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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It’s a fact that you need water to survive. But do you need fancy bottled water? Here, we turn to science to help distill the truth from the hype about water.

Your body is made up of about 60 to 70 percent water, and although you could live several weeks without food, you’ll only survive a matter of days without water. This is because water is involved in just about every metabolic and cellular function you have — transporting nutrients and oxygen, lubricating joints and regulating body temperature.

Beyond its necessity for existence, water is also associated with weight loss and an increase in metabolism.

So you can see where dehydration is problematic, and in fact, just a two percent drop in water can result in impaired cognitive performance, headaches and fatigue. Dehydration also can affect mood, according to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, causing irritability, lethargy and even anger. For athletes who often lose 6 to 10 percent of their water weight via sweat, dehydration can alter body temperature control, reduce motivation, and make exercise feel more difficult both mentally and physically.

Beyond its necessity for existence, water is also associated with weight loss and an increase in metabolism. One study found that drinking a half-liter (17 ounces) of water increased metabolism up to 30 percent for 90 minutes following ingestion. Proper hydration also can help maximize performance and reduce the oxidative stress that occurs during high-intensity exercise.

Water, Water Everywhere

Now comes the hard part: Which water should you drink? There are so many kinds available and so many conflicting opinions on what to drink and when that choosing a water has become as complicated as string theory. Here are the deets on some of the trendiest waters available today — what they are, what they aren’t and what they may or may not do — along with some hard research that either backs or benches them.

Tap Water 

We are lucky in the Western world to have access to clean drinking water — many other countries can’t say the same — yet people are still quick to dismiss tap water as an acceptable way to hydrate these days. Tap water is typically treated with fluoride and chlorine, which can alter the taste quite a bit, and is monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency, which identifies contaminants in drinking water and sets limits on the amounts of certain contaminants that it deems as safe for consumption. However, some Americans live in places where contaminants may exceed the legal limit, according to the Environmental Working Group, and most notably in more rural and low-income areas. But tap water is still usable, and if you balk at the idea of any “contaminants” floating around in your water, invest in a good water filtration system to remove many of the particulates and chemicals from your water. Shop around, though — products can run anywhere from $20 for a faucet attachment to $200-plus for a complex reverse osmosis system.

Tap Out? Wonder how your tap water measures up? Go to ewg.org and enter your ZIP code to get a report on the possible contaminants in your water.

Alkaline Water 

Alkaline water is still having a moment, with proponents on both sides arguing its veracity. However, there are some studies of late that support the use of alkaline water by athletes: When you exercise, your muscles produce more hydrogen ions than you can effectively remove, increasing internal acidity and inciting fatigue. Drinking alkaline water — which has a pH greater than 7 — can enhance your body’s buffering capacity, assuaging acidity and improving performance, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Other studies suggest that alkaline water could improve overall hydration by helping you retain electrolytes. Research aside, drinking alkaline water won’t do you any serious harm; it may cause some stomach upset if you’re not used to it and it’s pricy, but other than that, bottoms up.

$$ Saver: Go alkaline on the cheap by mixing 8 ounces of distilled water with 1/8 tablespoon of baking soda. There are more complex — and tastier — recipes available,
so search online for more options.

Electrolyte-Infused Water 

Electrolytes are electrically charged particles such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium and phosphate. The electrical charges of these particles stimulate your muscles and nerves to contract and help regulate the fluid balance in your body by helping your body absorb water more quickly. When you sweat you lose electrolytes, and if you don’t replenish them, you could experience muscle spasms or cramping, fatigue, nausea and mental confusion. You’ll also feel weaker and unmotivated in subsequent workouts. Traditional sports drinks contain lots of electrolytes, but they also contain large amounts of sugar — which is great if you’re running a marathon but not so much if you’re doing a Tabata. Instead, try a calorie-free water infused with electrolytes, such as Propel, or add an electrolyte tablet to your water, such as Nuun, which has only 10 calories per tab ($7, 1 tube — 10 tabs, nuunlife.com).

$$ Saver Make your own electrolyte water by mixing ½ teaspoon of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of agave nectar (or sugar) and ½ tablespoon of sea salt in 1 quart of water.

Coconut Water 

Coconut water naturally contains electrolytes like sodium and potassium (40/600 milligrams per cup, respectively), and it acts much in the same way as an electrolyte water or tablet. Because it is lower in calories, it’s a better hydration choice than a sports drink for shorter workouts and, according to research, was shown to cause less nausea and stomach upset than a regular electrolyte drink when ingested postworkout. However, research has also concluded that coconut water is no more hydrating than a sports drink and replenishes electrolytes no better than a potato — and is way pricier than either. It is tasty, however, and if it will make you drink more liquids, then have at it.

Hydrogen Water 

This is the newest of the trends, and all the Hollywood stars have been seen around Beverly Hills toting it. Proponents claim that adding hydrogen gas to plain water leads to increased energy, improved recovery and reduced inflammation after a workout. But so far, the evidence that supports these claims is scant: A small study published in the journal Medical Gas Research done on just 10 soccer players who drank hydrogen water found that their muscles were less fatigued postworkout. There are several other small studies such as this one done on lab animals, but as of yet, there are no solid conclusions or guidelines as to how much hydrogen water you should drink in order to reap the benefits. Drinking it won’t harm you, so if you want to feel Hollywood, fab. Just be sure to purchase a brand that comes in an aluminum pouch. This is the only container that will hold the hydrogen inside. It escapes quickly from all other vessels, and by the time it gets from the factory to the store to your fridge to your mouth, you’re drinking plain ol’ water.

Hydration Equation

To stay properly hydrated, you should be drinking between 25 and 50 percent of your bodyweight in ounces every day. So if you weigh 130 pounds, you should drink 32 to 60 ounces daily.

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It’s not hard — meet your daily fiber needs with our sample dietary fiber meal plan.

Yep, that dreaded F word (read more about that here) still continues to surface, even for those who practice a “clean, whole foods” diet.

Back when the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 was released, dietary fiber was noted as a nutrient of concern. This means we, Americans, still aren’t getting enough in our diets. For reference, American men and women eat only about 15 to 18 grams per day!

The Food and Drug Administration updated the percent Daily Value (DV) on the new food label (more about that here) from 25 to 28 grams given the findings on fiber. It’s a stellar nutrient that aids in laxation, reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and assists in maintaining normal blood glucose levels.

The DV represents a percentage based on a 2,000-calorie diet that helps individuals identify whether a food item is low (less than 5 percent) or high (greater than 20 percent) of a particular nutrient. Nutrients like saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugar are recommended to be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, nutrients like fiber, calcium, potassium, iron and vitamin D are favorable to be above that 20 percent DV.

Where things get confusing is when you think about the other acronyms surrounding dietary fiber, such as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and Adequate Intake (AI). DRIs refer to the daily recommended intakes of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals for the general healthy population according to specific age and gender. For instance, the DRI for dietary fiber for adult males (19 to 50 years of age) is 38 grams/day, whereas for adult females (19 to 50 years of age) it’s 25 grams/day.

AI is a representative figure that is believed to cover the needs of all individuals in the group, which for dietary fiber is listed as 14 grams/total fiber per 1,000 calories, or the equivalent of the DRIs listed above.

The FDA couldn’t keep it easy for us, huh? Don’t fret, we break down just how to meet your daily fiber needs below, and trust us, with a little prep, you’ll be on your way to meeting if not exceeding your dietary fiber needs in no time!

Sample Dietary Fiber Meal Plan 

Daily Total Dietary Fiber: 64.5 grams

Note: Fiber Values Taken From DGA 2015-2020 Appendix

*As you can see, this is a vegetarian meal plan. If you prefer animal proteins, feel free to substitute the garbanzo beans and black beans at lunch and dinner for a lean protein option, noting fiber content will decrease to a daily total of 48.9 grams, still well above average! 

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Elevate your nutritional game with these super-simple culinary and ingredient tweaks.

Cooking healthy does not have to be complicated or expensive. Unfortunately, with busy schedules and full days, making a nutritious meal can still prove to be an epic challenge. Aside from overhauling your entire pantry, the solution to your dining woes could be as simple as trading one ingredient for another or preparing your food in a different way. Check out these ideas to instantly upgrade your meals — and your results.

According to the National Institute of Health, nearly 50 percent of all deaths in the U.S. in 2017 were caused by diseases associated with poor eating habits. Try these cooking methods and food swaps the next time your in the kitchen — it’s a great place to start.

Cooking Methods

Just because you’ve always cooked chicken a certain way does not mean you can’t improve on your skills. Here are some methods to consider that can replace a less-healthy go-to technique such as boiling, panfrying or deep-frying.

Stewing

Stewing slow-cooks food in a liquid, allowing flavors to blend together while tenderizing the meat or other protein and preserving the nutrients. True, stewing takes a little longer and the texture might be softer than you’re used to, but the ingredients of your favorite go-to meal can remain the same. “You can also stew using minimal kitchen equipment,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, which can expedite cleanup time.

Tips:

  • Because stew makes a meat/protein so tender, you can use a less-expensive cut such as chuck beef, which might otherwise be considered tough.
  • Veggies take less time to cook than meat, so add them later in the stewing process to prevent them from becoming mushy.
  • A stew takes about two hours to cook, so take that into consideration when planning your prep time.

Broiling

Broiling is a great cooking option because you can season meat, fish, poultry and veggies with a simple dry rub instead of with oil or other fats. And because it’s dry, the seasoning will stick to the food and won’t run or drip off into the bottom of the baking dish, according to Harbstreet.

Tips:

  • The recommended temperature for broiling is about 500 degrees, so give your oven plenty of time to preheat before putting in your food.
  • Speaking of 500 degrees, unwatched meals can easily be burnt, so keep a close eye on your food as it cooks.
  • Generally speaking, steaks take between five to 10 minutes to cook, and chicken, fish and veggies take about 15 minutes.

Grilling

“Grilling is a nutritious way to cook lean protein like chicken or beef because you avoid batters and excess oils,” says Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, LDN, ACSMCPT. Grilling also allows the fat from your protein to drip off your food and into the grill, meaning you eat less fat as a result. “Some people worry that grilling can create carcinogenic compounds, but you can minimize your risk by marinating meat beforehand,” Carroll says. Also, make sure your grill is not so hot that you see tall, visible flames licking up between the grates.

Tips:

  • Preheat your grill, then when you’re ready to cook your food, turn the flame down to prevent charring.
  • Close the lid when cooking to preserve the heat and better control the temperature.
  • Reduce the sticky (and icky) factor of a grill by cleaning it with a wire brush after each use. This also will reduce the chance of fire.
Great roasting veggies include broccoli, beats, carrots, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, peppers and zucchini.

Roasting

There is nothing more pathetic than a limp, boiled vegetable or a rubbery boiled protein. Roasting is a healthy, dry cooking method that allows a veggie to keep its crunch and meats and poultry to retain their nutritional value. In other words, the vitamins and minerals of your food don’t get sucked out into the boiling water and tossed down the drain.

Tips:

  • Toss your food in a little high-quality oil to create a delicious crunchy crust, Carroll says. Use just enough to lightly coat a food, not drench it.
  • The ideal temperature for roasting is 400 degrees, a little less than broiling, so allow plenty of time for preheating.
  • Cook veggies until they deepen in color and their sugars begin to caramelize, Carroll recommends.

Steaming

Eating food as close to its pure form as possible is ideal, and here is where steaming is a suppertime superstar. “Steaming cooks food quickly and preserves much of its nutritional value without adding other ingredients,” Carroll explains. And because it only requires water as a vehicle for heat, there are also no added calories.

Tips:

  • Though you want food to be completely enveloped in steam, it should not be submerged in water. Otherwise, you’re just boiling it.
  • Don’t over-steam a food or it will be just as soggy and limp as something boiled. Between 10 and 15 minutes should suffice for most items.
  • Covering a pot, steamer or basket will trap the steam and expedite cooking.
  • You can use a countertop steamer, a bamboo steamer basket or a metal folding vegetable steamer to cook food quickly and efficiently.

Air-Frying

What has more calories, oil or air? (Hello, Captain Obvious.) “Instead of submerging the food in oil, air circulates around it to achieve the same crispy, crunchy texture,” Harbstreet says. And air-frying is versatile, meaning you can use it for vegetables, potatoes, protein and more.

Tips:

  • Don’t overcrowd your air fryer. There needs to be space between items so the hot air can circulate through.
  • Make sure you preheat your fryer to bring the air to the ideal temperature and expedite cooking.
  • Don’t use any marinade, batter or liquid. It will just drip off the food into the bottom.
  • An air fryer not only slashes calories but also saves you a lot of kitchen cleanup — no greasy pans or stove-top oil splatters!

Smart Swaps

Swapping one ingredient for another can instantly make a meal healthier. Change just an ingredient at a time in a recipe so it’s not a complete shock if something tastes a little different.

Yogurt

Sub for: Sour cream, mayo or heavy cream.

Yogurt is a healthy source of protein, calcium and probiotics. “Try subbing plain Greek yogurt into recipes where you’d traditionally use something like mayo or sour cream,” Carroll says. “Not only will you save some calories, but you’ll add extra protein, too.” While it’s not a perfect fit for every dish, yogurt works well in creamy sauces and dips or in dishes like potato salad.

Cauliflower

Sub for: Rice, potatoes and pizza crust.

Known for its fiber, B vitamins and cancer-protective nutrients, cauliflower adds a hearty component to any meal. You can rice it and use in place of traditional rice to save on carbs, or you can steam/boil and mash it to use instead of potatoes in a side or for flour in pizza crust.

Pink Sea Salt

Sub for: Standard table salt.

If you’re going to add salt to a dish, it might as well work for you rather than against you. “Using pink Himalayan sea salt adds trace minerals while enhancing the other flavors in a recipe,” says Kathy Smart, HTC, PTS, CEO of Live the Smart Way. This specific type of salt contains minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, which can stabilize electrolytes and reduce the chance of dehydration. It also helps improve metabolic function, strengthens bones and lowers blood pressure.

Cottage Cheese

Sub for: Fruit-flavored yogurt or protein powders.

Fruit-flavored yogurt often contains added sugar — anywhere from 13 to 17 grams per 100-gram serving. Reduce your sugar without losing out on protein and nutrients by trading up to cottage cheese. A great source of protein, B vitamins and calcium, cottage cheese contains only about 160 calories per cup and has a whopping 25 grams of protein, including casein, which metabolizes slowly, increasing satiety. “Use cottage cheese to boost the protein content of a smoothie instead of using heavily processed powders,” Harbstreet says.

Avocado Oil

Sub for: Other vegetable oils.

Avocado oil is low in saturated fat and high in potassium and vitamin E — key nutrients for optimal heart health. Try it in place of vegetable oil for dressings and sauces, and because it has the highest smoke point of all oils, you can use it in high-heat dishes such as stir-fries, Smart says.

Citrus Zest

Sub for: Processed flavor packets.

Using a little lemon, orange or lime zest in a recipe instead of a commercial flavor packet — which may contain added preservatives and chemicals — is a healthier choice for seasoning a favorite dish. And while most people are only focused on the inside of a citrus fruit, the zest contains many health-preserving nutrients such as vitamins B and C. “It also adds a little zip to baked goods, soups and stews,” Smart says.

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For the weightlifting female athlete, there’s another kind of iron that deserves the spotlight — besides your barbell.

Iron deficiency is a common problem among female athletes, and nearly half of us may be anemic and not even know it. “A deficiency can occur from many factors, including loss of blood through menstruation, pregnancy, intense training and lack of dietary iron,” says Danielle Schaub, MSPH, RD. “Athletes are more sensitive to the effects of iron deficiency since performance depends on oxygen getting to active muscle and being utilized efficiently.”

Regular athletes are more prone to iron deficiency.

Being iron-deficient means that your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, the compound that enables red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout the body. “Oxygen is needed for aerobic ATP production, which is what provides energy to muscle cells, so therefore low iron means decreased oxygen and less ATP, and therefore more muscle fatigue,” Schaub says. “Iron is also incorporated into the production of new cells, proteins and hormones, helping boost recovery.”

The only surefire way to know whether you’re low in iron is with a blood test, but once diagnosed, it’s relatively easy to boost your levels back up to normal. Outside of popping pills, you can increase your iron levels through nutrition and specific food pairings. Here are three ways to boost your dietary iron — and ultimately lift more physical iron as a result.

Add Vitamin C to Your Diet

Your body can’t produce iron on its own, so it’s important to consume a variety of iron-containing foods such as red meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Nuts and legumes are good sources of iron as are certain veggies such as spinach and mushrooms. However, plant-derived iron may not be as well-absorbed as that from animal sources because it’s a non-heme iron source (e.i., not from blood). But adding about 25 milligrams of vitamin C to your meal — for example, a ¼ cup of orange juice — can double your non-heme iron uptake, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Vitamin C combines with iron to form an iron chelate complex, making the iron more soluble in the small intestine,” Schaub says.

Good Vitamin C Sources

  • kale
  • broccoli
  • bell peppers
  • chard
  • lemons
  • oranges
  • grapefruit

Remove Caffeine and Dairy from Your Diet

According to research, both caffeine and dairy appear to inhibit iron absorption. “Polyphenols, which are found in coffee and tea, bind to iron in your intestinal cells,” Schaub says. “This molecule is unable to enter the bloodstream and be absorbed and instead gets excreted.” And though the mechanism of the interaction between iron and calcium is not well-understood, according to some studies, the absorption of iron is lower when combined with 150 or more milligrams of calcium in a single meal. This equates to less than 1 ounce of cheese, ½ cup of milk or a small container of Greek yogurt.

Cast-iron pans may increase the iron content of foods.

Ironclad

According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science, cooking with cast-iron pans increases the iron content of foods, particularly foods with naturaly high acid, such as tomato sauce and eggs. “Trace amounts of metal can be leached from cast-iron skillets, and though well-seasoned skillets are less reactive to food and less iron will cross over, even the small amount that can leach out can be beneficial if suffering from iron deficiency,” Schaub says.

Word of Warning: Children younger than 3 are highly susceptible to iron toxicity, so play it safe and only use your cast-iron cookware for your personal meal prep.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

  • extreme fatigue
  • weakness
  • pale skin
  • rapid heart rate and/or breathing
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • cold extremities
  • brittle nails
  • PICA (cravings for nonnutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch)

Iron Requirements

Active women ages 19 to 50: 18 mg/day

Active women ages 51+: 8 mg/day

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Develop a better relationship with food and achieve the results you want with this day-by-day summer schematic.

Diets have helped millions of people get fit and lose weight. They’ve also helped millions of people hate the very idea of dieting. Besides the fact they mercilessly keep us from all the wonderful, tasty foods we love — in the name of health and a better body, of course, which is a fair point — diets often lack personalization, which can hurt their effectiveness and sustainability. What follows here, therefore, is not a diet or blueprint of calorically perfect meals but rather a progressive 14-day set of fueling strategies to help you clean up your nutrition habits before summer.

“Typically, people make too many changes at once and it’s too much to handle,” says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC. “Big lifestyle changes are better tackled in small increments to set you up for long-term success.”

Adopt one of these food or lifestyle adjustments per day and ease into your bikini like a boss — a super-lean, take-no-prisoners boss who makes performance nutrition look easy.

Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.

Day 1: Drink More Water

Water assists in nearly every process in your body, and adequate hydration is essential for proper metabolic function. It also keeps you full without adding calories to your daily total: According to a 2016 scientific review published in the journal Frontiers of Nutrition, being properly hydrated may increase metabolism because of expanded cell volume.

Do this: Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. Have a water bottle handy at all times and set a timer on your smartphone to remind you to drink up.

Day 2: Say Yes to Egg Yolks

Researchers at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that those who ate eggs for breakfast were leaner and had fewer cravings than those who didn’t, as reported in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications. Plus, the protein from eggs provides much-needed amino acids to repair and rebuild muscles as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fats from the vitamin-rich yolks. The perfect egg partners: slow-digesting carbs like oats and brightly colored fruits and veggies to add vitamins, antioxidants and physique-friendly fiber.

Do this: Schedule a set time for breakfast every day. Prep food the night before, and make sure to include eggs with your meal to build muscle and reduce cravings.

Day 3: Chew Your Food

Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that more chewing was associated with lower blood levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, as well as higher levels of CCK, a hormone believed to reduce appetite.

Do this: Take a bite of food and notice how long you typically chew it. Then increase that time by two to promote satiety and calorie control.

Turn off all devices before bed to get uninterrupted sleep.

Day 4: Hit the Hay 

In the past decade, science has linked sleeping less than six hours per night to increased hunger, imbalanced hormones, and altered metabolism and body composition. Consider sleep deprivation’s effect on hunger cues: Not getting enough zzz’s increases ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and decreases leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full). The result: You never feel satiated and may continue to nosh, pulling in calories well beyond your nutritional needs.

Do this: Turn off the TV and other devices and get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Having trouble nodding off? Try sublingual melatonin — a naturally produced hormone that promotes a sound, restful sleep.

Day 5: Exchange Your Grains

Refined grain products are everywhere because they’re cheap, and bread, pasta and pancakes are really easy to get your hands on. However, these are all lousy nutritional sources. Besides cutting back a lot on these empty carbohydrates, trade them out for whole-grain and whole-wheat options. They taste great and slow down digestion because of their high-fiber and nutrient content, reducing the negative impact on blood sugar and insulin release.

Do this: Today’s task is a two-parter. First, go into your pantry, grab your refined grain products — bread, tortillas, pasta, pancake mix, etc. — and drop them in the trash. Then head to the store to buy products labeled “whole wheat” or “whole grain,” and which contain as few additives and preservatives as possible.

Instead of consuming animal protein, you can opt for whey, casein, soy, pea or hemp proteins.

Day 6: Fill Your Protein Gaps

If you’re training at an appropriate level of intensity in the gym — muscles burning, sweat beading — maximizing recovery with protein afterward is crucial. Protein supplies your body with amino acids, increasing your ability to add lean muscle, which serves as a metabolism-boosting, calorie-burning engine. Ingesting whole-food animal proteins is optimal because they present a complete amino-acid profile, but supplementing with powders such as whey, casein, soy, pea and even hemp protein are valuable alternatives, as well.

Do this: Aim to consume 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, and strive to include protein in every meal and snack you eat.

Day 7: Plan Ahead 

Lack of preparation and planning is the death knell of every aspiring dieter, and the first time you head to the fridge hungry and realize you have to cook, the more likely you are to heat up that leftover pizza or head to the drive-thru. To stay focused and on track, you need to plan ahead and prepare plenty of healthy meals, snacks and lunches. Look at your upcoming schedule and see when and what you need to cook ahead of time to make it through the week successfully. No time to cook? Microwaveable oatmeal (without sugar), bagged salads, rotisserie chicken and ready-to-drink protein shakes are good in a pinch.

Do this: Spend an afternoon cooking your healthy foods in large batches, and portion them out into storage containers for the whole week.

Day 8: Get Your Jolt 

A 2017 review published in the Journal of Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology found that caffeine may improve weight maintenance through thermogenesis, fat oxidation and energy intake. The sympathetic nervous system is involved in the regulation of energy balance and lipolysis — the breakdown of fat to glycerol and fatty acids — and sympathetic stimulation of white adipose tissue may play an important role in the regulation of total body fat — a major plus for caffeine supplementation. Hard-training individuals will like to supplement caffeine anhydrous, the most researched version, but a morning cup of coffee is helpful, too: Caffeine in brewed coffee or tea boosts alertness, temporarily increases strength and may reduce perceived exertion rates. Get your first caffeine fix at breakfast to start your day with a bang, and six hours later, have another hit 30 to 60 minutes before your first rep at the gym. Limit caffeine before bedtime to ensure optimal sleep, and allow several hours between helpings to avoid jitters.

Do this: Take 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine once or twice daily for performance benefits.

Day 9: Cast Your Fishing Line 

Fish oil is a health-and-performance powerhouse supporting brain and joint function while boosting your fat-burning capabilities. Research published in PLOS One showed that those who took 3 grams of fish oil per day increased resting metabolic rate by 14 percent, boosted energy expenditure during exercise by 10 percent, and accelerated the rate of fat oxidation during rest by 19 percent and during exercise by 27 percent. In addition, fish-oil consumption lowered triglyceride levels by 29 percent and increased lean mass by 4 percent.

Do this: Purchase a basic quality fish-oil product and take two softgels per day with food. In addition, aim for one or two servings per week of a quality oily fish like salmon, trout and tuna.

Day 10: Expand Your Menu

The importance of antioxidants for active individuals cannot be stressed enough. “They need to be a regular fixture in the diet to be effective at fighting inflammation and boosting immunity and skin and heart health,” White says. “The best sources are plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.”

Do this: Select the brightest, most colorful produce such as bell peppers, tomatoes, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries. Other produce such as kale and goji berries have been touted as “superfoods” for their per-gram antioxidant content. Augment your intake with a quality multivitamin to ensure optimal nutrition.

Reach for the more nutritious option when snacking between meals.

Day 11: Snack Smart 

You’ve probably heard that eating smaller meals throughout the day enhances your metabolism, but the science on meal frequency continues to evolve, with research showing that three- and six-meal-per-day eaters lost about the same amount of fat overall in clinical trials. Rather than focusing on eating a set number of meals at a certain time, develop appropriate snacking habits so that you reach for the right things when hunger sets in to keep your metabolism revved and your cravings at bay.

Do this: Have low-sugar, protein-rich snacks available to you at all times. Think almonds, Greek yogurt, protein powder and hard-boiled eggs.

Day 12: Sup on Spuds

One food that helps you stay full and happy — while also scoring high in general deliciousness — is the almighty potato. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition examined whether potatoes really caused weight gain, and of the three groups studied — those eating a reduced calorie/high-glycemic index diet, those on a reduced calorie/low-glycemic index diet, and the control group — all lost weight after 12 weeks, even though they were eating five to seven servings of potatoes per week. Considering that one medium-size potato with the skin on contains just 110 calories, more potassium than a banana, and no fat, sodium or cholesterol, you can feel good about adding it to your menu rotation.

Do this: A potato any time of day can prevent a comfort-food binge. Drizzle cooked potatoes with organic extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of pepper for a guilt-free craving crusher.

Create and maintain a food journal.

Day 13: Keep a Record

Maintaining a food journal helps you quantify your journey and adjust as necessary to reach your goals. Often, you won’t realize your nutritional weaknesses until you actually expose them on paper. Kaiser Permanente conducted a study of 1,700 participants that examined the effect of food journaling on weight loss. Those who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who did not keep track. To ensure that you stick to your practice, try an app: A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research reported a 93 percent adherence rate among smartphone app users over a six-month period, as compared to a 55 and 53 percent adherence rate among the website and paper diary groups, respectively.

Do this: When you journal, enter everything you ingest, including water, carbs, protein and fat, as well as sodium and fiber. Also note how you’re feeling and see what’s working and what’s not. Your journal can be as complicated as an online fitness tracker or smartphone app or as simple as a notebook if you’re old school.

Day 14: Go Hungry

Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intermittent fasting — stretches of 13 to 16 hours or more without eating — could help you lose 0.5 to 1.7 pounds per week while also improving body composition. (And yes, this covers sleep time.)

Do this: Once or twice per month for two consecutive days, go 12 to 16 hours without food by passing on dinner, then having a reasonable breakfast. During the day on those two days, keep calories between 500 to 700 and your water consumption and workout schedule normal. 

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Implement these nutrition and supplement strategies to burn fat and better your bikini body.

With summer approaching, you’ve likely already made adaptations to your training program to firm up your core, but sometimes you need an extra edge. These nine nutrition and supplementation hacks may make a big difference in your visible results and make you feel better about daring to bare on the beach.

Hack 1: Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a plan in which you consume all your meals, every day, within an eight-hour window. This causes your body to burn fat during the remaining 16 hours when your stored glycogen runs out. Your body will also have more time to address recovery and growth, since it doesn’t have to focus its attention on digestion, which takes a lot of energy.

Try it: Choose the eight-hour window when you want to eat, for example 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and avoid consuming anything other than supplements and no-calorie beverages outside this window. Also, get plenty of protein: Research from The Journal of Nutrition shows that your body maintains lean muscle tissue based on total protein intake rather than by emphasizing meal timing over a 24-hour window. It’s a growing perspective that total daily intake is more crucial than nutrient timing, as was previously thought.

Hack 2: Kick Your Coffee Habit

Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system and encourages your body to release stored fat. But regular consumption of dietary caffeine, such as is in coffee and tea, can actually undercut your ability to burn fat. The anhydrous (dry) form of caffeine — such as is found in preworkout drinks or pills — has been shown to work better and faster in the body than dietary sources. Also, it’s specifically measurable, whereas the amount of caffeine in beverages can vary greatly.

Try it: Take some anhydrous caffeine as part of your fat-burner or preworkout supplement and ditch your coffee or tea (for a while), just don’t go cold-turkey to avoid headaches and moodiness. Instead, slowly decrease your intake over the course of a few weeks, then stay off caffeine for another couple of weeks before beginning your fat burners. This will make them more effective and will increase the ability of your body to burn fat as fuel.

Dice up chilies and toss them into your favorite recipes to boost metabolism.

Hack 3: Take Capsaicin to Boost Metabolism

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers that gives them their spicy kick. When consumed, you can physically feel the heat as it encourages your body to burn calories and increase energy expenditure, boosting metabolism. Capsaicin has also been shown to help burn body fat, according to a study in Appetite: Consuming 2 milligrams of capsaicin as a supplement over 12 weeks helped reduce appetite and burn body fat, improving waist-to-hip ratio.

Try it: Add a dash or two of chili powder to soups and sauces, or dice up some chilies and toss them into a salad. Can’t stomach the heat? Take capsaicin in supplemental form to avoid gastric distress.

Hack 4: Fiber Up for Fat Loss

Glucomannan is an indigestible and fiber derived from the konjac plant and works by filling up your stomach, reducing appetite while also improving health: A meta-analysis of 12 studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that adults who took glucomannan significantly reduced their bad cholesterol and greatly improved their overall health.

Try it: Consume 3 grams of glucomannan daily about 30 minutes before whole-food meals with 8 ounces of water to control your appetite and reduce your overall calorie intake and help burn body fat. Also, include more oats, legumes, apples and carrots in your meal plan to boost your overall soluble fiber intake.

Incorporate foods with various textures to stimulate your senses.

Hack 5: Texturize It

The textures you eat could make or break your fat-loss progress, according to a study published in Appetite: Volunteers were provided either with an appetizer that had a high textural complexity — such as crunchy, chewy and smooth together — or a food that was a one-note wonder — smooth only — before being offered an all-you-can-eat meal consisting of pasta and chocolate cake. Those who consumed the appetizer with greater textural variation ate about 400 fewer calories in the follow-up meal and felt just as satisfied despite having eaten fewer calories. Researchers believe that increasing the number of textures felt during chewing can stimulate your senses, making food more interesting to eat and, in turn, trigger the satiation response sooner.

Try it: Work the opposites when preparing meals and snacks — toss crunchy nuts into smooth yogurt, add creamy dressing to crispy salad or top grilled meat with chunky salsa.

Hack 6: Be Sodium Smart

Most Americans consume way more than the recommended daily amount of sodium (2,300 milligrams), and much of this comes from processed, packaged foods. Excessive sodium intake can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke, and research indicates it also could give you a gut: Subjects who were presented with pasta doused in a salty sauce ingested 11 percent more calories than those who ate the same meal with a less-salty sauce. Researchers theorize that the added salt enhanced the taste of the food to the point that it overrode a natural feeling of fullness. Another study from the University of South Carolina discovered that among the 407 adults analyzed, those with lofty sodium intakes were more likely to be pudgy.

Try it: A single teaspoon of salt has 2,325 milligrams of sodium, so dust food lightly, if at all. Better yet, use a salt-free, herb-based seasoning such as Mrs. Dash or Paleo Powder. Prepare more meals at home to control sodium intake, and carefully read nutrition labels on any packaged grocery items, especially in sneaky sources like bread, cottage cheese, sauces and condiments.

Hack 7: Take Countermeasures

Out of sight, out of mind has never been so true: Scientists at Cornell University showed that those who left snack foods like boxed cereal and soda out on the kitchen countertop were up to 26 pounds heavier than those who stashed these items out of sight. Additionally, those same study subjects who kept a bowl of fruit on the counter weighed on average 13 pounds less than those who didn’t.

Try it: Sequester vice foods in your cupboards and/or replace them with options like apples or baby carrots. Alternately, make treat foods harder to get to: Research in the journal Appetite reported that volunteers who had to walk 6 feet to get some candy ate about half as much as those who had it within arm’s reach.

Seek out recipes that use broccoli, yams and red-seaweed extracts.

Hack 8: Eat Superfoods to Burn Fat

Recent research performed using broccoli, yams and red-seaweed extracts demonstrated their efficacy in supporting superior body-fat loss: The phytonutrient sulforaphane in broccoli may help you manage weight more effectively, according to a study published in Diabetes. Sulforaphane also helps reduce inflammatory disorders such as cancer. According to the Journal of Food and Nutrition, yams were shown to decrease obesity and improve health markers for the liver and kidneys because of their high fiber content. Red seaweed significantly down-regulates adipogenic transcription factors, which reduces your body’s ability to increase fat storage, according to Nutrition Research and Practice.

Try it: Seek out recipes that use yams and broccoli and eat them on the reg. If you’re a sushi fan, choose hand rolls instead of cut rolls, which are wrapped in seaweed, or take a more concentrated supplement form as directed on the packaging.

Hack 9: Practice Predictability

Meal-to-meal (rather than day-to-day) caloric consistency could help you uncover your abs, according to a British Journal of Nutrition investigation: People who were inconsistent with their calorie intake at the same meal each day tended to have larger waistlines and were more likely to suffer from conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol. In other words, eating a breakfast that contains roughly the same number of calories each day is better metabolically than hitting the all-you-can-eat pancake buffet on Monday, then skipping breakfast on Tuesday. Researchers suspect that this inconsistency affects your internal body clock or “circadian rhythm,” negatively impacting appetite, digestion
and metabolism.

Try it: When outlining an eating plan, break your calories up consistently between meals and snacks all week long. Also, consider front-loading your calorie intake at breakfast and paring it down as the day progresses: Research shows that eating more calories in the morning could help with weight loss because your metabolism is higher early in the day.

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Here’s the answer to your salt cravings.

Question: As an athlete, I am craving salt. Why? Should I give in to the craving?

Salt cravings can be linked to a lot of things, including stress, lack of sleep and even premenstrual syndrome, but since you’re athletic, most likely they are because of the loss of minerals — including sodium — from sweating.

Salt cravings also can be linked to dehydration, especially if they are accompanied by dizziness, thirst, headache, irritability or cramps. If you don’t sweat a lot, you can probably replace those minerals and quench your cravings with tap water alone. If you sweat more or if you’re an endurance athlete, however, drink an electrolyte-enhanced beverage, eat a (healthy) salty snack or sip a broth-based soup to help replace your deficit.

Spotlight On: BPA

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of resilient plastics used for food containers, toiletries, sports equipment, household electronics and the anti-corrosive lining inside cans of food.

Many experts claim that BPA exposure is harmful: When ingested, it can mimic the structure and function of estrogen or can bind to estrogen receptors, negatively impacting reproduction, fetal development, energy levels and cell repair. High levels of BPA also have been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and Type
2 diabetes.

Completely eradicating BPA exposure may be impossible because of its widespread use, but limit it whenever possible. Emphasize whole foods, avoid packaged and canned goods, use glass bottles instead of plastic, choose BPA-free plastic toys and products, and never microwave food in plastic containers; BPA and other chemicals can leak into food when heated.

Nutrition Myth Bustin’

True or False?: Combining carbs and protein in a meal is bad for digestion.

False. Lately, there is a theory that combining carbs and protein in a single meal “confuses” your digestive system, and that since your body is not equipped to digest mixed nutrients, it could cause weight gain. However, your body is specifically prepared for this kind of multitasking and releases all kinds of digestive enzymes at the same time that break down carbs, fats and protein — even if you didn’t eat all those macros in a single meal. Besides, most single foods contain a mix of two or more macros, so neither you — nor your body — needs to worry about choosing what to digest.

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Use these strategies to kick the calorie-counting habit once and for all.

When it comes to trimming down, counting your calories used to be the go-to plan. Thankfully, a new era of research has been steadily pounding nails into this antiquated calorie-counting coffin. Case in point: A study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while eating more whole foods without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year. And a New England Journal of Medicine investigation showed that people whose diets included more servings of junk food, potato-sweetened drinks and red/processed meats gained weight during four-year intervals while those who ate more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and yogurt were protected from creeping weight gain — regardless of calorie intake.

This is not to say that calories don’t matter in the battle of the bulge; they do. But those 100 calories from bologna are not the same as 100 calories from broccoli, and the number of calories in a food absolutely does not indicate its healthfulness. “People would be better served by shifting their priorities away from counting calories and toward improving diet quality and eating habits,” says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion at a Time (Center Street, 2019). “Not only can calorie counting be tedious and inaccurate, it doesn’t give the full picture.”  

Dump those tired calorie-counting apps and instead use these body-benefiting metrics to get your fit on.

1. Focus on Fiber

Your Goal: 25-plus grams per day

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that simply focusing on eating a higher-fiber diet is just as effective for weight loss as following a set diet plan. “Fiber is found in foods that are relatively low in calories,” Young says. “It also fills you up, so it’s a weight-loss win-win.”

More reason to rough it: An investigation in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming more fiber improves your microbiome — for example, the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut — and a robust microbiome has been linked to everything from better digestion to improved mental health. Yet despite these results, dietary surveys show that more than 90 percent of American adults don’t get enough daily fiber.

If you’re among the fiber-fraught, look into some legumes: Just 1 cup of beans offers 15 grams of fiber, which brings you more than halfway toward your daily goal of 25 grams. Other fiber-friendly foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Focus on chewing your food

2. The Chew

Your Goal: 20 to 30 percent fewer bites

It sounds too simple to be legit, but a Brigham Young University study found that people who counted their daily food bites and sips of non-water liquid and then committed to taking 20 to 30 percent fewer food bites and sips were successful at shedding several pounds over the course of a month — without making any other changes to their diet or exercise routine. “Counting bites slows down your food intake, which helps you eat more mindfully and better notice your body’s satiety signals,” Young notes. In other words, you’re less likely to eat and drink more than you actually need if you monitor how often you bring fork to mouth.

Want to try it? Simply count the number of bites of food or gulps of liquid other than water you take over the period of a week. Take the average and reduce that number by 20 to 30 percent per day to hit your goal. For example, if you average 120 bites/sips a day, you’d reduce that to 100 bites/sips daily.

3. Pumped-Up Protein

Your Goal: 20 to 30 grams per meal

The recommended amount of protein for active women is roughly 1.5 grams for every kilogram of bodyweight to support the repair and creation of muscles while keeping your appetite in check. The latest science also indicates that when you eat it is as important as how much you eat: Instead of consuming your daily protein quota at a single meal, distribute it more evenly throughout the day. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that muscle protein synthesis increased when people consumed 30 grams of protein in a meal (about 5 ounces of chicken breast) and that taking in more than that didn’t bring about bigger gains. Remember that additional calories of any kind — protein, fat or carbs — will be stored as body fat.

To cover the spread, look over your weekly meal plan and include a protein with each and every meal and snack. Chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, legumes and eggs are all great options.

4. Don’t Dine Out

Your Goal: 3 or fewer meals per away from home per week

An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that adults who ate out more frequently consumed less nutritious diets and had higher food expenses, and a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study showed that women who ate lunch out at least once a week lost an average of 5 fewer pounds over the course of a year than those who brown-bagged it more often. Furthermore, women who consume lots of fast food may be more likely to experience infertility than women who rarely, if ever, eat fast-food meals, suggest researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“While it’s hard to eat healthy if you’re always eating out, it’s also difficult to eat poorly if you’re cooking for yourself using mostly whole-food ingredients,” Young explains.

To reduce your weekly dining-out habit, plan a week’s worth of healthy meals and snacks, and then carve out some time to batch-cook your fare. Takeout is way less tempting when you’ve got a tasty homemade meal to nosh.

Cooking with vegetables

5. Volumize Your Vegetables

Your Goal: 3 cups daily

Most nutrition maxims come and go, but the push to eat more veggies will never wane. Beyond reducing the risk for nearly every disease under the sun, a large review of studies published in the journal Nutrients showed that women who eat more daily servings of vegetables tend to have slimmer waistlines and do a better job at staving off weight creep.

“When you eat more veggies, it tends to crowd out other higher-calorie foods in your diet to help with weight management,” says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, author of Essential Sports Nutrition: A Guide to Optimal Performance for Every Active Person (Rockridge Press, 2018). “And their added fiber will slow down digestion, which promotes satiety to help put the brakes on overeating.” Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the daily recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.

Infuse all your meals and snacks with veggies to ensure you hit your optimal intake: Add shredded carrots to your morning oatmeal, dig into a big green salad for lunch and toss around a veggie-laden stir-fry for dinner. Frozen vegetables are a convenient and budget-friendly way to work more into everything from soups to smoothies.

6. Slash Added Sugar

Your Goal: Less than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) daily

Studies show that people who eat too much added sugar (extra sweet stuff added in as opposed to that naturally present) face an increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease — not to mention unwanted belly flab — and those sugar spikes and crashes can leave you feeling haggard. “There’s a very different reaction in the body when foods with naturally occurring sugar are consumed like fruit and dairy as compared to foods such as cookies that are heavily processed with added sugar,” Sumbal says.

Chances are you’re overloading on sugar without even knowing it; various sugar aliases are pumped into nearly everything, from ketchup to salad dressing to almond butter. And so-called “natural sugars” such as added honey and coconut sugar do not get a free pass: They too count toward your daily added sugar allotment.

Thankfully, a new nutrition label calls out the grams of added sugar, making it way easier to keep tabs on your intake of the sweet stuff. Limit your intake to less than 6 to 12 teaspoons (24 to 48 grams) per day. Swap out products that list higher amounts of added sugar like flavored yogurt and granola with low- to no-sugar-added alternatives, such as plain yogurt and unsweetened muesli.

Opt for a healthier cocktai

7. Beware of the Booze

Your Goal: Fewer than 3 drinks per week

The research against alcohol is bulletproof: A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that people who abstained from alcohol were more successful at dropping pounds during a four-year lifestyle intervention program. And a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women who drink heavily when they’re younger have a higher risk of becoming overweight as they age. What’s more, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that consuming one to two alcoholic drinks more than three times a week raises the risk for dying earlier — especially from cancer — by about 20 percent because alcohol is broken down in the body into the carcinogenic compound acetaldehyde.

“When you drink, the liver is forced to metabolize the alcohol instead of fat, which may increase fat accumulation around the midsection,” Sumbal says. She adds that people often overlook the calories in booze (and sweet mixers), which can really add up over the course of a week. Factor in the lowered inhibitions when you get your buzz on, which make you more likely to mindlessly munch, and you could be in deep doo-doo.

You don’t have to totally swear off cheering in the weekend with your gal pals, but be smarter about imbibing: Trim a drink or two from your weekly routine, pour yourself smaller servings, and order cocktails made with soda water and wedges of whole fruit.

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Use these seven strategies to kick the calorie-counting habit once and for all.

When it comes to trimming down, counting your calories used to be the go-to plan. Thankfully, a new era of research has been steadily pounding nails into this antiquated calorie-counting coffin. Case in point: A study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while eating more whole foods without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year. And a New England Journal of Medicine investigation showed that people whose diets included more servings of junk food, potato-sweetened drinks and red/processed meats gained weight during four-year intervals while those who ate more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and yogurt were protected from creeping weight gain — regardless of calorie intake.

This is not to say that calories don’t matter in the battle of the bulge; they do. But those 100 calories from bologna are not the same as 100 calories from broccoli, and the number of calories in a food absolutely does not indicate its healthfulness. “People would be better served by shifting their priorities away from counting calories and toward improving diet quality and eating habits,” says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion at a Time (Center Street, 2019). “Not only can calorie counting be tedious and inaccurate, it doesn’t give the full picture.”  

Dump those tired calorie-counting apps and instead use these body-benefiting metrics to get your fit on.

1. Focus on Fiber

Your Goal: 25-plus grams per day

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that simply focusing on eating a higher-fiber diet is just as effective for weight loss as following a set diet plan. “Fiber is found in foods that are relatively low in calories,” Young says. “It also fills you up, so it’s a weight-loss win-win.”

More reason to rough it: An investigation in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming more fiber improves your microbiome — for example, the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut — and a robust microbiome has been linked to everything from better digestion to improved mental health. Yet despite these results, dietary surveys show that more than 90 percent of American adults don’t get enough daily fiber.

If you’re among the fiber-fraught, look into some legumes: Just 1 cup of beans offers 15 grams of fiber, which brings you more than halfway toward your daily goal of 25 grams. Other fiber-friendly foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

2. The Chew

Your Goal: 20 to 30 percent fewer bites

It sounds too simple to be legit, but a Brigham Young University study found that people who counted their daily food bites and sips of non-water liquid and then committed to taking 20 to 30 percent fewer food bites and sips were successful at shedding several pounds over the course of a month — without making any other changes to their diet or exercise routine. “Counting bites slows down your food intake, which helps you eat more mindfully and better notice your body’s satiety signals,” Young notes. In other words, you’re less likely to eat and drink more than you actually need if you monitor how often you bring fork to mouth.

Want to try it? Simply count the number of bites of food or gulps of liquid other than water you take over the period of a week. Take the average and reduce that number by 20 to 30 percent per day to hit your goal. For example, if you average 120 bites/sips a day, you’d reduce that to 100 bites/sips daily.

3. Pumped-Up Protein

Your Goal: 20 to 30 grams per meal

The recommended amount of protein for active women is roughly 1.5 grams for every kilogram of bodyweight to support the repair and creation of muscles while keeping your appetite in check. The latest science also indicates that when you eat it is as important as how much you eat: Instead of consuming your daily protein quota at a single meal, distribute it more evenly throughout the day. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that muscle protein synthesis increased when people consumed 30 grams of protein in a meal (about 5 ounces of chicken breast) and that taking in more than that didn’t bring about bigger gains. Remember that additional calories of any kind — protein, fat or carbs — will be stored as body fat.

To cover the spread, look over your weekly meal plan and include a protein with each and every meal and snack. Chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, legumes and eggs are all great options.

4. Don’t Dine Out

Your Goal: 3 or fewer meals per away from home per week

An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that adults who ate out more frequently consumed less nutritious diets and had higher food expenses, and a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study showed that women who ate lunch out at least once a week lost an average of 5 fewer pounds over the course of a year than those who brown-bagged it more often. Furthermore, women who consume lots of fast food may be more likely to experience infertility than women who rarely, if ever, eat fast-food meals, suggest researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“While it’s hard to eat healthy if you’re always eating out, it’s also difficult to eat poorly if you’re cooking for yourself using mostly whole-food ingredients,” Young explains.

To reduce your weekly dining-out habit, plan a week’s worth of healthy meals and snacks, and then carve out some time to batch-cook your fare. Takeout is way less tempting when you’ve got a tasty homemade meal to nosh.

5. Volumize Your Vegetables

Your Goal: 3 cups daily

Most nutrition maxims come and go, but the push to eat more veggies will never wane. Beyond reducing the risk for nearly every disease under the sun, a large review of studies published in the journal Nutrients showed that women who eat more daily servings of vegetables tend to have slimmer waistlines and do a better job at staving off weight creep.

“When you eat more veggies, it tends to crowd out other higher-calorie foods in your diet to help with weight management,” says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, author of Essential Sports Nutrition: A Guide to Optimal Performance for Every Active Person (Rockridge Press, 2018). “And their added fiber will slow down digestion, which promotes satiety to help put the brakes on overeating.” Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the daily recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.

Infuse all your meals and snacks with veggies to ensure you hit your optimal intake: Add shredded carrots to your morning oatmeal, dig into a big green salad for lunch and toss around a veggie-laden stir-fry for dinner. Frozen vegetables are a convenient and budget-friendly way to work more into everything from soups to smoothies.

6. Slash Added Sugar

Your Goal: Less than 40 grams (10 teaspoons) daily

Studies show that people who eat too much added sugar (extra sweet stuff added in as opposed to that naturally present) face an increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease — not to mention unwanted belly flab — and those sugar spikes and crashes can leave you feeling haggard. “There’s a very different reaction in the body when foods with naturally occurring sugar are consumed like fruit and dairy as compared to foods such as cookies that are heavily processed with added sugar,” Sumbal says.

Chances are you’re overloading on sugar without even knowing it; various sugar aliases are pumped into nearly everything, from ketchup to salad dressing to almond butter. And so-called “natural sugars” such as added honey and coconut sugar do not get a free pass: They too count toward your daily added sugar allotment.

Thankfully, a new nutrition label calls out the grams of added sugar, making it way easier to keep tabs on your intake of the sweet stuff. Limit your intake to less than 6 to 12 teaspoons (24 to 48 grams) per day. Swap out products that list higher amounts of added sugar like flavored yogurt and granola with low- to no-sugar-added alternatives, such as plain yogurt and unsweetened muesli.

7. Beware of the Booze

Your Goal: Fewer than 3 drinks per week

The research against alcohol is bulletproof: A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that people who abstained from alcohol were more successful at dropping pounds during a four-year lifestyle intervention program. And a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women who drink heavily when they’re younger have a higher risk of becoming overweight as they age. What’s more, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that consuming one to two alcoholic drinks more than three times a week raises the risk for dying earlier — especially from cancer — by about 20 percent because alcohol is broken down in the body into the carcinogenic compound acetaldehyde.

“When you drink, the liver is forced to metabolize the alcohol instead of fat, which may increase fat accumulation around the midsection,” Sumbal says. She adds that people often overlook the calories in booze (and sweet mixers), which can really add up over the course of a week. Factor in the lowered inhibitions when you get your buzz on, which make you more likely to mindlessly munch, and you could be in deep doo-doo.

You don’t have to totally swear off cheering in the weekend with your gal pals, but be smarter about imbibing: Trim a drink or two from your weekly routine, pour yourself smaller servings, and order cocktails made with soda water and wedges of whole fruit.

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