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There’s plenty of advice out there on how much and how best to exercise, yet it’s often conflicting. We went to the experts to help sort it ...

HOW BEST TO EXERCISE HOW BEST TO EXERCISE

April 2022

There’s plenty of advice out there on how much and how best to exercise, yet it’s often conflicting. We went to the experts to help sort it all out and find out what you really need


There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how much exercise is “enough.” Talk to scientists who study the topic, and their guidance is simple: Do something active as often as you can. Any movement counts, they say, and adds up for overall health, from vacuuming to running for a train. Formal government guidelines recommend that we exercise moderately (meaning walk briskly or otherwise move at an easy-ish pace) for 30 minutes five days a week, accumulating at least 150 minutes total, or, alternatively, that we exercise vigorously—elevating our heart rates with jogging or other strenuous activity—for at least 15 minutes five times a week.


Both sets of guidelines are broad and generic, but both support the idea that all movement is good. Experts across the board also agree that exercise has huge health benefits for disease control (cancer and diabetes) and for your heart, brain, mental health, energy, quality of sleep, and longevity. The pros see eye to eye on one other thing, too: A personalized workout plan is the best approach to exercise. “Think about your goals,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, a physician, researcher, and board member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Some types and amounts of physical activity are better than others, she says, for certain aspects of health and well-being.


Your expectations, schedule, and fitness level all matter. If you’re trying to lose weight, for example, research published in 2019 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that intense workouts, known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), may blunt appetite and ramp up fat burn better than gentler exercise. But experts caution against exercising only for weight loss: “Exercising to lose weight usually means disappointment,” says Timothy Church, MD, MPH, a professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University who studies metabolism. Your diet is the most important factor related to weight loss. In general, exercise increases hunger, he says, so we eat more after and don’t shed many pounds


Or consider your cartilage: If you’ve had trouble with your knees, choose activities that don’t require bearing weight, like cycling or swimming, Peeke says. But if your knees are in good shape, running may remodel joints in ways that make them healthier, studies show.


For her part, Peeke recommends targeting at least four cardio-based workouts a week, such as jogging, cycling, or fast walking, and two or more strengthbased sessions, which could mean Pilates or barbells. And if you miss a workout or three, relax. Just move. Start with standing—the latest federal guidelines note that getting up and moving around, even for as little as five minutes at a time, is better for your health than not moving at all.


To help you build a routine that’s best for your goals, we’ve put together a guide to the upsides, downsides, and surprises of different types of exercise


WALKING


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: weight maintenance, creativity and thinking, sleep quality, happiness, metabolism


BENEFITS Easy, accessible, effective. In studies, walkers live longer, sleep better, and are less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, arthritis, and depression than non-exercisers. Walking unlocks  creativity, too, studies show, and boosts memory, buoys moods, and requires zero training or gear, except comfy shoes.


DOWNSIDES It’s unlikely to help you lose weight without eating less, too, and it requires some time commitment. To get a substantial health bang from walking, experts say, plan to hoof it briskly for half an hour a day or more.


GOOD TO KNOW According to a 2018 study, walking “briskly” means taking at least 100 steps per minute. Use your phone’s step-counting app to track steps; if yours come in below 100 per minute, pick up the pace.


RUNNING


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: stronger heart, healthier metabolism, sturdier bones, better mood, brawnier brain


BENEFITS Because it’s “vigorous” exercise, you don’t need much. Just a few minutes, according to studies, of running gooses heart and full-body health a lot. Plus, it’s simple, low-tech, and potent. Runners may wind up with improved knee cartilage, larger brains, and lower BMIs than before they started.


DOWNSIDES At least 50 percent of runners get hurt every year, especially newcomers. Go easy at first. And if your knees creak from past injury or arthritis, try another exercise; running could worsen joint decay.


GOOD TO KNOW Plenty of apps can ease you into running.


CYCLING


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: joint health, stamina, leg strength, increased immunity.


BENEFITS Because the bike itself bears your weight, cycling is easy on joints, which is good if you have a sore back or sore knees or hips. It also strengthens thigh muscles and glutes; enhances endurance; and, in studies of older cyclists, keeps muscles and immune systems youthful for years. Ride to and from work, and you combine exercise and transport.


DOWNSIDES It’s not weight-bearing, so it doesn’t build bones. You’ll often share roads with cars and fumes, braving pollution and collisions. And riding requires some expertise and, of course, a bike.


GOOD TO KNOW E-bikes—equipped with a small, battery-powered motor—can help you up hills and make long rides fly. But since you still have to pedal, you get a workout comparable to a brisk walk.


SWIMMING


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: endurance, improved mood,  injury recovery, joint health, upper-body strength


BENEFITS Water buoys the body, reducing stress on joints and supporting heavy breasts, making swimming preferable to running for many women. It’s hard to overheat in water, too, even during strenuous workouts. And swimming is useful for lowering blood pressure, calming minds, and strengthening your shoulders, core, and back.


DOWNSIDES Swimming can increase appetite more than other exercise because it does not raise body heat (the higher your body temp from exercise, the less hungry you feel). It requires access to a pool and knowing how to swim a few strokes.


GOOD TO KNOW About 40 percent of adults in the U.S. can’t swim. If that number includes you, the Red Cross; most YMCAs; and many U.S. Masters Swimming clubs, which cater to swimmers ages 25 and above, offer inexpensive learn-to-swim programs.


PILATES YOGA


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: flexibility, balance, core strength, upper-body strength, reduced back pain, calm


BENEFITS Pilates and yoga involve a choreography of slow, precise movements or poses (called “asanas” in yoga), together with breath control. Pilates usually also incorporates exercises on machines that target muscles in the midsection and back. In studies, both Pilates and yoga lessen back pain, improve balance, build arm and shoulder strength, soothe stressed-out minds, and amplify lower-body flexibility.


DOWNSIDES These are not aerobic exercises. A 2016 review of yoga research concluded that moving through typical asanas was about the same as walking gently.


GOOD TO KNOW “Power” and Ashtanga yoga classes tend to be more physically demanding than yoga practices such as hatha, Iyengar and Viniyoga.


HIIT


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: weight loss and control, metabolic health, endurance, time management


BENEFITS Short for high-intensity interval training, HIIT workouts involve repeated quick spurts of strenuous exertion (an interval)—on a bike, treadmill, or mat—interspersed with easier exercise. Intervals can be as brief as 20 seconds, and full HIIT workouts often last less than 30 minutes, so they’re time-efficient. They’re also effective, studies show, at raising endurance, blood-sugar control, and post-exercise fat burn.


DOWNSIDES That “high-intensity” part. During intervals, you exit your exercise comfort zone. Heart rate  spikes. Breath hitches. HIIT can feel difficult. Thankfully, each interval is brief. But this kind of workout may require some coaching at first.


GOOD TO KNOW New to exercise? Maybe ease into HIIT with interval walking. A 2015 Japanese study found walking fast for a few minutes, slower for a few more, and repeating five times helped people enhance their fitness, leg strength, and blood pressure.


WEIGHT TRAINING


IF YOUR GOALS ARE: strength, leanness, metabolic health, mental health, better bones.


BENEFITS Overall strength. In women, weight training (whether with dumbbells, machines, or body-weight exercises such as push-ups) tightens and strengthens muscles. Despite misconceptions, you won’t “bulk up.” Lifting also controls blood sugar, shrinks waist fat, and burns more calories post-workout.


DOWNSIDES Bone benefits are real, research shows, but may demand lifting at least three times a week for at least a year. Also, you need good form or you risk injuries, especially to the back. You also may require a trainer and, if you like weight machines, a gym membership.


GOOD TO KNOW Surprising new studies suggest weight training potentially reduces anxiety and depression and also seems literally to boost brains (in rats, anyway), stimulating the creation of healthy new brain cells.

It’s the quick-stepping secret to dropping weight and staying fit for life When you want to shed weight, walking might not even come to mind...

WHY NOT WALK?  WHY NOT WALK?

April 2022


It’s the quick-stepping secret to dropping weight and staying fit for life


When you want to shed weight, walking might not even come to mind. But it should. “Fast-paced walking, when combined with healthy eating, is hugely effective for weight loss,” says Art Weltman, chair of the kinesiology department at the University of Virginia. And those simple steps can have a big impact on your overall health, cutting your risk of everything from heart disease to depression. If your daily strolls haven’t made you skinny so far, your speed may be the problem. Many of us stride more like a window-shopper than a power walker. The goal, thankfully, isn’t crazy race-walker style; you just need to move at a challenging pace.


In studies, Weltman has found that women who do three short (about 30-minute) highintensity walks plus two moderately paced recovery walks a week lose up to six times as much abdominal fat as participants who simply stroll five days a week. (This despite the fact that both groups burn the same number of calories.)


The power walkers also drop about four times as much total body fat. “There is a strong relationship between intensity of exercise and fat-burning hormones,” says Weltman. “So if you’re exercising at a pace considered to be hard, you’re likely to release more of these hormones.” The best part: When women walk, deep abdominal fat is the first to go.


Another happy truth: Power walking is easier on the joints than running. “During walking, one of your feet is always in contact with the ground,” says Weltman, “but during running, there’s a float stage where your whole body is lifted in the air. Then you come back down and subject your body to the impact.”


DIAL IN YOUR SPEED

To make sure your pace is on point, use these guidelines from exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym. For maximum fat burn, aim for 30 minutes at power-walk intensity three days a week. You can complete it all at once or break it into spurts with recovery strides (stroll or brisk walk) in between.


STROLL: Think windowshopping pace, or an intensity of 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. It burns about 238 calories an hour.


BRISK WALK: This means an effort of 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. It burns up to 340 calories an hour. While you can chat, you need to catch your breath every few sentences.


POWER WALK: You’re torching off about 564 calories an hour. Moving at this clip, using your arms to propel yourself forward, your effort should be 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Talking is possible only in spurts of a few words, but . . . you’d . . . rather . . . focus . . . on . . . breathing.


BOOST YOUR BENEFIT

ADD HILLS. When you hit the hills on a treadmill or in your neighborhood, you increase your calorie burn by nearly 20 percent, and that’s just on a 1-degree to 5-degree incline.


GO OFF-ROAD. Head out for a light but brisk hike, and you’ll torch approximately 430 calories in just an hour. Credit the uneven terrain, which forces you to work harder.


SWING YOUR ARMS. With your elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands in loose fists, move your arms in an arc, keeping elbows tight to your body. This helps drive you forward, builds upperbody strength, and can increase your burn.


FOCUS ON LONGER STRIDES. Instead of taking more steps, “work on increasing your stride length,” Weltman advises. “You’ll cover more ground,” and that means more fat fried.


Building muscle improves your metabolism, bolsters the bones, and helps prevent injury. In this excerpt from Lifted, trainer Holly Rilinger ...

8 MOVES FOR A STRONG CORE 8 MOVES FOR A STRONG CORE

April 2022

Building muscle improves your metabolism, bolsters the bones, and helps prevent injury. In this excerpt from Lifted, trainer Holly Rilinger shares an abs routine


BIRD DOGS (DO 10)


Get Set! Get on the floor on your hands and knees, with your hands positioned directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Keep your neck straight, your head in line with your spine, facing down toward the floor, and your core muscles tight.


Go! Maintaining your balance, extend your right arm straight out in front of you as you simultaneously extend your left leg straight back. Resist the urge to look upward—your head should stay in line with your spine. Pause for one second at the top, return to the Get Set position, and repeat the exercise, this time by extending your left arm straight out in front and extending your right leg straight back. Continue to alternate for the duration of the exercise.


Just Starting Out? Instead of extending one arm and one leg simultaneously, try doing one at a time.


REACH BACKS


Get Set! Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs bent in front of you, your toes raised and heels on the floor. Straighten arms in front of you, aiming your fingers toward your feet.


Go! With your core muscles braced for stability, keep your right arm pointing forward as you lean back and reach behind yourself as far as possible with your left hand. Try to stay focused on  staying balanced on your butt as you go. Touch the floor with your left hand, then bring yourself back to the Get Set position. Repeat the exercise again, only this time keep your left arm pointed forward as you reach back with your right hand.


Just Starting Out? If you’re having a hard time balancing, try bending your legs more so your feet remain flat on the floor.


10 GODDESS SIT-UPS


Get Set! Lie flat on your back with arms straight down at your sides, palms down. Place the soles of your feet together so your knees point out to the sides—this helps release your psoas, the deep muscles that connect your spine to your legs.


Go! Keeping soles of feet together, contract core muscles, then slowly curl your head, shoulders, and back off the floor as you extend your arms forward toward your feet. Stop when your back is at about a 45-degree angle from the floor; lower yourself down into the Get Set position.


Just Starting Out? Perform a normal crunch. Start with knees bent, feet flat on floor, and hands lightly touching behind your ears. Crunch up by raising head and shoulders off floor; lower yourself back down.


PLANKS (HOLD FOR 30 SECONDS)


Get Set! Get into position as if you were about to do a push-up, with your legs extended straight behind you, your weight resting on your toes and the balls of your feet. But instead of placing your hands on the floor, bend your arms and rest on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders, with your head facing down. Finally, pull in your stomach and tighten your core muscles.


Go! Actually, STAY! You’ll hold position for 30 seconds. Your body should stay straight. If your hips drop, you’ll place too much stress on your lower back. If your butt rises up too far, the move will be less effective.


Just Starting Out? Try a modified plank by starting with your knees on the floor


RUSSIAN TWISTS (30 SECONDS)


Get Set! Sit on the floor with your knees bent, your feet crossed, and your heels raised off the floor. Straighten your arms out in front of you and clasp your hands, then slowly lean back until your torso is at a 45-degree angle. You should be balancing on just your butt.


Go! Keeping your arms straight and feet raised on the floor, slowly rotate to  the right as far as you can without losing your balance. Return to the Get Set position, then repeat the move by slowly rotating to the left. Keep alternating back and forth throughout the exercise  for the required amount of time.


Just Starting Out? If you can’t keep your balance, place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart.


HIGH PLANK WITH SHOULDER TAPS (30 SECONDS)


Get Set! Get down on the floor in a push-up position, with your hands shoulderwidth apart and your legs extended behind you, feet also shoulder-width apart.


Go! Maintaining your balance, shift your weight onto your  right arm, then reach up with your left hand and touch your right shoulder. Place your hand back on the floor and repeat, this time shifting your weight onto your left arm and reaching up with your right hand to touch your left shoulder. Continue alternating back and forth for the duration of the exercise. As you go, don’t allow your body to twist—your hips should remain square to the floor at all times.


Just Starting Out? If you find it hard to maintain your balance, try the exercise with your knees on the ground. After you complete this routine, rest for 60 seconds, then start at the beginning and run through it again.


FAST FEET (30 SECONDS)


Get Set! Stand with your feet a few inches apart and up on the balls of your feet, heels raised. Your arms should be bent at 90 degrees, elbows tucked into your sides, with your palms facing down.


Go! Keeping your heels raised and arms up, step your feet up and down as quickly as you  can—left foot, right foot. Don’t raise your feet any higher than an inch from the floor—this move is about moving as quickly as possible, not lifting yourself any higher than you need to.


Just Starting Out? Try the exercise at a slower pace.


V-UPS (DO 10)


Get Set! Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms down by your sides.


Go! Keeping your back flat, simultaneously raise your knees and torso up so they are both at a 45-degree angle (your thighs and torso from the side should look like the letter V). As you rise, extend your arms forward, pointing your hands toward your feet. Reverse the motion by lowering yourself back down to the floor to return to the Get Set position.


Just Starting Out? If you find it hard to balance or lack the core strength to come all the way up, just raise your legs and torso as high as you comfortably can.


Take these at-home tests to measure your cardio, strength, flexibility, and balance. Then use these easy steps to improve your scores  On yo...

HOW FIT ARE YOU?  HOW FIT ARE YOU?

April 2022


Take these at-home tests to measure your cardio, strength, flexibility, and balance. Then use these easy steps to improve your scores 


On your morning jog, you can’t help noticing every time another runner blows past you. During yoga, you know it’s not zen to compare yourself, but you wonder how your neighbor to the right gets into those shapes.


Sound familiar? We all want to know how we measure up—and that’s actually a good thing. “Exercisers do better when they test—and retest— themselves,” says Kevin Asuncion, a National Academy of Sports Medicine–certified personal trainer. “Feedback motivates you when it’s positive and helps redirect your efforts when it’s not.”


It’s not just about winning your age group in the local 5K fun run either. Having an honest benchmark of your own fitness level gives you a concrete number to beat—essential for setting S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. That ’s why it ’s a good idea to regularly assess your cardio power, strength, flexibility, and balance: four pillars of physical fitness. Put yourself to the test, then use the strategies on these pages to improve your score on any (or all!) fronts.


ARE YOU AEROBICALLY FIT?

HOW TO FIND OUT: Walk a mile Not everyone is a runner, nor do you need to be in order to be fit. But if you can walk a mile, you can estimate your VO2 max, the measure of how efficiently your body uses oxygen. This is important because studies suggest that, whatever your weight, higher levels of aerobic fitness may be protective against health conditions like diabetes and even early death from all causes.


TRY IT. Head to a track or use your car’s odometer to measure out a (flat) one-mile course. Walk the distance as fast as you can, timing yourself with a stopwatch. As soon as you finish, check your pulse. If you have a heart-rate-monitor watch, you’re set. If you don’t, DIY by feeling for it on your wrist. Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply by six to get your beats per minute.


SCORE IT. Search online for the Rockport Walk Test calculator and plug in your gender, age, weight, time for the mile walk, and your heart rate at the end. Or calculate it yourself with this formula: 132.853 – (0.0769 × weight in pounds) – (0.3877 × age) + (6.315 × 1 if you’re male or 0 if you’re female) – (3.2649 × time in minutes) – (0.1565 × heart rate).


A score of around 40 is good for men in their 30s and 40s. Forty-eight or higher is excellent. For women in their 30s, 37 or above is good. Female and over 40? Aim for 33 or higher. A number of 40 or above is exceptional.


GET FASTER. To improve your score, add intervals—short bursts of higher-intensity effort—to your cardio sessions. Since they push your heart and lungs to work harder than they’re used to, they deliver faster results than if you were to continue at your regular pace. “We used to think intervals were only for the super fit because they’re so difficult, but they can benefit everybody,” says Michael Ross, medical director of the Rothman Or thopaedic Institute’s Performance Lab in Bryn Mawr, Pa.


And you can reap the rewards of intervals with the cardio of your choice (running, biking, etc.). After warming up at a conversational pace, pick it up to a level where it’s hard to get a full sentence out for one to two minutes. Slow down to recover for two to three minutes and then repeat, aiming for 20 to 30 minutes total.


As you get fitter, Ross recommends incorporating intervals in a variety of speeds and durations to challenge all of your muscle fibers. That means short and fast efforts of just 20 to 30 seconds all-out as well as longer intervals of eight to 10 minutes at a pace you can just maintain for that amount of time (followed by a recovery period).


ARE YOU STRONG?

HOW TO FIND OUT: See how many push-ups and squats you can do. While the truest measure of strength is the greatest amount of weight you can lift with any given muscle group, those tests can be grueling—and risky. Instead, try testing your muscle endurance on two key exercises, the push-up and the squat, suggests Chris Gagliardi, a trainer, coach, and medicalexercise specialist who teaches fitness professionals with the American Council on Exercise.


TRY IT.


  1. Push-up test. Get into a plank position with your elbows bent and hands planted below your shoulders. Men should extend their legs, supporting themselves on their hands and toes, body in a straight line from the head to the heels. Women should do a modified push-up on hands and knees. Keeping abs tight, straighten your elbows to press up. Repeat and count how many you can do until you can’t go any longer.
  2. Squat test. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. Keeping weight on your heels, bend your knees and sit back. Aim to lower until your thighs are parallel with the ground, keeping knees behind toes. Push into heels to stand. Count how many reps you can do until you need to rest.


SCORE IT. For push-ups, 13 to 19 is a solid count for women in their 30s. For 30-something men, 17 to 21 is a good score. For the squat test, about 30 is a good number to hit for women ages 36 to 45, while men that age should aim for a count in the upper 30s. If you’re up to a decade older than that, subtract five from your goal number. Younger? Add five.


GET STRONGER. The recipe for getting stronger is to create what’s called “overload” by regularly challenging your muscles to do slightly more than they’re used to. You can do this by using weights, resistance bands, or body-weight exercises (like push-ups and squats) two or three times a week. (Do it only once a week and you may find you feel sore after every session.) Shoot for eight to 12 reps of each exercise.


While practicing squats and push-ups is a solid start, to make sure you hit all your major muscle groups, you should include moves that involve pushing, pulling, squatting, and twisting, says Ross. Another hint: Exercises that use just one arm or leg at a time tend to be most effective, he says.


ARE YOU FLEXIBLE?

HOW TO FIND OUT: Check your hips and hamstrings Since the hips and hamstrings link the upper and lower body, they’re a good gauge of general flexibility. The tests here are preferable to the classic sit-andreach, which can aggravate back pain, says Jessica Matthews, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University and the author of Stretching to Stay Young.


TRY IT. Lie faceup on an exercise table or bench, your lower legs hanging off the end. Bend right leg and pull knee toward your chest. Next, lie fully on the table with both legs extended; lift right leg toward the ceiling without bending your knee. Do both tests on each side.


SCORE IT. On the first test, if you can pull your knee to about chest level without lifting your opposite leg  and lower back off the surface, your hip flexibility is good. Ditto on the second test, if you can lift your leg to 80 degrees. Less than that means you’ve got tight hamstrings, which can tug on your lower back, pulling your posture out of whack and causing pain.


GET MORE FLEXIBLE. Lie faceup in doorway, left knee bent and right hip near right side of door frame. Extend right leg to the ceiling, back of leg against the edge of the door frame. Flex foot, pressing heel toward the ceiling. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on left leg. Do up to three times a day.



HOW'S YOUR BALANCE?

HOW TO FIND OUT: Do the Romberg test Balance may be the easiest component of fitness to ignore while you’re young. It ’s the unsung hero that keeps you from wiping out when you step on a patch of ice and helps you stay upright on a moving bus. A well-tuned connection between your body’s sense of space and your muscles firing is essential to every move you make, from walking to running to standing on your tiptoes to reach the top shelf.


“If you have a sedentary job or life, you may not even realize you have a balance issue until it’s too late or a fall happens,” says Gagliardi of the American Council on Exercise.


And it’s not just about preventing falls. Research shows that not only is poor balance a risk factor for musculoskeletal injuries like ankle sprains, but also, training your balance could actually make positive changes in your brain to improve memory and spatial reasoning.


TRY IT. Stand near a wall with your feet together, arches touching, and cross your arms in front of your chest. Set a timer and close your eyes. The goal: Stand this way without wavering or falling for one minute. If you can do that, you’ve got a good baseline for balance. Overachiever? Try the sharpened Romberg test: Stand with your feet in line heel to toe, eyes closed.


SCORE IT. If you can do the sharpened Romberg test for 60 seconds, it’s a good sign, says Gagliardi.


GET BETTER BALANCE. Practice the Romberg test. Go to the level that feels safe for you, even if that’s sitting on the edge of a chair with your feet together; aim for three 30-second holds. Progress to standing with a narrow stance. If you ace the test, incorporate balance into your strength training with one-legged exercises like lunges or by turning two-legged exercises (like a bridge) into one-legged ones (extend one leg).


Beer, wine, and other booze don’t have to lead to weight gain. Read this before yournext night out to avoid cocktail calories LET’S FACE IT:...

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS VS. YOUR WAISTLINE ALCOHOLIC DRINKS VS. YOUR WAISTLINE

April 2022


Beer, wine, and other booze don’t have to lead to weight gain. Read this before yournext night out to avoid cocktail calories


LET’S FACE IT: Sometimes there’s nothing better at the end of a long day than a glass of wine. But sipping much more than that can add hundred of calories—and that’s not all. Alcohol temporarily keeps your body from burning fat, explains integrative- medicine specialist Pamela Peeke, author of The Hunger Fix. Your body can’t store calories from alcohol for later, the way it does with food calories. So when you drink, your metabolic system must stop what it’s doing (like, say, burning off calories from your last meal) to get rid of the booze.


“Drinking presses ‘pause’ on your metabolism, shoves away the other calories, and says, ‘Break me down first!’ ” Peeke explains. The result is that whatever you recently ate gets stored as fat. What’s worse: “Research has uncovered that alcohol especially decreases fat burn in the belly,” Peeke adds. “That’s why you never hear about ‘beer hips’; you hear about a ‘beer belly.’ ”


So can you ever enjoy a drink without putting on pounds? Absolutely, if you do it the right way. In fact, large, long-term studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and the International Journal of Obesity found that middle-aged and older women who drank moderately (about one drink a day) gained less weight over time than those who never imbibed at all; they were also less likely to become obese.


It’s a complex topic, but JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of the studies, says that the moderate drinkers appeared to be more likely to compensate for the occasional drinks by taking in fewer calories from other sources and also tended to be a little more physically active. (In other words, they didn’t get blitzed on margaritas and then dive into a bowl of fried ice cream.) What else beyond basic exercise and watching what you eat can keep happy hour from turning into hefty hour? Read on.


Rule #1: Always eat when you drink

Although the Harvard research suggests it’s wise to factor in those cocktail calories, it’s actually more important to eat right than to eat less, the experts stress. Skimping on food in order to “make room” for drinks will only backfire and send you straight to the bottom of the candied-nut bowl. Here’s why: Most cocktails are loaded with simple carbohydrates, “so during a night of drinking, people end up with soaring blood sugar, followed by a ‘crash’ that leaves them ravenous,” says Jason Burke, an anesthesiologist and hangover researcher who runs a hangover-treatment clinic in Las Vegas.


You can help counteract that effect by nibbling foods that provide long-lasting energy. “Before you go out, have dinner or a snack with protein, fiber, and healthy fat,” says Karlene Karst, author of The FullFat Solution. “They stabilize your blood-sugar levels without slowing down your metabolism.” Karst recommends Greek yogurt with berries, almond or hemp butter with an apple, or a protein shake. An added benefit of grabbing a bite beforehand, she says, is that that Pinot or appletini will be absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, minimizing its diet-damaging effects.


In addition to revving your appetite, tippling also makes you lose your eating inhibitions (“I only live once. I’ll have the fettuccine Alfredo!”). “It temporarily impairs the prefrontal cortex, the smartypants part of the brain that allows you to think clearly and rein in impulsivity,” Peeke says. “So after a certain amount of alcohol—and it’s different for everyone—you’re going to feel yourself not caring and letting it rip with food and probably drinks.” A cocktail (or three) can make you forgetful too, as in, forgetting that the Death by Chocolate dessert is not on your eating plan.


The trick is to have an easy-to-follow strategy in place before you take that first sip. Scout out the bar or restaurant menu ahead of time and note your picks on your phone. Then set an alert to remind you to order wisely—that way you won’t have to think too much (or rely on that alcohol-impaired prefrontal cortex!) to stay on track. As with your pre-partying meal, go for something with fiber, protein, and a little bit of healthy fat to help control blood-sugar levels and make you feel satisfied, Karst says.


Rule #2: Know that some drinks make you hungrier than others

When it comes to waist-friendly cocktails, the simpler the drink, the better. Not only do the sweet-and-fancy ones tend to have more calories, but the additional sugar can make you even hungrier: Your blood sugar skyrockets higher than it does on beer, wine, or a shot of something, making the plummet (and the resulting cravings) worse.


And then there are the calories! Booze has seven calories per gram, making it the second-most calorie-dense macronutrient. (That’s just below pure fat, which has nine calories per gram.) This means a measly 1.5-ounce jigger of vodka has almost 100 calories. Mix that up with some club soda and lime, and it’s a reasonable tipple, but when you start tossing together a whole bunch of different liquors, whether it’s a hipster fizz made with bourbon, elderflower liqueur, and house-made bitters or a dive-bar Long Island iced tea loaded with vodka, rum, tequila, and gin, it really adds up (to the tune of 300 calories, in the case of a Long Island).


Even simple mixed drinks like rum-and-Cokes and screwdrivers pack extra calories because of the sugary soda and juice. “So if you’re going to drink, have something straight up and simple like wine or beer,” Peeke advises. Any wine or beer works, but to trim about 10 calories per glass, choose a rosé or white wine instead of a heavier red. A whole pint of a dark beer is about 170 calories (compared with 195 for the same amount of lager) and may leave you feeling fuller than, say, champagne, because it’s so starchy and rich, Karst notes. Vodka, gin, or bourbon with club soda and a twist are pretty good bets too. Club soda is calorie- and sugar-free and dilutes the alcohol and its effect on your cravings. Avoid juices, liqueurs (which are sweet and syrupy), colas, tonics, and super-sugary bottled mixes like the ones for a lot of bar-made margaritas and daiquiris.


Rule #3: Stick to a drink or two, tops

No more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men is the widely accepted definition of moderate drinking, but there’s a misconception among some bar-hoppers that you can go without alcohol all week and save your seven drinks for the weekend. “That’s the worst thing you can possibly do for your weight,” Peeke says. (And, of course, for your health.) “It has a much bigger effect than one drink a day.”


When you down three or four drinks in one night, your body has many hundreds of alcohol calories to process before it can continue to break down food calories or stored fat. Plus, all those drinks throw your blood sugar even more out of whack, so you’re hungry as heck, and because you’re tipsy, your prefrontal cortex is misfiring and you now have zero compunction about ordering the fried mozzarella sticks with a side of ranch (and keeping them all for yourself). The extra calories alone are enough to pile on the pounds; have four drinks every Saturday night and you’ll be up about 10 pounds in a year.


Rule #4: Beware that gnawing, starving feeling the next day

The morning after poses a new challenge. As if a hangover weren’t punishment enough, you’re fighting cravings for large amounts of cheesy, greasy food. Part of the problem is that you’re dehydrated (don’t forget, alcohol is a diuretic), and that can make you feel even hungrier, Karst notes. But that ’s not the only thing at play. “The body needs energy to resolve the effects of a big night of drinking, so it wants the richest source of energy it can find, which is fat,” Burke says. “Also, greasy foods tend to settle the stomach a bit.”


To avoid that problem: When you’re out, make sure you drink a big glass of water for every cocktail you have. Then, before going to bed, have some more water, along with a snack that is high in fiber and protein such as high-fiber cereal or oatmeal, Burke recommends. “You’ll get important nutrients into the body that were lost during alcohol consumption,” he ex plains. “ Plus, foods rich in fiber stay in the stomach longer, so you’ll be less prone to hunger in the morning.”


Yes, you can enjoy restaurant meals without putting on pounds. Here’s how to find the best bets on any menu. When it comes to eating healthy...

EAT OUT AND STAY LEAN EAT OUT AND STAY LEAN

April 2022


Yes, you can enjoy restaurant meals without putting on pounds. Here’s how to find the best bets on any menu.


When it comes to eating healthy, it’s much easier when you’re in your own kitchen. Baked chicken instead of fried? Check. Whole grains instead of refined pasta? Deal. But so many of our best eating intentions get sabotaged when we step into a typical restaurant. Behind the scenes, simple appetizers plunge into deep fryers, panseared fillets of fish are basted with butter, and sugar sneaks in where you least expect it.


In 2017, the American Heart Association unveiled a yearlong study that confirmed what most of us have suspected for years: Diets go off the rails when people eat out. The study followed 150 overweight people who were already on weight-loss plans. Study participants checked in on a smartphone app multiple times a day and reported whether they had strayed from the plan, noting where they were as well as who they were with. Not surprisingly, participants reported the most temptations when they were at a bar or restaurant and around other people eating. “You might think that everybody knows they’re at higher risk when they go into a restaurant, but people go out into these environments and they forget,” the study’s lead author, Lora Burke, a professor of nursing at the University of Pittsburgh, told TIME magazine in 2017. “It’s OK if they want to go out Friday  night and eat wings, but then they need to cut back on Thursday and Saturday.”


The temptations of a restaurant begin when you walk in the door. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found evidence that merely smelling food could lead to weight gain. In the 2017 study, mice were split into three groups: one group had their usual sense of smell, one had their sense of smell shut off, and a third set was given a heightened sense of smell. These mice all ate the same high-fat diet, and while they all gained weight, the greater the sense of smell, the more weight they gained. Once the heavier mice in the third group had their scent superpowers shut off, they dropped the weight.


That’s not to suggest that any of us should wear nose plugs when sitting down to a meal out. Instead, just be aware of how heavenly smells can affect appetite . A 30-minute wait standing near the kitchen, with the aroma of a freshly cooked steak and garlicky French fries wafting through the air, could trigger you to eat more than you would have if you sat right down at your table. Making a reservation in advance can help minimize the aroma effect.


Once you get to your table, there’s a way to make choices that align with your goals. If you know the restaurant ahead of time, preparation is your friend. Take a look at the menu online so that you don’t get caught up in how it’s designed to make you order more. According to restaurant consultant Aaron Allen’s 2015 infographic “The Psychology of Menu Design,” restaurants can persuade us to buy more or different meal options through the menu’s design. Certain colors can affect what we order; orange stimulates the appetite, while red encourages action and can signal a diner to buy a more expensive or calorie-laden option. Allen also noted that menu writers can also carefully craft descriptions to load a dish with emotional resonance and nostalgia. Who can resist “Grandma’s apple pie”? 


A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also backs up how unhealthy restaurant meals can be. According to the study, a staggering 92 percent of meals from largechain and local restaurants had more than the recommended calories for the average person for a single meal. “Some meals exceeded the calories recommended for a whole day,” Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, told TIME magazine in 2016. “Our biology is designed to make us eat when there’s food there. I don’t think anybody should feel bad that they [overeat] when there’s an excessive portion in front of them, because the problem is the excessive portion, not them.”


There are strategies to help you avoid polishing off a steak as big as your head or an omelet fit for three. Consider splitting an entrée with your partner or friend; you can even add a healthy appetizer or a veggie-rich salad to your shared meal to bulk up its nutritional content.


Another way around the portion distortion is to ask the server to box up half of your meal to go and bring you only the remaining half. Ordering two appetizers instead of an entrée is a favorite trick of dietitians. If you go with tuna tartare and a side salad, for instance, you get a balanced mix of protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbs without a lot of calories. As a general rule, avoid fried appetizers like jalapeño poppers and anything covered in cheese. According to Mike Moreno, the author of The 17 Day Diet, some fried apps pack the amount of fat that four people should have in a whole day.


Salads may seem like the ultimate healthy order, but they can add unwanted calories and absurd amounts of saturated fat. In chain restaurants in particular, meal salads tend to come in an oversize bowl, packed with extras like bacon, croutons, and fried strips of chicken. Taco salads are especially likely to derail healthy-eating intentions. Often served in a fried tortilla shell with a bed of iceberg lettuce rather than mixed greens, they are loaded with saturated fat (from sour cream, cheese, ground beef, etc.) without giving you much in the way of vegetables. Look for a salad that contains a lean  protein such as chicken, salmon, edamame, or chickpeas; ideally, one source of fat (think avocado or cheese); and nutritious extras such as mushrooms or plain (that is, not candied) nuts.


Salad dressing can be a source of healthy fats—or a creamy, calorie-laden disaster. Going with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon rather than prepared dressings gives you flavor without too many excess calories. You’re best off staying away from low-fat dressings, though. Although they may seem like a diet-friendly sub, these options aren’t as healthy as you might think. A 2012 Purdue University study examined salads dressed with various types of fat and found that different levels of fat in the dressing limited the benefits of the salad. “In order to get more from eating fruits and vegetables, they need to be paired correctly with fat-based dressings,” said Mario Ferruzzi, the study’s lead author. “While a salad with fat-free dressing is lower in calories, the absence of fat causes the loss of some of the benefits of eating vegetables.”


And did you know that your anxiety level when eating out also impacts your ability to stick to your goals? Navigating a stressful meal out like a first date or business lunch prompts many of us to order things that we normally wouldn’t have. Instead of anxious ordering, if you find yourself stressed at the table , excuse yourself and take five to 10 deep breaths. Mindful breathing can move your body into a more relaxed state, which will allow you to make thoughtful food choices.


Finally, keep in mind that how you talk about food—to others and to yourself—can help you stick with healthy-eating goals. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, dieters who said “I don’t eat that” instead of “I can’t eat that” when faced with temptations were more successful at resisting treats and more likely to choose a healthy snack. The researchers theorized that saying the words “I don’t” lends a feeling of self-control rather than the forced deprivation implied by “I can’t.” So when your friend is asking you to split an order of fried onion rings, try saying “I don’t eat that.” You may find that those four simple words help you stick with your goal—and feel happy about it.

Ever notice how weight tends to creep on at certain times? Here’s how to push through these vulnerable periods and come out healthier Despit...

WEIGHT GAIN-PROOF EVERY STAGE OF YOUR LIFE WEIGHT GAIN-PROOF EVERY STAGE OF YOUR LIFE

April 2022


Ever notice how weight tends to creep on at certain times? Here’s how to push through these vulnerable periods and come out healthier


Despite what you may hear, people aren’t designed to stay their exact same weight their entire adult lives. “Our bodies are changing all the time in relation to our environment,” says Lindo Bacon, a researcher and the author of Body Respect. “There are many things that factor into a changing weight over time, including a new environment or aging.”


And while it may not feel great—we are conditioned to believe that thinner is better—don’t let it stress you out. Remember that you don’t have to be a certain weight to eat a nutritious diet and get the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. “We can all adopt good health behaviors, regardless of what size we’re at,” says Bacon. Here’s how to make it through five stages when weight problems often develop.


COLLEGE

The theory goes that once you head off to college, midnight pizza-heavy study sessions, too many beers, and free rein at the buffet at the dining hall pack on pounds (known as the “freshman 15”). But—deep breath—it ’s probably not 15 pounds. A meta-analysis of 22 studies published in the journal BMC Obesity found that about 60 percent of students gained an average of 7.5 pounds during their freshman year.


It’s a trend experts see in both men and women. “Weight tends to naturally trend up after high school, and I see this especially pronounced in men,” says Benjamin O’Donnell, an endocrinologist specializing in weight management at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Men may be active in sports in high school, and when they get to college, they’re not on a team anymore but “they don’t stop eating like a football player,” he says.


Of course, the same happens to women too; they’re no longer on the field-hockey team but they’re eating as if they’re doing suicide sprints every day. Young students may find that this is the first time  in their life when they have food freedom, says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian in New York City. “Your normal eating habits become flipped, and you’re dealing with the influence of new friends, a new schedule, stress, and a new living situation.”


The best way to avoid bulking up in college is to not focus on weight gain but instead focus on developing healthy new habits. It’s unlikely that downing beer and pizza and staying up until 3 a.m. is living your best life, even if it feels fun at the time.


Everything may be new, but now’s the time to develop stress-reduction strategies and get adequate sleep to buffer late-night binges. If you do find yourself face-to-face with midnight nachos, assemble a small plate of them so you don’t mindlessly devour the order. Another suggestion for snack attacks: “Keep in-shell pistachios in your dorm room,” she says. “The nuts require legwork to crack open, so you can’t inhale them quickly.” 


YOUR EARLY 20s

Going from college to career often means taking a desk job and enduring something of a commute. So it’s probably no wonder that young adults add about a pound or two per year, per 2013 data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In an effort to control this creeping weight gain—or strive for a certain body ideal—you may respond by trying to go on a diet. For all your good intentions, the strategy can backfire, leaving you with more fat than you had before. (We’re not talking about attempts to eat healthy and balanced but, rather, active efforts to restrict what you’re eating.) In fact, adults who had a history of dieting were more likely to have gained weight over a 10-year period compared with those who ate regularly, according to a 2018 study in the journal Eating Behaviors.


When you shortchange your body of calories (energy), it stimulates physiological mechanisms that amplify hunger and add body fat; psychologically speaking, drastic diets also make you hyper-focus on food, increasing the likelihood of a binge, says Bacon. This is often what leads to regaining more weight than you had lost.


What you can do: “It’s important for people to know that dieting doesn’t get them what it promises,” says Bacon. “If you want to get to a weight that ’s healthy for you, the idea isn’t to try to control or fight your body but trust it.”


Tuning in to your body through things like intuitive eating (in which you honor your hunger and cravings without relying on restriction) puts your body back in the driver’s seat.


Next, ask yourself how you can fit exercise into your workday. Could you do 15 minutes of a streaming workout at home? Is there an office park you can walk around at lunch? Getting regular exercise not only makes it easier to keep weight steady but also lowers your risk of many serious health problems.


EARLY MARRIED LIFE

Did you come back from your honeymoon feeling a little puffy? It’s not just you: The transition into married life leads to weight gain in men and women, according to a 2012 study review from researchers at the City University of New York. (Interestingly, the transition out of marriage leads to weight loss, the CUNY researchers found.) One Finnish study they looked at, for example, found that both men and women who transitioned into marriage almost doubled their risk of substantial weight gain compared with consistently married people. The CUNY experts theorized that couples may be eating more together, moving less, and not worrying so much about their looks once they become locked in.


In some cases, they’re just putting back the weight that they crash dieted off before walking down the aisle. (“Sweating for the wedding” is a thing, after all.) Problem is, the extreme methods people try to get slim fast to fit into their wedding dress or tux are unsustainable. “If you dieted to the extreme, that weight will come back on after the wedding, since it’s an unrealistic vision for where your body should have been,” says Beckerman. “Your body is fighting to go back to a weight more in line with its genetic set point.”


First off, don’t crash diet before the wedding. It w ill leave you v ulnerable to binge eating and developing a negative relationship with food. Once you’re hitched, if you’re a healthy eater and your mate isn’t, “don’t feel trapped in your partner’s eating habits just because you’re a duo,” Beckerman says. Take turns cooking and you may just convert your spouse to loving grain bowls and grilled fish. Focusing on your relationship can pay off too. Research shows that couples in happier, more supportive marriages stay at a healthier weight from the newlywed period into midlife.


NEW MOTHERHOOD

It’s not OK to expect a woman postpartum to “snap back ” to her former body. The things you did to maintain the weight you were at B.K. (that’s before kids) likely aren’t your priorities anymore now that there’s a little one to care for. “After having a baby, your routine has been flipped on its head,” says Beckerman.


Although there’s no reason to feel pressure to regain your old shape, some women put healthy eating habits on the back burner for years after starting their family, which can lead to problems down the road. One study on women who entered pregnancy with a normal BMI discovered that one third became overweight or obese a year postpartum, per the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. This of course has health implications, as excess weight can put a woman at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.


So what’s a healthy way to address those new-mom pounds? Six months postpartum, think about how you can start to shift your habits—and it doesn’t have to be an entire overhaul. Rather than focusing only on diet and exercise, put your efforts (and any limited free time) toward sleep. “Sleep deprivation can alter hormones responsible for hunger and fullness cues,” says Beckerman.


In addition, give yourself grace during this very stressful period. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” she adds. “If you can relieve the pressure to be perfect and that thinner is better, you can really shift your thinking toward how certain foods will make you feel instead of how they will make you look.” To make healthier eating easier on yourself, consider signing up for a meal-kit delivery service that sends preprepped ingredients with recipes to make it simpler to throw together a balanced dinner.


Try thinking of every meal as an opportunity to make a healthy choice. Go with lean protein, whole grains, and at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables a day. But don’t beat yourself up if you have an off meal. So you ate three cookies for lunch while standing over the sink! No one is perfect. Dinner will provide another chance to eat right. 


QUITING SMOKING

You may be hesitant to give up cigarettes because you’re wor r ied you w i l l put on pou nd s a f ter quitting. “When you quit smoking , you can expect some amount of weight gain because nicotine suppresses appetite,” says O’Donnell. Some people gain 10 to 20 pounds, he adds. Ex-smokers may feel hungrier and also find that they’re scarfing down snacks because they’re so accustomed to holding something in their hands.


O’Donnell recommends that recent quitters find a no- calorie substitute, such as sugar-free chewing gum or naturally f lavored carbonated water, that keeps their mouth busy and fills the void left by cigarettes. It’s also a good idea to have healthy snacks on hand, so you’re reaching for carrots and hummus or an apple instead of a big bag of chips. A nd even if the sca le does tick up, rest assured that you will be healthier in the long run—even if you’re heavier. While the risk of type 2 diabetes rose in the short term among recent quitters who gained weight, their hearts were still healthier for it. Even people who gained more than 20 pounds lowered their odds of dying from cardiovascular disease by 67 percent compared with ongoing smokers, according to a 2018 study in The New England Journal of Medicine.


As O’Donnell says, “Remind yourself that you’re doing something positive for your health.” 

Reach for one of these hunger-busting picks, and you won’t find yourself reaching for a cookie an hour later 1. ARTIHOKES Artichokes are sup...

14 HEALTHY FOODS THAT KEEP YOU FULL 14 HEALTHY FOODS THAT KEEP YOU FULL

April 2022


Reach for one of these hunger-busting picks, and you won’t find yourself reaching for a cookie an hour later


1. ARTIHOKES

Artichokes are super filling—in fact, they are one of the highest-fiber vegetables. A single boiled artichoke has 10.3 grams of fiber—almost half the recommended daily amount for women.


2. DARK CHOCOLATE

Dark chocolate contains monounsaturated fatty acids that could help speed up your metabolism, says Cynthia Sass, RD. “I love to chop dark chocolate into squares and add them into a smoothie.”


3. AVOCADOS

This heart-smart superfood is oh so satisfying: One study found that women who eat half an avocado at lunch might experience reduced food cravings later in the day. Sass recommends whipping avocado into a smoothie or mixing it with citrus to make a creamy salad dressing


4. BROCCOLI

A mighty source of calcium and important cancerfighting compounds, broccoli also has loads of filling fiber and has only 30 calories per serving. If this cruciferous veggie makes you bloat, steam it first to make it easier to digest.


5. EGGS

You might not think of them as a weight-loss food, but eggs are packed with protein, which helps curb your appetite. One study found that overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast lost twice as much weight as women who started their days with bagels.


6. QUINOA

Quinoa contains hearty doses of iron and magnesium, which help give your body energy. And a one-cup serving of quinoa boasts 8 grams of filling protein and 5 grams of fiber. Want more ways to use this grain? It’s delicious in a salad, in burger patties or pancakes, or baked into muffins.


7. ALMONDS

In one study, people who added a daily serving of them to a low-cal diet lost more weight than those who ate a carb-rich snack such as crackers.


8. GREEK YOGURT

Greek yogurt is an extremely satiating snack, with 17 grams of protein. Per a study in Appetite , people who ate a high-protein yogurt snack three hours after lunch felt fuller and ate dinner later than the other participants.


9. LENTILS

There’s a reason lentils are considered one of the world’s healthiest foods. With 13 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber per serving, this legume will keep you feeling full for hours in between meals. They’re a great source of fat-burning resistant starch, too, with 3.4 grams in a half-cup serving. Lentils also boast twice as much iron as other legumes and are especially good sources of vitamin B and folate. 


10. POPCORN

Skip the buttery toppings, and popcorn is a healthy, filling snack. "In addition to all of the benefits of being a member of the whole-grain family, popcorn is light and airy, so you can eat a large portion0" says Sass


11. BANANAS

Bananas are a top source of resistant starch, which the body digests slowly. This helps you feel full, while encouraging the liver to switch to fat-burning mode.


12. CHIA SEEDS

Small-but-mighty chia seeds pack a serious fiber punch—4 grams per tablespoon—so when you add them to your favorite healthy foods, they’ll help ward off hunger


13. APPLES

Apples have pectin, which slows digestion and makes you feel full. Research shows eating a whole apple with your meal (versus drinking apple juice) is a naturally satiating choice.


14. OATMEAL

Oats are another great source of resistant starch. In one study, people who ate hot oatmeal for breakfast felt less hunger later in the day than those who ate more processed cold oat cereal.

Rich and sugary foods trigger our innate survival instinct. Can’t kick them? You don’t have to, according to science The first thing you nee...

ALL ABOUT CRAVINGS ALL ABOUT CRAVINGS

April 2022


Rich and sugary foods trigger our innate survival instinct. Can’t kick them? You don’t have to, according to science


The first thing you need to know about food cravings? That nearly everything you know about them is wrong. Over the past several decades, well-meaning experts—and, yes, some profit-motivated diet peddlers—have told us cravings are something to be resisted at all costs. “Giving in” is not only harmful to one’s health, the story goes, it also shows a distasteful lack of willpower! The reality is quite the contrary, top researchers and dietitians report.


Food cravings are a natural part of humans’ strive to survive, says Mark L. Andermann, a neuroscientist who studies hunger and eating behavior at Harvard Medical School. “Your brain is programmed from birth to act as if there won’t be enough calories in the world,” he explains. Famine stalks countries such as Somalia and Sudan to this day. And even in the industrialized West, American colonists and European farmers were starving to death as late as the 18th century. Having evolved under a near-constant threat of undernourishment and starvation, “your brain tells you that you should eat high-calorie foods whenever possible,” says Andermann.


Fast-forward to the 21st century: Factory farming, mass food processing, and convenience culture give us access to hundreds of calories in a matter of seconds. But our “old brains haven’t caught up  to this new environment,” says Andermann, and these once-helpful eating urges are backfiring. That said, we don’t need to fear cravings, says dietitian Dana Notte, who specializes in treating women with lifelong weight struggles and is the owner of ThrivInspired Nutrition in Burlington, Vt. “The more we understand cravings and examine the roots of our drive to eat, the more we can actively choose what to do with those cravings and take better care of our bodies.”


YOUR CRAVINGS BRAIN 

Food cravings originate in the brain, not just your belly. Hormones, memories, sights, smells, emotions, thoughts, and signals between brain cells all influence what and how much you want to eat. For example, research shows that enticing images of food on billboards and TV trigger cravings and drive (over-)consumption, and these effects are even more pronounced when you’re hungry. Directly after a meal, these “food cues” lose much of their punch, at least in averageweight individuals, says Andermann. But people with obesity or binge-eating issues don’t experience that  same steep post-meal drop-off, suggesting that brain differences may be at least partly responsible for some people’s persistent cravings.


Internal physical cues kick off cravings, too, but not in the way you may think. “Generally speaking, we don’t have much evidence to support the idea that needs for specific vitamins or minerals trigger cravings for particular foods,” says Notte. “What we do see in nutrient deficiency is the body encouraging you to go out and seek more food in general to try to fill in the gaps.” Although you’re not more likely to crave steak for the iron, cravings for sugars and carbohydrates soar when blood sugar drops, such as when you skip meals. “Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and the easiest to break down into glucose, so your body will seek them out when you need an energy boost,” she says. Intake of carbohydrates spikes when we’re sleep deprived.


Foods high in fat, sugar, and certain other additives also cause sudden spikes in dopamine in parts of the brain related to “reward” and pleasure, explains Miguel Alonso-Alonso, director of the Laboratory of Bariatric and Nutritional Neuroscience at Beth Israel


Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Simply put, these “hyperpalatable” foods make us feel gooood in some of the very same ways that sex and drugs do. Whether sugar or any other food is literally, diagnosably “addictive” is still a matter of debate. What’s not: Reward signals in the brain can override cues like fullness in many people, contributing to overeating, weight gain, and, sometimes, addict-like behavior around food, he says.


That said, cravings and food preferences can change over time—especially if a person begins to eat a larger variety of nutritious foods. Try to focus on what you’re adding instead of what you’re considering  off-limits, says Notte. “Rather than approaching it as ‘I really need to cut out white flour,’ ask yourself what types of starches, such as whole grains and beans, you could add into your diet to bring more balance there. When we can bring more balance into our diet and meet our bodies’ overall needs, we do start to see that our cravings change.”


Giving in to every fatty, sugary food whim can cause weight gain, insulin resistance, and other negative health outcomes. But actively ignoring and suppressing cravings can backfire, leading to a restrict-andbinge cycle (otherwise known as yo-yo dieting) that contributes to some of the very same health problems. “Cutting a food out of our diets generally increases cravings for that food—thinking a food is off-limits makes us want it so much more,” says Notte. “It’s the scarcity effect. Cravings and overeating behaviors are, in part, related to perceived food scarcity and uncertainty about when it’ll be available again.” Indeed, researchers have found that when mice are deprived of food for several hours and then are given access to a sugary liquid, they binge on it—whereas animals with constant access to the sugar don’t. A similar rebound effect is seen in humans.


For most people with lifelong weight struggles, here’s how that cycle plays out: Restricting calories and food groups increases cravings for off- limits foods. After a month or three months or a year, when a person’s resolve breaks—as it nearly always does—he’s probably going to overeat those high- calorie foods, even binge. For some folks, this “rebound eating” can go on for days, weeks, or even months.


MINDFUL HABITS

For most of human history, cravings and constant food seeking helped us survive lean times. But the] modern foodscape is one of ubiquitous, cheap calories marketed to us by a $5 trillion food-retail industry. This is where the reasonable, prefrontal-cortex part of our big brains come in, says Andermann. We can tap this region to do three things: stop and notice cravings, decipher where they’re coming from, and choose how to respond. “When asked how they know when they’re finished with a meal, Americans say it’s when a TV show is over, or when their plates are empty—not when they feel full,” says Andermann. “The first step in changing any kind of learned action is mindfulness—paying attention.”


You might start by noticing what you’re doing when a hankering crops up. Habits are a powerful trigger for cravings, says Alonso-Alonso. Our brains like convenience and efficiency above all else, and “habits operate as behavioral shortcuts in daily life and are a preferred mode of making decisions with minimal effort,” he says. Shake up your routine as much as you can to create more of a pause between craving and action.


“Sometimes all you need is a moment to ask yourself if you’re truly hungry for this right now,” says Notte. You may realize that you’re tired and what you need is to turn off the TV and go to bed. Or perhaps you’re stressed, and the craving is more about soothing yourself than how yummy the food is. Folks with emotional- and binge-eating issues especially may crave certain foods as a kind of self-medication, says Andermann. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dia lectica l behav iora l therapy (DBT) are both research-backed ways people with emotional cravings can gain more control over their eating behaviors.


Regular physical activity has also been linked to a greater ability to actively control eating behavior. Animal studies suggest it could be due to changes in blood flow, the release of certain brain chemicals such as feel-good endorphins, and better functioning of neurons, says Alonso-Alonso.


The answer to “Why am I craving this food?” may simply be that you want the pleasure of eating it. That’s OK, insists Notte. “Your ultimate goal should never be simply to not eat the food that you’re craving,” she says. Instead, the aim is to make a mindful and informed decision that balances your needs in the moment with what you want in the long term. “Food is a great pleasure,” she continues, “and humans are pleasure-seeking creatures. Sometimes just allowing ourselves to enjoy the food and then move on really is the best way to handle it.”

What to do when evolution is working against you. Hint: being aware helps Tim Chambers was just shy of 300 pounds when a heart attack scare ...

HOW STRESS MAKES US WEIGHT GAIN HOW STRESS MAKES US WEIGHT GAIN

April 2022


What to do when evolution is working against you. Hint: being aware helps


Tim Chambers was just shy of 300 pounds when a heart attack scare sent him to the ER. The web developer from Bethesda, Md., had been putting on pounds ever since he entered the working world and held a series of sedentary jobs at internet and computer-game companies. Sitting in the hospital—after fainting on the commuter train while heading home from work—was a “wake-up call” for Chambers, who had had limited success losing weig ht in the past. “I lost 30 to 40 pounds three or four times in a row,” says Chambers. “But then work would become stressful again, and the weight would come back, usually higher.”


Stories such as Chambers’s are familiar to Rachel Goldman, a Manhattan psychologist who specializes in weight management and stress reduction. When we are under stress, “our health behaviors are the first thing to go,” says Goldman. “We say, ‘I don’t have time to make it to the gym. I don’t have time to make healthy food.’ ” Our overscheduled, fast-paced lives often win out over our best intentions.


But research has uncovered a much deeper interaction, one that goes back to our oldest ancestors and shows how the very system designed to help them survive could be threatening our own health. For years, studies have shown a connection between high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva, urine, or blood and being overweight, but a study published in 2017 presented some of the most compelling evidence that long-term stress is connected to being overweight. Sarah Jackson, a principal  research fellow in the department of behavioral science and health at the University College London, measured cortisol levels in hair. “By using hair samples to measure cortisol, we were able to get a better sense of average cortisol levels over a prolonged period,” says Jackson. Her research showed “a link between longer-term stress and weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and abdominal obesity,” says Jackson. “Exposure to this  hormone is associated with greater body fatness.”


Discovering how cortisol influences weight gain—and attempting to interrupt that process—is another important area of research and the life’s work of Pamela Peeke, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a Pew Foundation Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, and the author of The Hunger Fix. It all comes back to the fight-or-flight response.


Evolution designed our bodies to produce instant energy when we are under threat. Our bodies break down both fat and glucose from the liver to use as fuel and circulate it throughout the body “so that you’ve got everything you need to run or beat the hell out of a predator,” says Peeke. At the same time, our body is depositing fat in the safest place possible to have energy later—under our abdominal muscles. “It’s the most precious fat depot in the human body, and your body wants to protect it for survival,” she explains. After a fight for your life is over, your body is primed to replenish the calories lost during it, and “you get a cortisol-stimulated appetite to be able to refill the calories your body assumes you’ve expended,” explains Peeke.


It’s all a “beautiful response,” she adds. For a caveperson, that is. This system keeps them safe from danger and helps them enjoy berries after a long run away from a predator without gaining weight. For a modern-day desk jockey, the system is less helpful. Stressors like mounting deadlines and climbing interest rates leave us revved up and fist deep in the office candy bowl. And it becomes a vicious cycle: Your body stores more fat deep in your tissues—where it likes to stay put—and you end up eating more.


“What you have is fabulous primal software that is being used inappropriately in today’s 21st-century world,” says Peeke. “And we have so many metabolic consequences from that dysfunction, including the No. 1 disordered eating pattern—binge eating.”


What’s more, rather than living a life punctuated by the threat of a saber-toothed tiger, many of us live a life of lesser but continuous stresses. It’s something our bodies were not designed to handle. “When our body never gets out of that fight-or-flight mode, it becomes chronic stress,” says Goldman.


You may not realize the impact stress is having on you. “Most people are walking around with ridiculously high levels of stress hormones and don’t even know it,” says Peeke. And our body’s primal reward system pushes us toward one of two things to soothe itself: sex or food. Sex is scarce in our modern workaday world, but vending machines? Plentiful.


And here’s why we call the high-fat, high-calorie foods in them “comfort foods.” When we eat them, our cortisol levels decrease and we feel a sense of relief. In fact, says Peeke, “people who overeat under stress actually feel a drug-related anesthesia.” That sounds—and probably feels—pretty good. The problem is that it is short-lived, she adds: “You just ate a load of sugar, your insulin levels skyrocketed, and now you have all of these metabolic consequences.”


This kind of stress eating, which anyone can fall prey to, might lead to your typical middle-age weight gain of 20 to 30 pounds. But genetics and life experiences can turn stress eating into addictive eating, with much more serious weight and health consequences. There are many genes—ones related to addiction, metabolism, diabetes, depression, and anxiety—that factor into a propensity to overeat or gain weight. When they interact with negative experiences in childhood, the effect can be exponential. According to research from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, children who experience the chronic stress of abuse—verbal or physical—or have other traumatic incidents in their childhood are more likely to end up overweight or obese. Early on, says Peeke, they have few outlets to manage their stress, so they often turn to food, developing a brain-body feedback loop that can actually alter their genes’ messaging to predispose them to addictive eating.


In fact, the first study to examine the connection between child abuse and food addiction, published in the journal Obesity in 2013, found that for women, a history of any kind of abuse led to a 90 percent increase in the risk of developing a food addiction.


But lesser events can also put you at risk for stressrelated weight gain. “Stress is in the eyes of the beholder,” says Peeke. “The guy sitting at the desk with all those deadlines? In his brain, he is under ridiculous strain. You don’t need a building to fall on your head to develop addictive-like eating behaviors—they fall on a spectrum.”


And that spectrum is where Tim Chambers found himself after his health scare. “It is easy when you are stressed out to only worry about getting through that day,” says Chambers. “It’s very easy to have a shortterm mindset.”


Sitting in that hospital room, Chambers changed his. He decided to make three lifestyle changes that he could track every day—exercise, sleep, and food—to create a “chain” of healthy behavior. “If I would get enough sleep, get 10,000 steps, eat within my allotted calories, and go to the gym three or four times a week, that was not breaking the chain,” says Chambers. “I would try to go for the longest period I could without breaking it. If I did break it, I would just pick it back up again.” In two years, he lost 115 pounds, which he has kept off ever since.


Chambers’s four-point plan hits several of the suggestions Goldman gives her clients: “Water intake, food intake, movement, sleep, and stress.”


To reduce stress, Goldman recommends having at least three adaptive coping mechanisms that you can actually see yourself doing in times of stress—such as cooking, cleaning, deep breathing, calling a friend, taking a walk, or taking a bath. “If you are participating in daily coping mechanisms, it’s much easier to bring your stress level back to baseline,” she says.


For people who have a history of trauma, Peeke recommends finding a therapist—a psychologist or a licensed social worker—who has certifications in trauma-based work. It also helps to equip yourself with techniques that can fill in for that 20-minute run from the woolly mammoth. “One of the best things you can do to calm the storm—bar none—is meditation,” says Peeke. “We’ve done tremendous epigenetic studies, and what we’ve found is that regular meditators have a decrease in both the level of stress hormone as well as in the expression of inflammatory genes. The result is better control of overeating and weight gain. Literally, you dial it down. How cool is that?


“Go for meditative walks, meditative runs, bring on yoga. How about tai chi? Do the kinds of physical activity where you have a chance to get lost in it,” she adds. “When I’m in the pool doing laps, nobody is bothering me. It is exquisitely meditative.” That combo “will be able to reverse so much of what’s taking place in both your mind and body.”


But it won’t happen overnight, shares Chambers. “You have to have a sense that if I go for a really long walk right now or if I go to the gym and work rather than just eat, it will be better for me. What’s tough is that it’s not instant gratification like eating, but as you get through the things that are stressing you, and you look back, it helps you have more belief in it the next time.”


Chambers’s faith and patience have helped him create his own brain-to-body feedback loop, this time a positive one. He has kept the weight off, and he reports that while his “external stressors are about the same as they’ve always been, my management of them has been different than it has been my entire adult life.”