TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Tips for Keeping Off the Weekend Weight

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Choosing protein-packed foods can help you stay on track

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

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

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

Aim to maintain, not lose weight

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

HEALTH.COM: 11 Ways to Stay Slim Through the Holiday Season

Eat breakfast and lunch (and maybe dinner too)

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

HEALTH.COM: 20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

Choose your calories wisely

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

HEALTH.COM: How to Burn Off 24 Holiday Foods

Enjoy a true splurge

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

HEALTH.COM: 20 Habits That Make Holiday Stress Worse

Use Sunday to get back on track

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

HEALTH.COM: 5 Ways to Prep Healthy Breakfasts Ahead of Time

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Drink Diet Soda?

Why the fake fizzy stuff falls flat

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.

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Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

5/5 experts say no.

Man, diet soda just can’t catch a break with these experts. Maybe that’s because it’s the ultimate hypocrite of the beverage world.

People probably get hooked on diet soda in the hope that the “diet” part will pay off. (Why else would you suffer an aftertaste as metallic as the can it comes in?) But liquid weight loss this is not. A 2014 study led by Sara Bleich, PhD, associate professor in health policy and management at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, suggests it might be just the opposite. Her research found that overweight and obese adults who drink diet beverages actually consume more calories from food than their sugar-soda-drinking peers.

“Oftentimes my patients come to me ecstatic because they’ve kicked their regular soda habit to the curb,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian and manager of wellness nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “Unfortunately, it’s often replaced with a new habit of drinking diet soda.”

Indeed, for all of its skinny-making promises, diet soda might be making you fat.

Artificial sweeteners—the super-sweet, low- or no-calorie lifeblood of diet soda—trigger greater activation of reward centers in the brain compared with regular old sugar. That activation changes the way you seem to experience the “reward” you get from sweet tastes, Bleich says. “Another way of thinking about this is that for diet beverage drinkers, the brain’s sweet sensors may no longer provide a reliable gauge of energy consumption,” Bleich says. A change in those brain signals might get in the way of appetite control.

This isn’t the only one of diet soda’s potentially weighty problems. A 2009 study by nutritional epidemiologist Jennifer Nettleton, PhD, and her team found associations between diet soda consumption and type 2 diabetes. Though an observational study of this kind can’t establish causal links, drinking at least one diet soda a day was associated with a 67% greater risk for type-2 diabetes compared to people who never or rarely drank it.

Susan Swithers, PhD, professor of behavioral neuroscience at Purdue University, wrote a 2013 paper looking at the evidence for and against diet soda. “Right now, the data indicate that over the long term, people who drink even one diet soda a day are at higher risk for health outcomes that they are probably drinking diet sodas to try to avoid, like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and stroke,” she says.

Not only does diet soda appear to fuel to problems it’s supposed to fight, but studies also link it to less obvious health issues. Vasan Ramachandran, MD, principal investigator of the Framingham Heart Study, points to a recent study linking soda, both sugary and diet, to a higher risk of hip fractures in women. It’s another observational study, he says, but that’s largely the way diet soda research goes. Some experts think that other factors might be contributing to the link between diet soda and poor health outcomes—not just the drink itself. But the associations are strong, the evidence is consistent and the biological mechanisms are plausible, he concludes.

A recent study in Nature shows that zero-calorie artificial sweeteners might mess with gut bacteria in a way that predisposes mice to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance—“the underlying precursors of metabolic abnormalities and diabetes,” Ramachandran says.

So next time you’re craving an aluminum can of carbonated non-food constituents like artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, remember Nettleton’s voice in your head. If you’re thirsty, she says, drink water. If you’re tired, have a cup of coffee. And if you want a weight-loss aid to squash those hunger pangs, “Take a walk around the block.”

Still feel hungry? “Then eat,” she says. “You are hungry.”

Read next: Should I Eat Greek Yogurt?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

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Any dieter's number-one obstacle: hunger! Load your plate with these super-satisfying foods and watch the pounds melt away

If the theme song for every diet you’ve tried would be “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” you should keep reading. “One of the biggest challenges when you’re trying to lose weight is combating hunger and the desire to eat,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, and Health’s contributing nutrition editor. The simple solution: eat filling foods that stick with you. “Foods that contain fiber, protein, and plant-based fat tend to be the most satiating,” Sass says. These nutrients slow down digestion and the absorption of nutrients, a process that helps you feel physically full for longer, and also means no blood sugar or insulin spikes.

While you might find some of the research that follows surprising, there are no magic potions or super bars on this list. They’re all nutrient-rich whole foods, which a recent study revealed increase calorie burning by roughly 50% compared to processed foods, adds Sass. Eating less without feeling like you’re on a diet and burning more calories? We’ll take it.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Foods That Make You Hungrier

Potatoes

“Many people still think that because potatoes have a high glycemic index they will induce cravings and weight gain, but research shows this isn’t the case,” says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, potatoes ranked number one on the famous satiety index, which was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1995. During the low-carb years, they fell out of favor, but lately there’s been a renewed interest in studying their effect on diet and weight loss. After all, even though a potato is carb-heavy, it is a vegetable—one medium spud contains 168 calories with 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Some experts argue that they are particularly satisfying because of they contain resistant starch—complex starch molecules that we can’t digest.

Try this recipe: Mashed Potatoes

Apples and pears

With a satisfying crunch—or in the case of certain softer varieties, a sweet, juicy bite—pears provide a lot of bang for your buck (the dollar kind and nutritional kind). For less than $1 and around 100 calories, you get between 4 and 6 grams of appetite-suppressing fiber, plus lots of antioxidants. A recent study from Washington State University suggests that Granny Smiths are the most beneficial for our gut bacteria due to their high content of non-digestible compounds, including dietary fiber. Researchers believe that re-establishing a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon stabilizes metabolic processes, helping to increase satiety and reduce inflammation, which has been associated with chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes.

Try this recipe: Cranberry-Poached Pears

Almonds

If you’re looking for the perfect on-the-go snack, almonds might just be it. Several recent studies have found that snacking on them helps you stay satiated throughout the day, and eat less at meals. A small handful is the ideal portion size (about 1 ounce, or 22 almonds)—for 160 calories, you get a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein. Bonus: they’re loaded with vitamin E, which is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails.

Try this recipe: Honey-Glazed Marcona Almonds

Lentils

No surprise here. People have been filling their belly with hearty lentils for thousands of years, and staying full for hours thanks to 13 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber per serving (3/4 cup). A recent study published in the journal Obesity reviewed nine randomized controlled trials that measured the effect of pulses (such as lentils, black beans, and chickpeas) on post-meal satiety. Participants felt 31% fuller after eating one serving of pulses compared to the control meals of quickly digested foods such as bread and pasta. One study published earlier this year in The FASEB Journal even found that beans were as satisfying as beef.

Try this recipe: Lentil and Chickpea Salad

Cacao nibs

You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is heart-healthy and packed with antioxidants. But why is it so satisfying? It contains happy-making brain chemicals such as serotonin. Its health benefits come from cacao beans, but most chocolate also contains sugar. That’s why some experts advise eating the beans themselves, in the form of less-processed cacao nibs (crunchy, broken up bean bits), which offer 9 grams of fiber per ounce (compared to none in 1 ounce of a typical milk chocolate bar). “I recommend cacao nibs or dark chocolate with more than 70% cacao to my clients,” says dietitian Ashley Koff, RD, a New York-based dietitian. “You get a natural energy boost from its theobromine, a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant, plus magnesium, which is mother nature’s anti-stress mineral,” she explains.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Hemp hearts

Also known as shelled hemp seeds, these have only recently made their way into mainstream grocery stores. Hemp—a relative of marijuana—is perfectly legal, and packs more protein than chia or flax, in addition to fiber. Since it contains a complete essential amino acid profile and is rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as omega-3, it’s a great option for vegans who want to add more staying power to their meals. These deliciously nutty little seeds can be eaten as a topping on oatmeal, yogurt, and salads, or blended into smoothies.

HEALTH.COM: 5 Fat-Burning Body Weight Exercises

Kimchi

In addition to adding a satisfying complexity to meals, foods that have been fermented, like kimchi and sauerkraut, contain probiotics that aid digestion, says Koff. And when you keep your gut happy, it has vast positive effects on your health. One recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that maintaining healthy bacteria levels in the gut improve the functioning of the gut lining, and may help reduce fat mass, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Another study from the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Ajou University School of Medicine in Korea, which focused specifically on kimchi, had similar findings.

Try this recipe: Spicy Beef and Kimchi Stew

Lemons

Add the juice and pulp of this citrus fruit to pump up the flavor of everything from your ice water to salads, smoothies, and cooked fish, for almost no calories, recommends Koff. In addition to making the food taste better, the pectin fiber in this citrus fruit may help you fight off hunger cravings. “Lemons are also an alkaline-forming food that helps promote an optimal pH in the intestines,” she explains, which some say can help with digestion and aid in weight loss, though these claims have not yet been proven with scientific research.

Try this recipe: Halibut with Lemon-Caper Sauce

Greek yogurt

Dubost recommends dairy foods of all types to her clients, but especially higher protein options like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. The satiating effects of yogurt are especially well researched. In one study published last year in the journal Appetite, participants were given a 160-calorie yogurt snack three hours after lunch that contained either low protein, moderate protein, or high protein. Those who ate the high-protein yogurt (a Greek yogurt containing 24 grams of protein) felt full the longest, and ate dinner later than the other subjects. Some studies also suggest that the acids produced during yogurt fermentation increase satiety.

Try this recipe: Greek Yogurt Fruit Parfait

Eggs

Two large hardboiled eggs only set you back 140 calories and provide 12 grams of complete protein, which means it contains all 9 essential amino acids that your body needs but can’t make itself, says Dubost (all animal proteins offer a “complete” amino acid profile). A study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that eating eggs at breakfast helped dieters feel less hungry for a full 24 hours, while also stabilizing their blood sugar levels and helping them eat fewer calories over the course of the day.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism

Lean beef

Lean cuts of beef such as sirloin, tenderloin, and top round are high in protein and offer a complete amino acid profile, which make them extremely satiating. A healthy 4-ounce portion of as sirloin steak contains 200 calories and 32 grams of protein. Just don’t go overboard—even lean cuts of red meat are relatively high in saturated fat, and eating a lot of it has been associated with heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Limit yourself to one serving a week.

Try this recipe: Pepper Steak Fajitas

Broth-based soup

“Based on the latest research the most satiating foods pack plenty of protein and fiber, along with high water content,” says Dubost. Finding a food with all three of those can be tough, but a broth-based soup with vegetables and lentils or beans does it, she says. It’s well known that fiber-rich vegetables help you stay full longer for few calories. Many previous studies have demonstrated the satiating effect of soups compared to solid meals, but an interesting study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that smooth soups actually result in more fullness because they digest more slowly than chunky soups. Bring on the blender!

Try this recipe: Chicken and White Bean Soup with Greens

Hot oatmeal

When your mom told you to eat your oats, she was right. Just make sure they’re cooked. One recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that calorie-for-calorie, oatmeal cooked with nonfat milk was more satisfying than oat-based cold cereal with nonfat milk. Participants who ate about 220 calories of the hot kind for breakfast reported less hunger and increased fullness compared to the cereal eaters—possibly because satiety is enhanced by the higher viscosity of the beta-glucan in the cooked oatmeal. Another new study suggests that its resistant starch may boost beneficial gut bacteria, which—according to mounting evidence—keep the good mood brain chemicals flowing.

Try this recipe: Banana-Nut Oatmeal

Avocado

Just thinking about rich, creamy avocado is satisfying. Yes, it’s high in fat—but the good kind. Its plant-based fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits, which can help ease arthritis and lower risk of heart disease. Plus, half an avocado packs 7 grams of fiber. In a study published in Nutrition Journal, researchers found that adding half an avocado to lunch increased subjects’ satisfaction by 26% and reduced their desire to eat by 40% for 3 hours. Like olive oil, it increases absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, making diced avocado the perfect way to ensure your salad is delicious, filling, and fully utilized by your bod.

Try this recipe: Avocado Jewel Salad

Raspberries

Berries can be pricier than other fruits, which ups their indulgence factor and may cause you to slow down and savor, which can increase food satisfaction. Sun-ripened raspberries taste sweet, but are surprisingly low in sugar (5 grams for a whole cup) and high in fiber (8 grams per cup). Translation: a sweet tooth fix without the blood sugar spike. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that polyphenol-rich berries like raspberries may even reduce the digestion of starch in bread—and the typical insulin spike response.

Try this recipe: Chocolate Chip Pavlovas With Raspberries and Apricots

Leeks

New research indicates that gut health—which influences mood, satiety, and metabolism—is closely related to the diversity of your gut bacteria, known as your microbiome. The bacteria in your colon need to be fed dietary fiber to flourish, but most of the fiber we eat is short-chain. Only fructan and cellulose fibers (types of prebiotics) are long enough to survive all the way down the GI tract, according to Jeff Leach, founder of the American Gut Project. Leeks are one of the top sources of fructan (10 grams per leek) and cellulose. One caveat: Cooking shortens the fiber chain, so to reap the maximum benefits, eat raw or lightly sauteed.

Try this recipe: Leek and Broccoli Tartlets with Pancetta

Quinoa

Even though it’s categorized as a grain, and treated like one in recipes, quinoa is technically the seed of a plant related to spinach, beets, and chard. Ever since it was first stocked at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in 2007, it has exploded in popularity as a gluten-free, vegan source of “complete” protein, with 8 grams per cup cooked. It also has almost double the fiber of brown rice, which gives it extra hunger-squashing power, says Sass.

Try this recipe: 15 Creative Quinoa Recipes

Fish

Fish is another very efficient source of protein. Many types of white fish are extremely lean, and fattier varieties such as salmon pack healthy omega-3 fats. Some studies suggest that fish protein may be slightly more satiating than beef protein, but more research is needed to explain why. One possible explanation is that fish are naturally high in the amino acid L-glutamate, which is associated with umami, a savory-rich taste linked to satiety.

Try this recipe: Artichoke-Parmesan Stuffed Tilapia

Popcorn

Did you know popcorn is a whole grain? Yep. Four cups contain 3 grams of fiber and protein each. But its biggest trick is volume. Four cups takes up a lot of room in your stomach and as long as you eat it with only a little salt and tiny bit of oil, that size serving will set you back less than 150 calories. One study found that snacking on popcorn helped dieters satisfy their hunger while staying on track with their weight-loss plan.

HEALTH.COM: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Flax Seed

“In my experience, both personally and with my clients, seeds are incredibly filling and satiating,” says Sass. One study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that meals supplemented with 2.4 grams of flaxseed fiber promoted a greater feeling of satiety and fullness in men compared to meals without the fiber. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 37 calories, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which includes omega-3s and 2 grams of fiber. Note: whole flaxseeds will pass through your system without being digested, so buy them ground or do it yourself using a spice grinder.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Comfort Foods That Burn Fat

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Obesity

You Exercise Less When You Think Life Isn’t Fair

The 'why try' effect gets in the way of weight loss

People who have been the target of weight discrimination—and who believe the practice is widespread—are more likely to give up on exercise than to try to lose weight, according to a new study published in Health Psychology.

The online study of more than 800 Americans specifically looked at whether participants believed in “a just world,” or in this case, the belief that their positive actions will lead to good results. People who experienced weight bias in the past and didn’t believe in a just world were more likely to say they didn’t plan to exercise than those who did believe the world is just. In a separate part of the study, participants primed with anecdotes designed to suggest that the world is unjust were more likely to say they didn’t plan to exercise.

Experiencing discrimination leads some people to adopt a pessimistic view of the world, and they accept negative stereotypes about themselves, including the belief that they’re lazy, said study author Rebecca Pearl. “When someone feels bad about themselves and is applying negative stereotypes to themselves, they give up on their goals,” said Pearl, a researcher at Yale University, referring to a phenomenon known as the “why try” effect.

It’s an area of conflicting research. Some previous studies found that weight discrimination leads to weight loss, while others concluded that weight discrimination discourages exercise. Belief in a just world may be the factor that distinguishes between the two, Pearl said. People who think their exercise will pay off are more likely to try.

Because believing in a just world is key to losing weight, Pearl said that legislation and other public policy efforts could act as a “buffer against loss of sense of fairness.”

“It’s important for doctors to be aware of what people are experiencing, to know that these experiences might have real effects on people’s confidence,” Pearl said.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What You Should Know About Going Gluten-Free

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving
In this Saturday Nov. 23, 2013 photo, Laura Hoffmann, shift manager at Festival Foods in Sheboygan, Wis., makes sure the gluten free products are in their proper spot on the shelves. Gary C. Klein — AP

An exclusive TIME survey conducted by My Fitness Pal reveals the majority of gluten-avoiders may have a false impression of the protein

The market for gluten-free products is rising like bread in an oven—assuming that bread is rising really, really fast.

Shoppers are now spending nearly $9 billion per year to get gluten out of their groceries, up more than 60% from 2012, according to the consumer research firm Mintel. That’s more than Americans spend each year celebrating Halloween and twice the amount shelled out in the 2014 election.

The explosion, which analysts predict will continue, has been both great and not so great for the roughly 1% of people who have celiac disease. The rise has also been driven by some misconceptions among people who don’t need to avoid gluten at all. (You can see what five nutritionists have to say about gluten-free bread here.)

To find out more about the trend, TIME teamed up with My Fitness Pal, who surveyed 1,800 of their users. Here are the results, along with commentary from gluten experts.

Of the 1,800 people surveyed by My Fitness Pal, 13% had tried a gluten-free diet.

And 27% had shopped for gluten-free products.

My Fitness Pal users are not necessarily representative of the American population. They may be more health-conscious or more into fashionable foods. But more than a quarter of the users shopping for gluten-free products suggests the market is growing, particularly in certain segments of the population. Last year, Mintel reported that just 15% of Americans said they ate gluten-free foods. “We’ve seen exponential growth every year that we’ve written a report,” says Mintel food analyst Amanda Topper. “This huge health halo is the majority of what’s driving it.”

Of those who had incorporated gluten-free products into their diet, only 14% reported having a gluten allergy. Far more respondents heard it was healthier, or wanted to lose weight.

Celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders, like juvenile diabetes, are on the rise, says Dr. Stefano Guandalini, a celiac specialist at University of Chicago. And the diagnosis process for celiac has become much more sophisticated over the past decade, so there are more people out there who have health reasons for seeking out gluten-free products. For those with the disease, gluten causes serious problems. Celiac sufferers can get sick, for example, just from using a utensil like a kitchen knife that came in contact with gluten.

But the majority of shoppers throwing gluten-free bread in their bags do not need to avoid that generally harmless protein and are not healthier for doing so, he says. If a person drops gluten from their diet by dropping the carb-packed foods it’s in, they might think they’re losing weight because they’re not eating gluten, he says. But it’s really because they’re not eating as many calories and carbs as they were before. People who swap out their old bread for gluten-free bread, he says, aren’t on a path to weight loss and may actually be getting fewer nutrients in their diet.

“There is no proven clinical health advantage in going gluten-free,” he says. The idea that gluten causes obesity, he says, is “science fiction.” He points to Italy as supporting evidence, where residents consume twice the amount of wheat-based products that U.S. residents do and have an obesity rate of about 10%, compared to the U.S. rate of 35%.

Only 53% of those shopping for gluten-free products went so far as to try gluten-free options at a restaurant.

August 2014 was a big month for celiac sufferers. That’s when a final rule from the Food and Drug Administration went into effect, setting rules for what “gluten-free” on a label actually means. But the FDA rule does not apply to food coming out of restaurant kitchens, where gluten-free items are increasingly on the menu. More than 10% of My Fitness Pal users said they had incorporated gluten-free foods into their diet simply because they were popular, and those people won’t be hurt if restaurants are a little careless with their labels—but celiac patients will. “The attention restaurant owners pay to gluten-free needs has actually decreased,” Guandalini says, because those owners may think someone is ordering a dish to be trendy, not because they have a strict dietary restriction. “The increased popularity of the diet, if not entire menus, has become a little bit risky.”

Still, the enormous increase in options that celiac sufferers like his patients now have because of the gluten-free craze is, generally, a culinary windfall. “They are enjoying a bonanza of these products,” Guandalini says. “They are smiling much more than they did before.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Reasons to Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss

Why you shouldn't give up the gym

Despite conventional calorie-burning wisdom, some people appear to not lose weight when they exercise, says a new study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In fact, some actually gain weight, and it’s not all muscle mass.

The study, by Arizona State University in Phoenix researchers, looked at 81 sedentary, overweight women who exercised three times a week for 30 minutes in a lab. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that some women lost weight while others gained weight. But when they tried to identify what was causing the differences, they couldn’t come to any conclusions. “In reality, most people do not achieve or sustain weight loss, no matter what method they try,” wrote New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds on Wednesday.

Basically, major bummer. But there are many other reasons to exercise besides trying to shed a few pounds, and they’re equally important for your health:

1. Memory Loss: Chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances are a couple of factors that can play a part in memory loss, and exercise can help both. Exercise promotes better blood flow through the body, and the brain works better with a healthy blood supply. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that people who spent time on a stationary bike had better memory recall than those who were sedentary.

2. Stress: Exercise has long been prescribed as a way to burn off steam and relax. It’s even recommended as a way to fight depression. How? Exercise keeps the brain occupied, and keeps the stress hormone cortisol in check which can lower symptoms for anxiety and restlessness, according to The Exercise Cure, by sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl. After a rough day at work or before a big exam or interview, even just a walk around the block can ease nerves.

3. Fatigue: It may sound counterintuitive, but working out can actually make you less tired than skipping the gym. A 2007 University of Georgia study showed that sedentary people could lower their fatigue by 65% if they started engaging in regular low intensity exercise. Increasing energy through exercise is also a safer and cheaper alternative to turning to quick fixes like energy drinks.

4. Cardiovascular disease: Getting regular exercise does the heart some good. In a 2012 study, researchers found that people who partook in moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking compared to leisurely walking reduced their chances of developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The effect might be related to exercise’s benefits on lowering inflammation in the body.

5. Lower back pain: Back pain is a very common ailment, and studies have shown that the right kind of exercises like strength training can lower pain. Exercise is also one of the simplest ways to protect your body from future injuries.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The 5 Biggest Salad Mistakes You’re Making

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The best ways to build a balanced bowl

I eat some type of salad nearly every day. It’s a go-to staple I really look forward to, and I love mixing it up. Some days I toss greens with pico de gallo, black beans, and guacamole, others involve grilled veggies, quinoa, and almonds, or roasted chickpeas and olive tapenade.

I enjoy creating new combinations, and to do so without throwing my meal off balance, I use a mix-and-match philosophy: I start with a greens and veggie base, add a lean protein, choose a good-for-you fat, include a small portion of healthy starch, season, and commence crunching.

When I talk to my clients about how they build salads, I often find that they’re doubling up in some areas, and missing out in others; and those imbalances can either prevent a salad from being slimming, or lead to missing out on key nutrients. Here are some common salad-building blunders, and the best ways to build a balanced bowl.

Too little or too much protein

In my clients’ food journals I’ve seen plenty of salads with lots of veggies but no protein, and others with protein overload, like chicken plus cheese and hardboiled eggs. Protein is an essential salad component for several reasons—it boosts satiety, revs metabolism, and provides the raw materials for maintaining or building lean tissue, including both muscle as well as hormones, healthy hair, skin, and immune cells. But excess protein, beyond what your body needs, can prevent weight loss or lead to weight gain. In short, your body requires a certain amount of protein for maintenance and healing. When too little is delivered those jobs don’t get done. But when your body has more than it needs, it has no choice but to send the surplus straight to your fat cells. For balance, choose a half cup of a plant-based protein, like lentils or beans, or 3 ounces of lean meat or seafood (that’s about the size of a smartphone). If you choose dairy, stick with ½ cup of organic cottage cheese, or one whole hardboiled organic egg and three whites. If you like to include more than one type, reduce the portions of each.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Not enough veggie variety

Greens and veggies are the typical salad base, but if you’re keeping your selections narrow (e.g. just spinach or romaine) you’re missing out on important veggie benefits. One Colorado State University also found that over a two-week period, volunteers who downed a broader array of the exact same amount of produce (18 botanical families instead of 5) experienced significantly less oxidation, a marker for premature aging and disease. Another study, which evaluated more than 450,000 people and looked at their consumption of commonly eaten veggies found that regardless of quantity, the risk of lung cancer decreased when a wider variety of veggies were consumed. This may be because each plant contains unique types of antioxidants, nutrients, and natural cancer fighters, so a wider variety exposes your body to a broader spectrum of protection. To reap the benefits aim for at least two cups of veggies total, with lots of different colors, such as field greens, red tomatoes, purple cabbage, orange bell peppers, white onion… and keep changing up the variety.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Ways to Make Veggies Delicious

Too little or too much fat

Like protein, fat serves as one of the body’s building blocks. Fat is a major structural component of your cell membranes, brain, hormones, and skin. Healthy fats also reduce inflammation, boost satiety (so you feel fuller longer), and significantly up the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants, which hitch a ride with fat to get transported from your digestive system into your bloodstream. A few years back, researchers at Iowa State looked at the absorption of key antioxidants when men and women ate salads with fat-free, low-fat, and full fat salad dressings. They found that those who ate the fat-free dressing absorbed almost no antioxidants at all. The reduced-fat version upped the absorption, but not as much as the full fat dressing. Important info! But in your salad, dressing isn’t the only healthy way to include fat. Sometimes I crave a simple vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and dried Italian herbs. But I’ll often skip the oil to make room for sliced avocado or chopped nuts. Or I’ll toss my greens and veggies with olive tapenade, or add oven roasted, grilled, or sauteed veggies that already have olive oil in the mix. Include some fat for sure—just choose wisely, and be mindful of your portions to prevent going overboard.

HEALTH.COM: Good Fats, Bad Fats: How to Choose

Skipping starch

Without any starch in a salad, you may wind up burning the protein you’ve added for fuel, which prevents the protein from being used for key maintenance and repair work. To strike a healthy balance, include a small portion—even just a third or half cup of a nutrient-rich whole food carb source, such as cooked chilled quinoa, roasted organic corn, or a cubed roasted red potato. I find that for my clients, this starch addition boosts satiety and energy in the hours after eating, but it’s still a small enough portion to allow for weight loss. In fact, when I’ve had clients resist adding carbs and skip this step, they typically seek out more snacks and wind up stalling weight loss. If you’re hesitant, try it and see how your body responds.

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Not enough seasoning

When I’ve heard people complain about disliking salads it’s typically because they’ve been eating very plain pairings, like romaine with just oil, vinegar, and bland grilled chicken. Fortunately there are plenty of ways to spruce salads up, and adding natural seasonings has been shown to further boost satiety and increase metabolism. Easy ways to add flavor include: toss fresh herbs into the mix like basil, cilantro or mint; whisk herbs, spices and raw or roasted garlic into oil and vinegar, and add pre-seasoned ingredients, like herbed quinoa, pesto-slathered grilled veggies, or spicy guacamole. A healthy salad should be a feast for your senses, and a dish you savor. And guess what? It’s entirely possible to achieve just that and shed pounds enjoying it!

HEALTH.COM: 16 No-Calorie, No-Salt Ways to Add Flavor to Food

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

TIME Obesity

How Weight Loss Changes Your Taste Buds

salty pretzels
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A strange phenomenon occurred after obese patients underwent bariatric surgery

Dr. John M. Morton noticed a strange phenomenon among some of his obese patients after they underwent bariatric surgery: they seemed to taste food differently.

To find out what was going on, Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, devised a study looking at 55 bariatric patients and 33 normal-weight people. He measured how well they could identify the five tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami—both before and after surgery. The results, presented during ObesityWeek 2014, showed that taste perceptions can change with weight loss.

People who were obese actually did taste food differently—less intensely—than their normal-weight peers. “The clinical implication of that for me was that perhaps the obese patients make up for the taste depreciation through volume,” Morton says. “That’s how they get satisfied.” Overexposure to flavors might lead to tastebud burnout, and when flavors of food aren’t intense, people might have to eat more of it to feel satiated.

After undergoing bariatric surgery, 87% of patients said they had a change in taste, and almost half of them said that food didn’t taste as good, so they ate less. Those who said their tastebuds had dulled lost 20% more weight over three months than their peers who said their tastes got sharper. And, after surgery, people had less of a preference for salty foods.

This is one of the first studies of its kind, Morton says, and more research is needed. But he hopes that mindful eating practices might help restore some taste pleasure in a way that doesn’t contribute to weight gain. “Theoretically, if you teach people to have better appreciation for food—taking your time when you eat and really savoring those flavors—perhaps people will gain satisfaction through appreciation rather than through volume,” he says.

TIME medicine

Weight Loss Surgery Lowers Risk for Type 2 Diabetes, Study Suggests

Obesity is known to be a major risk factor for the condition

Undergoing bariatric surgery significantly lowers an obese person’s risk of develop Type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

Adding to prior research that has indicated weight loss surgery could help get rid of Type 2 diabetes, as obesity is known to be a major risk factor for the condition, the new study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology shows surgery can lower an individual’s risk before its onset.

Researchers looked at 2,100 obese adults who did not have diabetes and who had all underwent some form of weight loss surgery. They then matched the participants to the same number of obese adults who did not undergo surgery. After following up with the participants for seven years, they learned that the participants who underwent surgery had an 80% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The findings are notable, but in a corresponding editorial, Dr. Jacques M Himpens of St. Pierre University Hospital in Brussels says there are holes in the research: “Unfortunately, despite best matching efforts,” he wrote, the patients and controls that were analyzed “differed widely in terms of medical monitoring.” For one, the participants who did not undergo weight loss surgery also did not go through other treatments for their diabetes. And, as Himpens suggests, it’s likely that weight loss in general—without surgery—could reduce risk for Type 2 diabetes risk.

The new findings add to the growing evidence that weight loss can greatly reduce Type 2 diabetes risk and symptoms, but the best ways to achieve that benefit still need further investigation.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Signs Your House is Making You Fat

House made from food
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Transform your home into a slimmer space with these scientifically proven tips

Aside from work, you spend most of your hours at home. And it should function as a respite from the lure of the fast food joint on every corner, or the ease of buying a candy bar from the vending machine. But if your home isn’t set up right, it may be encouraging bad habits. One way to win the battle? “You can restructure your home environment to protect yourself from unhealthy food and a sedentary lifestyle,”says Sherry Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the division of preventative and behavioral medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. From organizing your kitchen to your thermostat setting, read on to discover 5 ways your home may slyly cause you to pack on pounds.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Your cabinets are overflowing

If your cabinets are so stuffed that you need to put food on your counters, fridge, or exposed shelving, you’re setting yourself up to trigger a craving. “A bag of potato chips or candy out in the open will put the food on your radar when you walk by. The minute you see that visual cue, you want it,” says Pagoto.

The fix: Clean out your pantry on a regular basis. Get rid of expired food and stuff you bought that you don’t like and won’t eat (but keep around anyway)—even if it’s healthy. Or, come up with alternate storage plans, like a cabinet in your basement.

Your apples are in the fridge

On the other hand, if healthy food is hidden, you’re less likely to eat it. That’s especially true if you keep fruits that don’t need to be refrigerated (like apples or pears) or whole veggies tucked away in the crisper drawers. When you’re busy, it’s faster to rip open a bag of chips than cut cruditès.

HEALTH.COM: The Same 10 Weight Loss Mistakes Everyone Makes

The fix: Buy a pretty fruit bowl or basket so you’re more inclined to fill it; display in plain sight so you’re more likely to grab a piece. Pre-slice veggies and put them in clear containers front-and-center in the fridge for easy snacking.

Your thermostat is set too high

The fact that you can go anywhere—your home, the office, a store—and the temperature is set at somewhere-in-the-70s comfortable is a surprising contributor to obesity, say experts. Your body simply doesn’t have to work to expend energy to warm itself up, suggests a 2014 study in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. The result: your metabolism sputters.

The fix: Turn down your thermostat a few degrees. Being cold activates your brown fat, which actually spurs your metabolism and improves glucose sensitivity. If the change is too abrupt, start with one degree and gradually decrease the temperature. You’ll quickly adapt to the chillier temp, note researchers.

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You’re inviting the wrong people over

“Look at who your friends are,” says James O. Hill, PhD, director of the Colorado Nutrition Obesity Research Center. “You’re going to behave similarly to the people you spend time with.” If your friends are more the type to sit around and drink beer and eat chips, then you will be, too.

The fix: Okay, no one’s saying to lose your friends—no matter how bad their health habits. “Look for friends who are doing the right thing, and have them over, too,” says Dr. Hill. If they’re more active and like to eat nutritious foods, you’re more likely to adopt their habits. Conversely, their attitude can rub off on your less-than-virtuous pals.

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Your lights are too dim

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body scrambles hormone levels that control hunger, making you crave junk food. In one International Journal of Endocrinology study, sleep-deprived adults who were exposed to dim light in the morning had lower concentrations of the fullness hormone leptin, while those in blue light (the kind from energy-efficient bulbs) had higher leptin levels.

The fix: When you wake up, open your shades to allow natural sunlight in and turn on lamps and overhead lights. Bonus: It’ll also help you wake up faster.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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