Weight Loss Meal Plan for Women
Randi Vasquez was “always pretty chubby” growing up, but it never affected her confidence.
“I was always feeling myself,” the 27-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I wasn’t scared to wear a two-piece bathing suit or trendy outfits. I wasn’t always the happiest about my image, but I didn’t let that hold me back.”
But after she graduated from college, Vasquez found herself in “a post-grad slump.”
“I couldn’t find the job that I wanted, and I had trouble adapting,” she says.
Living in Chattanooga, Tenn., she and her friends would go for hours-long, mimosa-filled brunches every weekend and dine on fried chicken and waffles. And her other meals were just as caloric — Vasquez relied on fast food and remembers one day when she and her roommate ate at the southern burger joint Krystal’s three times.
“I was getting heavier and heavier,” she says. “I started to notice that my confidence was going down, and I wasn’t motivated to do anything. It started to click that if I didn’t change my life that it would just get worse and worse.”
“I remember one proposal session on a mountain and I had to run up and down this trail,” she says. “I couldn’t keep up with the couple and I remember that day was a big moment because I felt so out of shape. I was so embarrassed because I was so exhausted.”
Vasquez decided to start trying to lose weight, but with small changes. She joined her local YMCA in the fall of 2014 and found a body pump class that she loved.
“I went twice a week — I became obsessed with it. Within five or six months I lost 18 to 20 lbs. just by going to the gym,” she says.
“Within a few weeks my body started to change and that helped me stay motivated,” she says.
Vasquez also started cooking more of her meals and going for healthier options. She stuck to a low-carb diet as much as possible, but didn’t cut out fast food completely — “I didn’t want to restrict too many things,” she says. One of the biggest moments in her weight loss journey came when Itsines shared one of Vasquez’s progress photos on Instagram.
“That was one of the best moments for me, because it helped me break down a wall I had up,” she says. “Before I was heavy and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had gained weight after college and that I was struggling, but having that out in the world tore that wall down. It helped me share my story and meet other people like me who were tackling their weight problems.”
And slowly but surely, the weight started coming off.
“Year after year, month after month, I made small little goals and just kept going,” she says. “I hit 80 lbs. down in fall 2017. That was such a big moment for me. That was my original weight loss goal. I had these jars with marbles in them, and every time I lost a pound I would move a marble to the other jar. When I hit 80 lbs. down and moved that last marble it was such an amazing moment.”
In the year-and-a-half since, Vasquez has worked on maintaining her weight loss with a few ups and downs — she opened up to her now-72,800 Instagram followers in January that she was “constantly yo-yoing” in weight during 2018 and wanted to find a better balance. And in the months since, she accomplished one of her bucket list goals: running a half marathon.
“Before I even started losing weight, it was just something I really wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to prove to myself that I can do something hard. Crossing that off my list was so awesome. It was such a good feeling knowing that the past few years have really changed me as I crossed that finish line.”
And overall, Vasquez just feels “much better.”
“I’m more motivated,” she says. “Losing weight makes you feel more motivated in all areas of your life. And I’m able to run around everywhere. Just this weekend I had a wedding and I was all over the place. I don’t feel like my weight can hold me back anymore. I was happy before but there was so much I was held back from that I didn’t even realize.”
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Beyoncé announced ahead of her 2018 Coachella performance that she was going vegan once again, but she’s revealing now that she went even further, ditching all sugar and alcohol to meet her postpartum weight loss goals.
The superstar singer had initially planned to take the Coachella stage in 2017, but then she “unexpectedly” became pregnant with twins Rumi and Sir, now 22 months old, and had to wait a year. So as she prepped for her headlining performance in April 2018, Beyoncé, who said she hit 218 lbs. the day the twins were born, was determined to lose some of the baby weight.
But after “an extremely difficult pregnancy” that required an emergency C-section, Beyoncé said her body struggled at first.
“There were days that I thought I’d never be the same. I’d never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same,” she said in her new Netflix documentary Homecoming, all about her Coachella performance. “Eventually I wanna be able to do SoulCycle, the stairs and rehearsal in a day,” she added.
Beyoncé had trouble both physically and mentally.
“In the beginning, it was so many muscle spasms,” she said. “Just internally, my body was not connected — my mind was not there. My mind wanted to be with my children.”
Along with lengthy workouts and rehearsals, Beyoncé put herself on a strict diet.
“In order for me to meet my goal, I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol,” she said. “And I’m hungry!”
And Beyoncé eventually celebrated hitting one of her goals — fitting in her old costumes for the show.
“Okay this is seriously a huge accomplishment because I did not think I’d ever get back in my old costume, and I’m actually in it and I can still move,” she said. “I still have a ways to go, but this makes me feel good because I’ve been sacrificing and working hard. Huge, huge, huge accomplishment. Yay!”
Her performance was an unquestionable success, but looking back, Beyoncé said that she went a little too far in her preparation.
“Just trying to figure out how to balance being a mother of a 6-year-old and of twins that need me — and giving myself creatively and physically, it was a lot to juggle,” she said. “It’s not like before when I could rehearse for 15 hours straight. I have children. I have a husband. I have to take care of my body. I definitely pushed myself further than I knew I could. And I learned a very valuable lesson. I will never, never push myself that far again.”
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The Optavia diet has generated big buzz all year. This weight-loss program requires users to sign up for a low-calorie meal plan, then purchase the packaged foods that are part of their chosen plan. No food group is off-limits in this low-calorie regimen, which promises "lifelong transformation, one healthy habit at a time."
Optavia isn't cheap, but the diet has earned many fans. It was ranked second in the fast weight loss category by U.S. News and World Report, and it was a top trending diet on Google in 2018. "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro credits Optavia with his recent weight loss.
Should you try the Optavia diet, and will it help you lose weight? Here's everything you need to know: if this structured plan is hard to follow, the likelihood that you'll keep any weight loss off for good, and what the health drawbacks might be.
How to follow the Optavia diet
Like many commercial plans, Optavia involves purchasing most of the foods allowed on the diet in packaged form. The company sells a wide range of food products—which they call "fuelings"—on its website, including shakes, pancakes, soups, pasta dishes, smashed potatoes, popcorn, and cookies.
The brand offers a few different structured weight loss programs, and users pick the plan they feel will work best for them. The 5&1 Plan involves eating five small meals per day. The meals can be chosen from more than 60 interchangeable fuelings plus one “lean and green” meal (think protein and veggies) prepared on your own. The Essential Optimal Kit, which costs $356.15, provides 119 servings, or about 20 days' worth.
The 4&2&1 Plan is a bit more flexible. It includes four daily fuelings plus two of your own “lean and green” meals, and one Optavia-purchased snack. A kit with 140 servings costs $399.00, and it includes a similar mix of convenience foods.
Optavia pros and cons
It sounds simple: Order a box, eat the foods supplied based on the instructions, and whip up a simple meal or two on your own. Voila—the pounds come right off.
But how effective are plans like this in reality? Though U.S. News & World Report gave it a high ranking for fast weight loss, Optavia did not fare as well for long-term weight loss, nutrition, and heart healthfulness.
One of my reservations about programs like this is the lack of fresh food, and also how highly processed the products are. The Golden Chocolate Chip Pancakes are provided as a mix, which requires adding water and cooking. The Homestyle Chicken Flavored & Vegetable Noodle Soup comes in a satchel, which requires adding water and heating. Even the "hearty" smashed potatoes are sold in powdered form.
Processed diet products also contain common allergens. For example, soy protein concentrate is the first ingredient in the Chicken Flavored Soup (which doesn’t contain any actual chicken), as well as the Creamy Chocolate Shake, Decadent Double Chocolate Brownie, and Creamy Vanilla Shake. Soy is one of the eight most common allergens, and it's a common trigger of food sensitivity symptoms. While some allergen-free options are available, they are limited in certain categories.
I’m also not a fan of the intense sweeteners many of the products contain, including stevia and monk fruit extract. Anecdotally, in my practice, I’ve seen that these sugar alternatives, which are about 200 times sweetener than actual sugar, may stoke a sweet tooth, disrupt appetite regulation, and cause naturally sweet foods—like carrots—to taste less sweet.
In my experience with my own clients, I've found that some people do benefit from relying on diet plans that include a few ready-to-eat foods. Bars, protein drinks, frozen meals, or heat and eat soups can help control portions, reduce eating decisions (which may prevent veering off track), and skirt less healthful choices, like fast food.
However, you really don’t need a commercial program to build these in. Many of my clients simply opt for clean ingredient or even organic options they can purchase at their local supermarket or online.
One pro to Optavia is its built-in support, which includes access to a coach, online forums, weekly support meetings with other members, and video chats. Exercise is also encouraged. In my opinion, this type of reinforcement is essential for success. However, the tricky part is transitioning from Optavia's eating pre-packaged food to preparing meals on your own, ordering from menus, and navigating social situations, holidays, travel, and the like.
Should you try Optavia?
I wasn’t able to find data on Optavia’s long-term outcomes, as far as weight loss and maintenance. But before you decide to sign up for any commercial program, ask yourself how you think you’ll feel following the plan—physically, emotionally, and socially (even if you are losing weight). Ultimately, sustainable weight loss requires long-term lifestyle changes.
Bottom line: It may be best to forego quick results (like the kind the Optavia plan might offer) and focus your efforts on fostering healthy habits you know you can stick with for longer-lasting success.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
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You grab breakfast on your way to work, wolf down lunch at your desk, and you think you ate something for dinner before you made it to the gym, but you aren’t exactly sure what. All of these are examples of mindless eating. It's a regular part of many of our lives—thanks to distractions like our phones, a plethora of unhealthy food options, and the push we feel to multi-task.
The solution isn’t what you eat, though. It’s how. Enter mindful eating, or mindfulness eating, a food strategy that keeps winning fans because it can help you eat healthier and enjoy your food more. And though it isn't a diet, mindful eating can result in a few lost pounds...as well as greater acceptance of your body as it is. Here's what you need to know.
What is mindfulness eating?
The idea of “mindful eating” ties into the larger concept of mindfulness—focusing your attention on the here and now, not ruminating over the past or worrying about the future.
“Mindful eating helps us be aware of what we put in our mouths, realize the tastes that we probably have never noticed before, and realize when we are full or when we do not need to eat more,” Mónica M. Alzate, PhD, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Health.
When you pay attention to each bite of food you consume, you’re also able to stop using food as a way to distract yourself from uncomfortable emotions. Studies show that mindful eating can help reduce both emotional eating and bingeing.
But it’s not a diet tool, cautions health psychologist Lynn Rossy, PhD, author of The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution and president of The Center for Mindful Eating.
When people come to Rossy’s mindful eating classes and announce they’re hoping to lose weight, “I tell them, ‘Weight isn’t the issue. A number on the scale doesn’t define you or your health. This is about your well-being,’” says Rossy.
These steps will help you practice mindufulness eating so it becomes an automatic habit.
First, take a breath
“Before you eat, ask yourself, ‘Am I hungry?’” suggests Rossy. Then, take a slow, deep breath to calm your nervous system. “So many people eat because they’re stressed, bored, or there’s food around. We want to eat because we’re hungry,” Rossy says. “Food doesn’t solve anger or disappointment. It might soothe you for a short period of time but your problem will still be there afterwards.”
Give your food the attention it deserves
Turn off the TV. Close your laptop. Put your phone in the other room. You want your focus to be solely on the food before you. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I putting into my mouth? Is it food that I can recognize? Does it smell good? Do I want to put this into my body?’” says Rossy. “There are no good or bad foods,” she adds. “You’re just eating it consciously and with intention.”
Slow down and chew thoroughly
Most of us are speed eaters by necessity, so it may take some practice to slowly consume your meal, chewing every bite. The reason for this step? It takes 20 minutes for your gut to signal your brain that you’re full, says Rossy. Plus, “if you’ve just gulped down your food, you’ll have a hard time digesting it. Many people notice that when they start practicing mindful eating, their digestive problems clear up.”
When you’re about halfway through with your meal, put your fork down and check in with yourself. Are you still hungry? Or have you eaten enough to be satisfied? “This helps you to stop eating based on your body’s signals rather than what’s left on your plate,” Rossy says. “It trains you to pay attention to your body’s wisdom.”
Savor every bite
Don’t forget to simply enjoy your food. “Find pleasure in it. Make it a celebration, share it with friends, experiment with different dishes and flavors. People have become afraid of food, as well as the kitchen,” says Rossy. “We forget that food is such an important part of our lives.“
How to be mindful in the rest of your life
To make the most out of mindfulness eating, practice mindfulness during other aspects of your daily routine. When you’re trying to stay centered and present throughout your day, not just at mealtime, “mindful eating won’t seem like such a challenge,” says Rossy.
It helps, too, to be honest about your emotions. If you’re eating to self-soothe or distract yourself, ask yourself, ‘What emotion is it that I don’t want to feel?’” advises Lara E. Fielding, a psychologist in Beverly Hills, California who specializes in mindfulness-based therapies and is the author of Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-Up. Once you ID that uncomfortable feeling, the next step is to accept it.
“Put both feet on the floor, palms open and up on your knees, shoulders down and soften your belly,” Fielding says. Then, notice how you feel rather than trying to change it. This relaxed physical pose, explains Fielding, sends a strong signal to the brain that you’re going to surf this particular wave of emotion rather than fight it.
Finally, here's a surprising side-effect of mindfulness eating: It can increase body appreciation, says Rossy. “And if you love your body,” she adds, “you’re going to treat it well."
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Even doctors agree that there are pros and cons to the keto diet.
“You can lose a lot of weight and you can do it quickly,” he says.
“The idea is that you’re putting your body into a state of ketosis, that’s why it has its name. You’re not eating any sugar, you’re not eating any carbs, you’re mainly eating fat….so you will lose weight,” he explains.
However, there are a couple of downsides to the diet.
For starters, it can be incredibly difficult to stick to the eating plan for a long period of time.
“It’s very hard to sustain, so it’ll usually be a few weeks and a lot of that weight you lose is water weight,” he explains.
Also, he adds, people with a history of heart disease in their families might want to think twice about consuming so much fat.
“If you’re worried about that sort of stuff, this is probably not the diet for you because you are eating a lot of fat and that’s the concern,” he says.
Critics of the current craze have also claimed the keto diet deprives your body of essential nutrients.
“Your cells, your macro molecules, are literally made up of protein, fat, carbohydrates, nucleic acids. When you do not eat one of the three macro nutrients — those three things I just mentioned — you’re starving yourselves,” celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels said in a video for Women’s Health earlier this year. “Those macro nutrients serve a very important purpose for your overall health and wellbeing. Each and every one of them.”
“Do not go keto. Just work out, eat clean and don’t overeat. I promise you, balanced diet,” she said. “It’s that simple.”
Opening up about his weight loss last month, the Today co-host, 64, shared that the high-fat diet hasn’t hurt his cholesterol levels.
“Yeah, my cholesterol, just had it checked out a few weeks ago, everything’s good,” Roker added.
In addition to championing the diet, he frequently challenges keto critics.
After Michaels slammed the eating plan, he fought back in tweets and on Today. “So @JillianMichaels says #Keto is a bad idea. This from a woman who promoted on camera bullying, deprivation, manipulation and more weekly in the name of weight loss. Now those sound like bad ideas,” he tweeted.
Michaels challenged Roker to a debate, but he declined.
“My point is, what works for you, works for you,” he added on Today. “There’s science on both sides that says it’s not a great idea and science that says it is a good idea. I think it’s up to people — with their doctor, with their medical professional — [to make their own decision].”
At the end of February, Roker also politely disagreed with a dietitian who tweeted at him that she was “sad to see another famous person falling for a fad diet.”
“Heidi, there are so many sadder things in the world,” he responded. “Have a great day.”
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The word “metabolism” is often paired with terms like “diet,” “exercise,” and “weight loss.” But rarely is the buzzword thoroughly explained. As a result, there’s a lot of metabolism misinformation floating around out there.
The medical definition of metabolism? “The bodily processes needed to maintain life,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Through the process of metabolism, your body turns the food you eat into the energy it needs. It’s a vital process for all living things, not just humans.” The term encompasses all continual chemical processes that keep you alive, including breathing, digesting food, and repairing cells.
In other words, without your metabolism you wouldn’t feel the energy boost you get from eating a meal. Health spoke to registered dietitian nutritionist Nancy Farrell Allen, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to set the record straight on some of the most popular claims about metabolism thrown around these days.
MYTH: Skinnier people have faster metabolisms
It’s more about body composition than body size when it comes to metabolism, Allen says. “[Metabolism] depends on the composition of protein mass you have—muscle is more metabolically active,” she says, meaning the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you’re resting. It’s not true that the thinner you are, the faster your metabolism. It instead comes down to how muscular you are.
This is why lifting weights is one of the best ways to speed up your metabolism. “You’re going to have more muscle on you,” Allen says, and muscle burns more calories. Focusing solely on cardio won’t have the same effect.
MYTH: Your metabolism is genetic and can't be changed
Your genes do influence your metabolism—but they don’t affect it as much as the lifestyle habits you practice, according to Allen. The amount of exercise you get and the choices you make when you feed yourself are more important factors, and you (fortunately) are in of control them.
However, some genetic conditions can affect your metabolism. For example, Hashimoto’s disease, an often-hereditary condition that can result in an underactive thyroid gland, can slow your metabolism and lead to weight gain, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
FACT: If you have a slow metabolism, you're more likely to gain weight
This is true, Allen says. Here’s why: If your metabolism is on the slower side, your body isn’t as quick to burn through the calories you’re consuming.
But your metabolism isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re trying to shed a few extra pounds. “Contrary to common belief, a slow metabolism is rarely the cause of excess weight gain,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Although your metabolism influences your body’s basic energy needs, how much you eat and drink along with how much physical activity you get are the things that ultimately determine your weight.” In other words, even if you have a slow metabolism you can (thankfully) still control your weight by eating clean and working out.
MYTH: If you have a fast metabolism, you can eat whatever you want
Allen notes that people with a condition called Graves’ disease have overactive metabolisms and often lose weight even when they’re following an ordinary diet.
While it’s true that people with faster metabolisms don’t necessarily put weight on as quickly as those with slower metabolisms, a fast metabolism is not an excuse to throw traditional dietary advice out the window, Allen says. A balanced diet comes with seriously consequential health benefits unrelated to weight maintenance, including good heart health and the prevention of certain cancers.
FACT: Spicy foods boost your metabolism
Whether your preferred spice is chili pepper or ginger, “there is some interesting thought that they can boost the heat production in our bodies, leading to more calories being burned,” Allen says.
The effect is short-term, and how significant it is depends on “how hot the peppers are,” Allen says. “Lots of times, it’s uncomfortable,” she adds.
Adding just one tablespoon of chopped green or red chili pepper to your lunch or dinner could speed up your metabolism. Granted, the effect won’t last forever, but it could be worth that extra ingredient.
MYTH: Eating multiple smaller meals throughout the day is better for your metabolism than eating three regular meals a day
“A lot of times we tell people to eat five or six small meals a day, but there’s some research coming out saying maybe it’s better to eat two or three modest meals a day. When people hear they can eat five or six small meals they’re not eating small meals,” Allen says. She explains that often people don’t keep track of just how much they’re consuming on any given day.
The bottom line on this one, she notes, is that you must be mindful of how much you’re eating and what you’re eating. Don’t think only in terms of calories, she warns. “It’s not necessarily a simple calorie equation. Are you eating a 250-calorie donut for a snack, or a 250-calorie protein and produce snack?”
MYTH: Supplements can speed up your metabolism
Over-the-counter products that claim to boost metabolism are bound to disappoint. “They don’t have energy or calories,” Allen says, adding that they’re not going to directly impact your metabolism. The potentially dangerous side effects of supplements have been well documented, and you should keep in mind that supplements don’t always play well with prescription drugs.
FACT: Your metabolism slows down as you age
While this is a sad truth of aging, the news isn’t all bad: Your metabolism doesn’t hit a wall right when you turn 30, like some people might think. “You can control it a little bit,” Allen says, with the same lifestyle habits that always factor into the metabolism equation.
A slowing of your metabolism might be most noticeable around menopause in your 50s. “Once they go through menopause, [women] tend to have the most difficulty,” Allen explains. Hormonal changes that affect women when they go through menopause could increase their chances of putting on weight around their abdomens, hips, and thighs.
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It’s easy to see why a diet that promises quick results—and that technically allows you to still enjoy foods like burgers and cheese—would be so tempting. But before you try it, it’s important to realize that keto can also have its downsides and that there’s a lot health experts still don’t know about its long-term effects on the body.
Following the keto diet for an extended period of time can be difficult, and even some of its top proponents warn against sticking to its strict guidelines (like cutting back carbohydrates to 50 grams a day or less) for more than 30 to 90 days. Other researchers warn that sticking to the diet long-term could even be dangerous. Here are a few reasons why.
RELATED: 7 Dangers of Going Keto
Low-carb diets could lead to vitamin or mineral deficiencies
Limiting carbs to 50 grams a day or less likely means you’re cutting out unhealthy foods like white bread and refined sugar. But it also means you may have to cut back on fruits and certain vegetables, which are also sources of carbohydrates.
That’s a concern, says Annette Frain, RD, program director with the Weight Management Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health, especially if someone is spending more than a few weeks on this type of diet. “Fruits and vegetables are good for us; they’re high in antioxidants and full of vitamins and minerals,” she says. “If you eliminate those, you aren’t getting those nutrients over time.”
It may also be hard to get enough fiber while you’re cutting back so severely on carbohydrates, since whole grains are one of the biggest sources of this important nutrient. That can lead to digestion problems (ranging from constipation to diarrhea), bloating and weight gain, and even elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.
It may affect your athletic performance
There’s no shortage of athletes who have jumped on the keto bandwagon, but some researchers worry that they could actually be sabotaging their strength and fitness. In a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers found that participants performed worse on high-intensity cycling and running tasks after four days on a ketogenic diet compared to those who’d spent four days on a high-carb diet.
The body is in a more acidic state when it’s in ketosis, lead researcher Edward Weiss, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, previously told Health, which may limit its ability to perform at peak levels.
Sure, keto can help athletes lose weight, which can be helpful for speed and endurance. “But I’m very concerned that people are attributing the benefits of weight loss to something specific in the ketogenic diet,” Weiss said. “In reality, the benefits of weight loss could be at least partially canceled out by reductions in performance.”
Relaxing the rules can cause weight re-gain
Because the keto diet is so strict, many variations of the diet recommend incorporating several stages. The first stage, usually the first one to three months, is extremely low-carb and allows for very few “cheat days,” if any at all. It also requires keeping close track of your carbohydrate and fat consumption to ensure your body is entering ketosis.
But then, people may transition to a more relaxed form of keto that allows for more carbohydrates or less monitoring—sometimes known as lazy keto, keto cycling, or “maintenance mode,” as Jenna Jameson has called it. The problem here, says Frain, is that weight re-gain is almost inevitable.
“Keto can be a great jump-start to weight loss, but the reality is that most people can't adhere to it for very long,” says Frain. “Often, people are going into ketosis and losing weight, then coming out and gaining it back and falling into this yo-yo pattern, and that’s not what we want.” In addition to being extremely frustrating, she says, these types of weight fluctuations are also linked to a higher risk of early death.
The type of weight you gain back is important as well. If you lost weight when you first started on keto, you likely lost some muscle mass along with fat tissue, says Kristen Kizer, RD, a nutritionist at Houston Methodist Medical Center. Now, since you’re following a high-fat diet, you will probably gain back more fat and less lean muscle—which not only looks and feels different on the body, but also burns calories at a slower rate. This can affect your metabolism and make it more difficult to lose weight again in the future.
It may also damage blood vessels
Enjoying a “cheat day” in the short-term on the ketogenic diet can also have long-term consequences, say researchers from the University of British Columbia. In a recent study published in Nutrients, they found that indulging in a high-sugar treat (like a large bottle of soda) while on a high-fat, low-carb diet can actually damage blood vessels.
“My concern is that many of the people going on a keto diet—whether it’s to lose weight, to treat type 2 diabetes, or some other health reason—may be undoing some of the positive impacts on their blood vessels if they suddenly blast them with glucose,” said senior author Jonathan Little, associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, in a press release. “Our data suggests a ketogenic diet is not something you do for six days a week and take Saturday off."
RELATED: The 6 Biggest Keto Diet Mistakes
Too much fat can raise chronic disease risk
Health experts worry about how a long-term keto-style diet can affect the heart and arteries. A not-yet-published study, presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual Scientific Session, found that people on low-carb diets are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation (AFib) compared to those who eat moderate amounts of carbohydrates. AFib is the most common heart rhythm disorder and raises the risk of stroke and heart failure.
It’s not just the heart they’re worried about either. Research presented earlier this year at the European Society of Cardiology Congress found that people who followed low-carb, high-fat diets had an increased risk of dying from cancer and all other causes during the study period. And a recent study in the Lancet also found that low-carb dieters who consumed large amounts of meat and dairy had a higher risk of early death compared to those who consumed carbs in moderation or who consumed mostly plant-based protein.
Most of this research, it’s worth pointing out, is still observational—meaning that it’s only been able to find associations with certain health outcomes and not cause-and-effect relationships. Frain says that, overall, there’s not enough long-term research to know exactly what the ketogenic diet does to the body over an extended period of time—or why it seems to affect some people differently than others.
But she advises anyone who’s thinking about trying keto to strive for balance, not for extremes. “It’s important to look at what you’re missing in a diet and what is really sustainable for you,” she says. “You want to make sure you have satisfaction and satiety from the foods you’re eating and that you feel good and are getting great nutrition from a variety of foods. That’s what will help you keep it up and keep the weight off.”
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Excess weight in your midsection can be annoying—not only because it’s so darn tough to ditch, but because it also has an impact on your overall health. Extra belly fat ups your risk of issues such as heart disease and diabetes, and, according to certified strength and condition specialist Michele Olson, PhD, life is filled with sneaky little saboteurs that make putting on the pounds in this area way too easy.
“Due to changes in hormones, daily stresses, lack of sleep, coupled with possibly pregnancies, the fat women gain is often stored increasingly in the belly area,” explains Olson, also a senior clinical professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.
And while you can’t exactly spot reduce, you can make lifestyle changes that can help you lose belly fat—and fast. Here, healthy-living pros offer their best science-backed strategies for winning the battle of the bulge.
Clean up your diet
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: Abs are made in the kitchen. Unfortunately, if you regularly eat ultra-processed foods (think chips, store-bought baked goods, and candy), you won’t be able to see yours. “These foods are produced using sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, which in high amounts has been shown to promote visceral fat accumulation in the liver, leading to weight gain, inflammation, and related diseases,” explains Rachel Fine, RD, owner of To The Pointe Nutrition.
Instead, opt for eats that have healthy amounts of soluble fiber such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, avocado, and citrus fruits. Research reveals that an increase in these foods is linked to a decrease in visceral—aka belly—fat.
Slow down on spirits
Reducing alcohol intake can also help, says Fine. Alcohol contains about seven calories per gram—"just under fat, which equates to nine calories per gram.” And because alcohol is absorbed quickly, “when over-consumed, alcohol metabolism impairs metabolism of other macronutrients, such as carbs and fat, promoting…fat storage rather than breakdown,” she says.
While you’re rethinking your drinks, limit your consumption of carbonated beverages as well, advises Vanessa Voltolina, RD, a New York City-based registered dietitian, noting that those fizzy drinks, though yummy, can cause belly bloat. (Sorry LaCroix!)
Instead, stick to water, which Emily Incledon, RD says can act as an appetite suppressant, as well as help flush out your body to decrease the feeling of being bloated.
Make sure you exercise
Great news: Working out is good for more than just adding years to your life, boosting your brain health, and reducing stress levels—it can also help you rein in your gut. In fact, research in the journal Cell Metabolism reveals that exercise specifically helps reduce visceral fat.
The key to losing belly fat with exercise, though, is making sure your sweat session is intense. You’ll want to be working at 85% of your max heart rate at least, says Olson. “The higher your heart rate, the higher the release of epinephrine into the bloodstream and cells,” she explains. “A positive side effect of epinephrine is that it also activates greater release of abdominal fat into the bloodstream to be used for energy.”
So what type of exercise is best when it comes to burning belly fat? Olson recommends intense weight training, Tabata interval training, sprint-style cardio, and kettlebell exercises. Of course, a little ab work won’t hurt either—especially moves (like dead bug) that target the transverse abdominus, the deep core muscles that act like a girdle for the waist, cinching you in all over.
Don't skimp on sleep
Falling short on zzz’s is also a surefire way to put your waistline in jeopardy. That’s because sleep deprivation knocks your hunger hormones out of whack, leading to an increase in ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and a decrease in leptin, which signals when you are satiated. What’s more, research has shown that when you aren’t well-rested, you’re also more likely to reach for junk food (hello Ben & Jerry’s!)—and it may even become harder for you to build muscle mass.
To help keep belly fat in check, aim to cuddle with your pillow for at least seven to eight hours each night. And if possible, hit the hay at the same time each night—one study found that women who did so and clocked around eight hours of sleep per night had lower body fat.
Stress, which can come in many forms, can wreak havoc on your health. Whether it’s something you consider to be a “big” deal, like working on a project to meet a crucial work deadline, or something smaller, like someone cutting you off on your morning commute, your body treats it all the same way—by enacting your fight or flight response.
“As your body’s perception of stress increases, cortisol, often called the stress hormone, is released from the adrenal glands,” explains Nana Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, MD, a board-certified family physician practicing home-based care in Baltimore. “Normal levels are released when you wake up in the morning or during exercise. Chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol and other stress hormones, leading to increases in sugar in the bloodstream, weight gain, digestive issues, depression, and a host of other health effects.”
A study in Psychosomatic Medicine confirms the link between stress and weight gain, revealing that women who are most vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One reason could be that women tend to eat more, especially sweets, on days they are stressed, according to a study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Which is why it pays to keep your cool. One way to do so: practicing mindfulness. According to a 2011 Journal of Obesity study, women who experienced the greatest reduction in stress by effectively mastering stress-reduction techniques tended to lose the most deep belly fat. So go ahead and take some deep breaths, hit the mat for some anxiety-relieving yoga, or open up one of those guided-meditation apps. Your belly will thank you in the long run.
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The secret is out: Decluttering your kitchen has a surprising advantage that goes way beyond organization. Turns out, it can seriously improve your diet and even help you lose weight.
By now, you’re probably well aware that tidying your living spaces is a thing, thanks to our latest lifestyle guru Marie Kondo and her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. And yes, the rumors are true, having a tidy home really can make you feel lighter (both mentally and physically).
Studies have shown that a tidy kitchen can spark clean eating habits by reducing the stress that drives us to make unhealthy choices. A 2016 study published in the journal Environment and Behavior looked at what happened when both stressed and non-stressed women walked into a messy kitchen versus a clean kitchen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the stressed women in the messy kitchen consumed more calories than those in the clean kitchen. But even the non-stressed women ate more just due to the mess.
Want to use Marie Kondo’s KonMari tidying methods in your kitchen? All you have to do is follow the five steps below.
Ask, "Does this spark...healthy choices?"
Pull everything out of your pantry so you can go through each item individually. Instead of asking yourself the famed question “Does this spark joy?” as the KonMari method recommends, ask yourself, “Will this improve my health?” If the answer is no, it's time to throw it away or donate it to a food bank. As you put everything back in your pantry, reorganize by assigning a designated area for each type of food (canned goods, grains, baking ingredients, spices, etc.) to make healthy cooking a cinch.
Declutter your countertops
One of the best ways to keep your calories in check is by keeping nothing on your counters. Really, nothing. Dish soap and sponges should be stored under the sink. Small appliances like your toaster or blender should be tucked away in a cupboard. The only exception: a bowl of fresh fruit. A 2015 study in Health Education and Behavior looked at hundreds of households and found people who had junk food like candy, chips, or cookies on their countertops weighed significantly more than those who only kept fruit out on display.
Having a squeaky-clean countertop might also inspire you to finally cook more meals at home. How? Well, for starters, you won't feel stressed just from stepping into your kitchen.
Reorganize your refrigerator
Like you did with your pantry, take everything out of your refrigerator and freezer so you can assess, item by item, what you should keep. Toss anything that's expired or straight-up unhealthy. Oh, and those UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) hiding in your freezer have got to go. Then, reorganize in a way that fits how you cook, keeping your go-to items easily accessible.
You should also make a shopping list of perishables before you go to the supermarket; that way you'll only buy what you really need. Remember, most meats and cheeses are fresh for about a week. Produce and leftovers have even shorter shelf lives, clocking in at just a few days. And yes, frozen foods can spoil too. Nothing should be kept in your freezer for more than a year.
Clean out your cupboards
Cupboards and drawers are lifesavers when it comes to keeping things out of sight and off your kitchen counters. But you want your cupboards to be organized and tidy—not jam-packed with stuff you never use. Take everything out of your cupboards and drawers and keep only the essentials. Donate extra dishware, silverware, and cookware, and let go of things like cake stands, Jell-O molds, and Bundt cake pans that you rarely (if ever) use.
Set a mealtime routine
Marie Kondo recommends practicing mindful eating by having all meals and snacks while seated and at a table. That means no eating while standing in your kitchen multitasking or while sitting in front of the TV. Having a dedicated ritual around mealtime is one of the best ways to be more thoughtful about what you’re eating and the impact your food choices are having on your body. Plus, if Marie Kondo does it, it might as well be a golden rule, right?
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Most people probably think the body positivity movement is inclusive. But sometimes overweight women who are actively trying to lose weight get criticized within the body positivity space.
This happened to Kelly Howland, 31, an Instagram blogger who writes about her struggle with binge-eating disorder.
last month, Howland posted a photo of herself standing in the pants that fit her right before she started losing weight in May 2018. Since then, she’s gone from a size 24 to a 12 in less than a year, losing about 64 pounds.
While that's an amazing achievement, she hasn’t always had the support of people in the body positive community. Howland tells Health that even though binge-eating disorder is a life-threatening condition, just like anorexia, sometimes people avoid speaking about it for fear of sounding anti-body positivity.
“It can kind of be frowned upon to lose weight intentionally in the plus-size world," she says. "It doesn’t apply to everybody, but you kind of get pushed to the fringes,” she says.
An expert agreed that binge-eating disorder gets a smaller spotlight than other eating disorders because it’s less perceptible to observers. “[Binge-eating disorder is] not as noticeable—it can be more secretive,” Nancy Farrell Allen, RDN, tells Health, adding that patients who have the disorder often eat in isolation and can be afraid of eating in front of others. “They won’t go to the restaurant," she says. "They won’t sit at the family dinner table."
On Instagram, Howland called for a balance between the reality of binge-eating disorder and the ability to love yourself no matter what your weight.
“Sometimes I think we’ve accidentally swung the pendulum too far and now we ignore the issue of binge eating for fear of encouraging starvation or even just stepping on the toes of the body positivity movement,” she wrote.
She tells us that she didn’t come to terms with her binge-eating habits until one day last spring, when she couldn’t stop herself from going to a drive-thru to get food. I’m not going to do it, she told herself repeatedly at the time. But she was addicted. “My car just kind of went there,” she says.
Howland realized stress and anger were triggers that resulted in binge-eating episodes, and Allen confirmed that emotional lows often lead to these episodes.
Sharing her weight-loss journey on social media has contributed to her success, Howland believes. “Sharing on Instagram created accountability—it’s harder to quit something if other people know you’re doing it,” she says.
She has a simple piece of advice for people who are working toward a healthier lifestyle: Be nice to yourself. “It’s really important that people love themselves," she says. "You cannot hate your body into health. Any changes you make have to come from a place of love and compassion with yourself.”
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