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The tester: Jen Ator, WH's fiber-cereal-eating, microbrew-loving fitness editor
The goal: "Revive my once-healthy diet by nixing gluten, the protein that's found in wheat, barley, and rye."
The RX: Focus on naturally gluten-free foods like fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, dairy, beans, nuts, and such grains as brown rice and quinoa (and not processed gluten-free cookies, cereals, or breads, which are typically loaded with more sugar and fat to simulate the texture of gluten), says Dee Sandquist, R.D., a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While this is a necessary diet—and the only treatment method—for people with celiac disease (an autoimmune disease that damages the lining of the small intestine and affects the absorption of nutrients) and gluten sensitivity (most commonly marked by fatigue, headaches, bloating and other gastrointestinal issues), the verdict is still out on what benefit this change has for people without these medical conditions.
The verdict: "My less-than-exemplary eating habits—too many udon soup lunches and take-out chicken tikka dinners, and an apartment full of pita chips and chocolate cookies for late-night snacking—got a swift kick in the ass. I stocked my fridge with fresh produce and ate out less frequently, mostly because I cringed every time I had to ask nitpicky questions about the ingredients ("Is there malt flavoring in the sauce?"). I slipped up; at my best friend's wedding there was no way to turn down her unbelievable cake—or the celebratory bridal-party beer. Once I also hit a local gluten-free bakery and walked out with two massive cookies and some banana bread. This made me understand firsthand why experts argue that going gluten-free is not a magical weight-loss diet.
"At the end of my test run I felt more energized, less bloated, and lighter, but I think it had more do with my examining each meal and nutrition label with microscopic precision, rather than dropping gluten. I have a feeling I could get the same results by vowing to nix processed foods, ramping up my daily intake of fresh produce, and being more cognizant of my portion sizes.
"In the end, without a valid medical reason, going gluten-free felt like a headache, and for me personally I didn't see the added value. I'd rather have whole-wheat crackers than potato chips—which are technically a gluten-free option—and my digestive system doesn't take issue with that."
The tester: WH's food and nutrition editor, Jill Waldbieser, who says she doesn't work out enough to offset all the food she samples
The goal: "I know strength training is essential to weight maintenance and getting toned, but I thought my five-pound free weights were enough. However, I'm still not as toned as I'd like to be, and now that I'm in my thirties my metabolism seems to be shifting into low gear."
The RX: (l) Aim for failure. Specifically, mechanical and metabolic failure, says certified personal trainer Jill Coleman. These are indicators that the body is releasing testosterone and growth hormone. Don't worry that these hormones will make you bulky—they help add lean muscle and burn fat.
(2) Use weights that are actually heavy. "My general rule is add five pounds to whatever you think you can lift," says Coleman. For beginners, that's around 10 to 15 pounds.
(3) Do a 20-minute circuit of four big-body movements: biceps curl and shoulder press combos, bent-over row and fly combos, lunges, and squats using weights heavier than what you're used to.
(4) Repeat the cycle as many times as you can in 20 minutes-aim for at least three rounds.
The verdict: "Failure accomplished! I thought weights that were heavier than what I was used to—up to 20-pound weights—would be too heavy, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. In week one, my muscles burned more than I was comfortable with, but the following day or two of soreness after each workout did make me feel like I was accomplishing something. As I stuck with the program, I saw other results: My arms and shoulders looked more toned, and my waistband felt less snug. Coleman predicted, 'You'll definitely lose inches if you haven't been exercising this way before.' If I had known heavier weights could make my arms more compact and my clothes fit better—instead of being afraid they'd bulk me up—I would have doubled down on the dumbbells long ago."
A twenty-something single woman, Elizabeth Narins, gets bold.
I love dating, but with my work schedule I barely have time to see friends, let alone wait for guys to approach me when I go out on weekends. I assumed marching up to men and offering myself up for dinner and a movie would be a good way to fill my date card—fast. But when I consulted flirting expert and dating coach Tracey Steinberg, she nixed the plan. Instead, she suggested I make guys think it was their idea to take me out, by starting conversations with any question but "Want to go on a date?" While talking, she advised, I should smile and hold eye contact like this guy is the only person in the room, and end with something like, "I've had a great time talking to you, but I have to rip myself away—even though you're cute."
So I tried it. At a specialty beer bar, I asked a guy, "Would it be wrong if I ordered wine?" We had a flirty conversation, but before I could offer him my number, he introduced me to the wingman sitting within earshot the whole time: his father. I shied away. That embarrassing incident didn't deter me. "How do I get into this bracket?" I asked a guy playing beer pong at a dive bar. After we talked for a while, I said, "You can give me your number." Later, when I texted him and he asked me out, I felt totally empowered—even though he thought it was his idea.
But when we met again, at the same bar where I'd originally approached him, I felt less confident—perhaps because I'd already been so obvious about being into him. The woman-as-pursuer game had other pitfalls: Another guy I had approached canceled our date at the last minute and didn't bother rescheduling.
Sometimes my new forwardness lapped into other parts of my life: While shopping for glasses, I asked a cute store clerk to weigh in on my frames—no man-hunting intended—and was pleasantly surprised when he asked me out the following week.
I'm glad I'm no longer waiting for guys to flirt with me first, and it gets easier each time to come up with ways to start conversations, but that doesn't mean I never want to hear a cheesy pickup line again. Because who doesn't secretly love those?
The tester: WH's chronically late online editor, Susan Rinkunas
The goal: "Stop making my friends wait because I'm trying to squeeze in a run before dinner or annoying my colleagues when I attempt to send one last e-mail before a meeting."
The RX: For prompt arrivals, Dan Ariely, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and economics at Duke University who studies irrational behavior, suggests the following:
(1) Shift your focus to when you need to leave, not when you need to get there.
(2)Build a 10 percent time buffer into your calendar. If you need 30 minutes to get somewhere, plan for 33 minutes of travel time.
(3) Get your friends to commit too. When you're going to meet somewhere, all of you should agree on the times you'll leave.
(4) Be specific. When you tell people to meet at 8, they might think you mean 8-ish. Be more precise by saying "8 o'clock" or "8:15."
The verdict: "During week one I was still late for everything. By week two, I was focusing on departure time and felt a much greater sense of urgency to get out the door. I wore some outfits that I didn't love as a result of not hemming and hawing in front of my closet, but I got over it.
"I took the leave-time agreement among friends one step further: When I met others for early-morning runs or races, I told them what time I planned to head out and that I would text when I left. This worked like a charm: I felt forced to leave at the designated time.
"Since I always underestimate how long things take, I'm also trying to do more stuff in advance. If I need to bring something to a party or grab a birthday card, I'll get it the day before instead of trying to build in time to get it on my way there. I also try to pack things I need for work the night before so I'm not rushing around in the morning. I'm still not on time for everything, but I am on time for some things and less late to others—which is a start."
The tester: WH's health and features editor, Sascha de Gersdorff, who, after editing her umpteenth story on "sitting disease"—and griping about sore shoulders and a bad back—decided to practice what she preaches
The goal: "Escape muscle and joint pain, brain rot, and cottage-cheese butt while heading off longer-term risks of sitting all day, such as heart problems and diabetes."
The RX: (1) Secure a desk that slides up and down, allowing you to sit or stand in front of the computer. It is possible to build your own—go to juststand.org to get the proper dimensions—but if you (or your company) can swing it financially, it's easier to leave the construction to the pros.
(2) Start slowly by standing for 5-, then 10-minute intervals and then work up from there, says Carrie Schmitz, an ergonomic research manager for Ergotron. The most important thing isn't being on your feet for hours on end—it's switching up your position as often as possible. It takes only 20 minutes in any fixed position to slow your metabolism.
(3) While standing up straight, be sure not to lock your joints. You can move slightly from foot to foot, work in some inconspicuous stretching, or even close your office door and do a few standing yoga poses.
(4) Keep exercising. A standing desk isn't a green light to spend all of your off-hours lolling on the couch or parked at the bar.
The verdict: "I was totally wiped after my first few days of standing at work. But as I got into it—and over my initial embarrassment—I became a total convert. My shoulder and back pain have nearly disappeared (truly!), and I no longer feel catatonic around 3 p.m. I eat less during the day (it's harder to snack while standing) and have lost almost five pounds (huzzah!).
"I'm still working on what shoes to wear, though—standing for hours in heels is an ergonomic no-no. I've been stashing a pair of flats under my desk and putting them on while standing. Or, if I decide to keep on a sweet pair of stilettos, I sit more than usual—and make sure to wear flats the next day."
The tester: WH's senior managing editor, Sara Culley, who checks both her iPhone and work BlackBerry constantly
The goal: "Stop feeling stressed that my handhelds own my nights. It's gotten to the point where I'm almost afraid to be away from them, and doing nothing but checking them is making it impossible for me to focus on lots of things, including the basic organizing we all need to do to feel sane—bill shredding, closet cleaning, 'giveaway' piling—or even simply unwinding in front of my favorite TV shows."
The RX: David Swink, chief creative officer of Interactive Strategies, says reaching for our smart-phones has become just another habit or something we do without thinking, like heading to the bathroom to brush our teeth before bed. "You need to think about using your device consciously," he advises. "Put your phone out of reach to focus on the task at hand. Make it so you can't see, hear, or feel it."
The verdict: "I stashed my phones in the top dresser drawer in my bedroom. But while watching Homeland one night, I became aggrieved when I couldn't text my friend about a plot twist. After more of these must-pick-up-phone moments ('I need to check the weather!' 'I need to play Words With Friends!' 'I need a news update!'), I realized how mindless and frequent—basically, robotic—all of the 'checking' is. I constantly interrupt things that should have my full attention to look at my phones.
"While it's not practical to shut down completely (I do want to be available to my boss and my friends, after all), stowing my devices for long periods has allowed me to relax, dig in to books, focus on redecorating my bedroom, and stay on top of general home maintenance. Having them even just a room away (and being forced to physically get up to check them every few hours) has made it possible for me to be present during the evening a lot more. I've even stopped missing the all-important 'scenes from next week' at the end of an episode because I'm texting!"
An associate editor on a tight budget, Jill Percia, tries to stop her dollars from disappearing.
Most Saturdays, checking my bank balance leaves me flummoxed. Each week I seem to blow money, but I'm not sure on what. It's not like I'm shelling out for Celine bags.
"Our environment makes it too easy to get into trouble," says Stuart Vyse, Ph.D., author of Going Broke: Why Americans Can't Hold On to Their Money. "With one swipe of a card, you can buy something as simple as an ice-cream cone—or a new TV. You aren't counting money, so you don't realize how much you're spending until you get a bill or check your bank account." His simple way to figure out what you're actually paying for? Carry cash—and write down exactly what you spend it on.
So I started doing that. It's painful to fork over $5 for a fancy coffee, or worse, $10 plus a tip for a vodka-soda (holy crap). I felt weirdly OCD writing down how much I spent on a pack of gum. But then I got into it. I began buying fruit at the farmers' market and limiting myself to two lattes a week. I replaced after-work boutique runs with runs on the treadmill and stopped loading my basket with unnecessary stuff at the drugstore (here's a tip: Make a list!). I questioned whether bar-hopping was worth it and made girls' night out a twice-a-month treat. And I forced myself to thoroughly think about the clothes I was considering buying by leaving the items at the store overnight. If I was still hankering for something the next day, I went back and purchased it—with cold, hard cash.
I've stopped logging every penny and hoarding receipts—a relief, because it felt like punishment—but even doing it for a little while was beneficial. Knowing how much things cost inherently made me spend a little less. It's sort of like keeping a food journal; realizing how much junk you really eat means you'll indulge less often. And I'm glad I realized it now. . .with 40 years to go until retirement!
The tester: An urbanite, Aleisha Fetters, accustomed to unwinding with big glasses of Malbec chased with late-night macaroni-and-cheese binges. "Damn those 24-7 quickie marts!"
The goal: "Shun the sauce to slim down." Research shows that just three boozy beverages can cut the body's level of the feel-full hormone leptin by 30 percent, making post-drink cravings inevitable. "With enough alcohol in your system, even the most wretched burger joint can become irresistible," says nutritionist Tara Gidus, R.D. And despite making you fall asleep fast, alcohol reduces how much time you spend in the REM phase, which is vital to your metabolism running properly.
The RX: (1) Trash your booze stash.
(2) A few times a week, trade your happy-hour cocktail for an endorphin-revving sweat session.
(3) Tell your friends you're going dry so they can help keep you in check.
(4) At bars, try low-cal mocktails, like seltzer water with a variety of fruit juices.
The verdict: "The first few sober bar hops seriously tried my self-control. I didn't have nearly as much fun as my shot-pounding friends did, and bad first dates became even worse. So I realized my 'no drink = no fun' mentality had to change. Once I committed myself to not being irked, the triumph of passing up booze—and the calorie sprees that come along with it—became more satisfying than any buzz. I started keeping a cranberry and club soda in my hand at all times and slowly stopped feeling like the black sheep at the party. All in all, I lost a couple of pounds, saved at least a hundred bucks, and can now make it out of the quickie mart shame-free."
The tester: Laura Leu, a newlywed in her mid-thirties (with her husband of six months)
The goal: "To keep our sex life as strong as it was pre-marriage."
The RX: Plan in advance to have sex twice a week. "Otherwise, sex often doesn't happen at all or it happens after all the things on our to-do list, when we're ready for sleep," says Lori Buckley, Psy.D., a sex therapist in Pasadena, California. "That's not an ideal time to make it great."
The verdict: "I thought penciling in sex wouldn't be romantic, but sending my husband a flirty Evite ("You're invited to bang your wife!") made coordinating schedules fun. Having a tryst on the books also gave me a reason to put on my fancy underthings before leaving for the office, which helped build up the anticipation. The sex wasn't better, per se, but it was definitely more playful, since having advance notice allowed us to plan little surprises for each other. Like any scheduled event, there were some dates I wanted to blow off. After one particularly grueling day, I was in no mood to put out. But when I walked through the door, my hubby was so eager and excited about our appointment that I couldn't cancel, which ended up being a good thing: Our rendezvous turned my mood around.
I might continue to put sex on the calendar from time to time, but it's not going to be something I book every week—or even every month. Doing that, I fear, would turn sex into just another chore we haggle over. I'd rather it be spontaneous, even if that means we have less of it."
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