The Road to the Cupboard

“I do really well in the morning and throughout the afternoon, but during the evenings it is really hard to stay on point.”

When it comes to your eating habits, does this sound familiar?

It sure did to me during a recent nutrition consult. With elevated glucose levels and liver enzymes, this patient’s labwork pointed to a diet too high in refined carbs. Yet her weight was healthy, her body fat percentage at 27.1, just within the normal range of 18 – 28 for women.

When I asked about her vegetables, she stopped and smiled.

“We don’t do a lot of veggies in my house.” With two little kids and both parents working full time, she struggled with meal prepping and incorporating veggies into their days.

I see many patient with these similar concerns. When we leave the house early and rush around all day, healthy eating can be a challenge. For some of us, we take the time to make something substantial like eggs and avocado for breakfast, eat a salad at lunch and munch on nuts during the day. But when we get home? All bets are off.

When evening kicks in, so does the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) does a fine job during the day to keep us active and efficient. It elevates adrenals to help us make quick decisions, get kids from school, stay on task at work, etc. When we return home, our systems begin to shift.

The rest and restore part of our days biologically begins around sunset, even though our minds don’t always cooperate. The PNS plays a crucial role in helping us unwind, calm down, and destress so our brains, cells, nutrients and more can go to work to keep our bodies healthy as we sleep.

But we keep moving. We may go out to run a last minute errand, help with homework, catch up on housework. When we finally sit down, the daily tasks done, our brains are still buzzing though our bodies are craving quiet.

We sit down to watch TV at 8 pm. Sometimes we may not even be hungry, or are still digesting dinner. Right away, our brains say “you need something to snack on.”

Has this happened to you? Have you found yourself in front of the cupboard during a commercial, searching for something sweet or salty to much on?

Sometimes, we skip dinner and find ourselves ravenous during this crucial time of the day. In either scenario, we face an uphill battle with temptations lining the shelves.

Part of shifting a pattern begins with recognizing it. All of us are confronted with cravings; we are biologically hard-wired with rewards sensors. We crave comfort and pleasure in our food, especially if we live with high stress.

Don’t beat yourself up about these evening “bad choices” or cupboard searches. They’re part of being human, of making good choices all day and wanting a break from overthinking when we slow down. We want to graze, munch, wind down, socialize over snacks.

Strategies in combating evening munchies differ. I’ve heard some patients say they brush their teeth and go to bed early rather than feel tempted; others will replace the craving with something smarter. Some will allow a small serving only of a familiar treat, or go for a walk instead of feeling deprived.

LaCroix or Perrier soda waters can satisfy a beverage craving, with their fizzy consistency and slightly sweet flavor. Flavored nuts can be a great salty and crunchy choice, as can a small tangerine or apple to replace a cookie fix.

You can try eating before you feel yourself get hungry. Grab an apple or orange ahead of the brain sending a craving signal to your belly, or before your belly tells your brain it needs food. Our brains love the fast track to Crave Town.

Mary’s Gone Crackers or more nutrient dense crackers will always trump potato chips. If you’re on a high fat low carb diet, go for celery or cucumber slices with a favorite dip. With this option, you get taste, crunch and sound if you are a texture eater.

Roasted veggies can be delicious as a snack. So can veggies sautéed in oil and topped with roasted pine nuts or almonds. It may seem sacrilegious to view a vegetable as a treat, but try them. As you learn to prepare veggies with different flavor and texture, your body will start to crave them.

Find Keto-friendly dessert ideas online – there are dozens of websites. Plan ahead, making baggies for the week so you grab a small portion instead of a whole bag.

Whatever strategy that works for you, follow it. Instead of depriving or punishing yourself, embrace the following:

1. You are human. You are hardwired to want comfort food and tasty snacks.
2. You are deconstructing an old pattern and creating a new one.
3. You every day are understanding your own body better and how to read its signals
4. As you learn what foods work best for your unique metabolism, you are better equipped to make good choices when it comes to snacks.
5. You will make a “mistake” and indulge in that craving every once in a while, whether it be pretzels or red vines in your kids’ “treat” jar.
6. You will get back on track.
7. Your body is smart, and so are you.

We would love to hear your best strategies for making optimal snack choices. We can encourage each other to replace instead of repress cravings, and together create an environment of success. Instead of dieting, we want to implement “life eating” to empower you.

And that is the best feeling of all, something to relish and enjoy. Maybe – just maybe – you will start to crave it more than that rogue sleeve of Thin Mints.

Corrective Diets for Weight Loss & Issues with Insulin

In the medical community we don’t offer “diets” as solutions, we guide people on lifestyle changes — and adopting a healthier diet is a large part of that lifestyle change. But it’s important to understand the different meanings of the word “diet.” Diets that are marketed to people on TV and through books are rarely positioned as actual lifestyle changes based on science and what your body needs. “Diets,” let’s call them “fad diets,” often offer unhealthy short term solutions in the hopes that you see and feel some sort of results — and continue to spend money on the fad diet. 

We do not condone short term diets, except in extreme circumstances — and we come to that decision after extensive lab work. Sometimes people have metabolic irregularities, and we need to give them short term corrective diets. Those are very specialized moments. Let’s look at some of the reasons we’d change a person’s dietary lifestyle. And then we’ll close by looking at when and why we use short-term diets with patients.

Someone may eat perfectly, but whenever they get on the scale they see weight-gain no matter what they eat or how much they eat. This situation most likely hinges on blood sugar levels.

Let’s say you go out to lunch. When the average person eats, they bring their blood sugar up to a normal level. Your pancreas should sense that blood sugar increase and then release insulin to match your blood sugar levels. The insulin escorts the sugar to your cells to be used as an energy source. Your blood sugar starts to go down because it’s being taken up by your cells, and your insulin goes down with it as well. This is ideal. This is healthy.

Sometimes we see patients who have type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic. Chances are they regularly eat too much, causing their blood sugar to soar too high. These people may be over indulging on a regular basis, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Their pancreas is likely responding with a lot of insulin. They have high insulin and high blood sugar. The insulin will still escort sugar into the cells to be used for energy, and the insulin levels will drop. But this person is setting themselves up to for diabetes, if they aren’t diabetic already.

Now let’s look at someone with type 1 diabetes. They don’t produce insulin, their pancreas doesn’t make it. That person can eat a salad, or an orange, (something small), and their blood sugar will start to go up. But since their pancreas isn’t secreting insulin, the blood sugar is not escorted to the cell to be used for energy. Blood sugar levels continue to soar. These people will have a level of blood sugar that is three to four times higher than normal. You may think this person should be overweight, but they usually aren’t. People like this are usually under weight. 

Sometimes we have a patient who has trouble loosing weight no matter how hard they try. We do a hemoglobin a1c test, that shows what their average blood sugar is over the course of three months. Their blood sugar is very low, we know that from lab work. They calorie restrict, but it doesn’t matter — their body is trying to gain weight. So in our labs we also test their insulin, and we find that their insulin is astronomically high.

Basic physiology shows that insulin preferentially takes whatever you eat and does everything it can to store it as fat. it’s like living with a hoarder who takes part of your paycheck every time you get paid. Instead of using that money for the upkeep of the house, they’re hoarding it away. This person’s blood sugar isn’t being used as an energy source, it’s being stored and held onto, as fat. These people are now left with a small amount of energy. They’re fatigued and gaining weight. And perhaps eating a low calorie diet. A lot of times these people are also exercising — they want to lose weight.

A low calorie diet will not help this person. She wouldn’t loose any weight and she’d feel worse. We have to address the insulin issue.

The standard american diet has a bit of fat, a good amount of protein and a lot of carbs. This could be a healthy diet, but most of the time it isn’t. Most of the time we load up on carbs by eating junk food. We just do. But you could do this healthily, carbs can be found in fruits and vegetables. But low calorie diets simply change the volume of fats, proteins and carbs. As soon as this person eats carbs, it stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. They are over responding to carbs with too much insulin. So what’s our solution for that? There’s a few and we’re going to talk about the ones that work best for us.

Let’s look at the standard American diet. Your protein will be moderate, your carbs will be high and your fats will be low. The problem is high carbs lead to high insulin. This diet will not help, even the lower calorie version of it.

What about a high protein diet, like paleo or Atkins? That type of diet is high in protein, low in carbs and has a little bit of fat. That could work, but the problem is you only need so much protein in your diet. As soon as you exceed a certain point, your body will bioconvert protein into carbs using gluconeogenesis. And that’s when high protein diets no longer work. These people are eating too much protein, the protein gets turned into carbs, and the carbs stimulate the pancreas to create more insulin.

In our experience the diet that works in this case isn’t a diet that’s sustainable — to be honest. This is why it is one of the rare times we implement a short term diet solution. the diet is: you eat as much protein as your body needs, as low a level of carbs as we can get away with, and we level it out with fat. This is a crazy diet, it is not good long term. it isn’t safe. But after a period of time this diet leads to a regression in insulin. At this point we pivot and take the patient off this potentially detrimental diet, now that it’s done its job.

Every decision we make is based on extensive and continual lab work — whether we are offering a short-term diet to mitigate the dangers of metabolic irregularities, or we are changing a patient’s lifestyle long-term. We base all decisions on lab work that pertains to each individual patient of ours. No two people are alike, and no two plans are alike. 

Women & Testosterone

Most people go through life thinking estrogen is for women and testosterone is for men, but things aren’t that simple. For example, men need estrogen. And when men lack estrogen there is a genetic irregularity. This leads to health problems. There’s a lot of good research on men and estrogen. But there hasn’t been much research done on women and testosterone. But that’s changed over the last 10-15 years.

At Protea, we run lab work to figure out why women may need testosterone. In this blog we’re going to cover why we treat some women with testosterone, symptoms of low testosterone in women, and the risk and benefits associated with testosterone in women.

In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries. Testosterone is produced all month long, with a little spike sometime around ovulation. Testosterone binds to muscle tissue to help fortify muscle tissue, including your heart.

Currently, the most common use of testosterone in women has been for anti cancer treatments. Testosterone helps mitigate the pain caused by breast cancer, and inhibit breast cancer growth. But testosterone also has a profound effect on brain chemistry.

In the brain there is the limbic system. It’s a deeper part of the brain, and it has centers associated with confidence, assertiveness, aggressiveness, libido, risk taking and boundary setting. These are deep drives within the human brain. Then there is the cortex, the upper part of the brain.

A young man (around 17/18 years old) may exhibit a lot of these traits: abnormal libido, they take too many risks, and they have over abundant confidence. This is because a young man has a very thin cortex. I.e., he doesn’t have a lot of judgement. If you have a thin cortex you feel those drives more intensely, this is only compounded by the amount of testosterone a young man has.

Women have much thicker cortexes than men. Especially adult women. Adult men have tick cortexes as well, but cortexes develop slower in men. Your cortex is where your experiences live: your upbringing, your values, friends, beliefs, spirituality and etc.

Healthy amounts of testosterone filtered through a woman’s thicker cortex means they have a healthy level of risk taking/risk management. They don’t act aggressively in a harmful way, but they are aggressive in regard to pursuing their dreams and what matters to them. Women with healthy levels of testosterone can more easily set emotional boundaries and adhere to them. This all allows women with healthy testosterone to be able to be more confident, more assertive and also have an increased libido.

A lot of women want these traits. A lot of books are written telling women how to be more assertive and take more risks in their lives. But the issue with being told “how” to be more confident and assertive is that it’s an external “solution.” When you read a book and intellectually process that information it lives in your cortex. The info you just absorbed is not rooted deep within your limbic system. So you may be aware of these concepts, but it’s harder to act on them because they are merely concepts in your cortex. We want to stimulate the actual centers of confidence and assertiveness which live deep within your limbic system. Testosterone in women helps to do that. Let’s look into this some more.

Why would women have low testosterone? Well, women aren’t supposed to have a lot of testosterone. A man’s level of free testosterone is at 20-25, for women it’s four. Four is a good number. Now, when we say “free testosterone” we mean testosterone that is unattached to anything in your blood. One of the reasons women can have low testosterone is because of sex hormone binding globulin — a protein made by the liver.

Sex hormone binding globulin is like a magnet. It looks for testosterone that’s in circulation and binds it to the protein. Any testosterone bound to that protein becomes inert. Anytime a woman has too much sex hormone binding globulin, she won’t have any free testosterone available to do anything in her body. Well, what could increase sex hormone binding globulin? Oral contraceptives.

So when a female patient comes and says she lacks confidence, assertiveness and drive and etc, we look at what her sex hormone binding globulin level is. We then ask if she have a history of oral contraceptives? We gauge what her testosterone levels are. We measure what amount of testosterone is bound to the sex hormone binding globulin protein. And then we look at what is her amount of free testosterone.

Giving a woman dosages of testosterone is not our ultimate goal. Our goal is to find a woman’s free testosterone that isn’t bound to the sex hormone binding globulin, and bring that testosterone to a healthy level — naturally.

You might be wondering, “what if we do have to use testosterone?” “What are the risks?” “What are the benefits?” Testosterone in women is probably one of the hardest things we deal with in our office. Because the way it’s naturally secreted by the ovaries is very slow and gentle. When we give a women an injection of testosterone, her levels shoot up, but then harshly drop after seven days. Meaning the process needs to be repeated. Which means the patient is on a tumultuous cycle of hormone dosing. That’s a roller coaster. Some women don’t notice that roller coaster, and everything is fine. But some women do notice it, and that roller coaster ride of testosterone can be immensely difficult to deal with.

In most cases we’ll insert a sub-dermal pellet that lasts for four months, and releases very slowly and steadily. This is our preferred method of treatment. This does not spike testosterone levels. After the four months, it dissolves and leaves the body. This is far gentler on the endocrine system than injecting testosterone into the body.

It’s important to note that side effects of testosterone can be mitigated as long as you’re receiving a healthy dosage. As long as the dosing is healthy, any side effects can be managed and reversed. We view testosterone as a subordinate to progesterone in women. Testosterone helps progesterone do its job. Progesterone is your body’s natural anti-anxiety agent. And finding natural solutions to your health problems is what we’re passionate about at Protea.

We want to work in concert with your body, not against your body. That is our philosophy at Protea, and it has lead us to success with our patients. We invite you to contact us to learn more about how we can help you live a healthier and happier life — naturally. That is the Protea promise.

Deconstructing Patterns

I wanted to talk a bit about patterns this week. Patterns of behavior are usually learned, not innate, and can take a while to take hold.

As a baby, you learned patterns of language by mimicking and copying until eventually you made your own words and phrases. As a kid, you learn how to act and behave through trial and error: in school, at home, with your friends. You don’t grow up automatically understanding that you must say “please” and “thank you” or where to put your homework when you unpack your backpack in the classroom.

We learn social patterns, how to drive a car, how to study for a midterm, how to give and receive gifts. We are taught how to cook by watching and then helping our parents until the patterns become ingrained.

Patterns become a part of the tapestry of our days so much that we forget the work involved in the process.

I am currently teaching my kids a pattern on how to snack after school. How to eat the rainbow on their plates, to include a protein, a healthy fat, a carb and a fruit or veggie. I show them how to read labels to look for sugar grams, make a list for a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and put everything away when they get home.

Patterns become a part of the tapestry of our days so much that we forget the work involved in the process. When we learn patterns, our frontal cortexes are engaged: our powers of concentration, forming new neural pathways, and repetition fire up until we “get it.” Once this happens, we can’t imagine not knowing.

Unlearning patterns of eating is a tricky process. It can be discouraging, starting to understand that how you ate at 20, 30, 40 does not work for your metabolism right now. For those of us who were children/teenagers in the 80s, learning that eating “fat free” didn’t deliver on the promise of “thin” can be disheartening. We were programmed to believe something so deeply that it can be daunting to unlearn it.

Daunting, yet incredibly empowering.

Once you start to understand macronutrients and eating for your particular biochemistry, the hard work begins. We begin to deprogram our brains with knowledge that makes sense to how our bodies feel now – not at the moment years before when the first patterns formed. At the same time we deprogram, we learn new ways of thinking about food and our bodies.

Our brains love to hold onto established patterns and resist the shift we towards eating a new way. We feel better, and get excited by less inflammation and bloating or brain fog. But our brain patterns and memories can sabotage our newfound knowledge, because food is so much more than just nutrition.

Don’t forget the hard work you are doing in deprogramming a set of patterns and learning new ones. Take heart knowing that when you “mess up” on a diet, you are still doing great work. Creating a new nutrition plan deserves success and celebration as much as it does discipline and dedication.

If you have a craving, know that your body is sending you a signal. If you indulge the craving, do it mindfully and then notice how you feel afterwards. Be easy on yourself. If you choose to replace the craving with something that aligns with your new eating pattern, celebrate the win.

We encourage eating for life rather than “dieting” at Protea. Understanding the process in creating a new pattern not only keeps you from going crazy with “fails,” but also helps you stay the course.

It can be a delicate balance, but an encouraging one, as you eat for your body now rather than who you were before, or based on what popular culture tells you. Diet books are tools, but only one part of the pattern you make for yourself.

We believe in the body’s wisdom and the power of your brain to create a successful nutrition pattern that allows you to thrive.  One step, one meal, one day at a time.

How Estrogen Causes Insulin Resistance

As we discussed in our last entry: insulin causes you to store fat — regardless of how healthy your diet may be. It doesn’t matter how many calories you cut out of your daily eating habits: high insulin retain stubborn weight that won’t go away. And as we touched on: diet is not the only factor that affects your insulin. So why may someone with a healthy diet have high insulin, and consequently, stubborn weight that won’t go away?

Our years of lab-work have shown us that when estrogen is too high it stimulates ErbB receptors in the pancreas. ErbB receptors cause that pancreas to make more insulin. This clearly demonstrates that the more estrogen you have, the higher your insulin level. In a woman’s normal cycle there is a balance between estrogen and progesterone. In the beginning of the month estrogen levels are usually normal. Ovulation occurs around day 12 and increases progesterone production. If ovulation does not occur estrogen remains high throughout the month. And it is common for women to not ovulate.

When we have patients come in with high insulin, we test their estrogen and progesterone levels. And we test those levels after day 12, when most women should have begun ovulation. If we find high estrogen and low progesterone, we know we’re on the path to discovering the root of the problem. The next question is: how do we manage these abnormal hormone levels?

Remember the ErbB receptor in the pancreas? That receptor is modulated by progesterone. Giving a woman progesterone during the second half of her cycle calms down the ErbB receptor, and in turn the ErbB releases less insulin. Less insulin, means less stored fat. Our next step is to address dietary habits to help holistically treat insulin resistance caused by high estrogen. Everybody is unique, and every body is unique. That’s why we run in-depth labs, and consult with you on your diet. Together, we can get to the root insulin resistance, and solve stubborn weight-gain.

Why Insulin Resistance is Important to Understand

Insulin resistance is important to understand, but few people do understand it. There are three main points to digest, figuratively speaking. Those three points are: 1) Your body’s regulation of insulin has a lot to do with how you store fat. 2) Abnormally high insulin levels can cause stubborn weight gain. 3) Your insulin levels are regulated by other hormone cycles.

It’s crucial to understand that insulin is a hormone, and it is created in the pancreas. Insulin’s purpose is to help your body’s cells absorb glucose and use it for energy. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) clearly defines insulin’s role in blood glucose control:

  • Insulin helps muscle, fat, and liver cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream, lowering blood glucose levels.
  • Insulin stimulates the liver and muscle tissue to store excess glucose. The stored form of glucose is called glycogen.
  • Insulin also lowers blood glucose levels by reducing glucose production in the liver.

A Women to Women article states, “Over 80 million Americans suffer from insulin resistance, and it appears to sit at the center of a web of related health problems. Women who are insulin resistant are at much greater risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, high cholesterol, breast cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).”

At Protea we run extensive labs on our patients, and we find that some women who have healthy eating habits still can’t loose weight. The red flag we find most often is abnormally high insulin levels. Not only does high insulin result in weight gain that won’t go away, but the NIDDK states, “Some experts believe obesity, especially excess fat around the waist, is a primary cause of insulin resistance.” It’s clear to see that insulin and weight management are inextricably linked. It’s also important to understand your insulin levels are regulated by other hormone cycles.

Your body is a complex ecosystem, and it sends you signals that aren’t always easy to understand. The fact is: a woman with high insulin, who has a healthy diet, is going to store fat. If your insulin is high, and unable to be controlled, it doesn’t matter what you’re eating. So what’s going on here? That question is answered by dedicated lab work, the results of which we’ll discuss in our next entry: How Estrogen Causes Insulin Resistance.

Clear Up Your Oily Skin

Oily skin can be a cause of headaches for both men and women because it is hard to control – especially if you do not know what is causing it. One of the biggest contributors to the quality of your skin is your diet. There are foods you eat that will improve your skin and foods that you eat that do the opposite. There are even foods you can put ON your skin that can help it. Learn about adjusting your diet for oily skin in the article below.

Tired of having the shiniest face wherever you go? It’s not just the products you apply that can help ward off excess oils and the cosmetic complications they bring, but also the foods that you consume. By having more of certain foods and steering clear of some, oiliness should not take over your life.

If your face is constantly making people squint and look away, continue reading. Below you will find some diet do’s and don’ts that will surely go hand in hand with the daily skincare for oily skin that’s recommended by an expert.

Do Have Fiber-Rich Fruits and Veggies

Reducing toxins in the body can help save your skin, which is actually an organ of elimination, from overworking — leading to reduced oils! To flush out those impurities within, include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet as they are excellent sources of fiber. As a bonus, they will also help clarify your complexion.

Don’t Eat Sugary Stuff

We all know that refined sugar is bad for the health. Did you know that it can also exacerbate skin oiliness? That’s because refined sugar causes inflammation and hormonal imbalance, both of which can make your face look like it’s out of a highly reflective material. Steer clear of sweets to avoid zits and shininess!

Do Eat Foods with Healthy Fats

In order to combat inflammation that can lead to excess oil production, consume foods containing healthy fats — in particular omega-3 fatty acids known to posses amazing anti-inflammatory properties. Some wonderful sources of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines, halibut and tuna.

Don’t Eat Refined Carbs

Consuming anything that’s refined is a complete no-no if you have oily skin. When shopping, steer clear of products out of refined grains because they can make your skin shinier than ever. Furthermore, these products can make your waistline expand, plus experts link their consumption to diabetes and heart disease.

Do Go for Whole Grain Food Products

If you’re trying to keep your face from oiliness and the complications associated with it, make sure to consume whole grains and other food products that are out of them. That’s because whole grains are rich in antioxidants and fiber. Brown rice, oats, quinoa, and pastas and baked goods out of whole grains are all great for your skin.

Don’t Consume Dairy

According to skincare experts, milk and dairy products are bad for your skin, most especially if yours is oily and prone to breakouts. It has something to do with the fact that dairy can cause increased levels of inflammation. Worried about not getting enough calcium? Relax — many green leafy veggies are packed with it!

Do Snack on Nuts and Seeds

Earlier, it was mentioned that healthy fats are good for warding off excess oils as they are excellent at suppressing inflammation. Aside from oily fish, other wonderful sources of those healthy fats are nuts and seeds, so snack on them or sprinkle them on your oats, yogurt or salad. However, remember to consume them in moderation.

Don’t Eat Junk Food and Fast Food

It’s plain to see that junk food and fast food are loaded with grease, and that’s why they can make your face look greasy. What’s more, there is no denying that these unhealthy treats are also bad for your figure and heart. Making smarter food choices can help save you from excess oils and so many different health problems.

Do Eat Foods Packed With Vitamin C

Everyone knows that vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system. Are you aware that it’s also good for combating various skin problems, including oiliness? As a bonus, eating vitamin C-rich foods can make you stay look young as vitamin C helps synthesize collagen, a type of protein that makes your skin supple and soft.

Don’t Consume Red Meat

Experts say that red meat contains hormones, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that eating it can cause imbalance in your own hormones — causing a bunch of problems including cosmetic ones such as excess skin oil production and acne. Dodge red meat to keep your face from looking like a greasy frying pan.


New Year, New You?

It is the time when people start thinking about their new year’s resolutions. One of the most common resolutions people make is to eat better and exercise more. However, often times that resolution fails because you find that you did not choose the right diet or workout and motivation is lost. Learn about the most common mistakes made with this resolution in the article below so you don’t make the same ones.

But we’re going to be real with you here, a super-restrictive diet can actually be a recipe for failure—no matter how much you ate over the holidays, says Brooke Alpert, R.D. “Following a diet that cuts out food groups and allows for zero wiggle room puts you in a worse situation that you started in,” she says. Alpert says that yo-yo dieting will damage your metabolism, putting you on track to rebound binge and then start yo-yo-ing again. “That means you’ll get stuck in that vicious dieting cycle,” she says.

That being said, if you want to lose weight, there’s no shame in cleaning up your diet in hopes of a healthier 2017. But to successfully transition from two weeks of eggnog cocktails to 30 days of kale smoothies, make sure you’re not making these mistakes:

1. Eating Foods You Don’t Actually Like

If you think you’re suddenly going to become a fan of Brussels sprouts because it’s January 2nd and you haven’t eaten anything green in the past three

months weeks, you’re setting yourself up to fail. One reason why diets don’t work is that they force people to eat things they don’t like,” says Cassandra Suarez, R.D. “So if the kale smoothie isn’t working out for you, try sautéed kale, kale chips, or better yet, ditch the kale and try spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, or another vegetable.” Another key to eating healthy without hating life is to experiment with spices. “Don’t be afraid to try different seasonings or ways of cooking,” says Suarez. For example, pick up a Cajun spice blend or Chinese five-spice and sprinkle it on top of your veggies or chicken.

2. Expecting Immediate Results

The celebrating you did over the holidays is not going to be undone after a week—or even a month of getting your sh*t together (i.e. healthy eating). “The surest way to fall short of your goal or resolution is to make it unattainable,” says Rene Ficek, R.D., lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. “For instance, resolving to never eat your favorite takeout food again or aiming to lose 10 pounds in one month will backfire,” says Ficek. That’s because not allowing yourself the foods you enjoy leads to eventually bingeing on them when you can’t take the torture anymore. And trying to lose too much weight too fast will certainly lead to disappointment and a rebound bag of Dorritos.

The key is to set smaller goals that build up to your end goal, he says. That means you can try to avoid that takeout joint more often than you do now or aim to lose one to two pounds per week—until you eventually reach your goal, she says. (Start working towards your goals with these moves from Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)

3. Not Making Your Meals Ahead of Time

One of the reasons why we overeat around the holidays is that there’s an abundance of food out that’s easy to grab. When the celebrating is over, make it easy to choose healthy options by preparing healthy food ahead of time. That way you can get to it when you’re hungry, instead of making a game-time decision when you’re ravenous. “Meal preparation is key to eating a balanced diet,” says Lily Chen, R.D. “Cut up vegetables and make extra servings of a meal for the week ahead. This way, you can quickly put together dinner on a busy week night.”

You won’t believe some of the craziest things some people have done to lose weight:

4. Not Checking Labels at the Grocery Store

Being a bit more paticular about the foods you buy at the store can help you get back on track after eating everything without question. Read the food labels on the ingredients you’re using to make a more informed decision about whether or not it belongs in your diet. Chen says it especially improtant to pay close attention to serving sizes. “A bottle of juice may actually contain two servings,” she says. That means it contains twice the sugar and calories as what’s listed on the label. And since you’re probably not in the habit of only drinking half of a juice, that could keep you from losing weight, says Chen. Other important factors to consider are the amount of fiber and protein in your meals. Shoot for eight grams of fiber and 20 grams of protein in every meal to stay full and satisfied.

5. Not Having a Backup Plan for Moments of Weakness

Putting a plan in place to change your diet is great. But you’ve also got to plan for roadblocks, says Ficek. Take stress eating during a particularly annoying day, for example. If you know you’re tempted to make yourself feel better with the help of ice cream, find a backup plan, says Ficek. Maybe you decide to get a 20 minute massage massage at a nail salon, or blow off some steam in that candle light yoga class. “Both would be welcome changes to a healthy new lifestyle, and you will feel much better in the long run.”


Starting Your Day The Wrong Way Could Have Negative Effects

The way you start your day sets the tone for the remaining hours until you crawl back in under your sheets, so wouldn’t you want to start your day right? Especially if you have a wellness or weight loss goal in mind? It’s easy to be running late and take shortcuts in the morning, but now is the time to set your alarm a little earlier so you can avoid the mistakes this article brings up. Your body will be happy you did.

Here, we’ve got the common mistakes that can ruin more than just your morning, and how to adjust them.

1. You Oversleep

We’ve all heard that a lack of shut-eye may cause weight gain, thanks to elevated levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone cortisol in the body. But turns out the opposite—getting too much sleep—might not be much better for you. One study in the journal PLOS One found that sleeping more than 10 hours a night also upped the risk of having a higher BMI compared to those who got seven to nine hours a night. So, hit that sleep sweet spot of seven to nine hours on the reg, and you’ll be in good shape. (Get after your weight-loss goals with Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)

2. You Get Ready in the Dark

If you keep the blinds closed after you wake up, you could be missing out on the weight-loss benefits of the sun, according to another study published in the journal PLOS One.

The study authors suggest that people who got some sun in the early morning had significantly lower BMIs than those who didn’t, regardless of how much they ate. According to the study, just 20 to 30 minutes of daylight is enough to affect BMI, even when it’s overcast. That’s because your body syncs up your internal clock—including your calorie-torching metabolism—using the blue light waves from the early morning sun as a guide.

3. You Don’t Make Your Bed

A National Sleep Foundation survey found that bed-makers were 19 percent more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep compared to those who didn’t make their beds. And since sleeping soundly has been liked to a lower BMI, why wouldn’t you pick this habit back up? This may sound silly, but Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, writes in his book that putting your bed back together in the morning can spawn other good behaviors, like packing a healthy lunch, perhaps. At the same time, Duhigg also writes that those who make their beds regularly are better at sticking to budgets—a demonstration of willpower that may carry over to keeping your calorie count in check.

4. You Skip the Scale

When Cornell University researchers tracked 162 overweight women and men for two years, they found that those who weighed themselves every day were more successful when it came to losing weight and keeping it off. And the best time to step to it is first thing in the a.m., when your weight is at its lowest, says Lisa Jones, R.D., spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Not only will the measurement be more accurate (after a night of metabolizing, you’ll be carrying less water weight), you’ll be able to make adjustments if the number’s a bit higher than you expect.

5. You Skimp at Breakfast  

Researchers from Tel Aviv University found that low-cal dieters who ate a balanced breakfast that contained 600 calories of lean protein, carbohydrates, and a little something sweet reported less hunger and fewer cravings the rest of the day compared to those that ate a low-carb 300-calorie breakfast. They were also better at sticking to their calorie limits. What’s more, they had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin after their meals. The researchers suggest that it’s possible that satisfying your cravings first thing in the morning may help keep you from feeling deprived and going hog-wild later in the day. Check out these five healthy breakfasts your sweet tooth will die for.


Too Much Good Cholesterol?

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). LDLs are considered bad cholesterol because they can clog your arteries while HDLs are considered good because they help clear out LDLs. Since that is the case you would think that keeping LDL levels low and HDL levels high would be a good thing for your health. However this article from Men’s Health explains why you might not want your HDL levels too high.

Related: The Better Man Project From Men’s Health—2,000+ Awesome Tips On How to Live Your Healthiest Life

Researchers tracked more than 1.7 million men for nearly a decade. They found that those with HDL levels above 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) were significantly more likely to die during the study than those with levels between 25 to 50 mg/dL.

(Guys with levels below 25 mg/dL were also more likely to die than those in the middle range.)

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) says that anything above 59 mg/dL protects you from heart disease. So these findings seem to be challenging some long-held beliefs.

HDL is considered “good” because it prevents LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from building up in your arteries and narrowing them, which can lead to clots and subsequent heart attacks and strokes.

Related: What You Need to Know If You’re Taking Statins to Lower Your Cholesterol

So why did the high-HDL men die sooner in the study? The researchers aren’t sure, but that group of men also had higher levels of inflammation, says lead researcher Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., of the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System.

Chronic inflammation can be killer, contributing to deadly conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Still, the scientists don’t know if high HDL somehow causes inflammation. More research is needed to figure out what—if anything—is going on.

Because this data is so new and uncertain, it doesn’t change the HDL guidelines laid out by the NIH, says Prediman Krishan Shah, M.D., Men’s Health cardiology advisor.

But it’s a good reminder that you can’t rely too much on any one number to determine your health.

In fact, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently changed their recommendations for statin therapy for high cholesterol away from a certain number in favor of a multi-faceted approach that takes into account your 10-year risk of developing heart disease.

Related: What Your Cholesterol Test Really Means—and When You Should Get It 

So while the scientists sort everything out, stick to the current targets and try these 30 Proven Ways to Save Your Heart Today.