The Science-Backed Strategies That Will Actually Help You Eat Better
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The Science-Backed Strategies That Will Actually Help You Eat Better

Many of the strategies that you think will work don’t. Here are the surprising things that do.

By ANDREA PETERSEN
Tue, Oct 4, 2022 8:51amGrey Clock 3 min

We know what we should eat. Trouble is, most of us have a hard time sticking to it.

Researchers are racing to understand what pushes people to make healthier food choices. They are finding that broad resolutions to “eat better” are less effective than setting a couple of smaller rules, that eating with other people is helpful and that grocery shopping online can be better than going to the store.

The issue is urgent: The number of Americans who are overweight or have obesity is rising. Nearly three-quarters of US adults ages 20 and older are overweight or obese, according to 2017-2018 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some surveys have found that obesity rates rose further during the pandemic.

Doctors and scientists broadly agree that a healthful diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meat and poultry—and is composed of fewer foods linked to poor health, including sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, refined grains and large amounts of red meat. Yet most of Americans don’t consume the recommended amount of vegetables, and three-quarters overeat refined grains, such as white bread, according to a government report.

“We’re living in a time where there’s food everywhere. You go to buy a hammer and there’s soda in the checkout line,” says Erica Kenney, assistant professor of public health nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “People berate themselves, but they are fighting against the environment.”

Whether you are trying to overhaul your diet, resist the peanut-butter cups in the checkout aisle or maintain the good habits you already have, research suggests some ways to make healthy eating easier.

Set one or two specific rules, and stick to them.

People are more likely to act on a plan if it consists of simple steps, psychology research has found. Having one broad goal—such as, “I’m going to eat better”—generally isn’t effective.

Pick one or two specific eating rules and stick to them—and think of yourself as someone who doesn’t do those things. For instance: I don’t consume sugary drinks. Or I don’t eat fried foods. Or I don’t eat dessert during the week.

Restricting yourself in multiple ways makes it harder to stick with good intentions, says Christina A. Roberto, associate professor of health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Conversely, setting a rule “just takes the decision out of it,” says Deborah F. Tate, professor at the Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina.

Make a grocery list, and shop online.

Making a shopping list of healthful foods can encourage you to avoid impulse buys when you are at the store, says UNC’s Dr. Tate.

Shopping for groceries online might be even more effective since unhealthy items aren’t right in front of you. Research has found that people tend to make better food choices farther in advance of eating, so the delay between making an online order and receiving it could be helpful, Dr. Roberto says.

People looking to lose weight who shop online buy fewer high-fat foods and fewer items overall compared with those who shop in person, according to a 2007 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity that followed 28 participants over eight weeks.

One caveat: Be wary of online ads trying to persuade you to buy items you didn’t plan to purchase. That marketing can derail your good intentions.

Good sleeping begets good eating.

Not sleeping enough (generally less than six-and-a-half hours a night) is linked to weight gain, scientific studies have found. Sleep experts generally recommend that healthy adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

When we are awake longer, we have more time to eat. And there are biological changes that occur when we don’t sleep enough that can lead to overeating.

“Some research suggests there are potential changes to appetite-related hormones when we have short sleep,” says Alyssa Minnick, a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Sleep Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. When we are sleep-deprived we tend to crave more high-fat foods, too, she says.

Penn researchers found that study participants allowed to sleep just four hours a night for five nights ate on average an extra 550 calories daily. The paper was published in 2013 in the journal Sleep. More recent research has had similar findings.

Don’t eat alone.

When we eat with family and friends we tend to make more well-rounded meals with vegetables, proteins and other components, says Barbara J. Mayfield, a registered dietitian in Delphi, Ind. We also tend to eat more slowly, and often mindfully, when with others, she says, making us better able to notice when we are full.

Eating with others who are also committed to healthy eating can help us achieve our goals, says Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, associate director of the Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture at Texas A&M University. You are more apt to skip dessert when your dining companions are too, she says.

Studies have found that when one person in a household is trying to improve their diet and lose weight, the other members lose weight too, even if they aren’t trying to, says Amy Gorin, interim vice provost for health sciences at the University of Connecticut.



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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

By SUMATHI REDDY
Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.

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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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