TIME Exercise/Fitness

10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away

yellow-measuring-tape
Getty Images

The choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat

A little bit of belly fat is actually good for you: it protects your stomach, intestines, and other delicate organs. But too much fat is anything but healthy. Extra fat cells deep in your abdomen (aka visceral fat) generate adipose hormones and adipokines—chemical troublemakers that travel to your blood vessels and organs, where they cause inflammation that can contribute to problems like heart disease and diabetes. The good news? Every pound you shed can help reduce your girth. “Once women start losing weight, they typically lose 30% more abdominal fat compared with total fat,” says Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist at the Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago. Even better, the choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat. Here are 10 common pitfalls—and ways to undo each one.

Read more: 20 Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

You’re on a low-fat diet

To shed belly fat, it’s good to eat fat—specifically monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). When researchers in one study asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie, high-MUFA diet, they lost a third of their belly fat in a month. “MUFAs are satiating, so they help you eat fewer poor-quality foods,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.

Belly blaster: Have a serving of MUFAs—like a handful of nuts, a tablespoon of olive oil, or a quarter of an avocado—with every meal and snack.

Read more: 9 Low-Fat foods You Should Never Eat

You’ve been feeling blue for a while

Women with depressive symptoms were far more likely to have extra belly fat, found a recent Rush University Medical Center study. That may be because depression is linked to reduced physical activity and poor eating habits.

Belly blaster: Exercise! “It improves levels of brain chemicals that regulate metabolism of fat, as well as your mood,” Dr. Kazlauskaite says. This enhances your motivation to do other things that help ward off depression, like seeing friends. But if you’re so bummed out that you don’t want to do things you used to enjoy, it’s time to seek the help of a therapist.

Your food comes from a box

Simple carbs (like chips) and added sugar (in items like sweetened drinks) cause your blood sugar to spike, which triggers a flood of insulin—a hormone that encourages your liver to store fat in your middle.

Belly blaster: Instead of focusing on cutting out junk, center your efforts on adding in healthy fare (think extra servings of vegetables at each meal). As Dr. Katz says, “Filling your tank with high-quality fuel thwarts hunger.”

You’re skimping on the miracle mineral

Magnesium regulates more than 300 functions in the body. No surprise, then, that a 2013 study found that people who consumed more of it had lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

Belly blaster: At least twice a day, reach for magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, bananas, and soybeans.

You’re hooked on diet soda

A study in Obesity found that diet soda drinkers were more likely to have a high percentage of fat in their bellies. The researchers think that diet drinkers may overestimate the calories they’re “saving,” and then overeat.

Belly blaster: If you’re not ready to kick your habit, the researchers suggest reducing the number of food calories in your diet.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

You love burgers

When Swedish researchers gave one group of adults 750 extra daily calories, mainly from saturated fat, and another group the same amount of calories but mostly from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for seven weeks, the saturated fat group accumulated two times as much visceral fat.

Belly blaster: Dine on fatty fish like salmon or trout once a week to get a good dose of PUFAs. The rest of the time, reduce your intake of red meat and opt instead for protein low in saturated fat, such as legumes and chicken.

You think girls don’t get beer guts

According to a 2013 Danish study, beer may indeed be linked with abdominal obesity. And though beer appears to have the greatest impact, wine won’t save you from a spare tire: One study found that the amount of alcohol of any type that women drank contributed to weight gain.

Belly blaster: Stick with seven or fewer alcoholic beverages a week. Light to moderate drinkers are the least likely to carry excess weight anywhere, shows a recent Archives of Internal Medicine study.

You can’t recall when you last said “om”

Menopause-related hormonal changes (which typically begin in your 40s) make it harder to shed stomach pudge—but vigorous yoga can help offset the effects. A 2012 study found that postmenopausal women who did an hour-long yoga session three times a week for 16 weeks lost more than 1/2 inch around their waists.

Belly blaster: Not a fan of Sun Salutations? “Take an hour to do something nice for yourself,” which could help control your stress hormones, advises Sheila Dugan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Chicago.

Read more: Try This Flat-Belly Yoga Pose

Your meals are beige

Brightly colored fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamin C, which reduces cortisol. What’s more, a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate more of the nutrients in red, orange, and yellow produce had smaller waists as a result.

Belly blaster: Add color to your plate by topping fish with a mango salsa, or throw diced red pepper into your turkey meatballs.

Your sweat sessions don’t involve sweat

Research has shown that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—bursts of vigorous activity followed by short periods of gentle activity or rest—boasts belly-shrinking benefits. “High-intensity exercise seems to be more effective at reducing insulin, triglycerides, and cortisol, and it burns more calories in less time, too,” notes Shawn Talbot, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Belly blaster: If you enjoy biking or running, for example, accelerate to a pace that makes it hard to talk for two minutes; then slow down for a minute, and repeat until you’re done. Like resistance training? Try a series of moves like squats or push-ups for two minutes each with a 60-second break between them.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: What Diet Soda Does to Belly Fat

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Can Watching Cooking Shows Lead to Weight Gain?

Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village Featuring MasterCard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid® Culinary Demonstrations - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Larry Marano—2015 Larry Marano Paula Deen attends the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village during the 2015 Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival on February 22, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Cooking is always healthier than not cooking—right? Not according to a new study published in the journal Appetite, which found that the more a woman prepared food she saw on a cooking show, the higher her BMI.

The researchers surveyed about 500 women, with an average age of 27, about their weight, height and cooking habits. Getting information from cooking shows and social media were both associated with a higher BMI.

MORE: The Truth About Home Cooking

Other studies have shown that merely watching someone else eat influences the way you eat—which is “the exact situation that may occur when people watch cooking shows on television,” the authors write. The study didn’t look at what foods the women actually consumed, mind you.

Other research suggests that the foods featured on TV aren’t always healthier than eating out. One study found that recipes by TV chefs in the U.K. had worse nutritional stats—more calories, more saturated fat and less fiber—than prepared food from supermarkets, which in and of itself is a pretty low bar for nutrition.

MORE: The Case Against Cooking

Scroll through your feed of Instagram dinner pics, and you’ll realize your friends aren’t helping, either. The authors speculate that social media was linked to BMI “because people may post their most indulgent “picture-perfect” recipes,” they write.

Need help deciding what to make for dinner? Check out the 50 healthiest foods of all time—nothing bacon-wrapped here, promise. Your BMI will thank you.

TIME Addiction

This Is Not a Good Reason to Smoke Cigarettes

Cigarettes
Getty Images

But smoking causes weight loss, a new study says

Anyone who’s considered lighting up knows smoking’s skinny-making reputation, and a new study of 80,000 people shows there’s truth to the claim. Researchers found that smokers weighed about 5 pounds less than people who had never smoked, according to new research in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The cause of that lighter weight, the researchers say, is tobacco.

Those findings are a direct contradiction to several observational studies that have linked smoking to just the opposite: higher body weight and BMI. But researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital wanted to look at the link genetically, in a way that wouldn’t be plagued by confounding lifestyle factors that often go along with smoking. They took weight and BMI measurements of 80,342 people, along with blood samples that they analyzed for DNA.

They looked at a genetic variant associated with higher tobacco consumption, close to a gene called CHRNA3—”the smoking craving gene,” says study author Børge G. Nordestgaard, MD, professor at the University of Copenhagen in the department of clinical biochemistry. Smokers with this genotype weighed almost three pounds less than smokers who didn’t inherit this genetic variant. But in people who had never smoked or formerly smoked, there was no link between CHRNA3 and a lower body weight.

“That’s really the proof that smoking causes it,” Nordestgaard says.

That doesn’t mean that smoking will give you a better figure. In the study, smoking only affected total body weight, not body shape or fat distribution.

The weight loss effect may be due to a laundry list of chemicals in cigarettes, the authors say—some studies have found nicotine to suppress appetite and increase resting metabolic rate. “There’s a possibility that many of these chemicals may influence weight in some pathway we don’t know about yet,” Nordestgaard says.

That’s obviously no reason to start—or continue—smoking, the researchers caution. “From what we know so far, the hazards of smoking much overweigh the slight benefit of having a lower body weight,” Nordestgaard says. “But when smokers tell you they won’t stop smoking because they’re afraid of gaining weight, I think it’s important to know that this is real—so we can try at the same time to help them quit smoking and keep a lower body weight.”

Read next: What Diet Soda Does to Belly Fat

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

This New Drug Turns ‘Bad’ White Fat Into ‘Good’ Brown Fat

GC-1 could have the potential to treat obesity and metabolic disease

Scientists claim they have found an experimental drug that turns “bad” white fat cells into “good” brown ones.

Known as GC-1, the drug speeds up metabolism, or the burning off of fat cells, reports Science Daily. Researchers found it caused weight loss in fat mice.

“GC-1 dramatically increases the metabolic rate, essentially converting white fat, which stores excess calories and is associated with obesity and metabolic disease, into a fat like calorie-burning brown fat,” said study author Kevin Phillips of the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Until recently, scientists thought only animals and human infants had these energy-burning “good” brown-fat cells.

“It is now clear that human adults do have brown fat, but appear to lose its calorie-burning activity over time,” Phillips added.

He calls white fat a “metabolic villain” when you have too much of it, whereas people with more brown fat have a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.

GC-1 works by activating receptors for the thyroid hormone, which help regulate how your body turns food into energy.

Phillips’ team tested the drug on hundreds of mice who were genetically obese or who had diet-induced obesity. They found genetically obese mice lost weight and nearly 50% of their fat mass in two weeks. Diet-induced obese mice also showed improvements.

The drug was also tested on white fat cells grown in a lab, and researchers say they found evidence that the drug turned white fat into the brown variety.

Phillips hopes the drug, which has not yet been tested on humans, has the potential to treat obesity and metabolic disease.

The results of the study will be presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego on Friday.

[Science Daily]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Non-Diet Factors That Can Affect Your Weight

white-bathroom-scale
Getty Images

Weight control is influenced by more than your daily calorie intake

For years I’ve heard experts say, “Weight loss simply comes down to calories in versus calories out.” But throughout my years as a practitioner, that simple philosophy hasn’t rung true. I’ve seen clients break a weight loss plateau after increasing their calorie intake—swapping processed “diet” food for whole, nutrient-rich clean foods and changing up their meal balance and timing.

I’ve also found that stressed-out, sleep-deprived clients have a more difficult time losing weight, which has been backed by numerous studies. And now, research shows that a number of other lifestyle and environmental factors also play roles in influencing metabolism and weight control.

Here are five on my radar, and tips for combating them.

Artificial additives

Just-released animal research from Georgia State University found evidence that artificial preservatives used in many processed foods may be associated with metabolic problems, such as glucose intolerance and obesity. In rodents genetically prone to inflammatory gut diseases, the chemicals led to an increase in the severity and frequency of metabolic problems. Scientists believe the effects are due to changes in gut bacteria. When chemicals break down the mucus that lines and protects the gut, unhealthy bacteria come into contact with gut cells, which triggers inflammation, and as a result, changes in metabolism.

Combat it: This is preliminary research, but even more of a reason to read food labels and eat clean. When buying anything that comes in a box, bag, or jar, read the ingredient list first. My philosophy is that it should read like a recipe you could whip up in your own kitchen. For more info check out my previous post What Is Clean Eating?

Read more: 16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

Shift work

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that people who work the night shift burn fewer calories during a 24-hour period than those who work a normal schedule. The difference can lead to weight gain, even without an increase in calories. In other words, when you throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, your normal diet can suddenly become excessive due to a metabolic slowdown. This parallels research which found a relationship between body clock regulation, gut bacteria, and metabolism. When mice received gut bacteria from jet-lagged humans, they gained significant amounts of weight and had abnormally high blood sugar levels.

Combat it: If you work when most people are sleeping, or you travel through different time zones, seek out nutrient-rich foods that help boost satiety, increase metabolic rate, and regulate hunger, including fresh veggies and fruit, beans and lentils, nuts, ginger, hot peppers, and good old H2O. For more tips check out my previous post 9 Natural Appetite Suppressants That Actually Work.

Read more: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Weight criticism

University College London researchers found that over a four-year period, people who experienced weight discrimination or “fat shaming” gained weight, while those who did not shed pounds. Another study from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo found that over five months, women with loved ones who were critical of their weight put on even more pounds.

Combat it: You may not be able to control the type or amount of support you receive from others, but there are effective techniques for improving your personal mindset. For example, practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to help reduce stress, lower hunger hormones, and prevent weight gain. In a study published in the Journal of Obesity, this practice led to a greater loss of belly fat, without following a calorie-counting diet. I teach it in my private practice and I devoted an entire chapter to meditation in my upcoming book, Slim Down Now($20, amazon.com). If you’re a newbie, check out UCLA’s online classes.

Read more: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Environmental chemicals

It may seem odd for a nutrition professor to study flame retardants. But one such professional at the University of New Hampshire found that these substances—which are found in everything from furniture to carpet padding and electronics—trigger metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance, a major cause of obesity. Compared to a control group, rats exposed to these chemicals experienced dramatic physiological changes. In just one month, levels of a key enzyme responsible for sugar and fat metabolism dropped by nearly 50% in the livers of rats exposed to flame retardants. According to the researcher, the average person has about 300 chemicals in his or her body that are man made, and we’re only beginning to understand the possible effects.

Combat it: You can’t eliminate your exposure to synthetic substances, but you can limit it. You can now find natural products in nearly every shopping category, including cosmetics, cleaning supplies, toys, and household goods. For help, check out resources and guides from organizations like the Environmental Working Group.

Read more: Get a Flat Belly in 4 Weeks

Genetics

It’s no surprise that we take after our parents when it comes to body type, but new research shows that the type of bacteria that live in our digestive systems are also influenced by genetics. That’s an important finding, because more and more research indicates that gut bacteria are strongly connected to weight control. Scientists at King’s College London found that identical twins had a similar abundance of specific types of gut bacteria, compared to non-identical twins. This indicates that genes strongly influence bacteria, since identical twins share 100% of their genes, while non-identical twins share about 50% of their genes. They also found that the presence of a specific type of bacteria was most influenced by genetics, and that type strongly correlated with leanness. In fact, transplanting this bacteria to the digestive systems of mice caused the animals to gain less weight than those that did not receive the bacteria.

Combat it: You can’t change your genetics, but there’s a great deal of research now about how you can transform your good gut bacteria. The top strategy: avoid artificial and processed foods, and load up on a variety of whole, plant-based foods, including vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. For more about how to eat more plant-based foods, check out my previous post 5 Delicious Pasta Alternatives.

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.

Read next: 7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Best Workout for Weight Loss

Why intensity matters in exercise

Everyone knows that cardio exercise—by way of a bike ride or a sprint—is key to weight loss. But a high-intensity cardio workout may do a better job of decreasing blood sugar levels than lower intensity exercise, according to a new study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study assigned 300 obese people to a group: one that exercised with low intensity for long periods of time or another that engaged in high-intensity workouts for short durations. By the end of six months, people in both groups experienced similar levels of weight loss. But those who had exercised with higher intensities saw reduced two-hour glucose levels, a key measure for predicting conditions like heart disease and stroke. People in the high-intensity group saw a 9% improvement in glucose tolerance, compared to a negligible change in people who took part in low-intensity exercise.

Increasing the intensity of a workout isn’t beyond the reach of most exercisers, according to lead study author Robert Ross, a researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Higher intensity can be achieved simply by increasing the incline while walking on a treadmill or walking at a brisker pace,” Ross says.

Read more: This Is How Much Exercise Experts Think You Really Need

Still, while high-intensity exercise may have some unique health benefits, the study showed that any exercise is better than none. People who exercised lost 5-6% of their body weight, a 4- to 5-centimeter reduction in waist size.

The study challenges the way public health officials tend to think about the health benefits of exercise. Health organizations often issue guidelines based on time spent exercising. Instead, the study suggests, health officials should consider intensity as well.

Read more: The 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time

Read next: The Best Workout Move You’re Not Doing

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Health Care

4 Health Moves That Can Make You Richer

piggy bank stepping on scale
Jesse Strigler Photography—Getty Images

Better physical health can be a boon to your finances. Follow these steps to stay in shape.

Welcome to Day 9 of MONEY’s 10-day Financial Fitness program. By now you’ve learned how to bulk up your savings, cut the fat from your budget, and boost your earnings. Today, taking care of your health.

Your physical health and your financial health go hand in hand, especially as rising deductibles and increased cost sharing leave you on the hook for more expenses when you get sick.

Plus, your pocketbook takes a hit when you’re overweight: The annual cost of carrying extra pounds—including medical expenses, sick leave, and even gas for the car—is $524 for women and $432 for men, according to a 2010 study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. And Fidelity estimates that a couple who retire in good health will spend 20% less on medical care than a couple in poor health will.

You know what helps: exercise, sleep, a healthy weight, and regular checkups. Here’s how to make it easier to do the right thing.

1. Don’t Pass Up Freebies

Under Obamacare, annual physicals and a long list of valuable preventive care, from cholesterol tests to colonoscopies, are fully covered by insurance, with no out-of-pocket costs.

2. Be Your Own Doctor

Not quite, but tech has made staying on top of your health easier—especially important with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure. The Health app that’s part of the new Apple operating system unveiled last fall and the Health Tracker app for Android devices allow you to upload, input, and share health and fitness data.

3. Let Your Scale Motivate You

University of Minnesota researchers found that dieters who weighed themselves daily lost an average of 12 pounds in two years; weekly scale watchers lost only six. The once-a-day group was also less likely to regain the weight. Need help? Our sister publication, CookingLightDiet.com, offers healthy eating customized meal plans.

4. Make Tracking a No-Brainer

People who count their steps are more motivated to work out. But the novelty of fitness trackers like the Fitbit can quickly wear off. More than half of owners stop using them, a recent University of Pennsylvania survey found; a third bail within a month.

If that’s you, add a tracking app such as RunKeeper or Moves to your phone instead. “Many people carry smart-phones everywhere,” says Mitesh S. Patel, an internist and researcher at the Wharton School. “If we really wanted to improve the health of the population, smartphone trackers are an easier place to start.”

Previous:

Next:

TIME weather

7 Reasons to Love This Freezing Weather

Because there's always a bright side

It was 1º F in New York City on Friday—one frigging degree. That’s a keep-the-penny, why-bother, rounding error on the Fahrenheit scale. Convert it to Centigrade and it gets even worse, a brisk -17.22º, which may help explain why America never went metric.

But cold weather isn’t so bad. OK, it is, but here are seven things to like about the current deep freeze:

Less crime!

Criminals may be fools but they’re not stupid. If you’re going to heist a flat-screen TV or knock over a convenience store, would you rather do it when it’s 7oº and clear or when it’s 12-below and the wind chill factor is freezing your eyeballs? Crime historically drops during winter, and when it’s a brutal winter, things get even more peaceful. New York just earned applause after setting an all-time record for consecutive days without a homicide—at 12. (We do get graded on a curve.) Boston—which is just one woolly mammoth away from the next Ice Age—saw a 32% drop in larcenies, 35% in burglaries and 70% in homicides from Jan. 1 to Feb. 8, compared to the same period last year. But cold weather can increase auto thefts, thanks to what are known as puffers, cars left running in driveways while owners wait inside for them to warm up.

More sex!

Maybe it’s the cuddling under blankets, or the body heat generated when you’re active, or the belief that one more day of this flipping cold and you’re going to die so you and your squeeze might as well go out happy. But whatever it is, when things freeze, humans steam. Last summer, the Pittsburgh area saw a spike in s0-called “polar vortex babies,” with increases in births of 27.8% and 15.9% at two area hospitals compared to the same period a year earlier, following a bitter stretch that occurred nine months earlier. Cold weather amorousness may also be attributable to the mere fact that it gets dark earlier in the winter—putting people in mind of nighttime activities—or that bundling up in the winter means we see less skin during the day so even a glimpse of a partner’s elbow or ankle might be enough to light the engines.

Lose Weight!

Snowmen may never be anything but round, but the rest of us can slim down naturally in cold weather. That’s mostly because of the simple business of shivering. The whole purpose of shivering is to keep you moving, which generates heat—and uses calories. The very good news is, it doesn’t even take active shivering to burn at least some fat. A phenomenon called non-shivering thermogenesis (NST) may raise your thermostat and lower your weight when it’s as warm as 64º F (17.8º C). Caveat: NST helps only so much. Waiting out winter by huddling under a blanket, binge-watching TV and hoovering up Doritos is still going to have the expected effect.

Fewer bugs!

Nothing like the buzz of flies, the bite of mosquitos and the sting of bees to make summer the idyll it is—not. One of the few advantages of winter is that it’s murder on insects. All of them make provisions before the freeze hits, of course—either burrowing underground and hunkering down until spring or leaving behind a fresh clutch of eggs that can turn into a fresh swarm of bugs next summer. But if the thermometer drops far enough, those eggs may be finished too. The gypsy moth, the emerald ash borer and the pests that feed on honey locust trees all leave fewer heirs when the thermometer falls below zero. That means an easier season for the trees, and far fewer things for you to swat with a rolled up newspaper.

Live longer!

Alright, this one might be a stretch. Studies have absolutely, positively shown that colder temperatures activate genes that increase longevity—provided you’re a worm. Which you’re probably not. But another study shows that reducing core body temperature can increase lifespans by as much as 20%—provided you’re a mouse. Or a mussel. Still, it’s breakthroughs in animal studies that often lead to breakthroughs in human studies, so there’s reason to hope. Meantime, go mussels!

Feel no pain!

Or at least feel less. All that stuff you hear about cold weather making arthritis and other joint pain worse is true enough. But in at least one study in Finland, a plunge into icy water was found to increase norepinephrine levels in the blood as much as two- or three-fold. One of the many jobs neuropinephrine does is reduce overall pain. That’s a good thing. But plunging into icy water to get that effect? Not so much. So this one too may need a little work.

Fewer wars!

Napoleon didn’t leave a whole lot of valuable lessons behind. But one thing history’s bad boy did teach us was that on the list of truly bad ideas, attacking Russia in the winter ranks pretty much No. 1. It’s not just that wars bog down in cold weather, it’s that we tend to be less moved to fight them. Part of this is the same phenomenon that keeps crime down in the cold. Part is something much newer that was revealed in a 2011 study, which showed that higher temperatures have historically meant higher levels of armed conflict. The Cold War, it turns out, may have been an oxymoron.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Rules for Post-Workout Meals

red-dumbbells-green-apple
Getty Images

An ideal recovery meal goes beyond protein

As a sports nutritionist, I consult for pro teams and privately counsel professional and competitive athletes in numerous sports, as well as fitness enthusiasts. Pros and weekend warriors definitely have different nutrition needs, but they do have one thing in common: In order to get the most out of being active, everyone needs to eat properly to help their bodies recover from the wear and tear of exercise.

Here are six rules to follow, and how to prevent overdoing it, which can cancel out the weight-loss benefits of breaking a sweat.

Eat within 30 to 60 minutes after exercise

If you’ve had a particularly tough workout, try to eat a “recovery” meal as soon as possible. Exercise puts stress on your muscles, joints, and bones, and your body “uses up” nutrients during workouts. Post-exercise foods are all about putting back what you’ve lost and providing the raw materials needed for repair and healing. In fact, it’s the recovery from exercise that really allows you to see results in terms of building strength, endurance and lean muscle tissue. Not recovering properly can leave you weaker as you go into your next workout and up your injury risk.

Think beyond protein

Protein is a building block of muscle, so it is important after exercise, but an ideal recovery meal should also include good fat (also needed for healing muscles and joints), as well as plenty of nutrient-rich produce and a healthy source of starch such as quinoa, sweet potato or beans. These foods replenish nutrients that have been depleted and provide energy to fuel your post-exercise metabolism. A great post-workout meal might be something like a smoothie made with either pea protein powder or grass-fed organic whey protein, whipped with fruit, leafy greens, almond butter or coconut oil, and oats or quinoa, or an omelet made with one whole organic egg and three whites, paired with veggies, avocado and black beans.

Read more: 14 Ways to Add Quinoa to Your Diet

Keep it real

The phrase “You are what you eat” couldn’t be more true. Nutrients from the foods you eat food are the foundation of the structure, function, and integrity of every one of your cells. Your body is continuously repairing, healing and rebuilding itself, and how healthy your new cells are is directly determined by how well you’ve been eating. In short, your body is essentially one big miraculous construction site that’s open 24/7. So even if you’re lean and you burn a lot of calories, avoiding highly processed food and eating a clean, nutrient rich, whole foods diet can help you get the most out of all of your hard work. You’ll be rewarded with cells that function better and are less susceptible to premature aging, injury, and disease.

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

Don’t overcompensate

If weight loss is one of your goals, it’s important to not overestimate how much extra food you “earned” working out. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to eat back all of what you’ve burned. For example, in a one-hour elliptical session, an average woman burns about 490 calories. A large salted caramel Pinkberry contains 444 calories, and a 32 ounce high-protein pineapple smoothie from Smoothie King clocks in at 500 calories. Even if you don’t splurge on treats like these, you may be tempted to sneak a little extra almond butter or be less mindful of your oatmeal or fruit portions. Those extras can add up. And if you’re going to be eating a meal within an hour of finishing up a workout, you don’t also need a post-exercise bar or snack. For more about how to prevent unwanted surpluses from interfering with your goals, check out my previous post Help! Why Can’t I Lose Weight with Exercise.

Read more: 11 Ways to Stop Overeating After Your Workouts

Rehydrate

If you sweat heavily, exercise in high humidity (which prevents cooling of the body), or your workouts last longer than 60 minutes, you probably need a sports drink rather than plain water during exercise. These beverages are designed to keep you well hydrated, but they also provide electrolytes to replace those lost in your sweat (like sodium, which makes sweat salty, and potassium, which helps regulate heart rhythm), as well as fuel to keep you going. If your workouts are less strenuous, shorter, climate-controlled or not so sweaty, plain H2O is probably fine. The general rule of thumb is to drink at least two cups of fluid two hours before exercise, another two cups 15 minutes prior, and a half-cup every 15 minutes during. Post exercise, aim for two cups of water (16 ounces) for every pound of body weight lost, and monitor the color of your urine—if you’re well hydrated it should be pale.

Read more: 15 Foods That Help You Stay Hydrated

Watch your alcohol intake

Many athletes and active people I work with enjoy imbibing a bit after working out. Alcohol in moderation is fine, but be sure to eat first to start the recovery process. Also, it’s important to know that alcohol has been shown to accelerate post-exercise muscle loss and the loss of muscle strength by as much as 40%. It can also interfere with replenishing glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrates you stock away in your muscles to serve as energy “piggy banks.” Less glycogen can translate into a lack of power or endurance during your next workout, so aim for moderation.

Read more: 7 Ways to Keep Alcohol From Wrecking Your Diet

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.

Read next: 3 Breakfast Rules to Follow to Lose Weight

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

How Your Taste Buds Can Help You Lose Weight

mixed-greens-bowl
Getty Images

Research shows that our flavor preferences may affect our weight and health in surprising ways

It’s no big secret that people have different taste preferences. Some of us gleefully devour arugula salads for lunch, while others won’t touch greens unless they’re baked and smothered in cheese (and sometimes not even then). Some people gulp down pumpkin spice lattes; others go into sugar shock after just one sip.

“When it comes to taste, each one of us is hardwired differently,” says Valerie Duffy, RD, professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut. And emerging research is showing that our flavor preferences may affect our waistlines and health in surprising ways. Check out the fascinating scoop on exactly what’s going on inside your mouth and how to tap your taste buds to dump unwanted pounds.

Read more: Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth

Did you know that there are three types of tasters: supertasters, nontasters and people who fall somewhere in between? Finicky types, with their hypersensitive taste buds, tend to belong to the first group. If you’re a supertaster, you find the flavors in foods really intense. Desserts taste too sweet, bitter foods are too bitter and spicy foods—well, you get the picture. That’s why you’re less likely to inhale a plate of brownies, and you probably don’t make the best drinking buddy (the ethanol in alcohol—yech).

Yet vegetables may pose a challenge for supertasters, who can be particularly sensitive to the bitter compounds in dark, leafy greens. One study co-authored by Duffy showed that they ate almost one fewer serving a day than their peers. As Duffy notes, “Supertasters will probably need to minimize the bitterness in Brussels sprouts, say, to develop a taste for them.” The one thing these picky eaters typically can’t get enough of: salty foods, which may trigger overeating.

Read more: 13 Foods That Are Saltier Than You Realize

Research finds that roughly 25 percent of Americans are supertasters. About 25 percent are nontasters, and the rest of us fall in the middle. Why are you turned off by curry takeout while your dinner companion can’t get enough of it? Unclear, but it may be in your genes (for example, a specific variant of the gene TAS2R38 can make bitter compounds overwhelming to supertasters), says Linda Bartoshuk, PhD, Bushnell Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida. What many supertasters seem to have in common is a high number of taste papillae, the tiny bumps on the tongue where taste buds live.

Nontasters, on the other hand, simply perceive flavors and textures less intensely. On the plus side, they find leafy greens sweet rather than bitter, so they’re more apt to polish them off. But they tend to be relatively insensitive to fat and creamy textures, which may make them overindulge. Not surprisingly, some research suggests that nontasters are at greater risk of excessive weight gain and cardiovascular disease than the rest of the population. Since they have duller taste sensations, they may need to eat more food to feel satisfied.

Read more: 10 Heart-Healthy Rules to Live By

How extra weight messes with food satisfaction

While taste clearly affects your waistline, the opposite also seems to be true: Extra weight may dim sensitivity to flavors. One possible reason is that those additional pounds influence hormone levels throughout the body, which changes the way taste receptors relay information to the brain. A Stanford University study found that a group of obese preoperative bariatric surgery patients had less taste sensitivity than a control group of normal-weight individuals.

Although shedding weight can help restore some lost taste sensation, it might not bring it back completely. “Taste is like any other system and may become dulled with overuse,” explains John Morton, MD, lead author of the Stanford study. “What we really need is to appreciate our food more.”

Trick your appetite!

As anyone who has ever stuffed herself at dinner but still had room for dessert knows, the stomach works in mysterious ways. This tendency to feel too full for one thing on your plate but not another impacts all kinds of tasters, says Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet. “It’s called sensory-specific satiety,” she explains, “and it happens when you eat one type of food to the point where you don’t want any more, yet you can still be hungry for foods with other flavors, textures and smells.”

Sensory-specific satiety can actually be a valuable weight-management tool. In fact, it’s the basis behind one-note eating plans (like the grapefruit diet), which take the idea to the extreme. “People who limit their diets while trying to lose weight are more successful,” says Kristen Kizer, RD, a dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. “Our human tendency is to sample as much as possible, so if you have a whole buffet of options, you’re more likely to overeat.”

Read more: Filling Foods to Help Lose Weight

Of course, restricting yourself to a single food is unhealthy, not to mention boring. So try these ways to rejigger your taste buds.

Cut back on processed foods. They often contain hidden additives, like salt in breakfast cereal or sugar in some tomato sauces and salad dressings, says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. You may not consciously notice these flavors, but your individual taste receptors do—and they keep you craving more and more, Dr. Katz explains. Read labels on prepared foods, and cook from scratch when you can.

Have one cheat food. Instead of keeping five types of treats in your house, choose one you really enjoy and stock up on just that. You’ll be less tempted to go overboard.

Read more: Cheat-Proof Your Diet

Eat the same shade. At least when it comes to splurge foods. Research shows that people may chow down more when offered candies in a combo of colors instead of ones that are all one hue. (At last—a reason to munch only on green M&M’s.)

Cook with a dominant flavor. Rather than making a dinner that has a variety of notes, Dr. Katz advises, stick to a one-pot meal with one herb, spice or prevailing taste (like a Greek lamb shank and polenta dish accented with oregano). “You’ll want to stop eating earlier than if you were jumping back and forth among three or four side dishes that taste very different.” Bottom line: When you eat too much of one flavor profile, you grow tired of it.

Be present. “It’s more difficult to feel full when you’re not focused on your food,” Rolls says. Tap your senses to savor your meals. That could mean lingering in the kitchen while dinner simmers on the stove or giving your lemon rosemary chicken a big whiff before you dig in. And during mealtime, Rolls adds, “eliminate television and email so that you can concentrate on smelling, tasting and chewing. Enjoy the experience!” Take pleasure in your food and you’ll just know when to stop.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com