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 on 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

salad
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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.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Foods That Control Your Appetite

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.

HEALTH.COM: 24 Fat-Burning Ab Exercises (No Crunches!)

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.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Superfoods That Warm You Up

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

TIME Obesity

Why Brown Fat May Be the Key to Weight Loss

brown fat
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Can you think your way thinner?

Not all fats we eat are created equal. We all know that, trying to dodge the less healthy ones that come from animals and dairy products and load up on those less likely to clog our arteries and add to our waistlines.

But it turns out that even after we consume fat, we store it in different forms as well, and scientists reporting in the journal Cell have identified a pathway in the brain that can direct our bodies to convert stubborn waistline-growing fat into a different fat that’s easier to burn off.

MORE: Having The Right Kind of Fat Can Protect Against Diabetes, Study Says

Brown fat, so-called because it is rich in the darker hued energy factories of cells known as mitochondria, is a calorie-hungry machine. It consumes a lot of energy and generates just as much, mostly in the form of heat. That’s why brown fat is more common in newborns, who need to be protected from getting chilled after nine months in the toasty womb. As we age and are better able to regulate our body temperature, we lose brown fat, and until recently scientists thought most adults had little brown fat, if any.

Now researchers at Yale School of Medicine have identified the process that turns white fat, the more common kind in the average adult body and the primary culprit in weight gain, into the energy-consuming brown fat.

MORE: How Now, Brown Fat? Scientists Are Onto a New Way to Lose Weight

Working with mice, the scientists honed in on a set of neurons in the brain that regulate the body’s energy balance, including the breakdown of glucose, which is the primary source of fuel for most cells. When mice fast, for example, their bodies shift into a type of emergency mode, conserving energy and shutting off systems and cells that require high amounts of energy, such as the heat-generating brown fat cells. Fasting resembles times of starvation, so evolutionarily, this makes sense; when food is scarce, the body shunts its energy toward essential processes, such as keeping the heart pumping and getting oxygen to the brain.

Xiaoyong Yang, an associate professor of comparative medicine and physiology at Yale, showed that this switch to conserve energy is intimately tied to hunger signals in the brain. “We showed that hunger itself is a signal that controls the browning of white fat, so the brain can actually control the browning of white fat.”

That means it’s the brain that regulates what type of fat, and how much of it, is burned. In obese animals, Yang found, these hunger signals are dysfunction; overweight and obese mice eat regardless of whether they are hungry, so the normal physical signals from the stomach don’t function properly. Heavier animals continuously feel hungry, even if they’ve eaten enough for their energy needs. That perpetuates the cycle of obesity, since it shuts off the transformation of white fat into energy-consuming brown fat, and therefore keeps more fat in an inert, pound-packing form.

“Obese animals, and people, lose the response to hunger,” he says. “Although there is plenty of food and plenty of energy, the hunger neurons send a false message that the body needs to conserve energy, not burn it.”

Eventually, he says, it might be possible to intervene with the hunger signal anywhere along its journey from the brain to the fat cells, and that may shift the balance in favor of burning fat rather than storing it, which might open the door to weight loss. But calibrating the switch will be critical, since favoring the burning of fat can also lead to other physiological problems such as wasting and malnutrition. “You don’t want to set the body’s energy balance to zero,” says Yang. “You want to reset it to normal levels.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Ways to Gear Up for Weight Loss

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A study released last week made fewer headlines than I hoped it would. Conducted by University College London, it concluded that discrimination against overweight and obese people, or “fat shaming” as it’s often referred to, leads to weight gain, not weight loss. The lead researcher stated, and I agree, that there is no justification for discrimination against people because of their weight, which may include being treated disrespectfully, or being harassed.

Trouble is, many of my clients fat shame themselves, and talk to themselves silently in ways that they’re often too embarrassed to share with me out loud. If you find yourself doing this, I hope you can stop, because in my 15+ years of helping clients lose weight, I’ve seen this pattern only lead to discouragement, or depression, and abandonment of health and weight loss goals.

If you really want to motivate yourself to slim down and healthy up, especially in ways that will last, consider these five dos and don’ts.

Don’t: Beat Yourself Up

In my experience, one of the main triggers of throwing in the towel is negative self-talk. Coming down hard on yourself for small indiscretions, like sneaking an extra square of dark chocolate, or taking a bite off your partner’s plate, can have damaging consequences, including emotional eating, or engaging in risky purging behaviors (e.g. compensating by undereating, overexercising, taking laxatives or diet pills, vomiting…). One exercise I often carry out with my clients is to compare how they talk to themselves to what they would say to their best friend if he or she were in the same circumstances.

HEALTH.COM: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

The comparisons are eye opening, and the objective is to consciously work on adopting the same kind of nurturing, caring, and encouraging dialogue you use with the people you respect and love with yourself. I’ve seen just this one change result in major shifts in motivation, as well as transitions from on again/off again yo-yoing to steady, sustainable strides. In other words, just committing to being nice to yourself has the power to transform your relationship with food, your body, and your health.

Do: Celebrate Every Success

Most of my clients want to reward themselves when they hit their weight goal, perhaps with new clothes, a trip, or a spa service. But I encourage them not to wait. When you’re working on changing your lifestyle, there are numerous victories along the way, and each one should be honored. One client recently told me that it dawned on her that she automatically reaches for water over diet soda, and no longer misses her former daily fix—that’s a huge win! Another shared that her kids are now asking for fruits and veggies. A third remarked that everyone’s been commenting on how radiant her skin looks.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Even if you’re still pounds away from your weight goal, revel in these achievements, and commemorate them, even if just in small ways, like buying flowers for your office or home, doing a happy dance in your living room, or taking a silly selfie to share with a friend. Recognizing these moments will keep you going, and it’s important to recognize that they’re really the foundation of your long-term success.

Don’t: Focus Solely on Your Weight

One of the reasons the “do” above is so important is that it creates a shift in perspective. When I’ve worked with clients who remain laser focused on weight, they’re often willing to compromise health for the sake of weight loss. For example, I’ve had really smart clients tell me they took up smoking, fully knowing the risks, as a means of losing weight. As a health professional that makes me very sad, and it’s one of the reasons why I talk to clients about things like mood, sleep quality, energy, immunity, digestive health, strength, endurance, and help them monitor health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol, and liver values. I generally find that over time, all of these factors that contribute to wellness, become much stronger motivators than weight or size, because they so strongly influence day to day quality of life. When this happens, you may even decide to banish the scale altogether, which is incredibly freeing, because you’ll have far better—and less fickle—ways of gauging your progress.

Do: Find Positive Support

I hate to say it, but most of my clients have at least one person in their lives who either consciously or unconsciously sabotages their healthy efforts. It may be a significant other who doesn’t want to lose his or her partner in crime, so in turn brings home a box of donuts or a piping hot pizza. Sometimes it’s a competitive co-worker who becomes critical, or a family member who says things like, “You don’t need to lose weight.” A lack of support, even from those you’re close to, is a common conundrum for most people who’ve adopted healthier habits.

HEALTH.COM: 11 People Who Could Wreck Your Diet

You may not be able to change this, but you can counterbalance it by finding positive support. Even if your cheerleader or confidant is online or long-distance, just having at least one person in your corner who really gets what you’re trying to do and is on the same page can help you stay on track. Spending a little time each day on social media can also help as long as it’s empowering, so find ways to connect that make you feel like you’re not in this alone.

Don’t: Set Unrealistic Expectations

One of the biggest pitfalls I see is setting unrealistic expectations, either results-wise (e.g. I’m going to lose 30 pounds in 30 days), or behavior wise, such as vowing to work out seven days a week, or cut out all carbs. On the flip side, the lasting transformations I see—that is, people who lose weight healthfully and keep it off for good—come from focusing on progress and consistency, not strictness or perfection. You know yourself better than anyone else. If you can’t realistically see yourself maintaining a goal you’ve set for yourself one, three, or six months from now, modify it. When I ask my clients about their weight history, most tell me they’ve lost and gained back the same 20 or so pounds over and over again. And what finally allows them to shed it for good is ditching any approach they know that can’t stick with!

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

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 Diet/Nutrition

5 Reasons to Eat Healthier That Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight

Golden Acre Farm,  a small organic veggie farm next to North Table Mountain in Golden
Cyrus McCrimmon—Denver Post/Getty Images

While many clients come to me to slim down, in the long run, nearly all find themselves feeling far more motivated by the numerous benefits of healthy eating outside of shedding pounds and inches.

For example, a new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that young adults who eat more fruits and veggies experience greater “flourishing,” meaning they’re happier, more positive, creative, and curious. I absolutely see these effects among the people I counsel, regardless of age, and it’s this overall enhanced sense of well being that keeps most of them going strong.

Here are five more meaningful benefits of eating well that have absolutely nothing to do with your size or shape.

Better mood

Like the study I referenced above, another from New Zealand has tied a higher produce intake to mood. In the study, nearly 300 young adults completed daily food diaries for three consecutive weeks, along with psychological and mood-related ratings. Scientists found that a higher intake of fruits and veggies resulted in more energy, calm, and greater feelings of overall happiness. They also noted that the effects were seen not only on the days more produce was consumed, but also throughout the following day.

Another study, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, which tracked the eating habits of 80,000 adults, found that downing more servings of fruits and veggies boosted mental well being, with the magic number for happiness being seven daily servings (think half of each meal).

Sounder sleep

Numerous studies have tied better sleep to improvements in overall wellness, and more and more research indicates that eating the right foods can help. Scientists from Taiwan found that when men and women who struggled with sleep disturbances ate two kiwis one hour before bed over a four-week period they fell asleep 35% faster, slept more soundly, and snoozed 13% longer.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester have also found tart cherry juice to be an effective elixir for sleep. In their study, volunteers sipped either one ounce of tart cherry juice or a placebo daily for a week. The cherry drinkers experienced a 25-minute increase in sleep quantity, and a 5-6% boost in sleep efficiency, a measure of overall sleep quality. Not surprisingly, other foods that have been tied to better sleep are all of the good-for-you variety, including fish, whole grains, nuts, and dark leafy greens. In other words, better diet, better slumber.

Better workouts

As a sports nutritionist, I’m always on the lookout for research about foods that enhance athletic performance, and in recent years several healthy foods have been shown to either build muscle, boost recovery, or improve endurance. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that gulping 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice daily for six days helped male athletes cycle for up to 16% longer compared to a placebo, an effect the researchers say isn’t achievable through training.

Glowing skin

Healthy eating really does give you a natural glow. At least that’s what University of Nottingham scientists found when their study concluded that photographs of people who ate more produce were rated as more attractive than those with suntans. Another from the University of St. Andrews found that people who upped their intake of fruits and veggies by roughly three more daily portions for six weeks were rated as more attractive than those with lower produce intakes. The lesson: you really are what you eat—both inside and out!

Improved brain function

For some time the Mediterranean diet has been considered the gold standard for optimal health. Cornerstones of this eating plan include a eating lots of veggies and fruits, along with fish, beans, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, a moderate amount of wine—and a low intake of fatty meats, dairy products, refined grains, and sugar. A recent study from the National Institutes found that people who consistently adhere to a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to have brain infarcts, small areas of dead tissue in the brain linked to cognitive problems.

Researchers also found that over 6 years, Mediterranean diet eaters were 36% less likely to have brain damage than those who least closely followed this eating pattern. This backs other research supported by the National Institute on Aging, which found that close adherence to a Mediterranean diet resulted in a 28% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment with aging, and a 48% lower risk of progressing from cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

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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