TIME Obesity

Injecting This Drug Helps Patients Lose Weight

Daily shots of liraglutide (Saxenda), recently approved by the FDA, helps overweight or obese patients lose weight

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers say that the only injectable weight loss drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) helps people to lose more than 12 pounds, more than twice as much as people taking a placebo.

The study is one of several that the FDA considered before approving the drug in 2014. It included data on 3,731 patients who were randomly assigned to take liraglutide or a placebo for just over a year. The trial continued to follow the patients for another year, and that data will be published soon.

MORE: This Pill Can Trick the Body Into Losing Weight, Study Finds

Liraglutide is similar to an already approved drug to treat type 2 diabetes, but is used in higher doses for weight loss. The drug mimics the effects of a hormone that works in the gut to signal the brain that you’ve eaten enough and feel full. As a diabetes drug, it helps the beta cells in the pancreas release insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. In the NEJM study, none of the patients had diabetes, although some were pre-diabetic, and the FDA says liraglutide for weight loss should not be used together with the diabetes drug, also made by Novo Nordisk.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, director of the obesity research center at Columbia University, liraglutide works as well as phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), which doctors believe works by suppressing appetite. They key to making any weight loss medication effective, he says, is combining it with diet and exercise changes as well, which is what the participants in the study did. One advantage of liraglutide is that it can be used by women in their child-bearing years.

So far, the side effects of litaglutide, which include nausea, diarrhea, gall bladder abnormalities and pancreatitis, were minimal and did not outweigh the benefits of weight loss. But in approving the drug, the FDA asked the company to continue to study the drug to ensure that the adverse events remain within an acceptable range.

TIME celebrity

This Is What Chris Pratt Thinks Gender Equality Should Look Like

Chris Pratt at the premiere of 'Jurassic World' in Hollywood on June 9, 2015.
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images Chris Pratt at the premiere of 'Jurassic World' in Hollywood on June 9, 2015.

"Objectify men as often as we objectify women"

Chris Pratt’s star has risen as his physique transformed from the less-than-toned Andy Dwyer of Parks and Recreation to Star-Lord’s superhero six-pack, and he doesn’t have a problem with that connection.

In a new interview, Pratt admits his new physique played a “huge part” in landing his leading roles in blockbuster films like Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy.

“It was a huge part of how my career has shifted is based on the way that I look, on the way that I’ve shaped my body to look,” he told Radio 4’s Front Row, adding that he feels “totally” objectified now.

“But I think it’s OK, I don’t feel appalled by it,” he went on. “I think it’s appalling that for a long time only women were objectified, but I think if we really want to really advocate for equality, it’s important to not objectify women less, but objectify men as often as we objectify women.”

Pratt added, “There are a lot of beautiful women who got careers out of it, and I’m using it to my advantage. And at the end of the day, our bodies are objects. We’re just big bags of flesh and blood and meat and organs that God gives us to drive around.”

He also said the decision to transform his body wasn’t a “calculated” one, but it’s certainly one that’s paid off – to the tune of that $500 million opening weekend for Jurassic World.

Pratt has spoken about his body transformation throughout the Jurassic World press tour. In the July issue of Men’s Health U.K., Pratt said his weight – which once ballooned toward 300 pounds –raised some big health concerns.

“I was impotent, fatigued, emotionally depressed. I had real health issues that were affecting me in a major way,” Pratt said. “It’s bad for your heart, your skin, your system, your spirit.”

Listen to Pratt discuss his body in the interview clip below.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

11 ‘Healthy’ Foods Diet Experts Avoid

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Smoothies can contain as many calories as a burger

You do your best to do right by your body by making healthy food choices every day. Unfortunately, a number of “health” foods you may go out of your way to eat don’t deserve their stripes. What’s worse, thanks to talented and tricky food marketers, unless you’re a trained professional, it’s really hard to tell when you’re being duped. All of those “sweetened with agave” and “added fiber” labels can confuse even the smartest shoppers. That’s why we’ve turned to some of the nation’s top diet experts and asked them to reveal which “healthy” foods they wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. What they had to say was pretty surprising. Scroll through to get in the know.

1. Agave Nectar

“Although agave is gaining popularity in health-minded circles, it’s not at all better than sugar and should be used sparingly like any other sweetener. Yes, it comes from a plant, but it has little to no nutritional value.” — Marisa Moore, MBA,RDN, LD, an Atlanta based registered dietitian nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

2. Fiber-Added Foods

“Recently many food manufacturers have cut fat from products like yogurt and snack foods and replaced it with fiber to increase the health factor. Although eating fiber-added foods is often a great way to cut calories from fat and boost satiety between meals, when you eat too many foods with fiber, inulin, or chicory root (common fiber additives) it can cause gas, bloating, nausea, flatulence, stomach cramps and even diarrhea. Stick with whole foods that are naturally good sources of fiber like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.” — Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

3. Veggie Chips

“Although veggie chips have more fiber than a standard bag of crisps, many varieties are fried—not just simply dehydrated. If your go-to bag has oils and added sugars, you’d be better off snacking on fresh produce instead. Those ingredients transform the vegetables from nutritional superstars to full-on indulgences.” — Marisa Moore

4. Protein Bars

“Most high protein bars get their protein from unnatural sources like soy protein isolate, or SPI. The process of chemically engineering soybeans to isolate their protein strips out all of their other healthy nutrients and leaves behind potentially dangerous substances like hexane and aluminum. These bars also tend to have belly-bloating sugar alcohols and other unhealthy additives to cover up their terrible taste. If you’re looking for a bar, look for ones with less than 10 ingredients that you can recognize.” — Stephanie Middleberg, RD, founder of Middleberg Nutrition

5. Peanut Butter

“The only type of peanut butter I’ll eat is the natural variety. Non-natural nut butters usually contain partially hydrogenated oils, which is a type of trans-fat! Choose a natural or organic nut butter instead. The ingredient list should just be the nuts and maybe a little salt.” — Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, a Washington D.C. area Registered Dietitian

6. Gluten-Free Products

“Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s calorie- or fat-free. In fact, many gluten-free products are higher in sugar and fat than their traditional counterparts. If you have to eat gluten-free for medical reasons, that’s one thing, but buying gluten-free products in an attempt to lose weight will not be effective.” — Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, a registered dietitian with private practices in New York and Connecticut

7. Processed Snack Bars

“The first few ingredients in many snack bars include brown rice syrup and corn syrup, which are both added sugars. Then food manufacturers add in low-quality chocolate—not the antioxidant-rich dark variety. Often times these bars contain less than one gram of fiber, so they won’t do as good a job keeping you satiated either. You’re better off grabbing a bar with whole food ingredients you can see, like nuts and dried fruit with minimal added sugar.”— Michelle Dudash, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families

8. Smoothies

“People love smoothies because they can jam in a ton of ingredients and drink it all down in one sitting. The problem is, fruit, yogurt, milk, flaxseed and whatever else you put into your cup adds up! Before you know it, what you thought was a nutrient packed meal or snack, now has as many calories as a burger. Your best bet is to just eat a piece of fruit if you’re craving something sweet. You will feel fuller and it won’t break the calorie bank.” — Ilyse Schapiro

9. Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise

“Not only do low-fat foods not taste very good, they’re also filled with unhealthy and harmful ingredients like added sugars, vegetable oils and artificial preservatives. These ingredients have little nutritional value and decrease the body’s ability to absorb fat soluble vitamins. Regularly eating things like low-fat mayo can lead to inflammation, GI issues, heart disease and increased cravings that lead to weight gain.” — Stephanie Middleberg

10. Fat-Free Dressing

“Fat-free dressings often have added sugars or fillers, so even though you’re getting less fat, you’re not always saving calories. Plus, having a little fat with your salad can actually help you absorb more of the antioxidant-rich compounds from the vegetables. Carrots, tomatoes and dark, leafy greens are nutritious on their own, but a little fat actually helps you get more from them.” — Marisa Moore

11. Yogurt

“Many flavored yogurts pack a ton of sugar and carbohydrates. When possible, I go for plain Greek yogurt and add some fruit or all natural jelly to flavor it.” — Ilyse Schapiro

This article originally appeared on Eat This, Not That!

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

If You Want to Lose Weight, Don’t Pick Your Own Diet

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Danny Kim for TIME

The freedom to choose how to diet may mean less impressive weight loss results, a new study finds

The best diet is the one you’ll stick to, but a new study suggests that might not be the one you’d pick for yourself.

In the experiment published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a group of 207 veterans, mostly men, followed a diet for 48 weeks. About half were given a choice between two diets—low-carb or low-fat—while others were randomly assigned to one diet or the other.

Of those who got to choose, 58% picked the low-carb diet, and 42% chose the low-fat diet. Everyone in the study got group and phone counseling over the course of the study, and the researchers measured weight loss, adherence, attendance and weight-related quality of life.

“We figured that if people chose the diet on their own or with assistance that they would be more invested in the diet,” says lead author Dr. William Yancy, a research scientist at the Durham VA Medical Center. “We also thought that if they chose the diet based on what foods they preferred that that would help them stick to the diet better, but that’s not what we found.” Contrary to what the researchers expected to find, choosing a diet didn’t improve weight loss or make people any more likely to stick to their diet. In fact, people in this group actually lost less weight (an average of 12.5 pounds) than those assigned a diet (an average of 14.7 pounds). Statistically, however, there was no difference between the groups in any of the measures.

That might be because people are more likely to overeat when following a diet that emphasizes the foods they like—which would likely be the diet they’d select, Yancy says. The weight loss disparity could also be due to something the researchers call a “personal trainer” effect: you adhere to a workout program better if you’re told which exercises to do. “We all know we can go and exercise on our own,” Yancy explains. “But a lot of people still prefer to have a trainer or go to a setting when someone is overseeing what they’re doing.”

Future research is needed, he says, but especially in the little-explored areas of prescribing diets for individuals. There may be promise in future weight loss interventions that focus on pairing a person with a diet through personality questionnaires, metabolic profiles like cholesterol tests or insulin tests, or even a person’s genetic profile, Yancy says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Non-Diet Ways to Trick Yourself into Losing Weight

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It's all about vegetable artistry

Convenient. Attractive. Normal. These three words (which are the basis for the even easier to remember acronym C.A.N.) may be the key to eating healthier without really trying, according to a recent paper from Cornell University. The review of 112 studies concluded that eaters make good choices when healthy foods are visible and within reach; they’re displayed enticingly; and they’re set up as the most obvious choices compared to other food options. It just makes sense: When you place gorgeous pieces of fresh fruit in a pretty bowl on your counter, you’re more likely to take one than if they’re hidden away—especially if the chips or cookies are even easier to grab. Bottom line, make it handy to eat healthfully and you’ll follow through, no “diet” or willpower required.

In addition to remembering C.A.N., there are plenty of other research-backed strategies for not dieting, and still shedding pounds. Here, four more easy tactics you can adopt.

Plate your veggies artistically

In a University of Oxford study, subjects in one group received salads arranged to resemble an artistic painting; a second group was provided with salads featuring vegetables lined up in neat rows, and salads in a third group were served in a typical piled-up fashion. While all the salads contained identical ingredients, dressing, and condiments, the artistic salad was rated the best by subjects, by a nearly 20 percent margin. In fact, people reported that they’d be willing to pay twice as much for the painting-like versions. The takeaway: We eat with our eyes as well as our stomachs, so if you’re trying to reach for healthy foods more often, put some effort into how you present them. (I think this study demonstrates one reason why Mason jar salads—and the myriad of photos of them on social media—have become so popular.)

Nosh before you shop

You’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating: A 2013 study, also from Cornell University, found that skipping meals before heading to the supermarket is a surefire way to sabotage healthy shopping. Volunteers were asked to fast for five hours, then either given nothing to eat or crackers, and asked to make purchases at a simulated food market. The fasting group bought 18.6% more food—including a whopping 44.8% more calorie-packed items, like chips and ice cream—than the cracker eating crowd. In a follow-up study, researchers observed shoppers at an actual supermarket just after lunch and in the late afternoon. Compared to post-lunch shoppers, those who strolled the aisles in the late afternoon—when they were way more likely to be hungry—bought over a quarter fewer low-calorie foods like vegetables. To prevent hunger from keeping healthy food items out of your grocery cart, eat something to take the edge off pre-shopping. Stash a golf-ball sized portion of nuts or seeds in your bag, and try to finish them before you walk through the entrance of the supermarket.

Spend a little time in the morning sun

The timing, intensity, and length of your exposure to light during the day may significantly affect your weight. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Northwestern University found that compared to people who got most of their light exposure later in the day, those who enjoyed even moderately bright light in the morning had significantly lower BMIs. In fact, the later the hour of light exposure, the higher a person’s BMI, and vice versa. The numbers held true independent of an individual’s exercise regime, calorie intake, sleep timing, and age. The powerful effect, researchers say, is due to how light influences our body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate metabolism and weight regulation. To keep those rhythms in sync and your weight in check, researchers advise getting 20 to 30 minutes of bright light exposure between 8:00 a.m. and noon. And no, you don’t have to be outdoors—a room brightened by natural sun (versus a room with no windows and only artificial light) will do.

Don’t dine while distracted

Bringing your lunch to work is a smart way to control your calories. But if you surf the Web while you eat, you may consume more than you would’ve if you’d focused on your meal, both during eating and later in the day. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who played a computer game while lunching felt less full, snacked more, and had more trouble recalling what they had eaten than those who’d eaten without distractions. So while it may feel weird to sit at your desk without checking email or doing anything but eating, that’s the best lunchtime strategy for your waistline. Bonus: You’ll actually enjoy your lunch.

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

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Obesity

‘Thrifty’ Metabolisms May Make It Harder to Lose Weight

File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.
Chris Radburn—PA Wire/Press Association Images File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.

The study marks the first time lab results have confirmed the widely held belief

Losing those love handles may be easier for some people than for others, says a new study that confirmed the theory that physiology plays a role in a person’s ability to lose weight.

According to a press release, researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch studied the metabolisms of 12 obese men and women undergoing a six-week 50% calorie-reduction experiment. After measuring participants’ energy expenditure after a day of fasting and then re-examining them during the caloric-reduction period, researchers found that the slower the metabolism works during a diet, the less weight the person loses.

Coining the terms “thrifty” vs. “spendthrift” metabolisms, the experiment marks first time lab results have confirmed a widely held belief that a speedy metabolism plays a role in weight loss.

“While behavioral factors such as adherence to diet affect weight loss to an extent, our study suggests we should consider a larger picture that includes individual physiology — and that weight loss is one situation where being thrifty doesn’t pay,” said lead author Dr. Susanne Votruba, Ph.D.

Researchers have yet to figure out if the differences in metabolic speeds are innate traits or develop over time. Also, the study was only focused on weight loss, and the team does not know if the body’s response to caloric reduction can be used to prevent weight gain.

Over one-third of Americans are obese, and it leads to some of the most common forms of preventable deaths in the country.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Weight Watchers Founder Dies at 91

Jean Nidetch
Alan Diaz—AP In this photo taken July, 18, 2011, Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, is shown at her home in Parkland, Fla.

Jean Nidetch made weekly weight loss meetings into a big business

Jean Nidetch, the founder of the popular diet plan Weight Watchers, died Wednesday at the age of 91.

Nidetch, who struggled to lose weight, started Weight Watchers after hosting weekly meetings with overweight friends at her home to talk about their issues with weight and dieting. She went from 214 pounds to 142, and before long, Weight Watchers was founded. Nidetch and her fellow founders became millionaires when the company went public in 1968, the New York Times reports. The company was eventually sold to H.J. Heinz.

Nidetch died at her home at in Parkland, Fla., CBS News reports.

“Compulsive eating is an emotional problem, and we use an emotional approach to its solution,” said Nidetch in a 1972 article published in TIME. The first version of Weight Watchers focused on foods like lean meats and fruits and vegetables, but as the New York Times writes, the emotional support was always one of the distinguishing parts of the program.

Today Weight Watchers remains a very popular diet, and continues to offer weekly meetings. Recent studies have shown that Weight Watchers tends to work better than other diets for people trying to slim down.

TIME Research

Health Stores Often Promote Diet Pills to Minors

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Despite warnings that they are intended for adults

Health store employees will often promote the use of over-the-counter body-changing supplements to minors, despite the fact that they often contain warnings that they are intended for adults.

In new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego, researchers had study participants call 244 health food stores in 49 states and identify themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls. The researchers discovered that even though testosterone boosters are not recommended for kids and teens under age 18 without a medical reason, 9.8% of sales associates recommended them. Testosterone boosters contain messaging indicating they are for adults only, but 41% of the sales associates told the callers they thought were 15 that they could buy them on their own.

Health store employees would frequently recommend supplements for callers posing as teen girls who said they were looking to lose weight.

“Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results,” says Dr. Ruth Milanaik of Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results’ are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve ‘the perfect body.’ It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body.”

Though the research is preliminary and still a relatively small study size, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says dietary supplements have not been tested for safety or effectiveness in kids. Despite the research and warnings, though, the study authors note that it is still legal for minors to purchase these supplements in 49 states.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

How to Block the Hunger Pangs When You Diet

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Danny Kim for TIME

The hardest part of a diet are the cravings. That’s because dieting goes against the body’s developed-over-millions-of-years instinct to feed when energy levels drop. There’s a network of neurons that is exquisitely designed to sense when the body’s cells need more calories to fuel the metabolic, enzymatic, muscular, neurologic and sensory things they do. So when the body wants calories, we eat.

But what if it were possible to fool the body into thinking that it was full — without eating a bite?

Now scientists say you may be able to have your cake and not eat it — at least a little more easily. They worked with mice, but their findings could lead to new obesity treatments for people as well. In two papers published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience, researchers from different groups culminate a 15-year search for the specific nerve circuits in the brain responsible for hunger and satiety.

Scott Sternson, a researcher and group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, investigated the signals that prompt us to eat. Do we eat to silence the negative sensations we get when we’re hungry? Or do we eat simply because we like the taste of food? Previous studies in animals suggests the latter, and the fact that we eat even when we’re not hungry also supports the idea.

But Sternson reports in Nature that his team found evidence it’s the desire to get rid of the unpleasant feelings associated with hunger that drives eating. Something called agouti-related peptide neurons (AgRP) are critical for regulating when animals eat. When calories dwindle and energy drops, AgRP are active, fueling appetite. “When we start to lose 5%, or 10% of body weight, that’s when these neurons are kicking in. And they are a big part of why most diets fail even though people do succeed in initially losing weight,” he says.

That may explain why diets go awry too. Sternson says AgRP nerves may not be active at the start of the diet, but as we lose weight, and the body senses that fewer calories are coming in, the neurons become more active, compelling us to fill up the missing calories and making us feel unpleasantly hungry all the time.

Sternson gave recently-fed mice mice different flavored capsules. Those flavors were associated each with either turning on or turning off the AgRP; when the mice were offered the flavored capsules again, they tended to favor the flavor they associated with when AgRP was turned on, and they felt hungry.

But when they did the same test on mice who hadn’t eaten in a while, the animals tended to favor the flavor linked to when AgRP was turned off — that’s when they didn’t feel the hunger pangs and the physical pain associated with hunger. Indeed, when they did more experiments that allowed them to peer inside the animals’ brains and see which nerves were active, the AgRP neurons started to quiet down as soon as the animals saw food, even before they began eating. But if the mice did not eat after seeing the food, the neurons would rev up again and remind the animals — painfully — that they hadn’t eaten.

But simply interrupting AgRP neurons wouldn’t be the safest way to support weight loss, says Dr. Bradford Lowell, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and senior author of the other paper, published in Nature Neuroscience. Not only do AgRP neurons regulate appetite by driving animals to eat, but it also tries to conserve what energy remains by helping the body burn fewer calories. It signals the sympathetic nervous system, which controls things such as heart rate and blood pressure, to work less efficiently. And that could have negative effects on the heart.

The ideal situation would be to find something downstream of AgRP’s signaling that can be manipulated more safely. And that’s what Lowell spent the past 15 years doing. In his latest paper, he reports on a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus that might be just such a target. Unlike the neurons that trigger the heart-related symptoms when AgRP is activated, these nerves act as the hunger hub. Called melanocortin 4 receptor cells (MC4) hey are responsible, Lowell found, for feelings of satiety. Activating AgRP normally turns these cells off, so animals will feel the uncomfortable symptoms of hunger and start eating.

But one question that Lowell was keen on answering was whether animals eat to quiet down the hunger pangs of whether they simply eat because it activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain. By using the latest laser-technology that can activate specific neurons, they studied hungry mice and turned the MC4 cells on in one room and off when the mice wandered into another room, essentially tricking them into thinking they had just eaten, even if they hadn’t. Not surprisingly, the mice tended to spend more time in the room where the cells were turned on, and they felt “full.” “They were not eating any food but the mice chose to hang out in the room where their satiety signals were turned on. And they really liked it,” says Lowell.

But when they repeated the study with mice that had dined on chow, the results were different. This time, the mice didn’t show any preference and the satiety signals didn’t seem to affect them. That means that the animals ate mainly to get rid of the hunger pangs, and that given a choice, they would rather feel full.

That’s the same with people, and explains why diets are so hard to keep up. It’s a challenge to constantly fight the instinctive desire to quiet those hunger calls. But, says Lowell, it may be possible to manipulate the MC4 cells and fool the body into feeling the same satisfaction that comes with a full belly. “If we artificially turn on the downstream neurons of MC4, we are countering the adverse effect caused by AgRP being active. We are artificially removing the effect of the AgRP neurons on them,” he says.

And doing that, says Sternson, could help people who start a diet to stick with it. “We think it’s critical to understand all we can about these neurons, and how they control hunger when we start to loose weight. The more we understand the proteins that these neurons express, the more intelligently we can conceive potential treatment strategies,” he says. And those therapies might even make it possible to be hungry without feeling hungry, making them them the ultimate diet enabler.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Ways to Get Slim on Autopilot

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Streamline your day-to-day diet decision making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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