about [fitness], but in the end, it’s your decision,” says John Jakicic, Director of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at University of Pittsburgh.

5. It’s not all about structured exercise.

Trackers may be the best way to quantify how much energy you spend on routine activities like puttering around the house or taking out the garbage—movement that can be as, or more, important for overall health than formal exercise. “Getting up and moving the rest of the day is better for you than just exercising once a day and being sedentary the rest of the time,” says University of Pittsburgh’s Jakicic. Do enough of these activities, and you may be surprised to see how it all adds up—no marathon-running required.

TIME ebola

Massachusetts Doctor Cured of Ebola Will Return to Liberia

Richard Sacra
Former Ebola patient Dr. Richard Sacra participates in a news conference at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., on Sept. 25, 2014. Nati Harnik—AP

Sacra plans to return to the same clinic where he contracted Ebola in August

(BOSTON) — A Massachusetts doctor cured of Ebola said Tuesday that he’s returning to Liberia, the West African country where he contracted the virus, in January to resume working at a medical mission.

Dr. Richard Sacra said that he plans to spend four weeks at ELWA Hospital, a clinic outside Monrovia where he had contracted the deadly virus in August.

Sacra spent weeks in treatment at an Omaha, Nebraska, hospital before returning home on Sept. 25. The University of Massachusetts Medical School faculty member has worked in medical missions in Liberia for more than 20 years, including the North Carolina-based charity SIM, which founded ELWA Hospital.

Sacra, who was one of at least 10 people so far treated for Ebola in the U.S., says he “feels great” and that doctors have said he’s now effectively immune to Ebola, which has no vaccine.

“I’m not hearing a lot of pushback from home,” Sacra said. “I’ve been working there for years, and my risk at this point is no different than it was before because I’m immune to Ebola.”

Sacra has said he’s not sure exactly when he became infected. He had been caring for pregnant women not suspected to have Ebola and delivering babies, including performing several cesarean sections.

He said ELWA Hospital, which stands for Eternal Love Winning Africa, has changed its protocols following his illness.

“Even if we haven’t suspected Ebola in that patient, we’re now wearing full protective gear at our facility for deliveries,” he said. “When we’re doing surgeries, we’re now getting bleached down at the end, which we weren’t doing before.”

Sacra, who expressed a desire to return to Liberia almost as soon as he recovered, made the comments following a Tuesday news conference at the Statehouse announcing a $1 million state grant to help develop a faster, more accurate test for diagnosing Ebola.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the investment, made through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public state agency, will assure the state and its major research institutions will play a central role in saving many lives from Ebola, which has killed 6,400 people during the most recent outbreak in West Africa.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Most Kids Don’t Eat Three Meals A Day, Study Says

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Kids get 42% of their calories from snacks

Eating three square meals a day is the oldest nutrition advice in the book, and some of the most important for staying healthy. But new research shows that children are snacking instead of eating three meals a day on a regular basis, a habit that could be contributing to overweight and obesity and putting them at risk of heart disease later in life.

In a series of reports published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the International Journal of Obesity and the European Journal of Nutrition, Aino-Maija Eloranta, a PhD candidate at the Institute of Biomedicine and Physiology at the University of Eastern Finland, and her colleagues followed a group of 512 boys and girls enrolled in the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study. The children, ages 6-8, and their parents reported what the kids ate and drank for four days. The researchers also measured their body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and insulin levels.

MORE: 7 Eating Habits You Should Drop Now

About 45% of the boys and 34% of girls in the study ate all three meals, meaning a majority of them did not. The most-skipped meal was dinner. “That was a surprise,” says Eloranta. “Among older children, adolescents and even adults, breakfast is the one that is skipped.”

Skipping dinner can have major implications for children’s health, she says, since it’s traditionally the most calorie- and nutrient-rich meal, giving growing children the energy they need to develop. In fact, the children who ate three meals a day had smaller waist circumferences and a 63% lower risk of being overweight or obese than those who skipped some of the major meals.

MORE: 5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Breakfast

The scientists also found that among all kids, snacks provided as much as 42% of the children’s daily calories. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Eloranta, except that most snacks are high in sugar and low in healthy nutrients like fiber. On average, the children consumed more saturated fat (which has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease) and salt and ate less vitamin D, iron and fiber than guidelines recommend.

MORE: Alice Waters: The Fate of Our Nation Rests on School Lunches

Eloranta did find one positive trend: lunch. Because lunch was provided at school, it was lower in sugar and higher in nutrients and healthier fats than the kids’ other meals on average. This suggests that one of the best ways to help children maintain healthy weights and avoid heart problems later might be to give them three meals a day. “Maybe we don’t have to worry about single nutrients or single foods [like sugar or fat] that much,” she says. “When you eat meals, you automatically receive the good nutrients.”

TIME Disease

There’s a ‘Super Bacteria’ in Waters Where the 2016 Olympics Will Be Held

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Athletes compete in the Men's Laser during the final day of Aquece Rio, the International Sailing Regatta 2014, the first test event for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games at Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 9, 2014. Yasuyoshi Chiba—AFP/Getty Images

Newly discovered bacteria is resistant to much modern medicine

Scientists have discovered a hard-to-treat ‘super bacteria’ in the body of water where Olympic events are planned in 2016 in Brazil.

The bacteria, which contains a special enzyme that makes it highly resistant to medical treatment, was found in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, which will be the site of competitions in sailing and wind surfing, the Associated Press reports.

The Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, a Brazilian health institute, said it had not yet detected any infections from the contaminated water but that an infected person would need very strong antibiotics and possible hospitalization to fight off the bacteria. Infected people can spread the bacteria even if they don’t become sick, the institute said.

In Rio 70% of sewage goes untreated and flows into rivers, bays and beaches. Olympic planners have said they will reduce the amount of sewage flowing into Guanabara Bay by 80% in time for the Games.

[AP]

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.

RELATED: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

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.

RELATED: 9 Low-Fat Foods You Shouldn’t Eat

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.

RELATED: 30 Healthy Foods That Could Wreck Your Diet

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.

RELATED: 10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

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.

RELATED: 12 Strange-But-True Health Tips

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.

RELATED: 20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

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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