Honor National Nutrition Month by adding these macronutrients and micronutrients into your favorite dishes.

Are you getting tired of eating the same ol’ nutrient powerhouses every day? Could your favorite meals use a little nutrient boost? Are you searching for fresh ideas to help give your kitchen a spring-clean makeover? Then start by celebrating National Nutrition Month with Alexandra Catalano, a holistic nutritionist and creator of the popular lifestyle brand Eat Cute. She’s sharing five ingredients that might not be on your radar currently but pack an important punch when it comes to nutrition.

1. Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is a beautiful, high-quality fat packed with a bevy of health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, improving nutrient absorption, and nourishing your skin and hair,” Catalano says. “It’s high in monounsaturated oleic acid, which is why it is so perfect for helping reduce bad cholesterol.” Because it has a medium smoke point, which makes it ideal for using on lower-heat cooking or on uncooked foods — try using avocado oil in salad recipes instead of your go-to olive oil. When purchasing avocado oil, look for labels that state it’s organic, unrefined, cold-pressed and extra-virgin.

2. Hempseeds

Hempseeds or hemp hearts are the seeds of a hemp plant — their nutty flavor profile not only tastes delicious but also serves as a wonderful source of fiber, fat and protein. “Hempseeds are rich in fiber and can keep you feeling fuller longer and aid in digestive health,” says Catalano, noting that 1 ounce of hempseeds contains 9.2 grams of protein. “I love adding hemp seeds to my morning smoothies or enjoying hemp milk in my coffee or in baking.” She recommends buying organic and storing them in your fridge in an airtight jar or container because they are sensitive to heat and light. 

3. Spirulina

It’s no wonder spirulina is one of Catalano’s favorite superfoods — this blue-green algae contains protein and is packed with antioxidants. “Some major benefits include helping fight off candida because of its anti-microbial properties, boosting energy and pulling heavy metals out of the body,” she says. Try adding spirulina to smoothies or homemade protein bites, or simply add a small spoonful to water or juice. (The sweetness from the latter will help offset its earthy taste.) Choose brands that are organic and non-GMO, and Catalano recommend steering clear of spirulina coming from India and China because of their higher amounts of heavy metals. Store open containers in the fridge, and consume within a few months of opening.

4. Jackfruit

Not familiar with jackfruit? You may have seen it at the grocery store and wondered what the heck it was — it’s one of the largest fruits in the world, reaching up to 100 pounds. “Jackfruit is becoming incredibly popular as a meat substitute, is packed with antioxidants and is rich in magnesium,” says Catalano, describing the highly versatile fruit as having a banana-like flavor with a meat-like texture. “Jackfruit is also wonderful for improving digestion because its seeds are rich in fiber.” If you choose canned jackfruit over fresh, avoid products that contain additives like sugar, soy or chemicals. What makes jackfruit ideal for cooking is its ability to take on whatever flavoring you season it with — Catalano likes jackfruit grilled with sugar-free barbecue sauce and veggies, but you also can use it in soups, baked goods, chips and jams.

5. Camu Camu

Found in the rainforests of the Amazon in Peru and Brazil, camu camu is made from the berries grown on this shrub. “It’s the perfect superfood to enjoy year-round because of its incredible vitamin C content,” Catalano says. “This powerful berry is also rich in manganese and carotenoids that help fight off disease, and it’s wonderful for boosting the immune system and helping block free radicals.” You can find camu camu in powder form at your local health food store, and simply add it to beverages. Since its taste is very tart, it also pairs well with desserts, such as homemade coconut ice cream. Look for camu camu that is organic, non-GMO and is free of synthetic additives like soy, corn and chemicals.

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Your eating style and workout routine may be supporting your sweet tooth.

There’s more to food — and your relationship with food — than calories and macros. From my perspective as a health coach, traditional nutrient facts are only the tip of the “food iceberg.”

Have you heard of the concept “the polarity of food,” coined by professional chef and author Annemarie Colbin? It’s pretty straightforward. The premise: Everything has two extremes — or two “polarities.”

For example, hot and cold are extremes of the pole temperature, whereas loud and quiet are the extremes of the pole noise. In its essence, when you find one thing, you’ll also find the potential for its opposite.

So how does this apply to what we eat?

Food is more than just fuel. It has energetic qualities that go beyond the science and mechanics of calories, fat grams and other nutrient values.

Have you noticed how some foods naturally leave you feeling lifted and light, while others leave you tense or weighed down? Imagine how you feel when you eat a sugar-loaded treat (wired, antsy, “high”?) versus a savory comfort food (cozy, groggy, tired?).

This is an example of the polarity of food.

Everything in life — including food — can be viewed as expansive or contractive. I’m not saying you’re literally expanding or contracting, but this concept can change how you use and create energy.

So what does this polarity spectrum look like, and how might it contribute to your cravings?

Imagine a pendulum swinging left to right. On the far right are the “expansive” foods, and on the far left are the “contractive” foods. If the pendulum swings too far in either direction, the momentum will bring it back with equal force to the opposite side.

Examples of expansive foods are alcohol, caffeine and sugar. (You can find a more comprehensive list here.) The energy of these foods can make you feel relaxed and happy — blissful! But when you eat too many “bliss” foods, you may feel spacey, foggy or forgetful.

Examples of “contractive” foods are salt, eggs, red meat and other animal products. These foods can make you feel grounded and focused, but when you eat too many, you may feel tight, agitated and even angry.

How does this relate to sugar cravings?

Life is a balancing act. You navigate circumstances and confront obstacles that have an effect on you every day. So if life is full of opposites and your body is the pendulum always trying to find its center point, what do you think happens if you’re eating too many contractive foods?

What does your body crave in order to balance itself out? The opposite of contractive foods: sweet, expansive bliss foods!

The challenge lies in recognizing where and when you’re indulging in too many contractive foods, which may be contributing to your sugar cravings without you even realizing it. All the back and forth is signaling to your body that it needs something to re-center itself.

Let’s take it a step further and look at other daily activities through the lens of polarity.

Certain aspects of life are naturally contractive (which create more tension) or expansive (which encourage relaxation).

Examples of contractive activities are overexercising, overworking, partying and staying up late. When you partake in too many contractive activities, you will likely crave more expansive foods because you need relaxation and release.

When you don’t allow yourself to relax, you may find yourself bingeing on wine, chocolate and bread — rather than giving your body a break with sleep, reading, meditation, walking or a hot bath.

If you’ve been hitting it hard in the gym, constantly trying to increase your PR, or being strict with your meal planning, what do you crave? Sweets, bread, a martini? Expansive foods. Your body is craving a readjustment to find its center.

When I’m working with clients to deconstruct their cravings, we look at the foods they’re eating and their lifestyle. This constant swinging back and forth is taxing on the body and will lead to burnout. Your body wants to exist in the center, swinging gently over a short distance.

In my practice, I’ve noticed this cycle is habitual and can leave people thinking there’s something wrong with them for not having the willpower to create lasting change. Developing a lifestyle that works for you isn’t about willpower. It’s about shifting habits and growing into the best version of yourself.

What if you were able to break your bad habits, understand what’s really going on and then make better choices?

This isn’t about worrying about what foods are right or wrong or giving up all sweets. It’s about learning what needs in your life aren’t being met and understanding what’s going on with you on a deeper level so you can change your behavior long term.

If you would like to uncover which of your needs is not being met, learn more about working with Rebecca Pfanner here and sign up for a free 45-minute one-on-one coaching session.

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Use these detoxing recipes to get your nutrition, your metabolism and your gut health back on track.

Post-holiday there is a lot of collateral damage — and we’re not just talking about your waistline. Your whole digestive system has been working overtime and is as tired and toxic as the rest of you feels. When your GI tract is fatigued, you may not be properly absorbing and using the nutrients from your food, which negatively impacts both your energy and your metabolism.

This two-week meal plan will ease you back into your healthy habits without suffering the withdrawal symptoms of an overindulged holiday season. The recipes are simple, balanced and flavorful, and they are created with real, non-processed whole foods. Use this plan for the prescribed two weeks, or repeat it as many times as you need to give your metabolism — and your year — a much-needed kick-start.

Asian Meatballs With Cauliflower Rice

Makes 4 Servings
Takes 40 Minutes

Cauliflower rice is a great substitution for regular rice, reducing your total carb intake and adding plenty of fiber and water for healthy digestion. The ginger helps calm the gut, and the coconut aminos are a great alternative to soy sauce, which can irritate your insides.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb 90% lean ground pork
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp coconut amino acids, plus more to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 green onions, chopped and divided
  • 1 head cauliflower, grated
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds 
  • splash coconut oil
  • sea salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine pork, sesame oil, amino acids, garlic, ginger, ½ the green onions, and salt and pepper (to taste). Roll into 1 ½-inch balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes. Saute cauliflower rice in coconut oil. Divide cauliflower rice between bowls and season with dash of amino acids. Top with meatballs, sesame seeds and remaining green onions.

Nutrition Facts (per serving = 3 meatballs): calories 375, fat 26 g, carbs, 12 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 4 g, protein 25 g, sodium 192 mg

Shrimp Asparagus Pesto Pasta

Makes 3 Servings
Takes 30 Minutes

Pesto is made primarily of basil, and according to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, basil contains several important enzymes and antioxidants that assist the liver with detoxification. Asparagus also contains a bounty of folate, which according to the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences is necessary for optimal gut health.

Ingredients

  • 4½ cups asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/8 lb raw shrimp, shell on
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1½ lemons, sliced into rounds
  • 6 oz chickpea pasta
  • 3 tbsp pesto

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread asparagus and shrimp on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt (to taste) and top with lemon rounds. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and fully cooked. Meanwhile, cook chickpea pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and return to the pot. Add pesto and stir to combine. When shrimp are slightly cooled, remove shells, then add shrimp and asparagus to pasta and stir to combine. Enjoy cold or reheated.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 589, fat 24 g, carbs 43 g, fiber 12 g, sugar 10 g, protein 61 g, sodium 495 mg

Kale and White Bean Caesar Salad

Makes 3 Servings
Takes 25 Minutes

Though they are lauded for other reasons, hemp plants also produce seeds, which are chock-full of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which assist your liver in its detoxing efforts. Hempseeds are also a source of complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids to help you build that fat-burning lean muscle you want.

Ingredients

  • 4 slices organic bacon, cooked and chopped 
  • ¼ cup hempseeds
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 6 cups kale leaves, chopped
  • 2 cups white navy beans
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions

Place hempseeds, water, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor cup and process until smooth, adding more water to thin, if needed. Place kale in a large bowl and pour hempseed dressing over top. Massage dressing into kale for 3 to 4 minutes, or until kale starts to soften. Add bacon and white beans and toss. Season with sea salt and pepper (to taste).

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 382, fat 12 g, carbs 46 g, fiber 18 g, sugar 1 g, protein 23 g, sodium 352 mg

Coconut Matcha Smoothie

Coconut Matcha Smoothie

Makes 1 Serving
Takes 5 Minutes

Smoothies are a quick way to get in your nutrients without a lot of volume, giving you a break from intense digestion. Matcha is potent green tea leaf powder: One serving is equivalent to 10 cups of regular green tea!

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup full-fat organic coconut milk, refrigerated 
  • ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 tbsp hempseeds
  • 1 tsp matcha powder 
  • ¼ cup vanilla protein powder

Directions

Add all ingredients to a blender cup and blend until smooth.

Nutrition Facts: calories 416, fat 22 g, carbs 33 g, fiber 6 g, sugar 16 g, protein 26 g, sodium 204 mg

Trail Mix

Makes 3 Servings
Takes 5 Minutes

This high-powered snack is perfect for on-the-go energy.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup almonds
  • ¾ cup walnuts
  • 6 tbsp raisins
  • 6 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Store in an airtight container.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 617, fat 50 g, carbs 30 g, fiber 9.5 g, sugar 17 g, protein 31 g, sodium 11.4 mg

Moroccan Chicken Stew

Makes 4 Servings
Takes 30 Minutes

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, and according to a study published in Planta Medica, black pepper can help your body better absorb curcumin by up to 2,000 percent! Parsley is also reputed to detoxify the system of heavy metals.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 16 oz skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced 
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • ¼ cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 large tomatoes, diced
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped and divided
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 1/3 cup organic raisins, no sugar added black pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken, onions, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne, salt and pepper (to taste). Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, ¼ cup parsley, honey and raisins. Cover and cook another 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick. Divide into bowls and garnish with remaining parsley.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 406, fat 17 g, carbs 29 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 22 g, protein 37 g, sodium 694 mg

Coconut Cod and Spinach With Rice

Coconut Cod and Spinach With Rice

Makes 3 Servings
Takes 15 Minutes

Coconut milk contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are digested immediately and used as energy rather than sitting in your gut. Research suggests that MCT oil can help reduce overall calorie consumption, leading to gradual weight loss over time.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup jasmine rice
  • 1½ cups full-fat organic coconut milk
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1½ tbsp tamari
  • 1½ tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 (4-6 oz) cod fillets 
  • 3 cups baby spinach, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste

Directions

Cook rice according to package instructions and set aside. Heat a saucepan over medium heat, then add coconut milk, water, tamari, vinegar, bay leaves and salt. Stir to combine. Add cod fillets and simmer about 8 minutes, or until fillets are white and flake easily with a fork. Stir in spinach and remove from heat; stir until spinach has wilted. Serve with rice.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 574, fat 23 g, carbs 43 g, fiber 2 g, sugar 2 g, protein 47 g, sodium 831 mg

Salmon Chowder

Makes 4 Servings
Takes 40 Minutes

When you consume acidic foods such as dairy, grains and processed sugar, your body has to work overtime to maintain a neutral pH. Eating more alkaline foods such as fennel helps balance your pH and reduce stomach acid.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced
  • 2 cups celery root
  • 2 cups rutabaga, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups organic chicken broth, plus an additional splash
  • 4 (4 oz) salmon fillets
  • 1 cup full-fat organic coconut milk 
  • ¼ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped

Directions

In a large soup pot, melt coconut oil over medium-low heat. Add fennel, celery root and rutabaga. Cover and cook 15 minutes, or until tender. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cook another 10 minutes, then use an immersion blender until soup achieves a semi-chunky finish. Reduce heat to low. Meanwhile, add a splash of chicken broth to a saucepan and place salmon skin-side down. Bring to a simmer and poach 5 to 10 minutes. Remove fish from pan, remove skin and discard. Cut flesh into chunks and add to soup. Increase heat to medium and add coconut milk. Cook until heated through. Garnish with parsley when serving.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 414, fat 25 g, carbs 20 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 8 g, protein 27 g, sodium 793 mg

Cranberry Protein Cookies

Makes 8 Servings
Takes 20 Minutes

Cinnamon is one of the most delicious and healthful spices around, helping reduce inflammation and acting as an anti-bacterial agent. In addition, 1 teaspoonful contains 22 percent of your daily value of manganese, which according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, helps you metabolize fats and carbohydrates and regulate your blood sugar.

Ingredients

  • 1 banana, mashed
  • ¼ cup vanilla protein powder
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup dried, unsweetened cranberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, combine mashed banana and protein powder and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and combine until a dough forms. Roll dough into 8 balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten lightly with a fork. Bake 20 minutes.

Nutrition Facts (per serving = 1 cookie): calories 266, fat 18 g, carbs 19 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 6 g, protein 10 g, sodium 8 mg

Pear Spice Overnight Oats

Makes 4 Servings
Takes 8+ Hours

Kefir is a fermented dairy drink that tastes like thin, tangy yogurt, but it contains a more potent and diverse range of probiotics. Overconsumption of sugar, alcohol and processed foods can kill off a lot of the good bacteria in your gut, allowing the bad bugs to take over and increase inflammation. The probiotics in kefir help replace those lost microbes and restore balance in your system.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain kefir
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 pears, sliced 
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¾ cup vanilla protein powder

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except pears and tahini. Stir until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, top with tahini and pears.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 474, fat 14 g, carbs 61 g, fiber 11 g, sugar 22 g, protein 29 g, sodium 135 mg

Rainbow Chopped Salad Jars

Makes 3 Servings
Takes 30 Minutes

Tahini — aka sesame-seed paste — is a great source of magnesium, which is needed for energy production in the body. And purple cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, which is necessary for both a healthy immune system and a healthy gut.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained 
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup matchstick carrots
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cups purple cabbage, chopped

Directions

In a bowl, whisk together tahini, lemon juice and sea salt, adding water as needed to attain a creamy consistency. Divide dressing equally between 3 large Mason jars. Layer in chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers and cabbage. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 days. When ready to eat, dump salad into a bowl and toss.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 496, fat 18 g, carbs 69 g, fiber 19 g, sugar 16 g, protein 22 g, sodium 493 mg

HYDRATION RECOMMENDATIONS

“I always say to start with drinking half your bodyweight in ounces per day as a minimum,” Uherek says. “However, if you’re sweating more because of workouts, add in about 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise. Add in a clean electrolyte option, like Nuun tablets to replenish electrolytes — clean brand meaning no added artificial sugars and food colorings.”

Craving a sweet treat?

Try these low-sugar suggestions from Alexa Uherek.

Homemade Hot Chocolate

Combine 8 oz unsweetened almond milk + 1 tbsp 100% cacao powder + 1 tbsp maple syrup. Heat contents on low-medium in a pot on stove. To reduce sugar, use 1 tsp instead of a tbsp.

Nutrition Facts: calories 116, fat 5 g, carbs 17 g, fiber 3 g, sugar 12 g, protein 2 g,
sodium 164 mg

The Quick Fix

Gather ½ cup organic raspberries + 1 tbsp dark chocolate chips: Stuff one chip in each raspberry and enjoy.

Nutrition Facts: calories 122, fat 5 g, carbs 15 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 10 g, protein 2 g, sodium 1 mg

Additional snack options

¼ cup hummus + 1 cup baby carrots = calories 191 fat 11 g carbs 20 g fiber 6 g sugar 6 g protein 5 g sodium 360 mg

1 slice organic sprouted bread (toasted) + 1 tbsp raw nut butter = calories 205 fat 20 g  carbs 23 g fiber 4 g sugar 5 g protein 9 g sodium 160 mg

2 celery stalks + 2 tbsp nut butter + 3 tbsp goji berries = calories 267 fat 18 g carbs 21 g
fiber 7 g sugar 10 g protein 10 g sodium 116 mg

1 serving protein powder + 8 oz unsweetened cashew or almond milk = (macronutrients depend on protein powder)

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Want to try intermittent fasting? Here are a few things to note before diving in.

The fitness crowd tends to throw shade at the idea of skipping meals and snacks to slim down, believing this will eat away at your hard-earned muscle, grind your metabolism to a halt and spur diet-derailing hunger pangs. These days, however, the idea of occasionally shuttering your kitchen is the guiding principle of an increasingly popular — and increasingly researched — dieting approach with a lot of weight-loss buzz: intermittent fasting.

Believe it or not, fasting wasn’t invented by Instagram hashtags — in fact, people have been fasting for thousands of years: Our ancestors did it (usually because they didn’t have a constant supply of food stashed in the fridge), and a number of religious events such as Ramadan revolve around some form of dietary fast.

As the name implies, intermittent fasting (IF) is a system during which you alternate between periods of restricted calorie intake and periods of normal eating. To be clear, IF does not restrict the kinds of foods you can eat — as do diets like Paleo or keto — just how much you can eat on certain days of the week. Many swear by IF because it’s easy to implement, requires nothing draconian like a horrible juice cleanse, and it has been proved to be one of the speediest and sustainable ways to torch fat stores and promote a lean physique.

Research says fasting has been a favorite research topic as of late, and a number of studies have found intermittent energy restriction — in which people ate fewer than 800 calories at least once per week — to be a valid weight-loss strategy, at least in the short term. In one study, weight loss was similar among participants following either a heart-healthy diet or a high-protein, reduced-calorie IF regimen for three months. However, the IF diet won out for minimizing weight regain after one year. Another investigation showed that IF was just as good at stripping body fat as simple calorie cutting. However, IF did a better job at preserving lean body mass.

As to how exactly IF helps sculpt your physique, theories abound: Some propose that IF flips a metabolic switch that encourages your body to burn more fat. Others state that since IF restricts your window of eating, you’re likely to eat fewer calories during the course of a week, helping trim the waistline with less risk of losing muscle. Even more studies propose that IF might help people get in touch with their true feelings of satiety and fullness on food-restricted days, which can put the brakes on overeating during times of normal food intake.

On another front, IF may have other positive effects on your body, such as reducing memory loss, improving cholesterol and blood pressure, and helping prevent diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. And contrary to logic, IF could actually help — not hurt — your physical performance at the gym: A 2018 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that athletes who participated in an every-other-day fasting protocol (eating 33 percent of their normal calorie intake on fasting days) for six weeks became more energy-efficient during exercise, reported less fatigue and experienced reduced body-fat levels. Researchers theorize that occasional energy restriction might spur changes in hormones and mitochondrial function, helping you get more out of your workouts.

Fit Girl Fasting

Want to give intermittent fasting a whirl? Try this 5:2 eating plan: You eat normally for five days and reduce your calorie intake to about 25 percent of normal for two days. Drink all the calorie-free liquids you want on both days to stay hydrated and healthy, and focus on whole, nutrient-rich foods for all seven days.

Feast Days

5 Days a Week

Breakfast
½ cup rolled oats (cooked) + 1/3 cup low-fat milk + 1 scoop protein powder (Top with 2 tbsp chopped nuts + ½ cup blueberries.)

Snack
2/3 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt + ½ cup berries

Lunch
4 oz cooked salmon + 1 cup cooked quinoa + 2 cups mixed greens + drizzle of olive oil vinaigrette

Snack
1/3 cup hummus + ½ cup sliced red bell peppers

Post-Training Shake
1 cup milk + 1 scoop protein powder + ½ frozen chopped banana

Dinner
4 oz pan-seared boneless pork loin chop + 2 cups roasted baby potatoes + 1 cup steamed asparagus + 1 tsp olive oil

Nutrition Facts (per day): 1,953 calories, fat 93 g, protein 146 g, carbs 201 g

Fast Days

2 Days a Week

Midmorning Snack
½ cup cottage cheese + ½ cup chopped pineapple + 2 tbsp unsalted roasted sunflower seeds

Afternoon Snack
½ cup baby carrots + 1 string cheese + 1 oz almonds

Evening Snack
1 oz jerky

Nutrition Facts (per day): 586 calories, fat 36 g, protein 39 g, carbs 34 g

Fasting Cheat Sheet

Want to try intermittent fasting? Here are a few things to note before diving in.

High, low and start slow

There are different ways to put IF into practice, and since the jury is out as to which style yields the biggest benefits, choose the one that best fits your lifestyle.

The most common method of IF is 16:8. Here, you eat during an eight-hour window, say between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and fast the remaining 16 hours in that day. There is also the eat-stop-eat method during which you do a 24-hour fast twice a week and eat normally five days a week, and the 5:2 method during which you eat normally for five days, then reduce your food intake to about 25 percent of normal (which usually totals about 500 to 700 calories) on two nonconsecutive days per week.

If you’re new to IF and aren’t sure you can hang, ease into it so you have a better chance of sticking with it long term: A JAMA Internal Medicine study found that while people on an alternate-day fasting regimen (25 percent of energy needs on fasting days) experienced weight- loss benefits, about a third of the participants failed to make it to the end. To increase your chances of follow-through, consider the 12:12 method: Here, you fast for 12 hours per day and eat within a 12-hour window — which probably isn’t that far off from how you’re eating now. This method also could increase your chances for fat loss: A 2018 British investigation found that people who simply delayed their breakfast by 90 minutes and ate their dinner 90 minutes earlier than normal — with no imposed restrictions on what they could eat — lost twice as much body fat over a 10-week period than those who ate their meals at their normal times. Experts theorize this is owed to a decrease in both appetite and overall calorie intake.

Food for thought

If you choose a routine such as the 5:2 method during which on fasting days you simply eat less, don’t waste an entire day of calories on a couple of slices of gooey pizza. Make those calories count, and focus on nutrient-dense, satiating foods such as legumes, vegetables, fruits and fish — items that deliver plenty of nutrients relative to the number of calories they contain.

Also, beware of the feeding-day binge: Since IF doesn’t dictate the types of foods you should eat, you might be tempted to reward yourself with less-than-healthful foods during normal eating periods. But IF only works for fat loss if you focus on nutrition, not just calories, so on non-fasting days, fall back into a normal diet full of whole, clean foods, and stick to your regular eating schedule of several meals and snacks per day.

Drink up

Dehydration can exacerbate hunger and leave you in a candy-worshipping hangry rage. Keep plenty of calorie-free liquids like water and tea nearby when fasting to promote satiety and replace some of the liquid you’re missing by cutting out much of your food. Not sure you’re getting enough H2O? Keep track of your urine color: The darker the color, the more water you need. As for caffeine — don’t worry about it. Recent research proved that it does not dehydrate people as much as it was once thought, especially if you’re a regular coffee drinker.

Train to gain

The days you train and the days you feed or fast should align properly. If your goal is to nail a personal-record 1-mile run or improve on your strength with heavier lifts, train during non-fasting periods when you have more available energy. If your goal is fat loss, exercise on a fasting day to create a metabolic environment that favors fat burning as your carbohydrate stores become depleted. That being said, however, if you feel exhausted and lightheaded when exercising on a fasting day, either call it quits or eat some food. Your workout will be half-assed, and you’ll increase your risk of injury.

Pop a pill

On fasting days, consider taking a multivitamin to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy: A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that women following a weight-loss diet reported less hunger when supplementing with a multivitamin. Make sure your multi also includes the B vitamins that help turn food into energy and control appetite. To reduce muscle breakdown, think about branched-chain amino acids or including a protein powder supplement to your regimen, if it works into your fasted calorie allotment.

It may not work

Like many diets, the success of IF will vary from person to person. Some may rave about their success with fat loss and their clearer mind, while others may experience nothing but prolonged fatigue and irresistible cravings.

It often takes a couple of weeks for your body to adjust to IF, and side effects of fasting like raging hunger, brain fog, grumpiness or low energy will likely subside with time. If you’re still miserable after three weeks, IF is probably not right for you.

WARNING: Certain medical conditions can be worsened by fasting. Consult with your doctor if you’re diabetic, have low blood pressure, take medications, are underweight, are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding before beginning any sort of intermittent fasting. 

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Sub freekeh for rice and get an extra dose of fiber, protein, glutamine and prebiotics.

Freekeh

Freekeh (pronounced free-kah) has been around for a while. This wheat variety is harvested while still green, then it’s toasted and rubbed to reveal the young grains. As a result, it has an earthy, nutty and slightly smoky flavor that can breathe new life into your humdrum recipes. Here are five ways to use this supergrain to supercharge your meal plan.

1. As a high-fiber rice substitute 

Freekeh has three times the amount of fiber as brown rice, and according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, increased fiber consumption helped people lose more weight over the course of a year. Swap white or brown rice for freekeh in casseroles, burritos, soups and pilafs.

2. As a gut-friendly salad 

Freekeh contains resistant starch, which is the prebiotic nosh of choice for your healthy gut bacteria. Prebiotics also help treat leaky gut syndrome, candida and irritable bowel syndrome. Freekeh Salmon Salad: To a large bowl, add 2 cups cooked freekeh, 8 cups spinach, 1 large avocado (diced) and 1 large tomato (chopped). Top with 8 ounces cooked salmon fillets and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (to taste).

3. As a high-pro vegan bowl 

Step aside quinoa — freekeh has twice the protein per serving, making it the ideal choice for plant-based athletes. Freekeh-shly Good Breakfast Bowl: Cook 1 cup freekeh according to package directions. Split into 2 bowls and top with fresh fruit, pumpkin seeds, nut butter and cinnamon.

4. As an endurance-boosting side 

Freekeh is high in glutamic acid, which helps synthesize glutamine, enhancing endurance and strength. Righteous Rosemary Freekeh:* Add 1 cup cooked freekeh to a bowl with ¼ cup chopped pecans, 1/8 cup chopped dried apricots, 1 tablespoon macadamia nut or avocado oil, 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Mix well to combine.

5. As a nutrient-boosted baked good 

Freekeh is available commercially as a flour and can be used in recipes in place of refined flour products for added fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium and iron.

Chocolate Freekeh Muffins

  • 1 cup cooked freekeh
  • ½ cup freekeh or coconut flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp cocoa
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • handful dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and pour into a greased muffin pan. Bake 20 to 22 minutes. Allow to cool.

*Recipe provided by Now Foods. For more great recipes like this, go to nowfoods.com.

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For Jen Widerstrom, clean eating feeds both her body and soul.

For Jen Widerstrom, clean eating feeds both her body and soul.

It’s not enough for former American Gladiators athlete and NBC’s The Biggest Loser trainer Jen Widerstrom to simply eat “healthy.” For this Oxygen Challenge 4 coach, the real difference comes from committing to a clean-eating nutrition plan — for life. “You work so hard to be healthy and vital, and when you put fuel in your body that’s been altered, it diminishes the return on that investment,” she explains. “When it comes to eating animal-based protein, we have to remember that we ultimately ingest whatever was given to that animal.”

In other words, any hormones and antibiotics these animals consume through their feed are transported into your body, which Widerstrom says can adversely affect your physical development and organ function. “Also, I care very much about the way animals are treated, especially when it’s for our benefit,” she says. “In the words of Mary Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science, ‘Nature is inhumane; we don’t have to be.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

Be Responsible and Well-Rounded

So what should you look for at the grocery store? “Be proactive — read the labels on your food,” Widerstrom says. “If the food is made well, they’re going to tell you on the packaging. If there’s no messaging, it’s often because the products contain antibiotics and hormones.” Making these determinations can be harder at a restaurant, but typically if a food is grass-fed, hormone-/antiobiotic-free or organic, it will be listed boldly on the menu.

“I also advise people to be conscious eaters instead of mindless ones,” Widerstrom says. “Have a clear understanding of what kinds of foods your body digests well, and focus on choosing real foods so you will look and feel your best.”

That being said, Widerstrom is a big proponent of having everything in moderation. “I’ll have a beer and pizza with the best of them, but I’ll sweat that day, and you better believe I’m eating my eggs and avocado that next morning!” she says.

Recipes — for Life

Jen Widerstrom, an NASM-certified trainer, is on a mission to share the importance of eating natural products — and that’s why she chooses to source her beef, turkey, chicken and jerky from Laura’s Lean. Here is a recipe that uses these all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed products.

One-Pot Chicken

Makes 2-3 servings

Ingredients

  • 1½ lb (3-4) boneless, skinless Laura’s Lean chicken breasts 
  • ¾ tbsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp lemon pepper
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs of choice

Preheat oven to 400 F. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, combine salt, lemon pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. Sprinkle mixture evenly over chicken on both sides. Heat oil in a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 4 to 5 minutes each side, until nicely browned. Add rice wine vinegar and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. In another bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and honey. Pour over chicken and stir until coated. 

Cover pan with foil and place in oven. Bake 15 minutes, then add tomatoes. Bake another 5 minutes until tomatoes start to burst. Remove, sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

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Health and lifestyle coach Rebecca Pfanner breaks down why you’re scared of your appetite and offers steps you can take to permanently change your mindset.

Instead of feeding the fear of your own appetite, let’s get curious and embrace it.

So many of us women fear our appetite. We’re scared to eat that brownie, macaroni or cake because “it’s going to make us fat.” When we give in, we tell our friends, “I was so bad today. I ate a brownie!” We’ve come to believe this is the most horrible thing a woman can do!

This is not true. This is the story we tell ourselves because we’ve been programmed to believe feeding our appetite is wrong.

Our appetite is what keeps us alive. Without it, we wouldn’t know when to eat. We would starve and die! So why have we turned this survival mechanism into something that makes us feel guilt, shame and disgust?

Look at Eve! She wanted that apple so badly. She had an appetite for it, craved it, desired it. So she took a bite. She fulfilled her appetite but was then shamed, kicked from the garden and made a disgrace. Eve’s story may have been the start of female shame and guilt when it comes to feeding the appetite.

Many of us continue to fight our appetite with every fiber of our beings. We don’t want to be kicked from our garden, so we hang onto the fear: “If I let myself experience my full appetite, there will be no end to what I devour.”

We’re making the very thing that gives us life, our appetite, a cause for emotional turmoil.

We’ve become so used to shaming our appetite as a “guilty pleasure” that we truly believe we’re wrong for wanting to appease it. When we do, we fall into an endless pit of desire that won’t stop.

When you desire something, do you feel guilty for thinking about what you want? What about shame for getting what you want because you didn’t “earn” it? Or guilt and shame for being “bad” — like eating that brownie or saying no to a request of our time?

Society often enforces these concepts. If you love sex, you’re a whore. If you love food, you’re a glutton and you’ll get fat when you should be skinny. If you love money, you’re greedy.

Many of us say we want “freedom” when it comes to food and body image, but when we deny or invalidate our natural appetite, we’re creating our own jail cell that keeps us trapped in our current way of being.

Here’s a secret: As our own jailers, we hold the key. We get to decide whether we consider our appetite good or bad.

Our appetite and desires lead us to our truth. So how can we allow for our true selves to step forward if we’re always shying away?

If we continue to fear what we want, we prevent ourselves from fully experiencing life. Some of us believe that if we connect with our sexuality, we’ll want to sleep with everyone we see. If we let ourselves make great money, we’ll become greedy, self-centric women.

What if the opposite were true? Your body doesn’t want to overindulge. It knows when to stop. The challenge lies in listening to its wisdom and separating your thoughts and emotions from your body’s intuition.

Instead of feeding the fear of your own appetite, let’s get curious and embrace it. In my work, my goal is to help you feel empowered to take charge of your feelings, thoughts and decisions.

Here’s how:

Be in Charge Instead of in Control 

We’ve gotten so used to focusing on maintaining our willpower, avoiding “bad” foods, counting calories and logging exercise. These restrictive behaviors lead to the guilt and shame associated with feeding our appetite because they’re so easily sabotaged and lead to feeling out of control.

Being in charge of your appetite keeps you focused on your intention of doing what you love without experiencing the guilt because you make intentional choices that leave you feeling empowered.

Know You Are Capable 

You’ve always had the power to make your decisions without all the rules and restrictions. Never allowing yourself sweetness feeds feelings of guilt and shame when you do indulge. Instead of following a plan desperately and strictly, listen to your body. 

Give Yourself Grace

Acknowledging your appetite can be hard since you may have spent a lifetime hushing it. Giving up the idea that your appetite and desires are bad may sound scary, even impossible. Allow yourself the room to have setbacks and experience doubt and frustration.

Learning how to give up restrictions will change your relationship with your appetite and what was once so scary — cookies, money, sex — will lose its power over you.

Instead of starting another diet this new year, let’s begin to lay the foundation for a new life where you embrace your appetite and desires — a life you’re excited to live, a life where you say yes to yourself.

What if embracing your appetite left you happy beyond measure?

What if it never needed to be so damn hard?

To learn more about working with Rebecca Pfanner, visit her website ModavateCoaching.com.

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Make the most of your meals — and your training efforts — with these wise food choices.

Once upon a time, it was simple to go grocery shopping, but every week, there seems to be a new hyped-up food or magic metabolic elixir fighting for a spot in your shopping cart.

Forget Instagrammable food trends and focus instead on functional foods, those that continually produce results both in and out of the gym. Choosing your foods wisely will improve performance, body composition and energy levels. Here are our picks for the most awesome scientifically supported foods for athletes, as well as some we think are overrated.

Coffee

AWESOME

Coffee

Your morning brew just got a whole lot sweeter: In a recent study, scientists found that drinking caffeinated coffee before a high-intensity workout like sprinting or weight training boosted performance by reducing the rate of perceived exertion and increasing energy. The most effective, scientifically determined dose of caffeine is about 300 milligrams; any more than that and you could actually impair rather than improve performance. Additionally, one serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than many other things in your diet, making it one of the healthiest beverages in the world.

Beets (aka Beetroot)

Beets are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that help athletes recover faster. They are also an all-natural source of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body, opening blood vessels and allowing more blood, nutrients and oxygen to be delivered to muscles, improving performance, recovery and tissue repair. Researchers tested the effects of drinking beet juice preworkout in sprinting sports like running, cycling, BMX and speedskating. Athletes who drank half a cup (4 to 5 ounces) of beet juice reduced the time it took them to reach peak power, which meant better acceleration during their high-intensity sessions.

Whole Eggs

Egg whites are a great low-cal source of protein, but if you’re still pitching out all the yolks for your morning omelet, you may be missing out. Scientists had subjects eat either three whole eggs or five egg whites (the equivalent of 18 grams of protein for each) after a leg workout. Those who ate the whole eggs experienced greater protein synthesis than those who ate egg whites alone, which means more muscle growth. The suggested reason: The nutrients in the yolks helped facilitate the synthesis process better than egg whites alone.

Cottage Cheese and Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are great sources of bone-building nutrients such as calcium, as well as casein, a form of protein that contains a lot of leucine, the amino acid shown to have excellent muscle-building potential. A diet rich in protein such as casein promotes fat loss because your body has to work harder to digest, therefore burning more calories and boosting metabolism. A ¾- to 1-cup serving of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt makes a great snack any time of day.

Seaweed

Just as there are probiotic bacteria in your gut that keep you healthy and improve digestion, there are also bad bacteria that can proliferate, causing inflammation and illness. In order to nurture the good while exterminating the bad, you should eat probiotic foods such as yogurt as well as seaweed, which contains a rare carbohydrate that feeds and nourishes the good bacteria. A recent study published in the journal Nature revealed that a diet rich in nori, the kind of seaweed used to make sushi rolls, helps the good bacteria in the gut thrive, creating an optimal environment for healthy digestion. Experts recommend eating about 5 grams of seaweed per day, but unless you live in Japan, that is probably a tall order, so enjoy a sushi hand roll or two whenever you get the chance.

Bananas

For some reason these days, people fear fruit, especially bananas. However, one medium banana contains only about 100 calories, 27 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fiber. Bananas also offer the perfect blend of carbs and electrolytes such as potassium and sodium needed to fuel workouts — more than any commercial sports drink. In fact, researchers compared bananas to sports drinks both before and during endurance activity and heavy-exertion workouts. While both improved performance and energy, bananas also helped reduce inflammation, which means better recovery after a strenuous workout.

Bone Broth

Bone broth is the new postworkout phenomenon — and with good reason. This low-cal beverage is rich in chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, the structural components of joints, as well as collagen, the protein that promotes healthy bones, skin, hair and nails. It also contains a myriad amino acids that promote muscle building and repair and several that support metabolic function such as glycine, glutamine and arginine. Athletes also may use bone broth after training to replenish fluids and lost electrolytes, such as sodium, magnesium and potassium.

Commercial Acai Bowls

OVERRATED

Peanut Butter Powder and Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

Sounds good in theory — peanut butter minus some of the calories — and using the powder in your shaker bottle postworkout is a breeze. However, the very thing you’re eliminating from peanut butter is the most beneficial of its nutrients: the fat. Regular peanut butter contains a wealth of heart-healthy fats as well as vitamin E, and choosing a reduced-fat or powdered version robs you of those healthy nutrients. Additionally, the fat removed from a lower-fat product is usually replaced by sugar, corn syrup solids or other starchy fillers, so in the end, it’s not a reduced-calorie food at all. So while there are some valid uses for the powdered version — since it does contain some quality protein and other vitamins you need — if you are eating peanut butter for its full spectrum of health benefits, stick with the real, sticky thing.

Artificially Sweetened Products

It’s tempting to enjoy sweets without the added sugar and calories, but what are you really putting into your body? Turns out, those colorful little packets may be holding you back from reaching your fat-loss goals. Artificial sweeteners have been shown in numerous studies to induce an insulin response, despite the lack of actual glucose (sugar) in the food. Continually inducing this response can lead to insulin resistance, a metabolic nightmare that prevents the body from breaking down fat as fuel. If a lean physique is your goal, skip the sugar-free products and get used to drinking your coffee black — or with just a touch of real sugar.

Nondairy Yogurt

The movement toward a more plant-based diet has made nondairy yogurt more popular. But while tasty, this sub-in does not compare nutritionally to regular yogurt. Nondairy yogurts can be made with soy, almond and/or coconut milks and contain little to no protein. Also, manufacturers often add sugar and artificial thickeners to improve the flavor and consistency of the product. Unless you’re allergic to dairy, then skip these alternatives and stick with regular or Greek yogurt or give Icelandic Skyr a try — it’s slightly thicker than Greek yogurt and less tangy.

Almond Milk

If you’re drinking almond milk for a protein boost, you’re pinning your tail on the wrong donkey butt. While it does contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, almond milk has only 1 gram of protein per serving as compared to about 8 grams in a cup of dairy milk. If lactose is your qualm, check out some of the new, alternative products popping up on shelves. For instance, ultra-filtered milk is regular milk that is passed through a series of filters that remove specific, individual components, resulting in a product with more protein and calcium, less sugar and no lactose. There’s also A2 milk, which contains the A2 form of beta-casein, the protein that makes up about 30 percent of the protein in cow’s milk. A2 milk is digested more easily, resulting in very few symptoms of stomach discomfort, gas, bloating and diarrhea.

MCT Oil

Move over butter — MCTs (medium-chain triglyceride) are claiming that spot in your Bulletproof Coffee. Because of their structure, MCTs are easily digested in your liver, where they have been shown to produce a thermogenic effect. Adding coconut oil — which is about 65 percent MCTs — or straight MCT oil to your coffee is believed to accelerate fat loss, boost energy and improve well-being. This may very well be true. However, MCT oil is not a magic weight-loss pill, and in fact, overdoing it can cause weight gain. In the end, MCTs are still fats and are highly caloric by nature, so be conservative with their use and don’t rely solely on them to strip your body of fat.

Commercial Acai Bowls

Acai in and of itself is awesome and contains loads of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as well as fiber, protein and healthy fats. However, an average 16-ounce acai bowl from a restaurant or commercial establishment has about 41 grams of sugar* — and this is without any toppings or add-ins at all. Instead of getting one out and about, make your own at home: Buy unsweetened frozen acai berries and blend them with your favorite frozen fruits and a splash of water or milk. Toss in a scoop of protein powder or plain Greek-style yogurt for a protein boost.

*A small-size bowl from Planet Smoothie

Alkaline Water

Is it legit or pure hype? The verdict is still out. Researchers have not found enough evidence to show that alkaline water — which is rich in alkalizing compounds such as calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium and bicarbonate — has the ability to neutralize the acid in your bloodstream, enabling your body to better metabolize nutrients. If better pH balance is what you’re after, drink mineral water instead, or simply toss a little baking soda and/or lemon juice into tap water to make your own alkaline water on the cheap. 

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Expert tips for kicking stress-induced cravings to the curb.

Are you an emotional eater? Here are six surefire ways to keep your emotions – and your waistline – in check.

1. Know your triggers and locations. “Many people have hot spots for emotional eating, such as the living room couch or office desk,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, author of Eating Mindfully (New Harbinger, 2012). “Make a no-eating rule in those places so you have to eat somewhere else. This will help you stop the habit of overeating mindlessly in those spots.”

2. Shop smart. Limit the amount of comfort food you have available so you’re forced to address your emotions when they pop up instead of masking them with food.

3. Stock up on pistachios. They’re a low–glycemic index food that helps keep your blood sugar stable to avoid the double whammy of feeling moody and hungry.

4. Drink water throughout the day. Dehydration is stressful on the body and results in the same neurochemical cascade as emotional stress, which can cause you to overeat, says Albers.

See AlsoAre You Drinking Enough Water?

5. Exercise regularly. Choose activities that you enjoy. Not only do frequent workouts help to keep stress in check, but looking forward to your workouts is another way of coping with stress.

6. Soothe your senses. Stress can be over-stimulating to your senses, so seek out other things that bring you comfort – besides food – such as taking a bath, wrapping yourself up in a blanket and reading a book, or turning off your cell phone.

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Here’s everything you need to know about the set point weight theory and what it means for your fitness goals.

According to conventional weight-loss wisdom, dropping a few pounds is a matter of basic math: Burn more calories than you consume and watch the numbers on the scale plummet. But anyone who’s dealt with a stubborn plateau or struggled to maintain a loss knows that in practice, the equation isn’t that simple.

“The old ‘calories in, calories out’ idea is really only a very small piece of the puzzle,” says Lauren Antonucci, RD, CSSD, CDE, CDN, a board-certified sports nutritionist and director of Nutrition Energy in New York City. In addition to diet and exercise, a combination of factors works to regulate your body’s weight, keeping it at a number that’s biologically ideal, according to your genetics, your physiology and your environment. This phenomenon is known as the set point weight theory.

Set Point Weight Theory, Defined

Antonucci describes set point weight as the weight you would be if you weren’t concerned with how you looked in a bikini. “Let’s say you just walked around eating when you were hungry, stopping when you were full,” she says. “If you were eating mostly real foods, there’s a place where you would land, and not everyone lands in the same spot.”

While set point is still technically a theory that has yet to be scientifically proven, most experts agree that a person’s standard weight is determined by a combination of genetics, physiology and environment. Your environment includes what most weight-loss plans address: diet, exercise, lifestyle and level of daily activity. Physiology encompasses all bodily functions, including your metabolism, hormones and the genetic tendency of women to carry more body fat than men. And your genetics, as they relate to your set point, can be most easily understood by looking at your ancestors’ day-to-day lives — were their winters long and the food scarce? Then those with a high capacity for fat storage were most likely to survive and pass along their genes to you.

How Set Is Your Set Point?

While your genes are what they are, your body’s physiology can shift — or be shifted. Puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause can all cause a change — typically a gain — in weight. Some medications also can create long-lasting increases in the body’s fat supply. “That’s one that people in the United States tend to be more prone to because sometimes we’re giving medications such as antidepressants and people are on them for decades,” explains Holly Lofton, M.D., director of the Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “[Those medications] can make our fat cells more stable, an environmental change that can lead to a physiological change. That can change one’s set point.”

Bariatric surgery, which removes part of the stomach or creates a bypass, also alters the body’s hormonal environment by removing the receptors that create hunger hormones. As a result, people who undergo this procedure typically see dramatic weight loss in the first two years. It’s fair to say that they experience a change in set point, but without consistent monitoring and maintenance, this new setting may not stick. “The body sees weight loss as an illness, so it will create hunger hormones from other pathways,” Lofton says. Over time, the weight may return.

If it seems like your set point is more likely to go up than down, that’s because it is. Of course, it is possible to lose weight through diet and exercise, but environmental changes are just one consideration. “It’s much easier to increase a set point than it is to decrease it,” Lofton says. “The body just doesn’t like to lose weight, it likes to gain weight.”

Metabolism Versus Set Point

But what if you “boost” your metabolism? Can that lower your set point?

It’s not uncommon to hear set point and metabolism used interchangeably, but they are two distinct concepts. While set point refers to your body’s standardized weight, your metabolism is the amount of energy you must expend to maintain that weight, and it can be broken down into a few categories:

Basal metabolic rate (BMR), or resting metabolic rate (RMR), is the amount of energy the body requires to support its basic functions — things like thought, heartbeat and breathing.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) goes beyond the basic functions to include all non-planned exertional activities, such as walking to your car, going to the bathroom and cleaning your house.

Activity expenditure encompasses planned exercise, like a high-intensity interval training class or a run in the park.

Lofton explains that when we lose physical weight, our BMR also decreases. “In order to maintain that lower weight, we have to make up that change in metabolism by doing something, usually increasing our physical activity expenditure,” she says. In other words, you can increase your metabolism to maintain a new weight, but you’re not necessarily changing your body’s set point. “If we bring the activity back down, then the body will likely go back to the way it was,” she says.

Setting Goals and Managing Expectations

If it seems like your set point weight is at odds with your goal weight, don’t throw in the towel just yet. “It is not impossible to lose weight and keep it off,” says Natalie Digate Muth, M.D., a dual board-certified pediatrician and obesity medicine physician and registered dietitian based in Carlsbad, California. “But it’s probably not due to a change in set point but rather a continued and conscientious effort to increase energy expenditure through significant amounts of moderate to vigorous exercise and consumption of healthful, portion-controlled foods.”

To make a lasting change, start by upping your level of physical activity. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, Lofton says that able, active people should aim for around 240 minutes of exercise performed at an exertional rate — in other words, a leisurely gallop on the elliptical won’t cut it: You should be huffing and puffing. And don’t ignore strength training, which can improve your overall physique and change your body composition for the better, even if it doesn’t necessarily change the number on the scale.

“If you increase your muscle mass and simultaneously decrease your fat mass, your body is more metabolically active,” Lofton explains. “So you’re burning calories more efficiently even though your weight has not changed. But you’re still at the same weight because you have gained muscle and lost the same amount of fat.”

Theoretically, then, if you gain muscle and lose fat, you might not lose physical weight, but your body might be satisfied since you’re still at your set point and keep you there.

If meal planning is a source of confusion, it may be worth your time to schedule an appointment with a dietitian who can test your RMR and provide you with a recommendation for daily caloric intake. Interestingly, Antonucci sees many weight-loss patients who are chronically under-eating. “They keep getting better and better at the diet game and somehow end up eating less than they need for weight loss,” she says. “Their body gets confused and their metabolic rate goes down and they’re no longer losing. The only answer is to eat up to their metabolic rate. Then their metabolism will go up, and then they will stay there because their metabolism has changed.”

And remember that weight is just one of many available corporeal metrics. Considering body-fat percentage, waist circumference, how your clothes fit or simply how you look and feel is likely to give you a more accurate reading of your level of fitness. “You would be hard-pressed to find a person coming out of my office who can tell you we set a weight-loss goal for any time frame,” Antonucci says. “We set very specific, food-oriented, habit-changing behavior and exercise goals that, over time, are probably going to lead to weight loss if it’s desirable and healthy for people.”

Up the Ante

Holly Lofton, M.D., suggests performing 240 minutes of intense exercise per week. Increase your time under tension with this 20-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible), which can be used as a finisher or as a quick, stand-alone workout.

In 20 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of the following:

  • 5 walkouts to plank push-ups
  • 20 jumping floor-tap squats
  • 15 knee-ins
  • 20 mountain climbers
  • 5 long jumps
  • 10 burpees
  • 20 alternating jumping lunges 

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