TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Superfoods That Warm You Up

Pot of chili
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When the weather gets cold, turn to these hot and spicy comfort foods to stay snug as a fall sweater

As the temperature drops, don’t be tempted to warm your belly with rich macaroni and cheese and creamy soup. Instead, get that toasty feeling from superfoods: healthy eats that are loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, and immune-boosting powers that your body needs to power itself through cold weather. Read on to find the best hot foods to eat on chilly days and a few healthy tidbits to prepare them for ultimate nutrition.

Oatmeal

When it gets cooler, it’s the perfect time to break out the oatmeal. Oats are a whole grain, so you’ll get a dose of fiber and plant-based protein to stop hunger with just one bowl. Plus, oatmeal contains a powerful starch called beta-glucan. Research in Nutrition Reviews found that just 3 grams a day of the beta-glucan in oats may reduce your bad cholesterol levels by 5 to 10%, whether they start out normal or high. You can get extra nutrition if you choose the right toppings too. “To get some healthy fat mixed in, I add almond butter and chia seeds,” says Keri Gans, RD, a dietitian in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet.

Try this recipe: Chai Oatmeal

Hot chocolate

Curling up with a cup of hot cocoa is one way to feel snug—just nix the sugary powdered mix with marshmallow bits. “When I make it, I like to melt two squares of dark chocolate and stir it into regular or almond milk,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health‘s contributing nutrition editor. Adding a little dark chocolate to your diet is a great health booster too. The sweet contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant thought to reduce the damage caused by free radicals, potential instigators of cancer and cardiovascular disease. A study in the Journal of Immunology Researchfound that red blood cells were less susceptible to free radicals after people consumed a drink with flavonoid-rich cocoa.

Try this recipe: Parisian Hot Chocolate

Black bean soup

There’s nothing like a soup with cumin and chili pepper to heat you up when things get cold. The nutrition star of this dish, though, is the beans. Black beans are a good source of iron and copper. So sipping on this soup will help your muscles use more oxygen and boost your immune system, Gans says. A typical serving of soup would include nearly a cup of black beans, which provides 15 grams each of protein and fiber. Unlike animal protein sources, black beans contain almost no saturated fat. Research from the American Chemical Society also shows their black skins contain higher levels of the disease-fighting antioxidants flavonoids than any other type of bean.

Try this recipe: Black Bean Soup

Brussels sprouts

Eating these mini cabbages may just help you fight a cold this fall. In addition to being packed with fiber and cancer-fighting phytonutrients, Brussels sprouts run high in vitamin C at 74.8 milligrams a cup. It won’t prevent the sniffles completely, but vitamin C has been shown to reduce the length of cold symptoms. Though the bitter taste of Brussels sprouts tends to scare some people away, heating them up can make a huge difference in flavor. “I would roast them with olive oil,” Gans says. That will help bring out the sweetness. (You can make these 12 other veggies taste better too.)

Try this recipe: Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Pine Nuts

Pumpkin soup

If you’re lacking vitamin A, the nutrient critical for promoting vision, a dose of pumpkin will do you good, Gans says. Most adult women should be getting 700 micrograms a day, according to the National Institutes of Health. In a serving of soup, you would use a third to a half cup of pumpkin puree, Gans says. So you could be getting more than a day’s worth of this vitamin in most recipes. Be mindful of a recipe with cream, though, if you’re looking to cut back on calories. Pumpkin also has antioxidant properties thanks to beta-carotene, Gans says. It’s a pigment usually found in bright-colored produce, and it’s thought to have cancer-fighting powers. A study in Anticancer Research treated human breast cells using carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene, and found they can prevent their growth.

Try this recipe: Curried Pumpkin Soup

Chili

The peppers in your stew contain a compound called capsaicin, which gives them their spicy kick. It’s also thought to boost metabolism and fight the buildup of fat. When paired with a high-fat diet, capsaicin was found to decrease body weight by 8%, according to an animal study conducted by Korean researchers. No matter the variety, the beans in chili also pack protein to help you build muscle. That’s not all. Tomato paste is rich in lycopene, and the onions provide unique antioxidants, Sass says. Think about cutting back on the meat in your chili from time to time though. A National Institutes of Health study found that men and women who consumed the most red meat were at increased risk for death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Try this recipe: All-American Chili

Avocado

There’s a way to enjoy this creamy fruit when it’s chilly. “Oven roasting avocado makes it even creamier,” Sass says. “Chop it up warm and put on top of another vegetable.” Bonus: about half of the fat of avocado comes from monounsaturated fat, which helps lower your bad cholesterol levels and provide nutrients for cells to function, according to the American Heart Association. They might also help you stay full. A study in Nutrition Journal found that eating a meal with avocado increased satisfaction by 23% over a five-hour period. Just watch your portion size: a serving is just one-fifth of an avocado.

Try this recipe: Chilled Avocado Soup

Walnuts

Walnuts are good any time of year, but they make a lovely roasted snack in the fall. “Walnuts toast awesome on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 5 minutes,” Sass says. Lightly misting with oil and adding seasonings like pepper can up the flavor in a healthy way. Even better, walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one omega-3 fat thought to boost heart health. In the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a study found that people who ate a diet of walnuts, walnut oil, and flax oil had reduced resting blood pressure and blood flow resistance in their arteries than those who ate a diet lower in ALA.

Try this recipe: Walnut Coffee Cake

Apples

Baked apples make the perfect sweet treat for fall. The fruit packs soluble and insoluble fiber. One slows digestion and the other helps food pass through your system more smoothly. That means less hunger and tummy troubles. Just make sure you leave the skins on—they’re a more concentrated source of fiber than the flesh, says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a bariatric dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. An unpeeled medium-sized apple contains 4.4 grams offiber. “If you sprinkle some cinnamon on top you get more antioxidants,” Rifkin says. Plus, apples are made up of nearly 86% water, so munching on the fruit will help you stay hydrated as you bundle up.

Try this recipe: Baked Apple Fritters

Sweet potatoes

Like pumpkin, sweet potatoes are particularly high in vitamin A. One baked, medium-sized spud contains 438% of your daily value. Plus, you’ll get nearly 4 grams of fiber—mostly found in the skin—to fill your tummy. Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and a bit of iron. “If you bake the sweet potato by itself, it’s generally a low-calorie food,” Rifkin says. Just try to avoid slathering fatty butter or margarine on top. A better bet: rosemary. It has B vitamins and cancer-fighting phytochemicals, Rifkin says. The compounds are thought to block carcinogens from acting on your body’s tissues, according to the American Cancer Society. Bonus: a little rosemary will give your sweet potatoes amazing flavor.

Try this recipe: Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes With Bacon and Sour Cream

Squash

In addition to having some calcium and vitamin C, most varieties of squash are high in potassium. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found a diet high in potassium (while also curbing sodium) could reduce risk of stroke by 21% and lower odds of developing heart disease. Squash is also rich in vitamin A and contains hunger-busting fiber. Take one of Rifkin’s favorites, butternut squash. A cup of baked cubes has 457% of your daily vitamin A, 7 grams of fiber, and just 82 calories. Even better, you can warm up all its parts. Bake the insides and season with garlic salt, pepper, even cumin or turmeric, Rifkin suggests. “You could also take out the seeds and bake them like pumpkin seeds,” Rifkin says.

Try this recipe: Gingery Butternut Squash and Tofu Curry

Ginger tea

If you’re thinking of reaching for a cup of tea, opt for a brew with ginger. “Ginger has thermogenic properties that can keep you warm,” Rifkin says. Because of its heating powers, ginger may also boost metabolism and promote blood flow. A study in Metabolism had one group of men consume 2 grams of ginger powder in a hot drink with their breakfast. Researchers found the men who drank the ginger beverage reported less hunger and greater fullness a few hours later than those who didn’t consume the ginger. Adding the spice to your tea could also help relieve body aches, like the ones you get after an intense workout. In a study for theInternational Journal of Preventative Medicine, one group of female athletes took three grams of ginger daily and reported less muscle soreness after six weeks than those who didn’t receive ginger.

Try this recipe: Honey-Ginger Tea

MORE FROM HEALTH.COM:

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31 Superfood Secrets to Extend Your Life

TIME Diet/Nutrition

How Healthy Are ‘Secret Menus’ at Restaurants?

fast food burgers
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The answer is more complicated than we expected

For years, Jamba Juice has marketed healthy and nutritious smoothies blended with 100% fruit juice. But the website Hack the Menu points out a “secret menu” with items like “Red Gummy Bear” and “Pink Starburst“—both allegedly blended to taste like their candy namesakes. The rumored off-menu offerings sound a little sweeter, but potentially less healthy.

Jamba Juice is not alone in its reputation for having a secret menu: according to Hack the Menu, restaurant chains like Starbucks, In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle also oblige off-menu requests for those in the know. TIME looked into why restaurants might bother with a whole other menu, and whether secret menu options are always less healthy than their advertised counterparts. The answer is more complicated than we expected.

MORE: Try Ordering These Delicious-Sounding Drinks From Starbucks’ Secret Menu

Surprisingly, most nutritionists we spoke to had never heard of the concept of secret menus. Their feelings were mixed, but most said they were concerned about the lack of readily accessible nutritional information for off-menu items.

“So many consumers are looking for transparency,” said Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet. “If you want a secret menu, at least make it obvious what the calories are and [put] the nutrition analysis where it’s available for people to see.”

MORE: There’s a $10 Secret Menu Item At Arby’s Called the Meat Mountain

Excluding unhealthy items from a menu helps avoid having to disclose their lack of nutritional value. This is especially true in places like New York, where the law requires restaurant chains to display certain nutritional information in menus. That regulation doesn’t apply to items that aren’t on the menu, or those listed on a menu for less than 30 days, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wrote in an e-mail to TIME. Secret menu items “undermine the intention of the rule,” though they’re technically legal, it said.

A lack of transparency becomes a potential problem for people with allergies, who may not be aware of what ingredients are included in the item they’re ordering, nutritionists said.

“To me, the most important thing is that the staff would be educated on what the ingredients are,” said Gans.

Spokespeople for most of the chains contacted by TIME denied the existence of a “secret menu,” but acknowledged that customers can customize their orders.

“Our people are trained to make what customers want with the ingredients we have,” said Chipotle communications director and spokesperson Chris Arnold in a statement. Nachos and a quesarito, a mammoth burrito blanked inside a quesadilla, are among the items that customers order off-menu at Chipotle, according to Hack the Menu.

MORE: Taco Bell Is Adding A Quesarito To Its Menu

But despite their shroud of secrecy, secret menus don’t appear to be all bad news, nutritionists said. Some have options that appear healthy, while others allow customers to modify a menu offering in a way that makes it healthier, said Jessica Levinson, founder of nutrition consulting business Nutritioulicious. She cited an option to swap out mayo for mustard at Burger King as one such option.

Registered dietitian Judy Caplan praised efforts to offer healthy options, but said she wasn’t surprised that some fast food restaurants would offer less healthy options off the menu. While fast food has become more nutritious in recent years, and chains have recently cut calories in new menu items by 12%, there are still many customers who want unhealthy food, she argued.

“When you’re in business,” she said, “the customer is always right.”

MONEY Shopping

Here’s How to Save Hundreds on Groceries

Shopping Carts
Baldomero Fernandez

These 29 surprising and easy moves will help you find the best prices, avoid the sneakiest store tricks, and prevent those costly impulse buys.

Regardless of whether you’re feeding just yourself or a whole family, you probably find that groceries take a big bite out of your paycheck.

Food is the third-largest household expense, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. And for a family of four, the average monthly tab runs between $568 for the super thrifty to $1,293 for those on a more liberal budget, according to the USDA.

MONEY consulted supermarket-savings experts for strategies that would help you trim the fat, without giving up the foods you love. Employing just a few of these 29 tricks—because let’s face it, you hardly have time to cook let alone turn shopping into a project—can take your bills down by 25%.

In other words, you could realize between $1,700 and $3,900 in annual savings.

Now that’s pretty delicious.

Plan Ahead

1. Do an inventory. Take stock of your pantry and freezer once a month to get a sense of what items you need and what you can skip buying, says Annette Economides, co-author of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family. Her husband and co-author Steve adds, “you don’t want to get in a panic when you’re in the grocery store and impulse buy an item at full price only to go home and find you’ve already got it.” Use an app like Out of Milk to help with your inventory.

2. Plan meals by the ads. “A lot of people make a weekly meal plan and then go look for a deal,” says Steve Economides. “Instead, look first at the deals and plan your meals around what’s on sale. This way, you can get meals for half price.”

3. Use up your pantry. Americans typically toss about 25% of the groceries we buy, according to the National Resources Defense Council. To prevent your food from turning into wasted money, sort through your fridge and pantry about once a week for items that are about to expire and place those in a designated space so that you remember to eat them before they go bad. Plug in what you’ve got at Supercook to find recipes that will help you use up your ingredients.

4. Shop only once a week. “The less you shop, the more you save,” says Annette Economides. Reduce impulse purchases and save gas by planning your shopping list so that you get a week’s worth of groceries in one shot.

5. Look for substitutes. Review your last grocery receipt and circle your most expensive purchases. When you’re next in the store, consider swapping these items for lower-cost alternatives—like ground turkey for ground beef. Subbing out a few items each trip can add up.

Get the Best Price

6. Do some reconnaissance. Pick the 10 or so items you most commonly buy (e.g. milk, cereal, bananas, chicken, detergent) and make a one-time mission to a few stores in your area (supermarket, Walmart, Target, Costco, dollar store) to compare the prices. A spreadsheet like this one from the Balancing Beauty & Bedlam blog can help. Your goal: to find out if you’re actually shopping the store with the lowest overall prices for your needs, says Stephanie Nelson, founder of the CouponMom.com.

7. Know the rock-bottom price. Learn the price range of the items you buy most frequently so that you’ll be able to recognize when they hit their lowest and stock up then, says Nelson. “For my family, one of our biggest grocery expenses is boneless chicken breast,” she says. “In my area, they’ll drop to $2 a pound and peak at $5 a pound over the course of three weeks. By stocking up at the lowest price, I’ve saved nearly $500 a year on just one item.”

8. Be wary of 10 for $10 sales. Or any promotion in which a store is offering several items for one price. Check the price of the item to make sure it is actually discounted, and not just clever signage making you think 89¢ cans being sold 10 for $10 is a steal. Also, if it is actually a discount, keep in mind that you don’t need to buy 10 to get the lower price.

9. Weight it out. Compare items by not just the sticker price but the price per ounce or pound to be sure you’re getting the best deal. Most stores post this number on the label on the shelf. For meats, look at the cost per serving instead so the bones and fat included in the weight of the item don’t mislead you.

10. Download coupons… Couponing doesn’t require circulars and scissors anymore. Visit Coupons.com, SmartSource.com or redplum.com to easily see what coupons are currently available in your area, then either print them out or load them onto a store loyalty card so you don’t even have to remember to bring them with you, says Nelson.

11. …then deploy them wisely. “When we find a coupon, we feel like we must use it right away,” says Nelson. “But wait until the item is at a really good sale price. This way you get savings from both the store discount and the coupon.”

12. Buy for 10 weeks at a time. Sales run through cycles, typically on an eight to12 week rotation, lifestyle and money-saving blogger Leslie Lambert of Lamberts Lately found. So if you know you’ll go through a box of cereal a week, buy 10 when they’re a deal to see you through the weeks when the item will be at full price.

13. Get an IOU. If a sale item is out of stock, ask the store for a rain check. It’s a slip of paper that grants you the sale price once the item’s back in stock regardless of whether the promotion is still running. Or if you don’t want to come back into the store, ask a manager if you can sub a similar item for the one on sale, recommends Annette Economides.

14. Photograph your receipt. You can earn cash-back on your groceries with apps like Ibotta, SavingsStar and Checkout51. These services offer weekly cash-back deals on a range of goods and all you need to do is take a photo of your receipt showing you bought the item to take advantage of the kickback, says Nelson.

Be Smarter in the Store

15. Be loyal. Pick one grocery store and one drugstore you go to frequently. “Sign up for their loyalty programs and get familiar with the promotions they run and what rewards they give out,” says Nelson. Understanding the program will help you concentrate your efforts so that you can get items for free, she notes.

16. Learn the layout. The more aisles you walk down, the more likely you are to add things to your shopping basket that you hadn’t initially intended to buy. Shoppers who decreased the number of aisles they visited checked out with only half their items being unplanned purchases vs. 68% of items for those who visited most or all aisles in a shop, according to a Marketing Science Institute study.

17. Go alone. The larger your shopping party, the more likely you are to make impulse purchases. About 65% of the items in our baskets when we group shop are unplanned, an eight percentage point increase over shopping alone, according to that same Marketing Science Institute study. So leave your spouse and your kids behind.

18. Pack mints. Or eat before you go. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that consumers are likely to spend more if their appetites have been stimulated beforehand. That’s probably why baked goods and rotisserie chickens are placed by the entrance of the store. Combat those tempting odors by eating a mint—which satiates hunger and can help overwhelm other scents—or by making sure your belly is full.

19. Bring your own soundtrack. Studies show that stores play music with a slower beat to encourage you to move more slowly through the aisles. That slower pace can lead shoppers to buy 29% more, found Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy. Create your own mix of upbeat songs.

20. Use a Goldilocks cart. Lindstrom told CNBC that doubling the size of a cart makes people buy 40% more. And opting for those handheld baskets can be equally dangerous. A study from the Journal of Marketing Research found that the strain of carrying the basket made us more likely to pick up “vice products” like candy and soda as an unconscious reward for putting up with the hassle. Opt instead for a smaller wheeled cart.

21. Look high and low. Avoid the middle shelves and end caps. Companies pay to place products at your eye level—and your kid’s. Scan the top and bottom shelves instead as most of the time you’ll find the less expensive brands and best deals there.

22. Check yourself out. Impulse purchases dropped by 32% for women and about 17% for men when shoppers used the self-checkout line instead of a staffed checkout, found a study by IHL Consulting Group. The reason: There is less merchandise for you to pick up last minute around self-checkout stands, and the wait time is typically shorter—giving you less time with those tempting items.

Save on Specifics

23. Skip the deli. Whether you’re buying freshly cut meats from behind the deli counter or pre-sliced by the hot dogs, you’re spending more on cold cuts than you need, according to Steve Economides, who instead opts for large chunks of prepackaged meat called chubs. He then asks the deli or the butcher to slice the chubs for him. “At the deli, I can get a pound of ham for $7 to $9,” says Economides. “If I go to the meat counter and have a chub of ham sliced, it costs between $3 and $5 a pound, meaning I can save up to 66%.” You could also cook up larger portions of a meat, say a roast beef, and slice up those extras for sandwiches.

24. Do your own slicing and dicing. Prepackaged and single-serving foods are easy mark-up territory. (Example: Through New York City’s Fresh Direct delivery service, we found a cut and cored pineapple cost $5.99 while an uncut pineapple cost $3.99.) Though it may be more time-consuming, buy the whole chicken, block cheese or pineapple and do the chopping yourself. You can create your own smaller servings—say, for school lunches—by dividing up the food into baggies or Tupperware.

25. Don’t get milk at the supermarket. Moo juice sold at drugstores and convenience stores typically costs 30¢ to 50¢ less per gallon, Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com, told Reader’s Digest.

26. Grow your own herbs. Stop buying bundles of herbs—at $2-plus a pop—that you’ll never be able to use up in time and instead plant a couple pots with fresh herbs to keep in your kitchen or porch. For a one-time cost of around $5, you’ll always have fresh herbs ready, and you won’t end up wasting any.

27. Follow the produce cycle. “You can save 30-50% on the price of produce by buying what’s in season,” says Annette Economides. If you do want those berries in the off-season, buy extra when they’re cheap and freeze them so you can enjoy them year round. For a guide to when certain produce is in peak-season, see this chart from the USDA.

28. Check seafood labels. At the counter you’ll find products labeled “previously frozen” in small type. That product is often the same thing you can find in the frozen-food aisle for as much as 40% less. Buy frozen and do the thawing yourself. Your fish will be fresher and you won’t have to use it right away.

29. Get meat in bulk. Washington-based Zaycon Foods offers consumers very competitive rates—e.g. chicken breast for $1.79 a pound—for those willing to buy orders starting at 40 pounds. To get these deals, you’ll have to order online and then pick your food up at a prearranged time from the back of a refrigerated truck waiting in a church or shopping center parking lot. Can’t store 40 pounds of meat? Split it with a friend, and you’ll both save.

Read next: Amazon Will Start Delivering Fresh Groceries in New York Today

TIME Food & Drink

Pizza Hut Korea’s Star-Shaped, Surf-and-Turf-Topped, Dessert-Stuffed-Crust Pizza Is Simply Too Much

Answering the age-old question: How much is too much?

There is such a thing as too much. And Pizza Hut Korea’s $32 “Star Edge Pizza” doesn’t just toe the line of excess, it slip-and-slides across it on the flavored cream cheese filling stuffed inside its crust.

The surf-and-turf pie is topped with shrimp, calamari, bacon, steak and sausage, but its turnover crust is comes jam-packed with either cranberry or cinnamon apple nut and cream cheese filling.

Why would they do such a thing? This actor in the Star Edge Pizza’s bizarre ad seems to have a pretty solid answer:

Pizza Hut Korea
TIME Retail

Whole Foods Will Now Tell You How Organic Their Veggies Are

Produce will be rated based on pesticide, water and soil use, and its impact on human health and farmworkers

The next time you find yourself in Whole Foods’ fresh produce aisles, you’ll find that much of the research you wanted to do on how your food is grown has already been done for you.

Whole Foods began implementing a program Wednesday that rates fresh produce in its grocery aisles based on pesticide, water and soil use, and its impact on human health and farmworkers. The upscale supermarket chain said it is rating fresh produce on a scale from “good” to “better” to “best” with the intention of informing shoppers about the way fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers are tended and grown.

In addition, Whole Foods said it was prohibiting some insecticides that can impair neurological development in children. “After three years of research and planning, Responsibly Grown is the result of our collaboration with suppliers, scientists and issue experts to continue our strong commitment to organic, while embracing additional important topics and growing practices in agriculture today,” said Matt Rogers, global produce coordinator at Whole Foods Market.

Farms that participate in the program have to take steps to protect air, soil, water and human health, and only use pesticides registered EPA in order to earn a “good” rating. The “better” and “best” ratings indicate improved performance in those categories.

Whole Foods says the program will encourage farmers to recycle plastics, install solar panels, plant wildflowers to restore natural bee habitats, and more efficiently irrigate their fields, for example. About half the produce sold in Whole Food’s stores will carry the labels, the New York Times reports.

Whole Foods has been struggling to compete with cheaper food sources like Walmart, which recently announced its own organic food program. The company’s stock has dropped more than 30% this year, though its earnings have been stable.

TIME Food & Drink

Taco Bell’s New Menu Will Make Sriracha Fans Very Happy

Hot Sauce Controversy
Nick Ut—AP

The chain is testing some spicy new menu items

Hopefully you’re not on an all-carb diet, because you’re definitely going to want to hit up Taco Bell soon. The chain is now testing a new menu that incorporates a whole lot of Sriracha, the Washington Post reports.

Sadly, though, these spicy new items are only being tested in the Kansas City area, now through mid-November. Here’s what the menu includes:

  • Sriracha Beef Griller
  • Sriracha Taco and Taco Supreme
  • Sriracha Quesarito (this is a Quesarito, by the way)
  • Sriracha Nachos
  • Sriracha Quesarito Box
  • Sriracha Grande Scrambler

Diehard fans of the beloved rooster sauce might notice, however, that the condiment Taco Bell is using is more of a “Sriracha creme” sauce with a bit less heat, as one Redditor noted. In the meantime, if you’re not in the Kansas City area, you can just continue pouring Sriracha all over everything and get the same effect.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Mindset Shifts That Help Weight Loss

Broken scale
Tim Robberts—Getty Images

In a recent Facebook thread about weight loss that I was following, one commenter wrote that if she could write a diet book, she’d call it “Eat Less” and then leave all the pages blank. Drop the mic, call it a day, solve our obesity mess with a two-word prescription.

Most of us who have read anything about diets, obesity, and weight loss would nod in agreement. We have too much food, too much sugar, too many processed foods, and too many choices. And the reality is that we could likely engineer a one-size-fits-most diet that would push everybody back to healthy weights. Example: Eggs and berries for breakfast, grilled chicken salad with nuts for lunch, and fish with vegetables and avocado for dinner might get us there if we followed that plan every day (adjusting for variables like vegetarian options and allergies). Most of us who have read anything about diets, obesity and weight loss would also agree that it’s nowhere near that easy.

The diet dilemma has everything to with food. And nothing to do with food.

It really has more to do with adjusting our mindset so that healthy choices feel right—and don’t feel like deprivation, hard work or punishment.

I’ve spent most of my career writing about health, and I’ve spent most of my life in a bleep-off relationship with the scale. I’ve had quite a few lows (almost ballooning to 300 pounds while writing diet books, getting a D in sixth-grade gym class), and I’ve also had some successes. (For what it’s worth, our individual definitions of weight-loss success need to include not just pounds, but also things like bodily satisfaction, life satisfaction, numbers like blood pressure and achievement of other goals not associated with pounds.)

We all have the ability to change our mindsets—not with a tire-squealing hard left, but by simply drifting into a new lane of thinking. These 3 switches will help you start:

Reverse the leadership model. The protocol for people who want to lose weight typically comes in two forms. You have the people who seclude themselves, privately trying to swim upstream against all of the forces that will make them gain weight. And you have the follow-the-leader model, in which the would-be dieter listens to the plan/advice/program of the trainer, the doctor, the nutritionist, the author, the infomercial-machine-seller: the person who, by degree or some other definition, knows more about the subject than anybody else. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either model, because either of them can work.

The glitch, however, comes when the follower grows tired of following. And when one grows tired of following, one consumes three pieces of Oreo pie. It’s not that the experts don’t know what they’re doing, because most of the many I’ve worked with and interviewed in my career do. It’s just that we dieters, though most don’t even know it, need a more balanced mix of following and leading. We need to harness some of the power and control back from the people who are telling us what to do. We need to lead, even if we don’t look like we should.

Leadership can come in many forms, whether it’s being the person to arrange the neighborhood walking group, or the person who prepares the family meal and makes kale chips instead of buying chocolate chips, or the person who organizes a work team to run a 5K together. The last couple years, I’ve organized weekly workouts with friends and neighbors. I’m the worst athlete in the bunch, so at first glance, the question would be, Why is blubber boy in charge? Exactly zero percent of my friends have ever given me any inclination that’s what they felt. Instead, the dynamics of the group workout are that we all push and pull each other, no matter our athletic abilities. I know I’m not as good as the others, but I also know that these workouts don’t happen unless I kickstart them.

Dieters can redefine the roles we’re supposed to take, and that’s what drives changes in the way we think and act. This is where sustained energy comes from—what we deliver to others, we get in return.

Steer the fear. In the weight-loss world, fear is almost as bad of a word as pudding. We fear the scale. We fear the doctor. We fear shopping for clothes. We fear the camera. We fear being embarrassed. The more we fear, the more we retreat—and the harder it is to climb out of whatever destructive habits we have.

As someone who once was told I had child-bearing hips, I know that the fear is real, and I know it’s not easy to squash. But instead of letting fear steer us, we need to steer the fear.

Plenty of scholarly and popular writings have addressed the issue of goal-setting, though there is some debate about whether we should set dream-big goals or more attainable goals. My take: Every year, you should set at least one physical and mental challenge that scares you just enough to help you make good choices—because those choices are a means to reaching that goal. What is “just enough”? It’s that spot right in between “of course I can do this” and “no way in the world can I do this.” For me, it was taking on the challenge of trying to complete an Ironman in 2013 (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run in a 17-hour time limit). I’ve found that the canyon in the middle of those two extremes is where the growth lies. Maybe it’s not fear in the traditional sense, but that bubbling angst of uncertainty feels different from and healthier than the kind of fear that dieters tend to have. (Tell us about your new challenge with the hashtag #TIMEtosteerthefear.)

Crank the voltage. As someone who has finished last in a race (maybe two, but who’s counting?), I do subscribe to the turtle-inspired mantra of slow and steady. When it comes to weight loss, that mindset will win the race. The choices we make over time, not one day or one hour, dictate the way that our bodies will look, feel and act.

I do think it’s a mistake to think that slow-and-steady is always the answer. Especially when it comes to exercise, we need high-intensity, those short periods of working as hard as we can. Why? Because that kind of work—the kind where you’re so immersed in the activity because it’s fun and intense—is what feels good, what feels enjoyable, what feels in the moment and what gives us the post-activity high that helps us make healthy decisions, especially when it comes to food choices.

My friend and sports psychologist Doug Newburg, PhD, has taught me a lot about the concept of feel, because he has studied how it works in hundreds of elite performers. It’s different than feelings or emotions. Exercise, like eating, shouldn’t feel like a chore. For it to truly work over the long term, it has to feel more like recess than like detention. Going all in—whether it’s running, dancing, playing tennis or playing tag with your kids—excites you enough to take you out of your own head, and that’s what makes you want to do it again and again. The byproduct of playing hard is that, without thinking, you find what you were after in the first place.

Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker), the interim chair of the department of journalism at the University of Florida, is the author of DOWN SIZE: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success.

Read next: I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test

TIME

Why Gourmet Food and a Table Full of Kids Don’t Mix

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Please don't take six children to a five-star restaurant, parents. Unless you're prepared to buy everyone around you a stiff drink.

Fine dining with children. It’s a pairing most of us don’t normally like to see together. But the New York Times and Daniel Boulud decided to give it a go by filming six second graders eating a seven-course chef’s tasting menu at Daniel, Boulud’s famed, two-Michelin-starred restaurant. “The basic goal today for the children,” said head chef Boulud, is “to really discover a lot of flavor, a lot of layers, a lot of texture” and to “experience something maybe very unique for them.”

The video is enchanting, as the children take culinary risks, trying out fish eggs and Wagyu steak and adventurously taking bites of new foods while politely exclaiming, “Ooh, this is strange.”

Aspirational parents eager to have a gourmet dining experience with their kids too shared the video all over Facebook.

Since my 7-year-old son is a noted foodie, six different people sent me this video saying something to the effect of “Let’s do this!” But there was one unifying characteristic among the people who enthusiastically sent me the video: None of them had children.

Building a child’s palate, getting him or her ready for a lifetime of culinary education, expanding his horizons beyond organic, gluten-free chicken nuggets and baby carrot sticks are all lofty goals and worthy ambitions in a first-world way. But there was one important part of the video that non-parents may have overlooked: There were no other patrons in the restaurant. It was completely empty aside from the exuberant and loquacious kids and the very attentive wait staff, chef and camera crew. I’m guessing that was no accident.

Why? Because no other person in her right mind wants to shell out $220 per person for a once-in-a-lifetime luxurious meal while listening to a table full of seven and eight-year olds squeal about caviar, “That’s disgusting!” Nor do they want to hear anyone point at her plate and holler, “WHAT IS THAT?!” The most realistic moment of the video came when one little girl nudged her pasta dish and asked, “Why am I eating soap right now?” Even children on their absolute best behavior, like the kids in this video, are still children who are going to get bored, get antsy or get hungry while waiting for the next course.

Here are a few other things notably absent from the video: There were no loud declarations of “Oops!”, no glasses knocked over, no gagging noises heard and no bites taken with the food immediately spit back onto the plate. No one was kicking anyone under the table, nor were any kids sitting sideways in their chairs. No one was whining and no one insisted on washing his hands after each course in order to spend 12 minutes playing with the sink like it was the latest attraction at Dave & Buster’s. It was dining with children in the white-washed bubble of really good editing.

In short: Don’t try this yourselves, fellow parents.

I’m not saying don’t take your children to five-star restaurants. I’m saying don’t take six children (or even two for that matter) to a five-star restaurant, because that’s a recipe for a headache for you, other diners and the wait staff. Remember, there’s no editing in real life and you’re going to be the one Googling how to remove Kobe-beef-in-port-reduction-sauce stains from cashmere when someone’s fork “accidentally” flies across the room.

(I know what kind of table manner horrors my second grader can exhibit. Although, I’m sure your child is a perfect angel, who would never accidentally spill a glass of red wine across four entrees or test out his fork-catapult skills at the table like mine did.)

That said, I’ve taken my son to white table cloth establishments and might even do it again with some parameters detailed below. My son loves food and after his school focused an entire lunch year on “risk taking” at the table, a generous friend invited him to a swanky five-star restaurant for the five-course tasting menu. One kid, one restaurant. That’s doable, right? Well, sort of.

My son was thrilled at the invitation and arrived at the upscale French seafood restaurant’s first seating in a suit and tie, quickly charming the entire staff while ordering a Shirley Temple at the bar and waiting politely for his seat.

He dutifully studied the menu, picking some safe-yet-adventurous variations on the most unobtrusive items such as salmon and steak. The “amuse bouche” was suitably amusing, but as the minutes ticked past, the excitement dimmed. After the first course he was already ogling my phone hoping for a Minecraft fix while waiting for his entree. He lasted a few courses before a few words (read: threats) were necessary to coax him out from under the table where he had retreated after sitting nicely at the table for 90 minutes (roughly a vast eternity of nothingness in 7-year old time.) The arrival of dessert at the two-hour mark got him back on track, but waiting for the check proved too much and he collapsed on the bench seat, exhausted, whining and ready to be carried out of the dining room. I felt exactly the same way.

Would I do it again with one child? Sure, as long as I got the wine pairing and got rid of the whole no-cell-phones-at-the-table rule.

Would I take more than one child to an upscale restaurant? Not for all the wine pairings in the world.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

What McDonald’s New ‘Transparency’ Campaign Is Hiding

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"Most of the cattle we get our beef from are treated with added hormones"

McDonald’s announced today that it’s making a greater effort at transparency and engagement with its new campaign, “Our Food, Your Questions.” McDonald’s has a serious image problem and a sagging bottom line, which might explain its sudden willingness to fling the barn door open as a way to shed its reputation for serving mass-produced, unhealthy food. Showing the public how the sausage is made may win favor with some consumers, but a better strategy for the fast food giant would be to make truly meaningful commitments to sustainability.

McDonald’s realizes people have big questions about the quality and origins of their food. So the company that serves 28 million people daily in the U.S. is now promising straightforward answers. McDonald’s is releasing behind-the scenes web vignettes and infographics, which will apparently illustrate the production process behind its products like Chicken McNuggets and the McRib, and how they go from “farm to restaurant.” It also says it will listen to real customers’ questions online and answer honestly in real time.

McDonald’s has also enlisted professional skeptic and former “MythBusters” co-host Grant Imahara, who is featured in a series of videos addressing consumers’ persistent doubts and questions. “We know some people–both McDonald’s fans and skeptics–continue to have questions about our food from the standpoint of the ingredients or how food is prepared at the restaurant. This is our move to ensure we engage people in a two-way dialogue about our food and answer the questions and address their comments,” Kevin Newell, EVP-chief brand and strategy officer for McDonald’s USA, told BurgerBusiness.com.

Until now, what happened behind the curtain at McDonald’s has been invisible to most of us. But because the company’s supply chain is so long, and it sources raw ingredients from such a wide array of locations and facilities, it would be impossible for any one tour, vignette, or infographic to show more than a sliver of what goes on at the farm, factory, and processing levels.

And while it’s angling for the farm-to-table crowd, as the world’s largest buyer of beef and pork with hamburgers for as low as one dollar, McDonald’s current practices will probably still be considered factory-farm-to-table.

“McDonald’s is making important progress away from gestation crates in its pork supply chain, though nearly all of its eggs in the U.S. still come from birds locked inside battery cages so small they can’t spread their wings,” Paul Shapiro, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States, told me. “This is in contrast to McDonald’s policies in Europe and U.K., where its eggs are all cage-free.”

Online, McDonald’s answers some questions about its products. So far, I didn’t see any questions (or answers) about antibiotic use or whether its eggs are cage-free, even in its section on “sourcing and sustainability.” Here’s what they do answer. On beef hormones: “Most of the cattle we get our beef from are treated with added hormones, a common practice in the U.S. that ranchers use to promote growth.” On feeding animals GMO feed: “Generally speaking, farmers feed their livestock a balanced diet that includes grains, like corn and soybeans. Over 90% of the U.S. corn and soybean crops are GMO, so cattle, chickens and pigs in our supply chain do eat some GMO crops.”

And while it says it no longer uses so-called “pink slime” in its burgers, it does use an anti-foaming agent, dimethylpolysiloxane, in the oil it uses to cook Chicken McNuggets. It also uses azodicarbonamide, AKA “the yoga mat ingredient,” in its buns and sandwiches, saying it has many uses: “Think of salt: the salt you use in your food at home is a variation of the salt you may use to de-ice your sidewalk.” As for why its U.S. menu contains items that are banned in Europe? “Every country has different food safety and regulatory standards and, because of this, ingredients will vary in our restaurants around the world. But no matter where you’re dining with us—in the U.S. or abroad—you can be assured of the quality and safety of our food.”

Most people simply don’t think of McDonald’s as a healthy place to eat, despite its efforts to offer more menu choices. Its insidious marketing of fast foods to kids hasn’t won it any points either. With U.S. sales down, recent food safety scandals in China, and labor issues here, its rivals are eating McDonald’s for lunch and breakfast, too.

The truth is, McDonald’s is facing a marketplace where people increasingly want good food served fast, as opposed to fast food. Millennials are now driving the food bus and they’re heading straight to Chipotle and other establishments that are offering healthier options, including foods without genetically engineered or artificial ingredients and meat from animals raised without antibiotics.

An estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are being fed to animals on factory farms for purposes other than treating diseases. McDonald’s producers uses antibiotics to “treat, prevent, and control disease” in its food-producing animals.

Using antibiotics to prevent disease and promote faster growth (the company has phased out the latter since 2003, though some say using them to prevent disease has the same effect)—rather than merely to treat infections—allows producers to raise many animals together in dirty, crowded spaces. And it has contributed to antibiotic resistant bacteria, which the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control now widely regard as an international epidemic.

From food safety scandals to the serious public health impacts of eating fast food, consumers increasingly want truth, trust, and transparency in their food. But transparency demands responsibility and is toothless on its own. Today’s eaters want to see where their food comes from so they can make informed choices and also advocate for change.

If McDonald’s really wants to connect with consumers, it should take a hard look at the practices behind the ingredients it uses and begin to change them incrementally. It could take a real stand for sustainability—including changing to suppliers and producers who raise meat without antibiotics. As the biggest fast food company in the nation, McDonald’s choices are no small potatoes. A change like that could mean a much happier meal.

See more at: How McDonald’s Could Serve Up a Happier Meal

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Case Against Cooking

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Bill Saporito is an assistant managing editor of TIME and directs the magazine's coverage of business, the economy, personal finance, and sports.

'Not cooking doesn’t have to doom you to a life of junk food'

The guy from Con Edison comes knocking on our apartment door once a month. He’s there to read the gas meter in our kitchen, where the gas meter is located in an apartment building constructed in 1928. He needn’t bother, since that meter hasn’t budged since, oh, 2010, when we shut off the gas.

The reason my wife and I don’t cook our food is the same reason that we don’t hunt our food. These skills are no longer required to sidestep starvation. Cooking now ranks right up there with vacuuming—except that vacuuming removes a mess while cooking creates one. We have more efficient uses of our time and energy.

And it’s not just us. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, (notice, there’s no Department of Cooking) Americans spent 43.1% of our food budgets on food bought away from home in 2012, up from 25.9% in 1970. It’s the highest level ever. One reason is that food costs a lot less now then it did in 1970. We spend less of our total income on food, so we can be a little less fussy about who makes it.

Chef Mark Bittman properly rails about the empty calories Americans consume that have led to our obesity crisis, but not cooking doesn’t have to doom you to a life of junk food. I don’t eat burgers. But there are plenty of other options in my neighborhood. The Chinese takeout joints can offer steamed veggies and tofu over brown rice at a price you couldn’t possibly beat in your own kitchen. (Not that you’d want to.) There’s a vegan place — right next to the steakhouse. Burmese, Persian, Italian, Jewish, French, Mexican, Indian, Turkish, and Thai outlets vie all for my patronage with fresh deliciousness, delivered to your door in under 20 minutes at a reasonable price.

Granted, New York is a dense city that can support 15,000 restaurants, and its crazy ethnic mix yields unmatched variety, but the rest of the country is catching up fast. The growth Hispanic America has been a godsend to better options. Emerging fast-casual, healthier-food chains with names like Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill are getting traction—one reason McDonald’s is struggling. And supermarket chains offer heat-and-eat meals that are freshly made. There’s a name for it: home meal replacement, as in HMR. Bless us, even 7-Eleven is getting into the game. You’re going to be able to buy real food there along with your cigarettes and Slurpees.

When I was a kid, families cooked at home because they were too poor, relatively speaking, to eat at restaurants, and Mom was home to woman the stove. Today, it’s the opposite: many Americans are too poor to cook at home; they’re way too busy trying to scratch out a living. For working parents chasing a couple (or more) jobs and a couple of kids, the act of acquiring and cooking food is a time-consuming luxury.

Where did we get this idea that we must commune with food through the medium of cooking? Why do I have to have a spiritual relationship with produce? (And especially with you, broccoli.) The kitchen as we know it today is a relative newcomer to the American home. Brooklyn is filled with 19th-century Federal-style row houses whose owners often fret about nailing down period details; but all these homes have retrofitted modern kitchens because the kitchen was originally in the basement. Cooking had been kicked out of the hearth and relegated to the remote part of the house.

Not cooking isn’t new, either. Until the Depression, a vast servant class existed in the U.S.—it pops up all over census reports—so that even lower-middle class families could afford hired help who did the menial work, such as cooking—in the basement. The modern-day counterparts of those servants are working at McDonalds.

The American Dream home with mom playing Queen of the Kitchen has always been more myth than reality. It wasn’t until the postwar period that companies like the Generals—Electric and Mills—began to fetishize the kitchen and the happy homemakers who would inhabit them. This is a relatively brief and booming period that began to come apart like a badly made muffin with the deindustrialization of the economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the advance of women in the workforce. Even GE is done with cooking: the company just sold its appliance division to concentrate on more complex and profitable stuff, like jet engines. What GE is saying about cooking is that the idea of transforming comestibles into combustibles through the application of heat in a specialized space is a relic of another age.

What I am saying is that if cooking can’t be done on my iPad, is there any point in doing it?

I love a great meal, and I’ve been lucky enough to eat remarkable ones prepared by talented chefs in Europe as well as in the U.S. I also have a friend who is a terrific cook and takes pleasure in sharing the fruits of his hobby. My wife and I are always delighted to indulge him. I can also appreciate that cooking evangelists like Bittman aren’t trying to start a cult, but rather trying to improve our wellbeing. That’s really admirable, but veneration of the stove isn’t the only way to change what Americans eat or their BMI. It’s why Con Ed’s meter reader will continue to come up empty when he reaches our door.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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