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Emily Mendez, M.S., Ed.S

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Let’s talk about feel-good foods! Many people associate “comfort foods” with the warm, fuzzy emotions that go along with eating warm, gooey and filling foods. However, many of the comfort foods we grew up with are filled with sugars, extra carbs and unhealthy fats that wreck our moods after the initial “flavor high.” True feel-good food is food that uses nutrients, minerals and vitamins to provide brain boosts. These foods don’t create the “highs” and “lows” associated with many of the foods we all thought were feel-good foods. What are the best foods for boosting your mood naturally? Take a look at the recipe for happiness for both your stomach and brain!

Get a Happiness Delivery From Vitamin D

Breakfast with eggs, greens, and toast.

Yes, simple vitamin D is a big mood booster. Unfortunately, this is the feel-good vitamin that most people aren’t getting enough of in their diets. Researchers estimate that more than 41 percent of American adults aren’t getting enough daily Vitamin D.

What many people don’t realize is that vitamin D is technically a hormone. What’s more, researchers have linked low vitamin D levels with depression. In a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis on vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults, researchers concluded that the link between depression and vitamin D levels is profound enough to call for more trials to see if vitamin D can be an effective tool for the prevention and treatment of depression.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to find tasty options rich in vitamin D. Fish is an excellent source of natural vitamin D. Salmon, herring, sardines, tuna and cod top the list when it comes to getting the most D in every delicious bite! If you’ve been looking for a reason to commit to enjoying a morning scramble other than the fact that this is a delicious option, it’s helpful to know that eggs are very high in vitamin D. In fact, one yolk contains 37 IU of vitamin D. Mushrooms, oatmeal, cow’s milk and soy milk round out the list of common, delicious foods that are rich in vitamin D.

Bring the Fun Times With Omega-3 Fatty Acids

This is the big category if you’re struggling with mood and energy levels. There’s increasing evidence that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in a person’s diet is linked with poor mental health. In fact, researchers believe that dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids in humans are associated with increased risks for developing psychiatric disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The good news for anyone looking to boost physical and mental health is that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids tend to be highly nourishing and filling! In addition to being great for your brain, these foods are also potentially beneficial for heart health, skin health, eye health and weight loss. If you want to go big with omega-3 fatty acids, focus on cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines. Falling into the category of nuts and seeds, goodies like chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts are all high in omega-3 fatty acids. Plant oils like soybean oil, canola oil and flaxseed oil are all superstars when it comes to getting your omega-3 requirements in!

Do a Turkey Trot Toward a Good Mood With Tryptophan

Tryptophan got a bad rap for being the ingredient in turkey that makes everyone feel sleepy on Thanksgiving. While tryptophan can have a relaxing impact, the reality is that the infamous Thanksgiving sleepiness probably has much more to do with the enormous portions of all types of food being eaten at the table than it does with one little amino acid. What’s interesting about tryptophan is that our bodies don’t produce it even though it’s needed to maintain the body’s muscles, enzymes, proteins and neurotransmitters. The reason why tryptophan makes the list of mood-boosting things to eat is because this amino acid is converted to serotonin in your brain. That after-turkey afterglow may start making sense to you now! Serotonin is the primary hormone for stabilizing our mood. When serotonin levels are balanced, we can expect to have feelings of well-being and happiness. In fact, many of the antidepressants that people use for mood issues are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that increase serotonin levels in the brain.

Studies show that tryptophan may be effective for treating a variety of psychiatric disorders. While adding some extra tryptophan to your diet should never take the place of actual advice from your doctor if you’re currently using SSRIs, it’s helpful to know that many popular foods are packed with tryptophan if you’re simply looking for a mood boost. If you’re looking to tip the mood scales in your favor, try nibbling on oats, bananas, dried prunes, milk, tuna fish, cheese, bread, chicken, turkey, peanuts and chocolate.

Breeze Past Bad Moods With Probiotics

Two bowls of yogurt parfait made with granola and peaches.

According to the latest research, probiotics may help to boost both mood and cognitive function. It all comes down to the discovery that the brain and gut are linked by something called the gut-brain axis. Through the brain-gut axis, biochemical signals are conveyed between the nervous system and digestive tract.

Researchers call the gut the body’s “second brain” due to all of the neurotransmitters produced in the gut. In fact, 90 percent of the serotonin produced by the human body is made in the digestive tract! The gut is also responsible for making other mood-regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid.

There are plenty of ways to fit probiotics into your diet! The easiest way to get in your probiotics every day is by simply starting your day off with a yogurt parfait! Foods like tempeh (fermented soybean), kefir, sauerkraut and miso are all great sources for probiotics.

Don’t Forget the Coffee

While it’s not technically a food, coffee enjoyed in moderation can be great for improving mood. Coffee stimulates the central nervous system. That’s why we feel sharper and more alert after starting the day with a cup of java. Researchers believe that caffeine’s ability to block a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine is what that feeling of “having the edge” comes from. It’s also known that caffeine influences neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine and acetylcholine that are known to improve both mood and mental performance. One of the most compelling arguments for using coffee as a mood-boosting tool comes from a 2013 study looking at the link between coffee consumption and suicide. According to the authors that reviewed data from three large studies, the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half compared to people who drank decaffeinated coffee, very little no coffee.

Eating for a Better Mood: How to Make Healthy, Happy Meals Happen Every Day

Being stressed about what to eat to boost your mood can be counterproductive when you’re striving to eat for a sharper, happier brain. That’s why using meal prep is a great way to ensure that you’re getting balanced, healthy meals. This is also a great way to enjoy balanced nutrition that gives you mood-boosting ingredients worked into portions that offer appropriate amounts of healthy fats, protein, calories and more for better physical performance!

Does life feel like a stress factory? It turns out that the way to slow down stress is to rev up your gears. While it may seem counterproductive, doing more is the best stress-management technique if that “more” involves your workout. Yes, regular exercise is the stress-busting secret that everyone needs to remember when they feel tense, anxious and overwhelmed. Do you need a stress escape plan? Take a look at the secret to managing stress with exercise.

Your Brain Supplies You With Your Own Stress-Management Coaches: Meet the Endorphins

Most of us know how good that post-workout glow feels. It can feel like we’ve discovered the secret switch for suddenly feeling more energized, confident and motivated. However, we can just as easily forget how good working out feels once our schedules fill up with work commitments, home-life commitments and distractions. Once you know the science behind why working out leaves you feeling like you’re on top of the world, it’s pretty hard to skip a workout.

It’s all thanks to endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. You’ve definitely already met endorphins if you’ve ever worked out hard, went for a run or simply danced around! Endorphins are natural analgesics that help to diminish pain. Your body releases them during workouts because it knows that you’re “feeling the burn.”

Because endorphins act on the brain’s opioid receptors, they create the feeling of a natural “high” that can reduce pain, increase pleasure and leave you with a general sense of increased well-being. Researchers have known about the link between exercise and the stress-reducing benefits of endorphin release for decades. However, the stressful pace of modern life has more and more researchers looking at the benefits of exercise for stress relief. If you really want to ramp up the feel-good, stress-busting hormones, you may need to ramp up your workouts. While any form of exercise can positively affect mood, people going hard against stress are going hard in the gym. Next, take a look at the emerging research on moderate versus heavy exercise for stress relief.

How Heavy Exercise Can Help With Stress Reduction

First, it’s helpful to know the baseline recommendation for using exercise and physical activity for wellness. The current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that adults should strive to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity workouts, the recommended time drops down to 75 minutes weekly. Keep in mind that this is the recommendation simply for improving and maintaining physical health. People seeking to use workouts to improve mental health may want to tweak this suggestion a bit to create more of a “therapeutic” schedule. In fact, research supports this.

In a 2018 study, researchers looked at opioid release after high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to gauge the positive effects of physical exercise on mood and stress levels. They found that HIIT leads to a strong endorphin release in the brain that likely alleviates both physical and emotional stress. Here’s a closer look at the data roundup:

  • HIIT substantially increased the release of endorphins and opioid peptides in areas of the brain that control pain and emotion.
  • HIIT’s ability to reduce “negative feelings” actually boosted endorphin release. Consider this confirmation that the no-pain-no-gain theory might be more valid than we thought!
  • Researchers were left to conclude that both negative and positive feelings created by physical exercise impact the opioid system.

The most exciting part of this study comes next. The impact of HIIT on the brain’s opioid system was compared to regular aerobic exercise. Researchers concluded that a traditional one-hour session of aerobic exercise did not produce the same endorphin release as HIIT. Of course, that’s not to say that “normal” aerobic exercise isn’t helpful for stress relief. While traditional exercise did produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria associated with endorphin release, the intensity of the results could not touch what study participants who endured HIIT experienced.

Tweaking Exercise Intensity Levels for Stronger Stress Relief

Photo of athlete performing rope climbs in the gym.

Let’s back up to cover precisely what the correlation between high-intensity workouts and endorphin release means for people trying to learn how to use exercise for stress relief. First, the thought that some exercise is better than no exercise still applies. Someone who cannot participate in high-intensity aerobics for any reason should not assume that they should skip working out because it doesn’t offer any benefits. Any mildly intense physical activity should get you a decent-sized endorphin release that can take the edge off. If you’re looking for intense stress relief, the answer is intense physical activity.

Knowing that high-intensity workouts lead to better stress relief is half the battle. The irony of using intense workouts for stress relief is that the endorphin rush that you’re trying to invoke in your opioid receptors can only be created by creating unpleasant feelings. That’s because your body releases endorphins in response to pain and physical stress during workouts. To stay on track with using exercise for meaningful stress relief, you have to get in a mindset of getting rid of the bad feelings caused by stress by taking on even more bad feelings during a grueling workout before reaching the point where the pain turns to pleasure.

Getting the motivation for this can be challenging for anyone. Negative feelings associated with intense exercise discourage exercise in a considerable percentage of the general population. This is where consistency and planning become so important. You need to build a mindset that allows you to take on the physical and emotional demands of putting in a workout.

How To Stay Motivated

Here are some tips for staying motivated to get your workouts in — even if you know they might make you wince:

Set of workout clothes ready to go.
Keep your workout clothes ready to go!
  • Get your workout in early. If your schedule allows, make your workout the first thing you do every morning. Scheduling your workout for later in the day gives you most of the day to try to talk yourself out of doing it. What’s more, unexpected things can pop up during your day to rob you of the time you’ve set aside for your workout. Exercising first thing also gives you the confidence boost and optimism that come with accomplishing something very hard before more people have even rolled down the top sheet! If you’re having a hard time getting started in the morning, you can gradually adjust your workout time to be earlier and earlier every day until you can get there.
  • Make sure there’s a “treat” waiting. Don’t put yourself in the position to be desperate for anything you can get your hands on after you finish an intense workout. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a treat, giving yourself a snack or meal to look forward to when your workout is complete can be a big motivator. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the food or beverage you select will replenish and restore you without undoing any of your hard work. If you’re planning morning workouts, consider having something like healthy banana pancakes or a keto egg scramble waiting for you in the fridge!
  • Keep your workout clothes ready. The goal is to make sure you never have excuses. Following each workout, prepare your workout clothes and gear for the next workout! This will ensure that they are always waiting for you.
  • Discover exercises you enjoy. HIIT workouts come in many forms! You don’t have to commit to just one option. In fact, many HIIT workout programs out there combine traditional cardio with yoga, boxing, ballet and more!
  • Bring a friend along. If you’re desperate to relieve stress, there’s a good chance that the people you live or work with also need some stress-busting tools. Why not get a partner or group? Studies show that having a workout partner increases the amount of time spent working out!
  • Just remember that even a small amount of exercise helps. Exercise in almost any form or intensity level can be a stress reliever. So, if you are out of shape, start by gradually building up your fitness level. You’ll still get the stress relieving benefits of exercise while slowly becoming healthier.

The research is becoming more apparent on one thing. Pain may be the only way to gain peace of mind when it comes to your workout. If you’ve fallen into a sedentary way of being, the argument for getting out there to feel the burn has never been stronger. If you’re already exercising without getting the stress-relieving benefits that you want, the answer may be to ramp things up.

Let the Stress Reduction Begin!

If you’re feeling motivated to reduce stress using high-intensity workouts, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. It’s essential to get proper nutrition through complete, healthy meals when doing intense workouts because your body needs the right fuel to perform—as always, using a meal prep service is an excellent way for busy health-minded people to stay on top of things without feeling vulnerable to hunger, cravings and low energy.

How do you eat like a champion? From watching the Olympics in Tokyo, many people are feeling inspired by the endurance displayed by the world’s top athletes to begin fueling their own bodies a bit differently. For top-tier athletes, diet is closely tied with peak performance. The truth is that the “average person” doesn’t necessarily need the same caloric intake as athletes who spend hours training each day. For instance, the 12,000 calories that Michael Phelps consumed during training leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing would do more harm than good for nearly everyone else. It’s not uncommon for Olympic athletes to consume double or triple the number of calories recommended for “ordinary” people during peak training periods.

While it’s easy to get caught up on the number of calories top-level athletes take in, the lesson is really found in the types of calories these athletes consume. There are plenty of eating tips that everyday people can borrow from Olympians for peak life performance. Let’s explore what we can learn from how Olympians eat.

Keeping Your Eye on the Prize Starts on the Plate: Modeling Your Diet After Olympians

You may know Laurie Hernandez as an Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. gymnastics teams. Laurie is also a big advocate of sharing tips for healthy eating. After competing in the Olympics for the first time at age 16, Laurie became committed to ensuring that she was fueling her body properly. This commitment to staying fueled both on and off the mat helped the gymnast become the youngest celebrity ever to win a top place on “Dancing with the Stars.” She recently shared a sample menu of her eating habits on a typical day with USADA. Here’s a look:

Keto Egg Scramble
  • Breakfast: Breakfast for Laurie typically includes a protein-rich mix of scrambled eggs, turkey and cheese. Something like a keto egg scramble fits in nicely with this type of plan. If she’s in a rush, she’ll choose some fruit or yogurt on the go. She’s also a fan of sitting down with a warm bowl of oatmeal on slower mornings. The one thing that Laurie has every morning is almond milk. In fact, the athlete swears by using almond milk in her coffee and cereal in place of regular milk.
  • Lunch: The middle meal of the day is usually a sandwich with grilled chicken or turkey. On days when she’s eating lighter because she’s headed to the gym, she’ll opt for a salad that contains fruit, meat and nuts to create a light, quick way to get a balanced meal without feeling overly full.
  • Dinner: For dinner, Laurie peppers in a mix of carbs, protein and vegetables. Her favorite dinnertime proteins are grilled chicken and salmon. Her carbs of choice are quinoa and brown rice.
  • Snacks: Yes, this Olympian does snack! However, don’t picture this top-level athlete shoving her hand into a bag of chips each night just yet. Laurie uses snacks to fill in any gaps her meals may have left to get various nutrient requirements in her diet. That means that her snacks are always intentional and meaningful. A typical snack for Laurie might include nuts, berries and bananas. Interestingly, she prefers fresh, whole foods over things like protein bars because she doesn’t like the uncertainty of the ingredients in prepackaged, mass-produced snacks. Laurie is a fan of homemade granolas that might include honey or chocolate chips for some wholesome sweetness.

The one meal tip that is true every single day for Laurie is that she never skips meals. The athlete recognizes the need to give the body complete, balanced nutrition that rests on her ability to plan ahead for each meal period of the day. While Laurie doesn’t track calories, she is consistent with having appropriate portions of nutrient-rich foods every day.

What Do You Need in Your Diet When Training Like an Athlete?

Let’s start with protein. Olympic athletes live for protein. However, anyone who works out or trains regularly should also prioritize a protein-rich diet. Just how much protein do you need when training? The answer can vary based on how you’re training. According to the USADA, this is how much protein is needed for various types of training:

  • Endurance: 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Strength (Muscle Gain): 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Strength (Muscle Maintenance): 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Weight Restricted: 1.8 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Next, it’s time to focus on fat. It’s recommended that athletes consume 20 percent to 35 percent of their calories from fat. Some sources of healthy fat that are recommended in the official USADA guidelines include dairy products, cooked meats, fish, nuts and avocados.

It’s also recommended that athletes use their diets to promote gut health. To achieve proper gut balance for optimal health and performance, athletes can consume foods rich in probiotics. Getting the right balance of healthy bacteria in the gut via probiotics helps prevent illness and boost the body’s natural immune system. The easiest way to get probiotics in your diet is simply by eating yogurt. However, probiotics are also found abundantly in fermented foods like miso or keifer.

Hydration is also a big part of the Olympic diet. As you may know, 60 percent of body weight is water! When we train vigorously, we lose fluid at a rapid pace through our sweat and breath. It’s essential to replenish the water that is lost throughout a training session to ensure that we don’t decrease blood circulation in a way that leads to poor performance, tiredness and injury. Here’s a look at the hydration protocol outlined by the USADA:

  • Athletes should drink 7 ounces to 12 ounces of cold water before working out.
  • Drinking should not be restricted during workouts. Drinking 4 ounces to 8 ounces of a cold fluid is recommended every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Athletes should not wait to drink until they feel thirsty because dehydration begins before thirst forms.
  • Beverages with caffeine, alcohol and excessive carbs should be avoided.

What If You Want to Eat Like an Olympian Without Training?

You may be simply looking for some diet tips from Olympians even though you don’t necessarily need the hundreds or thousands of extra calories per day that are required when you’re in the midst of intense training. Many of the tips offered by top-level athletes still stand. The big point to walk away with for “ordinary people” looking for Olympic-level nutrition is that balance and consistency are the keys. The one thing that all Olympic athletes have in common is that they are never “surprised” by mealtimes. They know that being caught hungry at the last minute can lead to cravings that throw their eating plans off balance. If you’re wondering how to create a balanced meal plan, the goal is to keep a constant rotation of interesting and tasty vegetables, fruits, healthy grains and lean proteins on hand.

One thing that’s notable about Olympians is that they don’t shy away from snacking! While snacking has a bad reputation in popular culture, athletes view snacks as essential tools for making up for any nutritional gaps in their meals while also providing fuel between meals. When you plan to eat healthy, appetizing snacks, these foods can become “fuel boosters” that contribute to a healthy diet instead of sources of temptation that leave you feeling lethargic due to wonky blood sugar.

The final thing to remember is that it’s not necessary to always eat like you’re in training mode if you’re not an Olympian. Many nutritionists recommend using something called the 80/20 rule when planning your diet:

Following the 80/20 rule, you can “freestyle” your food plans 20 percent of the time as long as you’re sticking to a balanced, disciplined food plan 80 percent of the time.

An easy way to stick to the 80/20 rules is to have all of your meals planned out for Monday through Friday using a meal prep service before allowing yourself to enjoy time out with friends on the weekends. Planning ahead will help you avoid decision fatigue, which can sabotage your Olympic eating goals.

Just remember: Olympians don’t become Olympians without a plan. The easiest way to gear up for better mental and physical performance is to make a solid, no-fuss plan for healthy meals and snacks that allows you to be a champion of life!

Think peak fitness is yours to keep forever? Think again! It’s common for fitness levels to plummet after just a few short weeks of inactivity. No, it’s not your imagination if you swear that you feel and look different after taking a week off from the gym. Your body may have reverted significantly during that brief window. Why is it so easy to become unfit? Blame entropy.

Our bodies need to be in constant motion to maintain fitness levels.  If we “slack off” for any amount of time, our bodies are quick to become “deconditioned.” Even people who have been training for years can see significant decreases in fitness  if they take just a few weeks off. That doesn’t mean that you should never take a day off from training. However, you should be aware of the role that consistency plays in helping you to enjoy prolonged fitness without the need to start from scratch every time life gets busy. The good news is that knowing why our bodies want to get back to a very unfit base can help us build routines that promote sustained fitness. Take a look at everything you ever wanted to know about why it’s so easy to get unfit!

First, Here’s How We Get Fit

Everything that we put our bodies through helps us to adapt, toughen up and become more tolerant. That’s why an exercise that seems complicated one week may be downright breezy the next. Our bodies are working towards higher and higher fitness levels while we’re consistent with exercise. If we’re adding in healthy meals full of complete nutrition for feeding our muscles with lean proteins, leafy greens and healthy grains, we often see even better results because we have the energy to get through our workouts without battling cravings.

How Does Fitness Fall Apart?

Even fitness that feels like it’s peaking at higher levels can go bust. Pursuing a fit life doesn’t leave any room for resting on your laurels because your body needs to stay in motion to keep that fitness momentum. Just ask science.

A person who builds up strength and fitness over a long period of time can experience reduced fitness in just a few weeks of no training. One study examined the effects of de-conditioning on a female master athlete after an injury. In that study, it took just four weeks of de-training for the participant to experience a significant decrease in fitness, as evidenced by a reduction of VO2max scores of 25.7 percent. VO2 max scores represent the maximum volume of oxygen that your body can use during exercise. This score is frequently used to measure cardiovascular fitness in athletes. 

The simple reason is that the body doesn’t have a need to stay fit once the stress of training is lifted. The average person can expect to see their cardiorespiratory fitness return to pre-training levels in just eight weeks. Yes, that means that months or years of hard work will put you right back where you started in terms of the amount of oxygen your body uses during physical activity. We also know that blood, and plasma volumes can dip by as much as 12 percent within four weeks of a person ending their training routine. Those declines are simply due to the reduction in stress being placed on the heart and muscles. When researchers looked at 21 runners who participated in the 2016 Boston Marathon, they found that four weeks of using reduced routines caused cardio fitness levels to drop significantly. However, researchers noted that maintaining a decreased routine helped the runners avoid even larger drops in fitness. Let that be a lesson that something is better than nothing if you’re trying to maintain some level of cardio fitness during a period where things like time restraints or life obstacles are making it difficult to work out at full capacity.

What About Muscle Strength?

According to researchers, athletes will begin to lose muscle strength in just three weeks if they aren’t working out! That means that just a month away from your fitness routine can create a very noticeable difference in muscle strength and appearance. The big deal about losing muscle strength is that muscles are very important for overall health and leanness. Muscles burn more calories than fat, even outside the gym. That’s true even when you’re simply sitting on the couch watching television. As a result, a person with higher muscle mass will typically burn more calories than a person with lower muscle mass throughout the course of an average day. When muscles are allowed to atrophy, this opens the door for sudden weight gain. 

Why Don’t Our Bodies Just Stay Fit?

The human body is smart. It’s not in the business of maintaining all kinds of “expensive” muscle just so that you can look good. In truth, our bodies will default to the easiest baseline when we don’t put them through the wringer in training. If it’s just about preserving calories for survival, the body doesn’t “care” about putting energy into cardiovascular performance or lean muscle. The default is to build fat that doesn’t burn off as many calories as lean muscle. This is why keeping muscle on takes so much work. Of course, the catch to this is that it becomes much easier to stay inactive once we are inactive. When we decrease in fitness, we have less energy. All it takes is an excuse like being too busy, not wanting to drive to the gym or saying that we’ll go tomorrow to get even deeper into the cycle of reverse fitness.

How to Maintain Fitness

The best way to stay fit is to never fall off the fitness wagon. Once you understand how easily your body will revert back to your pre-training performance level and appearance, it’s hard to ever want to let yourself slide backward. Here are some tips for how to preserve fitness:

#1 Customize a meal plan that fuels your body based on the workouts you’re doing. You’re more likely to give up on a fitness routine if you feel hungry, deprived or weak. You may also sabotage all of the hard work you’ve done by grabbing for comfort foods at the end of a long day. The best way to combat this is by using meal prep to ensure that a balanced, proportioned and satisfying meal is always waiting at every mealtime of the day.

# 2 Remember that doing something is better than nothing. As researchers point out, athletes were able to avoid considerable dips in fitness by keeping up with some level of training. This created much better outcomes than if they had stopped running “cold turkey.”

#3 Adjust your diet based on your fitness levels. If you’re eating more calories when you’re training hard, don’t forget to adjust your diet for the times when you’re not as active. It’s not necessary to eat like you’re training when you’re not training. When your muscles aren’t burning those extra calories, you may be more likely to put on fat instead. Focus on healthy meals that are the right size based on your daily intake needs.

#4 Create fitness plans that actually work for your life. If you find yourself constantly committing to rigorous workout plans that you abandon after a few weeks, this may be a sign that you’re taking on too much all at once. A better approach may be to design a fitness plan that’s more sustainable for your lifestyle. You may find that doing workouts that you enjoy helps you to avoid the need to constantly “start from scratch” after your fitness levels reset with every lapse.

The bottom line is that it’s not a matter of you against your body. Yes, your body wants to get back to baseline. However, consistency that’s powered with a positive mindset can help you to enjoy long-term fitness.

Don’t Forget to Get Support

One of the reasons why so many people fail to maintain fitness after achieving it is that they don’t have support! It’s very easy to fall into a four-week funk that sets our fitness level back to zero when we don’t have support. To boost your chances of staying consistent, things like a trainer, fitness class or workout buddy should all be considered. If you’re constantly getting off track with eating properly for fitness, consider signing up for a meal prep service that delivers balanced, tasty meals that you select right to your door. In fact, researchers are very clear about the fact that nutrition has the most significant impact on fitness.

For people focused on getting fit, it’s essential to know about the benefits of improving diet and exercise at the same time. In one study designed to measure methods for improving health, researchers found that only participants in the group that received simultaneous nutrition and exercise counseling reached their goals when compared to participants in the nutrition-only and exercise-only groups.

Final Thoughts on Avoiding Fitness Entropy

The only real guard against reverse fitness is consistency! Making it as straightforward as possible to fit the right diet and exercise into your life is as close to a “hack” as anyone can get. Of course, the freedom to look and feel your best is the best inspiration for staying on track!

Weight maintenance is a part of health maintenance for many people. Setting weight goals can be an important way to reach health objectives based on your personal goals for fitness and well-being. However, understanding how to set weight goals can be challenging. When creating a weight-loss plan, there are two prevailing theories to know about called the set point theory and the settling point theory. Knowing the science behind both can put you in a good spot for understanding how to craft a way of eating, exercising and living that’s ideal for your body.

What We Know About How Our Bodies Use Food

Most people understand weight loss as a simple formula that’s based on calories in versus calories out. That means that we tend to gain or lose weight based on what we’re eating versus how much energy we’re expending. Is it really that simple? The answer can depend on which scientist you ask.

The truth is that your body’s relationship with food is complicated. While it makes sense that excess fat storage occurs when there is an excess amount of calories taken in without being expended, it’s also very likely that a variety of physiological factors also determine how the body uses food. This is where the understanding of setting point versus settling point comes into play. Let’s dive in for a crash course on the things nobody ever told you about what your body thinks of your diet.

What Is the Set Point Theory?

The foundation of the set point theory is that the human body has an “internal control mechanism” that wants your body to maintain a certain body fat percentage. This “set point” varies by person based on physiological factors. In fact, scientists even know where this “set point” mechanism is located. It is believed to be nested in the brain’s lateral hypothalamus that is responsible for regulation each person’s metabolism. The hypothalamus communicates directly with your body’s fat cells to release insulin and hunger-related hormones. At the core of the set point model is the idea that we each have a genetically preset weight range that our bodies are actively trying to get back to regardless of our behavioral changes. While we may see temporary changes in weight, our bodies are working behind the scenes to override our efforts to get us back to that preset weight range by resetting our metabolic function.

If you’ve ever felt like you gained or maintained weight when eating less, it may not have just been your perception. Your “set point” regulators may have triggered a slowing of your metabolism to ensure that you don’t dip below your “set” percentage of body fat. In fact, studies have shown that severe caloric restriction can depress resting metabolism by 23 percent.

What Is the Settling Point Theory

The settling point theory focuses on behavior over biology. First proposed by a researcher named James Hill of the University of Colorado, the settling point theory hinges on the idea that we settle into habits for diet and physical activity based on several factors. However, it does assign some importance to biological influence when determining weight-related habits. This is where the confusion between set point and settling point comes in for some people. The big difference here is that the settling point theory cites genetic predisposition as an influence on behavioral choices instead of being responsible for actually setting your metabolism. Here’s a look at some factors other than genetic predisposition that are believed to impact weight based on the settling point theory:

  • Learned behaviors.
  • Environmental cues.
  • Sensitivity to food-related cues.

Researchers who back the settling point theory point to evidence that health interventions focused on incorporating physical activity into a weight-loss plan have the greatest success rates. It’s very important to note that the settling theory doesn’t “blame” people for their weight problems because it assumes that weight gain comes down to “bad” behavior. This theory simply recognizes that a combination of genetic and learned behaviors influence eating behaviors. For people trying to lose weight, the settling point theory can be more encouraging than the set point theory because it means that obstacles to weight loss are technically removable with behavioral changes. By contrast, the set point theory is based on the idea that our bodies essentially have internal “weight clocks” that are set for a certain percentage of body fat that cannot be undone.

Separating Fact From Fiction: Is the Set Point Theory True?

The answer is that we aren’t sure yet. The set point theory is something that researchers are still studying. The set point theory may have some validity. However, the exact amount of power that our body’s internal “weight clock” has on our ability to lose weight has yet to be determined. Many researchers are quick to point out that our “set point” might not be as set as we think, even if this theory turns out to be true. In fact, we can actually sabotage our personal set points if we create long-term habits for excessive eating paired with a lack of exercise. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard point out that it’s actually possible to create a higher set point beyond our original predetermined set point through long-term habits.

Of course, the risk with only subscribing to the set point theory is that there’s a lot of discouragement wrapped up in this theory. The set point theory is not permission to “give up” on healthy eating simply because the science says you have no control over your weight. By contrast, this information should be used to craft a tailored, highly personalized diet plan that takes into account your specific nutritional needs.

Tying the Two Theories Together

We know that “starvation” diets can slow the metabolism and lead to weight gain. We also know that exercise is one of the most effective tools for lowering body weight. In addition to burning calories in the moment, exercise also turns us into calorie-burning machines even when we’re not actively working out because it builds muscle that passively burns more fat. This is where the theories of set point and settling point intersect. What may seem like two conflicting points of view clashing is the marriage of two aspects of how the body maintains a healthy weight.

Let’s do a roundup of what we know based on what was covered so far. The settling point theory pushes the idea that physical exercise can help us “hack” our predispositions to get within our desired weight range. Next, even researchers who follow the set point theory agree that unhealthy behavioral patterns can actually increase our set points. It seems that the answer is a healthy, balanced lifestyle regardless of which theory we follow. More importantly, we need to understand the importance of using the right fuel if we try to use exercise and activity as a balance to whatever our genetic predispositions might be. With the understanding that not consuming enough calories can lead to weight gain under the set point theory in mind, we know that consuming enough healthy calories is essential for reducing our set points.

Making Sense of Set Point and Settling Point From a “Whole Picture” Standpoint

When looking at these two theories, we should really be focusing on set point, and settling point instead set point versus set point. That’s because both theories ultimately boil down to the idea that healthy, nourishing foods paired with a good amount of physical activity make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. While not everyone has the time or means to pay someone to design a genetically specific diet plan for them, we can all focus on high-protein foods full of healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants and essential minerals in appropriate portions.

One of the best ways to avoid that “creep” toward a higher set point is to be conscious about meal planning to avoid the urge to reach for whatever is fast and convenient. Unfortunately, grabbing for the nearest thing when we don’t have healthy meals and snacks waiting for us often means grabbing for calorie-dense, nutrient-void foods. Research shows that meal planning is associated with a healthier diet, a better variety of foods, weight loss and reduced obesity. That could mean that opting for something like a complete high-protein meal plan tailored to meet your daily calorie goals could be ideal for making sure you’re getting the calories you need for energy and health without the perils of being short on time. If one time of the day is your weak spot due to a hectic schedule, you may want to focus on just making sure you always have a high-powered, energy-boosting breakfast waiting for you.

Do these insights about set point versus settling point ring some bells about your own experience with trying to maintain a specific weight? Let us know if you can relate to feeling like your weight has been “set” by genetic factors. You can also let us know what you plan to do with this information now that you know more!

We all eat. We all have to eat. Generally, we all love to eat. While our relationship with food is entirely natural, it can also be surprisingly complicated. That’s because eating isn’t just a physical act. There is a strong psychological component behind our eating behaviors and habits. Many of us have motivations for eating the way that we do that we aren’t fully aware of in our conscious minds. Yes, there are emotional, family, cultural, economic and biological underpinnings that can influence our eating behaviors. That’s precisely why a one-size-fits-all diet can never work. It’s also why fad diets can fizzle out quickly.

While many people find short-term success with cutting out specific foods by following diets like low-carb and keto, these changes may not be ideal for everyone looking for sustained results gained through overall healthy habits. Focusing on forming a healthy relationship with food is essential regardless of the specific diet protocol you find works best with your body. Here’s a look at what our diets should be doing for us when everything is in alignment:

  • Giving us increased energy.
  • Helping us to be alert enough to “show up” for life.
  • Allowing us to enjoy food!
  • Improving our health by delivering the nutrition we need to thrive.
  • Fueling us for an active life.

Here’s a look at what our diets should not be doing for us:

  • Serving as a way to hide our feelings by being distracted instead of dealing with our problems.
  • Allowing us to feel as though overindulging is the only way we can feel in control of something.
  • Creating avoidable, diet-specific issues with our weight, blood sugar, cholesterol or blood pressure.
  • Curing boredom.
  • Causing shame.

Yes, food should be an experience that we enjoy. However, we shouldn’t necessarily be viewing food as a psychological crutch. That’s not to say that food can’t provide psychological benefits. For instance, having a delicious lunch outdoors with friends can be a soul-nourishing experience. For some people, planning meal prep for a busy upcoming week allows them to feel excited about being ahead of the game.

The First Step: Separating Emotional Hunger From True Hunger

Emotional Hunger is when you think you’re hungry due to stress, happiness or boredom. By contrast, true hunger is a gradual process where your hunger builds up while also providing you with cues to stop eating when you’re satisfied. Generally, people who eat out of emotional hunger will continue eating past satiation. This often leads to feelings of guilt or shame.

“Boredom increases eating in an attempt to distract from this experience, especially among people high in self-awareness,” according to a 2015 study examining why consuming food is used as a tool to escape awareness. The researchers in that study ultimately concluded that boredom could actually promote eating healthy if we’re smart about it. They found that eating more exciting foods is the key to formulating a dietary intervention. That means that people looking to break the cycle of emotional eating may be able to pivot to healthier, balanced diets by eating foods that are exciting and interesting. It’s a great reason to try new foods like organic soba noodles, quinoa bowels or organic strawberry chia pudding.

Stopping the Cycle of Stress Eating

Stress eating is another primary culprit for poor dietary choices. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 27 percent of adults admit to eating to manage stress. What’s more, 34 percent of those who report either overeating or eating unhealthy foods due to stress say that this behavior is a habit.

Stress can impact our food preferences. Studies show that physical and emotional stress prompt the intake of foods that are high in fat and sugar. Once the fat and sugar are ingested, our stress response and emotions are dampened. As a result, we feel temporarily pacified in the moment. However, many people experience a food “hangover” after using food as a coping technique. This can create a very vicious cycle that leaves you feeling tired, stressed and unproductive. For example, you may reach for a box of sugary cereal because you are stressed while staying up late to get a deadline completed for work. While all that sugar may ease your anxiety in the moment, you will soon have a sugar crash that causes you to feel sluggish and unproductive. This can make it even harder to get through your work to meet your deadline. As a result, you’ll miss even more sleep because you’ll stay up later. That equals a very unproductive night followed by a tough morning. You’re already setting yourself up for an energy deficit in the morning that may perpetuate your stress-overeating-crashing cycle. This is precisely why so many people feel chronically stressed and tired. By contrast, reaching for a high-protein, low-sugar snack to get a sustained energy boost while powering through a work session can help you avoid crashes.

Don’t Sabotage an Opportunity to Build a Healthy Relationship With Food

Some people believe that deprivation is the only way to gain control over cravings and “out of control” eating. In reality, this only feeds into a dangerous cycle of feeling deprived, resentful and out of control in your relationship with food. While having techniques for delaying gratification instead of grabbing for the closest thing when cravings strike is wise, trying to outsmart your body through deprivation is always a bad idea when the goal is to create a balanced, nurturing relationship with food. Here are some simple ways to correct the path if you’ve drifted into an unhealthy territory with eating:

  • Don’t skip meals. Plan a meal menu ahead of time if you struggle with knowing what to eat. Prepared, made-to-order delivered meals can help you to stay consistent about getting the proper nutrition if this is a place where you tend to lose your way.
  • Keep a judgment-free food journal. The goal is accountability over blame or regret.
  • Drink plenty of water! In addition to keeping you satisfied, it’s just good for you!
  • Devote your full attention to eating when you’re eating. Carve out a time for eating when you’re not driving, working or watching television. Eating while doing another task reduces enjoyment. “Distracted eating” is linked to weight gain. When we eat while we’re distracted with something else, we also tend to engage in “repeated eating” because we’re not getting the full eating experience.

This is not meant to be a set of strict “rules” to follow. The goal should be to experience the nourishing, delicious food you’re engaging with to avoid the feeling that you’re left wanting more. When we eat based on automatic emotional reasons, we often find that we’re never really full because we haven’t allowed ourselves to truly be present while eating. We’re always chasing the next bite.

A Path Toward a Healthier Food Mindset: Practicing Mindful Eating

One of the ways to overcome automatic eating behaviors is to practice mindful eating. If you’ve spent time researching wellness and self-care, you probably already know that mindfulness can help us combat stress, enjoy our lives and provide perspective. Mindfulness is simply the “quality” or “state” of being conscious of something. While many people use mindfulness techniques to learn how to be still in the moment during everything from meditation to breathing exercises, few ever stop to consider the value of mindfulness when it comes to eating.

Simply making an effort to be aware of your eating experience is a form of mindful eating. When enjoying healthy meals, take time to notice the colors, textures, aromas and flavors of the food you’re eating. Consider how the beautiful, vibrant colors are full of vitamins and antioxidants that will help to keep your body strong.

Here is a visual guide to mindful eating.

Vector illustration with cartoon rules on mindful eating theme.

The biggest rule of mindful eating is that distractions aren’t allowed! While a dining companion is allowed, you’ll want to shut off any electronics that could take you away from the moment. If you struggle with rushing through meals in a way that makes you finish your plate before your body even feels full, consider setting a timer for 20 minutes. This will help you to pace your bites. The emphasis should be on taking small, slow bites that you savor. The plus side to this is that chewing your food properly actually aids in digestion to help you absorb more usable nutrients. Food mindfulness can even begin before your meals start. When you catch yourself reaching into the fridge or pantry for a snack, always take time to ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. This is a good opportunity for you to explore any anxiety, boredom or feelings of avoidance that may be compelling you to distract yourself with food instead of addressing your emotions.

Final Thoughts on Having a Healthy Food Mindset

Like all things related to the brain and body, diet psychology comes down to making a decision to change for the better. The goal isn’t to cut out comfort foods from your life forever. It’s simply important to be intentional and mindful when it comes to how, what and when we’re eating to make sure that we’re eating to fuel our biological needs instead of our emotional needs. There are many other appropriate outlets in life for getting our emotional needs met. The bottom line is to go in prepared by having a plan for each meal that will help you to avoid the emotional pull of feel-good foods that don’t actually leave you feeling good.

Are you ready to put a stop to emotional eating and become more mindful in your eating habits? Take the first step by shopping for fresh, healthy meals. Our meals are proportioned perfectly to help satisfy you when hungry and help you stop eating full.

Have you ever felt like your body has an internal “timer” that makes you crave snacks before bed? It turns out there’s some science behind this phenomenon. While many people blame that all-too-familiar “snack attack” that tends to hit between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on everything from boredom to lack of willpower, researchers have made some interesting discoveries that point to the idea that our internal clocks set the snack alarm for the evening hours.

If you believe the research, your own natural circadian rhythm may be behind the strong urge to snack that you can’t seem to shake. This is need-to-know information for anyone struggling to shake off the habit of snacking in the evening. While you may not be able to change the biological factors that drive humans to snack, understanding what your body is “looking for” when it compels you to grab for those chips or chocolate cookies could help you formulate a plan for achieving a better nutritional balance.

The Science Behind Evening Snack Attacks: How Circadian Rhythm Impacts Hunger Cues

One curious observation is that people don’t tend to be “ravenous” in the morning even though they’ve just fasted for roughly eight hours. In fact, breakfast is typically the smallest meal of the day for the average person. This fact led researchers to wonder why people aren’t at their hungriest in the morning.

It turns out that our natural circadian rhythm drives hunger in anticipation of overnight fasting. This is why it’s so common for people to get hungry before bed, even if they’ve eaten what would be considered adequate meals. What’s more, our hunger declines as the night goes on to stop hunger-induced wakefulness from disrupting our sleep.

For many people, the temptation to snack at night can feel a little bit like having a devil on their shoulder urging them to grab for those crunchy, sweet and salty treats. In reality, what’s happening to us on a biological level isn’t so far away from that imagery. The brain and body are conspiring to try to persuade you to “stock up” for the night.

It turns out that our bodies are smart enough to know that the most efficient way to “store up” calories before a fast is to eat high-calorie, high-fat foods. In fact, researchers were able to identify how our internal circadian rhythm actually induces cravings for sweets, salty foods and starchy foods. While this may seem frustrating when you’re trying to be disciplined about your diet, our bodies really are just trying to do us a favor!

There is an evolutionary advantage to having your largest meal of the day in the evening just before bed. During times of food shortages, eating the bulk of your calories just before bed allows you to store up energy overnight while you’re sleeping. That means that your body can distribute energy while it’s in a rest state. By contrast, food that is consumed in the morning can be burned off quickly.

The problem that many people run into when following the natural hunger cues that are dictated by the circadian rhythm is that they don’t necessarily need to store up energy while they sleep. In fact, this built-in hunger cycle that is intended to keep us alive in lean times may actually be putting our health at risk. There is evidence that consuming the largest meal of the day in the evening could be contributing to the rise of obesity in the United States.

Is there anything that we can do to ease the cravings that come knocking at night? According to researchers, hunger guided by the circadian rhythm occurs independently of other factors. However, maintaining a balanced, complete diet can make it easier to decipher the difference between “genuine” hunger and the body’s personal snack alarm.

Avoiding the Circadian Rhythm “Snack Trap”

Hint: Planning ahead is the key!

The best way to effectively fight an evening snack attack is to ensure that you’re getting appropriate nutrition the rest of the day. This will help you decipher between genuine hunger caused by the need for more calories and a biological urge to “load up” before fasting. If the theory regarding the circadian rhythm impacting hunger patterns is correct, everyone is hit regardless of how much they’ve eaten in a day. However, we can set ourselves up for extreme nighttime hunger if we haven’t adequately nourished our bodies during the day.

Start With a Solid Breakfast

Try our Texas Egg Scramble

Most people don’t crave a big breakfast. However, it’s still important to make sure that you’re planning a balanced, healthy breakfast that will help you power through the first portion of the day with the energy needed to fuel your brain and body. When planning breakfast, you want to avoid high-sugar, high-carb foods that will cause your blood sugar to spike and drop. This can be a recipe for feeling terrible before 10 a.m. In fact, having a sugary, “carby” breakfast can leave you in worse shape than not breaking your morning fast. That’s why things like protein, fruit and whole grains are commonly recommended as breakfast staples. It takes planning to get the right amount of protein and nutrition in the morning. It’s so easy to grab for something that’s “sweet and easy” without really paying attention to the nutrition label.

Plan a Snack-Busting Lunch

It’s the same story with lunch. If the goal is sustained energy using fresh ingredients and lean proteins, be smart about meal prep instead of falling prey to prepackaged foods that are easy to grab on the go. You also don’t want to skip lunch! Many people who do this assume that they will consume fewer calories over the course of a day. However, the circadian rhythm can come calling with a vengeance if we simply haven’t consumed enough calories during the day.

Strategize for Dinner

Dinner is the most important meal when it comes to battling the “circadian munchies” that come on strongly in the evening. Dinner is really the last defense against an overwhelming urge to snack due to the fact that it’s the last meal we’re having before we go into an overnight fast.

One of the best ways to stay feeling full and satisfied longer is to have healthy meals containing proteins and healthy fats. Things like chicken breast, avocado, steak and lentils can provide that sustained energy needed to fight off the urge to snack.

Try our Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Based on what researchers think they have discovered about how the circadian impacts hunger, our body is truly trying to push us toward eating our highest concentration of calories just before bed. Feeling full and satisfied may make it much easier to resist cravings for sweet and salty foods that will fill in the nutritional gaps that our bodies are feeling if we haven’t eaten complete, balanced meals that offer adequate nutrition during the day.

What If You Want to Snack Before Bed?

Try our Pumpkin Muffins

It’s certainly not a crime to snack before bed. Of course, it’s essential to keep in mind evidence that routinely consuming foods just before bed may play a role in rising obesity rates. If you’d like to snack at night, you may be able to “hack” your body’s strong desire for calorie density by supplying it with highly nutritious snacks instead. In fact, keto and high-protein options can be excellent choices for giving your body fuel without excess sugar. Some nutritionally dense, highly satisfying evening snacks to consider are edamame, raw nuts, carrots and celery, chia pudding, a yogurt cup or a pumpkin muffin.

Knowing How Your Hunger Cues Work Can Help You Plan the Right Meals

Ultimately, researchers are still learning more about how a person’s circadian rhythm can impact hunger. However, there is some pretty strong evidence to suggest that a desire to snack in the evening is a biological reality that has evolved over time to help humans survive when food is scarce. While we can all marvel at the way the human body is capable of adapting to survive, we may not appreciate what feels like a hijacking of our self-control once 8 p.m. hits.

Like many things in life, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet takes planning. One of the best ways to fight back against circadian diet sabotage is simply to anticipate that cravings will hit as we settle in for the evening. We can use this knowledge to plan to have snacks that provide the right amount of nutrition to avoid grabbing for the sweet and salty goodies that we may not necessarily want to consume every night.

Being smart about making sure that we’re getting enough calories by consuming things like healthy fats, whole grains, vegetables and fruits can help us to avoid a feeling of being famished that’s going to supercharge our body’s existing inclination to stock up on calories just before our overnight fast. D


You have a finite amount of willpower that you can pull from each day. Once that pool becomes depleted, making decisions becomes difficult. This has nothing to do with any weakness or personal flaw on your part. It’s simply how the human brain works. The phenomenon is known as decision fatigue. What you may not realize is that it’s impacting more of your habits than you think.

The Tricky Thing About Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is not the same thing as regular physical or mental fatigue. You don’t necessarily know that you’re “spent” when it creeps in. For each decision that your brain makes, the next decision becomes even more challenging. Our brains are smart enough to look for shortcuts that will spare us from having to make one more decision. In most cases, this means avoiding any activity that requires us to make more choices. In cases where we have to make more choices, our brain will do one of two things. The first is to simply follow whatever suggestion we receive. The second is to resist any changes.

You’ve probably already experienced decision fatigue, even if you weren’t aware of what was taking place at the time. Picture the way you feel at the end of a long week. After slaying all the dragons in your work life and personal orbit, you walk into your kitchen with the intention of cooking yourself a dinner that you can drag over to the television to unwind. However, you suddenly find yourself staring listlessly into your pantry or fridge. You can no longer differentiate between chick-pea pasta on your middle shelf, and the Snickers bar tucked away on the bottom shelf in terms of which one is a healthy, suitable dinner. Should you turn the burner on to boil some water? Would it be better if you washed some broccoli for extra nutrition? Of course, that might not be enough protein to help you recover from a week that really knocked you down. You wish someone could just tell you what to eat at this point. Ultimately, you just end up eating the same frozen meal or peanut-butter sandwich that you settled for all of the other nights of the week. Yes, that’s decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue doesn’t just apply in mundane circumstances. It can have some very dire consequences for humans. Researchers have observed that “time of day” can impact whether or not prisoners who appear in front of judges are granted parole. In one instance, prisoners who appeared early in the morning were granted parole roughly 70 percent of the time. By contrast, those who appeared late in the day were granted parole less than 10 percent of the time. Following a day of hearing cases and consulting with experts, judges making parole decisions were simply burned out from making so many decisions.

The Decision-Willpower Connection

Decision fatigue goes deeper than just making it hard to make a choice. We lose our willpower when decision fatigue sets in. Yes, making a series of decisions actually makes it more difficult to resist our impulses. In one instance, researchers decided to use shoppers who were partaking in a going-out-of-business sale to observe the impact of decision fatigue on impulse control. The researchers polled shoppers on their opinions of various products. Time after time, they were asked to make judgments about one product versus another. Next, the shoppers were given a very classic self-control test. They were told to hold one hand in ice water for as long as possible. Shoppers who were asked to make decisions regarding products in rapid succession by the researchers were only able to hold their hands in water for an average of 28 seconds. Shoppers who had not participated in the rapid-fire questioning were able to average 67 seconds.

If you’re relating this experiment to your own life, some big bells might be going off. Decision fatigue may be preventing you from reaching the goals that you’re setting. What makes this especially tricky is that it’s all happening on a subconscious level.

How to Fight Back Against Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is something that happens naturally to everyone. While being aware of this tendency can help us to be more aware of the pitfalls of trying to make too many decisions in a short amount of time, it won’t necessarily shield us from the problem. The point isn’t to avoid decision fatigue in the moment. The point is actually to set up our lifestyles to protect us from the effects of decision fatigue. For many of us, that simply means planning choices in advance to stagger our decision-making responsibilities. We can make decisions when we are in an open, clear-headed state that will benefit us when we’re in the thick of decision fatigue. There are plenty of examples of people doing this in real life.

During the 2020 quarantines, various subscription services helped many people enjoy an elevated quality of life by providing the antidote to decision fatigue. More specifically, the rise of book-subscription services provided people with a way to unwind and relax without the stress of having to choose their own titles. Throughout 2020, Australia saw a year of record book sales as people subscribed to popular options like the Literati Book Club, WellRead, Bookabuy and Bionic Book Subscription. Using algorithms that predict personal reading preferences, these subscription services delivered curated picks that made lockdown a little brighter for Australians!

It might be surprising to hear that a book subscription could become a runaway hit in an age when anyone can download a book in seconds on Amazon. However, the availability of millions of titles at the click of a button from a platform like Amazon is precisely what makes a book subscription service so valuable. For many people, the limitlessness of Amazon’s selection brings on a serious case of decision fatigue because it’s impossible to know where to start. There is also the crippling fear of making the wrong decision. That causes many of us to simply decide that it’s not a good time to read a book. For others, we may simply click on a suggested title that ends up being a dud. When we hand the decision over to an expert literary curator, we get the excitement of being delivered a hand-selected gem while also delegating the task to someone else.

As one best-selling author recently discovered, the freeing aspect of subscription services doesn’t end with book subscriptions. Neil Strauss has made a living as a best-selling author and journalist. If you haven’t read his books, you may have spotted some of his articles in the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Strauss gained a lot of attention recently when he revealed that one of his secrets for being so productive in his career as a writer is to rely on food-delivery services for all of his meal prep. Far from being an extravagant choice, this is actually a way to eliminate the need to make tons of small decisions throughout the day that keep a busy professional like Strauss from focusing his full attention on his work.

In deciding to clear decisions from his plate, Strauss is tapping into some well-known research that confirms that the small decisions we make each day chip away at our cognitive ability. In studies, it has been shown countless times that asking people to make a series of “microdecisions” actually depletes their abilities to perform more complex tasks. For instance, people are more likely to give up on solving a complex puzzle if they’ve just finished grocery shopping because they used up their cognitive stores while making decisions in front of grocery shelves. When using mall shoppers as study participants, people who have spent more time shopping are more likely to give up on puzzles sooner.

Designing a Life That’s Resilient Against Decision Fatigue

There are things we can do to orient our lives to be more resistant to decision fatigue. The best way to protect your brain is to cut down on the number of decisions you have to make daily. A good routine can eliminate many of the unnecessary or frivolous decisions we make. Start by thinking about what your typical morning looks like. Do you start by opening up your favorite news website or social media feed? You’re already putting yourself in a position to decide what to click on. If you check email as soon as you open your eyes, you’re facing an onslaught of decisions that range from which email to open first to what to buy with the coupon you see in your inbox. That equals dozens of snap decisions being made all within moments of waking up! Next, your breakfast situation may be riddled with questions. Time spent staring into your cupboards is time spent with dozens of culinary scenarios running through your brain. If you head to a grocery store or restaurant to pick up breakfast, you’re walking straight into a battlefield of even more decisions. Repeat that for three meals a day and all of your snacks to see how much productivity you’re losing.

The key to shielding yourself from brain fatigue is automating as much of your routine as possible. For many people, that means having healthy meals delivered to their doors. In addition to insulating you from the stress of deciding what to eat in the moment, a pre-planned meal strategy also protects you from the possibility of making an impulsive decision that doesn’t align with your goals. Take some time to examine how decision fatigue may be robbing you of productivity while zapping your quality of life. For many people, decision fatigue is the silent, undiscovered saboteur in their lives that can be defeated with just a little bit of forethought.

References:

Simple and Tasty Heart-Healthy Food Tips

It’s so easy to fall in love with foods that are good for your heart. That’s because many of the most naturally flavorful foods are actually heart-healthy foods. When we eat for heart health, we’re focused on healthy foods that provide us with all of the nourishment and nutrition we need without excessive additives, sugars or unhealthy fats. In addition to preventing heart disease, heart-focused eating can help us to look and feel our best because what’s good for the heart is good for the whole body. Here’s a few heart-healthy food tips that anyone can love.

#1 Sprinkle on Those Fresh Herbs Instead of Pouring on the Salt

We sometimes feel bad if we can’t whip up a fresh meal every night. One of the best ways to ensure that we’re bringing at least a little bit of wholeness to our plates is by sprinkling on some fresh herbs. The biggest benefit of flavoring with herbs is that you can skip the salt. Unfortunately, salt causes the body to retain water, which puts a strain on our heart and blood vessels. Heavy salt consumption causes high blood pressure that can increase our risks for heart attack and stroke. Many people get into trouble with salt when they start to lean on canned or prepackaged meals from the grocery store because they don’t have the time to prepare whole meals. These types of foods are notoriously packed with salt. In addition to harming your heart, high-salt prepackaged foods can zap you of energy, give you headaches and leave you feeling terrible.

#2 Be Besties With Black Beans

Black beans are packed full of folate, magnesium and antioxidants known to help lower blood pressure. In addition, they are full of soluble fiber that lowers our total blood cholesterol. Fiber is also linked with a reduction in blood pressure and inflammation. While beans are sometimes thought of as substitutes for meat, the truth is that even people who eat diets containing meat should still be looking at black beans. Black beans and legumes offer a variety of nutritional benefits that animal products don’t.

#3 Choose Your Meat Cuts Wisely

You can eat meat in a way that’s better for your heart. Lean meats are much better for your heart than fatty cuts. When shopping for cuts of beef and pork, look for meats that are labeled “round” or “loin.” Both are premium cuts that are much leaner than other cuts.

#4 Give Your Whole Heart to Whole Grains

If you’re looking for a grain to add to a meal, be picky. Whole grains provide the benefits of fiber, folic acid, iron, selenium, magnesium and B vitamins that many white breads do not contain. The good news is that you have so many flavorful and enjoyable whole grains to enjoy if you’re walking away from white and refined flours. Some top picks that work wonderfully in a variety of dishes are oats, rye, wild rice, quinoa and buckwheat.

#5 Get Cozy With Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids offer some serious heart protection by boosting your good cholesterol levels. In studies, individuals who consumed fatty fish a few times per week had almost half the risk of death from coronary heart disease. Their risk of death from a heart attack was also cut by more than 30 percent compared to people who didn’t consume any fish. Fish is teeming with omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish varieties like trout, salmon, sardines, mackerel and albacore tuna are all famously rich in omega-3 fatty acids. However, this isn’t the only way to get them in. Other delicious, filling favorites like walnuts and flaxseed oil are also full of omega-3 fatty acids.

#6 Sip for Your Heart

Many people are surprised to learn that hydration is an essential part of heart health. The key is to stay hydrated with sugar-free options like water or unsweetened tea. Unfortunately, sodas, fruit drinks and energy drinks that are full of sugar can contribute to obesity if we rely on them for hydration instead of simply having them for refreshment from time to time. We know that obesity is one of the significant risk factors for heart disease and premature death. If you’re focusing on staying hydrated with water and unsweetened drinks, you will be less tempted to grab for high-calorie drinks.

#7 Have a Romance With Leafy Greens

Build your own salad, just the way you like!

Rich in vitamin K, leafy greens can help to protect our arteries. Additionally, the dietary nitrates in leafy vegetables can improve artery flexibility, fortify the lining of our blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Studies have linked the consumption of leafy greens with reduced rates of heart disease.

Some of the most flavorful greens to add to your diet are spinach, cabbage, curly kale, arugula and beet greens. They can be chopped up or enjoyed as “wraps” that hold things like hummus, tuna fish or beans. 

#8 Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With Berries

Berries romance your heart with promises of antioxidants that protect it from inflammation and oxidative stress. Blueberries are thought to be especially powerful when it comes to improving the function of the cells lining our blood vessels. However, favorites like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are also full of nutrients that reduce bad cholesterol and support the heart.

#9 Keep the Trans Fats to a Minimum

Try to avoid foods prepared with trans fats as much as possible. This includes margarine and spreads that are marketed as butter substitutes. It’s also important to steer clear of overdoing it with vegetable oils like olive oil, peanut oil, soybean oil and canola oil. The monounsaturated fats within many popular oils are linked with heart damage. Non-stick cooking sprays should also be avoided when possible.

#10 Focus on Some Low-Glycemic Foods

Low-glycemic foods have been linked with reduced risk for heart disease. Low-glycemic eating is focused on choosing foods that are packed with healthy fats in moderate amounts. Some of the superstars of low-glycemic eating are fish, skinless chicken, beans, walnuts, almonds, pecans and avocados. It’s also advised that anyone sticking to this eating style should avoid the partially hydrogenated fats that are nearly universal in fast foods and packaged foods. From the dessert perspective, treats made with apples, pears, mangoes, bananas and papayas are all compatible with low-glycemic eating. Finally, meal frequency is also important.

The general guideline for anyone looking to follow a low-glycemic diet is to plan for three meals each day. There is also room for one to two snacks daily. The big rule is that you should never be skipping breakfast. This is where planning your meals ahead of time becomes essential because breakfast is a time of day when most of us are vulnerable to the temptation of reaching for the easiest thing. Many times that means a big, carb-filled treat that’s destined to send you into a blood-sugar crash before lunch.

#11 Part Ways With Processed Meats

You may be in a bad relationship with the easy, processed meats you’re relying on for protein. Many people use processed meats like hot dogs, salami, bacon or cold cuts to get quick, inexpensive protein in their diets. The reality is that any of the benefits you’ll get from the protein in these foods are quickly undone by the health risks of consuming them regularly. Consuming processed meats is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease. Processed meats are also linked with higher risks for diabetes, cancer and overall mortality. Make an effort to swap your processed meats for fresher, healthier proteins that provide genuine health benefits.

#12 Have Some Fun

Treat yourself, you deserve it!

Like any relationship, the relationship you have with your heart should be full of enjoyment! No, you don’t have to promise never to eat the things you love again just because you’re focusing on creating long-term health for your heart. What’s Valentine’s Day without a little chocolate? The truth is that you won’t have to agonize overindulging in what you love on special days if you’ve stayed focused on treating your heart right the rest of the time.

Final Thoughts: Making a Plan to Romance Your Heart With Fresh, Whole Foods

Many people don’t invest in a real relationship with heart-healthy eating because they simply don’t have the time. Deciding to eat for your heart does take planning. This may mean totally reinventing the way you handle grocery shopping. You may find that you skip the “middle aisles” that are full of processed and packaged foods altogether once you make a grocery list that reads like a love letter to your heart. If planning meals for every day of the week is too difficult, consider relying on a delivery service that delivers perfectly portioned, heart-healthy meals bursting with lean meats, hearty vegetarian options, leafy side dishes. Perfectly measured breakfasts and balanced snacks such as this may be the secret to transforming your eating habits.

Does better sleep start at your plate? Changing the way you eat may help you enjoy better sleep. In fact, diet is one of the first areas of your life to investigate if you’re suffering from poor-quality sleep, disrupted sleep or restless nights.

It’s hard to be your best when you’re not getting proper rest. Poor sleep is associated with mood issues, cognitive impairment, depression, stress, cardiovascular issues and many more short-term and long-term problems that rob us of happiness, productivity and vitality.

What do you do when you’ve tried all of the “sleep tricks” without any success? Unfortunately, all of the noise machines, light-blocking curtains and essential oils in the world can’t always replace those core building blocks for good sleep that can only be found in nutrients. Yes, what you’re eating may be keeping you up at night! This can be true even if you eat a relatively “healthy” diet because some foods simply aren’t sleep-friendly. What’s more, what you’re not eating can also hurt your sleep.

The good news for anyone exploring the sleep-diet link is that many tasty, wholesome foods that are easy to enjoy can promote more complete, nourishing sleep cycles. Take a look at what science is saying about how to eat your way to better sleep!

Understanding the Link Between Food and Sleep: How What You Eat During Your Waking Hours Impacts Your Restful Hours

Poor sleep habits and poor diet happen to be common among people who lead busy lifestyles. Unfortunately, mixing the two can create a real disaster for health, well-being and productivity. Fortunately, working on these two areas as part of a plan for better living is relatively easy to do once you know about the foods that promote better sleep.

According to a study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2016, “Eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep.” This echoes what many researchers, doctors and dieticians have known about fatty, sugary, low-fiber foods for a long time. Results from this particular study show that greater fiber intake actually predicted more time spent in the deep, slow-wave stage of sleep. This is considered the brain-building, nourishing portion of the sleep cycle. By comparison, taking in higher percentages of energy from saturated fat predicted a reduction in slow-wave sleep. Research also reveals that higher sugar intake is associated with frequent arousals from sleep. The most shocking finding to be revealed by the study is that these negative or positive changes don’t necessarily build up over time. Just a single day of higher fat intake, higher sugar intake or lower fiber intake can influence sleep quality.

The good news is that enjoying whole, higher-fiber foods in your diet is relatively easy. Familiar favorites like lentils, beans, avocadoes, apples, berries and broccoli all have high fiber content that helps to leave you feeling satisfied. When planning a sleep-friendly diet that contains enough fiber, it’s essential to at least meet the recommended daily fiber intake of 25 grams to 30 grams. That intake level should ideally be coming from foods instead of supplements. Unfortunately, most Americans are falling short of that goal. The average daily fiber intake in the United States is just 15 grams per day. Factoring in that figure, it’s not surprising that 70 percent of American adults report having insufficient sleep at least one night per month. For 11 percent of Americans, that insufficient sleep is experienced every night.

Eat More Foods Containing Magnesium

Magnesium is the sleep mate you never knew you needed. In recent years, magnesium has received lots of attention for being a mineral that promotes better sleep. In fact, several studies link magnesium with improved sleep quality. This mineral even shows promise for helping people to overcome insomnia. There’s also evidence that magnesium promotes better, more restful sleep by reducing the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol that is known to be a serious sleep disruptor. Here’s a look at some foods that are naturally high in magnesium:


Try our organic white quinoa with edamame, parsley, salt and pepper.

  • Leafy greens
  • Beans
  • Nuts/almonds
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Fish/tuna
  • Bananas
  • Dark chocolate
  • Raisins

If you’ve never focused on magnesium before, it might be a good time to pay attention to how much of it you’re consuming every day. For men, the recommended dietary allowance for magnesium is between 400 and 420 milligrams per day. The recommended daily allowance for adult women is 310 to 320 milligrams. It’s important to get as much of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium as possible through diet instead of using supplements. A simplistically clean and delicious meal option like a quinoa salad is a great go-to choice if you’re looking to increase the magnesium in your diet.

Promote Better Sleep by Getting Rid of Acid Reflux

While getting enough fiber in your diet is the first step to eating your way to better sleep, you may have some extra steps to take if acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) are to blame for sleepless nights. These painful conditions can make it difficult to sleep without propping your body up with pillows. Even that often isn’t enough to stop sleep disruptions.

We know that high-fat foods are linked with reflux issues. The same goes for alcohol and carbonated beverages. However, it’s not just “unhealthy” foods that can trigger symptoms. Onions, citrus, tomatoes and peppermint are also known reflux triggers. Coffee and tea can also exacerbate reflux issues. If your sleep is being disrupted by reflux, it’s important to plan your meals carefully to avoid accidentally reaching for dishes that contain foods on the list of reflux “offenders.”

Audit Your Relationship With Caffeine

Many of us are guilty of reaching for caffeinated beverages to power through the second half of the day. Unfortunately, we may be paying for that little “jolt” of energy for the rest of the night through poor sleep. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to nine hours after being consumed. In one study, researchers found that consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime could reduce total sleep duration by a full hour!

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with caffeine without necessarily cutting it from your life. Sleep experts recommend limiting daily caffeine consumption to no more than 300 to 400 milligrams per day. That’s not so painful once you realize that totals three to four 8-ounce cups of coffee every day! However, sleep experts warn that consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day can increase your risk of having difficulty with falling and staying asleep. It’s also important to be wary of fancy coffee drinks that contain sugar or high-fat ingredients close to bedtime because these flavorful treats can cause spikes in blood sugar that will cause you to crash.

The bottom line on caffeine is that it’s probably best to try to drastically limit your consumption if you’re having sleep issues. Many people who depend on caffeine to push through to the end of the day may bristle at this idea. After all, it can be very difficult to conjure up the energy to get work done, focus on household tasks or put in a workout without feeling totally zapped after a long day. It turns out that rethinking your diet can make it easy to avoid energy slumps that you usually fix with caffeine.

Eating high protein foods full of fiber and low in sugar can help you enjoy sustained energy without the peaks and valleys that come from simply grabbing “easy” snacks and drinks full of sugar and carbs. Many people find it easier to ditch their reliance on coffee in the morning by switching up the breakfast routine. One idea to consider is switching from coffee to a high-protein, nutrient-dense smoothie that provides that much-needed morning energy without the impending energy “crash.”

Eating for Better Sleep Is Eating for Better Living

Many people who make dietary changes to tackle sleep issues find that they end up getting a new lease on life in many ways. That’s because many of the issues that cause poor sleep ultimately cause reduced energy levels, mood issues and many more problems that may be going unnoticed. Better, more complete nutrition combined with better sleep creates the perfect recipe for feeling energized and capable. Knowing where to start is always the most challenging part. Many people find that creating carefully crafted meal plans that are full of sleep-friendly foods makes it easy to avoid the habit of “grabbing” for whatever is convenient.

In many cases, this means choosing a week’s worth of food that can be delivered entirely ready to eat! If you’re suffering from sleep issues that are hard to pin down, start with diet! A delicious meal of your dreams may just lead to sweeter, longer dreams every night!