Tag Archive for: healthy habits

female writing goals

female writing goals

If you ask just about anyone about their health and wellness, they’re probably willing to admit there’s room for improvement. Most adults simply aren’t as healthy as they want to be. And, at one time or another, most have tried to change this.

All too often, the story is the same. You decide to be healthier, and you come up with an action plan. Whether it is exercising more, eating nutritious meals, or a combination of the two. You stick to your plan for two weeks. Or a month. And then life gets in the way and your new habits get dropped just as fast as they came.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Creating new health habits is a challenge, to say the least. Successfully adopting a healthier lifestyle requires persistence, the ability to identify good mistakes, and, in most cases, the willingness to start something again.

Step One: Identify Good Mistakes and Commit to Starting Again

Falling back into old habits can be discouraging. After all, nobody likes to set their sights on something only to fall short. But when it comes to health and wellness, as with so many other aspects of life, you can learn from your failures. It’s all about identifying good mistakes.

The term “good mistakes” sounds like an oxymoron. Mistakes are bad, right? Well, sometimes. It all depends on how you frame your thinking.

Mistakes without reflection can be bad, sure. But mistakes with reflection can be a powerful tool for change. Let’s think about this in terms of your lifestyle journey. If you tried to make positive changes to your lifestyle, but struggled to maintain those changes, you likely made a few “mistakes.” These mistakes could be things like skipping your workout for a few days in a row, allowing yourself too many “cheat” days with your meals, or simply trying to implement changes in your life that don’t fit your interests or abilities.

Turning these mistakes into good mistakes will require a little bit of self-reflection. Why did you fail to achieve your health goals? Did you set realistic, measurable goals for yourself? Did you schedule early morning workout time even though you are absolutely not a morning person? You know yourself better than anyone, and so you will be able to identify where you went wrong.

With this knowledge under your belt, it’s time to commit to starting again. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and dive right back into your health journey—but this time with a few changes.

The Psychology of Habit: Creating Routines That Stick

In most cases, you can’t change your health overnight. It’s an ongoing process that requires diligence and consistency—and the easiest way to maintain consistent behavior is to form habits. When people make lifestyle changes and then drop them within a few weeks, it’s often because the newly adopted behavior never became a habit.

This is all fine and good, but it raises a crucial question: how can you successfully create habits that stick? Fortunately, this is a question that psychologists have already sought to answer.

Studies show that one of the key elements of forming health-related habits is specificity. The more specific the desired behavior, the easier it will be to solidify as a habit. Take healthy eating, for instance.

Many people have a common goal: they want to “eat healthier.” While this is a great lifestyle change to try to make, this goal is very vague. A more specific goal might look something like this: “I want to eat more fruit every day.” Still, this isn’t as specific as it can get. Taking it a step further, we end up with this: “I want to eat an apple with lunch every day.”

The final version of the health goal outlined above has two key elements of habit-forming behavior: a when and a where. This hypothetical person will eat an apple with lunch (that’s the when—during lunchtime), wherever they happen to be eating (that’s the where).

When goals are specific, it becomes easier to measure progress and fidelity. If you struggle to keep yourself accountable, you may benefit from a log or other method for tracking your consistency. Going back to the example above, you could track that goal with a calendar and a simple yes or no mark. For each day that you ate an apple with lunch, you’d put a yes, and for each day that you didn’t, you’d put a no. With enough yesses, the behavior will become habitual—it may even start to feel strange to eat lunch without an apple.


Goal setting is a bit of a balancing act. You want to set goals that are achievable, while also ensuring that your goals push you to reach your potential. In business settings, many teams and individuals use the SMART framework for creating their goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—all of these are qualities that your goals should have.

This framework can be applied to your health goals as well. Let’s go back to the apple a day example. This goal is specific, measurable (either you ate the apple or you didn’t each day), achievable, and relevant (it ties into the more general goal of eating healthier). But what about time-bound? Is there a time frame in which the goal should be reached?

To make this goal time bound, there needs to be some sort of deadline. Let’s rewrite it: “within one month, I will be eating an apple with lunch at least six days a week.” Now the goal meets all of the SMART goal criteria.

Choosing a Method That Works for You

There’s no one right way to make lifestyle changes. It’s an individual process that varies from person to person. So if SMART goals don’t seem like your thing, don’t worry! Find a method that works for you. And remember: failure doesn’t have to be the end. Reflect, turn your mistakes into good mistakes, and start again.

staying hydrated on airplane

staying hydrated on airplane

For even the most seasoned traveler, navigating new places can be a bit stressful. Juggling luggage, reservations, activities, and more makes it hard to remember one of the most overlooked aspects of travel health: staying hydrated.

Drinking enough water is difficult enough on a day-to-day basis. Throw in the hustle and hurry that comes with travel, and it becomes even harder to maintain healthy hydration levels. But you don’t have to let dehydration throw off your next trip.

Use these tips to stay hydrated on the road. Taking care of your hydration levels will help you spend less time stressing about your health and more time relaxing, working, or simply enjoying your trip.

The Importance of Staying Hydrated and How to Assess Your Hydration Level

The human body can go a surprisingly long time without food—sometimes over two weeks. Without water, however, you can only survive for about three days.

This isn’t too surprising when you consider the fact that your body is roughly 60% water. Also, so many bodily processes depend on water, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • maintaining healthy temperature regulation
  • supporting healthy joints
  • helps in transporting nutrients to cells throughout the body
  • maintaining healthy organ functions
  • supporting your immune system in its fight to maintain your health

You get it—water is good for you. So how can you tell when you haven’t been drinking enough? The tell-tale sign is your urine. When you’re well-hydrated, your urine color should fall somewhere between light yellow and clear. Darker-colored urine often indicates you’re not well hydrated.

Other symptoms of underhydration include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and light-headedness. Studies have even linked dehydration to increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone and increased levels can cause an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, and other fight-or-flight responses in the body.

The Challenges of Staying Hydrated Away from Home

In the comfort of your home, hydration is a simple matter: if you’re thirsty, you grab a glass of water. When you’re on the road—whether it’s a trip out-of-town or a day spent running errands—hydration isn’t so easy. It is, however, still vitally important. There are several travel-related factors that can increase your chances of falling short of your hydration goals.

The first is your access to clean water. In your home, you probably have unlimited drinking water on tap. This luxury isn’t always available on the go. You can, of course, bring water with you. But if you’re traveling by plane, you won’t be able to take a full bottle of water through security. Additionally, you might not be able to find places to fill your reusable bottle as frequently as you’d like.

Then there’s the stress of travel. As mentioned above, lacking proper hydration can cause stress by increasing your cortisol levels. But the inverse is also true. Stress—and increased cortisol levels—can cause dehydration. Stress can cause you to sweat more, breathe faster, and can increase your heart rate. All these bodily responses increase the amount of fluid you lose. That means you need to drink more water to maintain a healthy level of hydration.

Finally, there’s the little-known phenomenon that airplanes actually dehydrate you. If you’re traveling by plane, some of the air you breathe in flight is pulled from the surrounding atmosphere. And at 30,000 feet, there’s very little moisture in the air. This may not seem like a big deal, but you may notice your eyes, skin, mouth, and throat feel drier than usual. This can be a sign you’re a little underhydrated.

How to Stay Hydrated on the Go

At this point, hopefully you’ve learned two things. First, hydration is important. And second, travel can adversely impact your attempts at healthy hydration in a variety of ways.

So what can you do about it? Use these tips and tricks to stay hydrated on any journey.

  1. Carry a reusable water bottle: If you don’t have a reusable water bottle, buy one. You’ll be able to fill up on water at any fountain, restaurant, or sink. Some bottles are insulated, keeping the water cold for hours. This is also an environmentally friendly approach to healthy hydration since you’re ditching single-use plastics. Just make sure the water you are filling up on is safe to drink!
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables with a high water content: Most people think of hydration in terms of drinking fluids. But you can also eat your water. Fruits and veggies are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but many are also supply you with water. Cucumbers, watermelon, oranges, and celery are just a few snacking options to help keep you hydrated. If you’re in an area without safe tap water, you may want to stick to thick-skinned fruits such as bananas, avocados, and pineapples.
  3. Pack a water filter in your bag: When you’re camping or traveling in an area without safe drinking water, a water filter is a must. Some allow you to pump water through a filter and out a hose, essentially giving you a portable faucet of drinking water. All you need is a stream, lake, or other source of water. You can also find water bottles with built-in filters. You simply fill the bottle and, as you suck the water through the straw, it’s pulled through a filter before you drink it. Additionally, you can try other water-purification methods, such as purifying tablets and UV water purifiers.
  4. Add chia seeds to your water: Chia seeds are popular among long-distance runners and other athletes because they’re often touted as an energy-boosting food. So what do they have to do with hydration? When added to water, these seeds absorb up to 12 times their weight in water. As a result, drinking water mixed with chia seeds can help you feel hydrated for longer stretches of time. Chia seeds are also rich in antioxidants, making them a great addition to your diet!
  5. Limit your coffee intake: While it’s mostly water, you shouldn’t rely on coffee for hydration. Coffee contains caffeine, and caffeine is a diuretic—meaning it makes you urinate more. And the more you urinate, the more fluid your body is losing. If not replaced, this can lead to dehydration. The same is true of other caffeinated beverages.
  6. Drink coconut water: Many people rely on sports drinks to stay hydrated. There’s just one problem: these beverages are often full of sugar. Enter coconut water, a natural beverage that is rich in electrolytes and will help you stay hydrated on the go.
  7. Limit your alcohol consumption: Alcohol, like caffeine, is a urine-inducing diuretic. For this reason, alcohol can dehydrate you very quickly. If you’re drinking at the airport or on vacation, be sure to drink plenty of water to keep your fluid levels up.
nutrition on the go

nutrition on the go

Healthy eating is the backbone of any healthy lifestyle. It provides the energy you need to focus throughout the day, helps keep your immune system operating at its best, and fuels your body for physical activity.

Of course, eating right is easier said than done—especially when life gets busy. When you have a lot on your metaphorical plate, it’s tempting to forego healthy, nutritious meals. That might mean replacing them with fast food, a snack from the vending machine, or simply skipping the meal.

In other words, when life gets busy, many people tend to deprive themselves of the key nutrients that will keep them operating at their best. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to learn which nutrients will help power your busy life and how to incorporate them into your daily meals.

Nutrition 101

If you’re completely new to the world of nutrition, don’t worry—this section provides a quick, crash course on the basics. And if you’re a seasoned expert (pun intended), a little review never hurts, right?

Nutrition—in the context of this article—refers to the process of providing your body with the food it needs to support normal growth and development, as well as maintain essential body functions. To do each of these tasks, your body requires a variety of nutrients. These nutrients range from amino acids, fats, and carbs to vitamins, minerals, and everything in between. So when people throw around phrases like healthy eating, nutritional food, or a good diet, they’re referring to eating habits that provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function. But also avoiding—or reducing—the intake of less nutritious options.

Though it can sound involved—and, frankly, intimidating—eating a well-balanced diet can be done easier than you think. In fact, simply eating a large variety of whole foods can provide the building blocks of a balanced diet. You can reach for a variety of different foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.

Between these food groups, you can get most of the nutrients you need on a day-to-day basis. So if you’re eating the recommended daily amount of each food group, your diet likely has a strong foundation. From there, you can adjust your eating habits to focus on specific nutrients—but more on that later!

The Importance of Nutrition on the Go

The food you eat directly fuels your energy levels. Carbohydrates such as sugar, for instance, can provide quick, temporary bursts of energy. But the benefits of good nutrition go far beyond your energy levels.

Nutrition is the unsung hero (or villain) of your day-to-day experiences. Whether it’s the quality of your sleep or your ability to focus throughout the day, nearly every element of your day is affected, in part, by what you put in your body.

This makes nutrition especially important when you’re busy. An inability to focus can set you behind on the day’s tasks. Similarly, a poor night of sleep can throw off your entire day. But in both cases, you can set yourself up for success by focusing on your eating habits.

Naturally, the optimal meal plan looks a little bit different for everyone. It’ll take time and experimentation to figure out what works best for you. But there are some general guidelines to start you on the right path. The next section breaks down some of the nutrients you’ll likely need to fuel your busy life and why they are so important.

Key Nutrients to Get You Through Busy Days (And Where to Find Them)

A well-balanced diet ensures you have a solid foundation, but you’ll still need to pay close attention to the foods you eat. Each day, you should strive to consume a variety of foods. This will help you maintain a baseline level of nutrition to keep you going.

Once you’ve established that baseline, you can focus on other key nutrients. The list below outlines some of the vitamins and minerals that especially power your busy lifestyle. This is not an exhaustive list of what your body needs, but rather a list of key nutrients involved in healthy energy production that you can use to help supplement an already balanced diet.

B vitamins: It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating—food is fuel. That being said, your body has to perform chemical processes to convert the food you eat into usable energy. This is where vitamins B1, B2, and B3—AKA thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin—come into play. These three B vitamins help support the ways your body breaks down and processes macronutrients. These processes, which spark electron transfers, also need support from B vitamins to produce one of the body’s main sources of energy.

When it comes to energy production, vitamins B5 and B7 (pantothenic acid and biotin) also play an important role. Similar to the other B vitamins, these two vitamins facilitate a number of chemical processes and reactions that help your body metabolize various substances and create usable energy.

B vitamins aren’t all about energy production, though it is one of their main functions. Vitamin B9, AKA folate, helps your body build DNA and RNA, supports tissue growth, and promotes the regeneration of red blood cells. Obviously, these are important bodily functions.

To metabolize—or break down and process—folate, your body needs vitamin B12, or cobalamin. So remember how folate helps your body perform a number of crucial functions? Well, your body also relies on vitamin B12 for those same processes.

At this point, hopefully one thing is clear: the B vitamins do a lot. So where can you find them? The B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods including pork (B1), brown rice (B1), leafy greens (B2, B3, and B9), dairy (B2 and B5), and fish (B3, B7, and B12). For an in-depth look at each of the B vitamins, check out this guide!

Electrolytes: Contrary to popular belief, electrolytes are more than just salt. Electrolytes are water-soluble substances that conduct electrical charges. Some of the most common electrolytes found in your body are calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

Your body uses electrolytes—and their conductive properties—to support healthy muscle contraction, chemical reactions, and fluid balance. Because your body is about two-thirds water, nearly every cell contains electrolytes.

Electrolytes exit the body through fluids—usually through urine and sweat. Those found in your urine are typically excess electrolytes, meaning your body doesn’t need them. If you’re sweating a lot, however, it may be necessary to deliberately replenish your body’s supply of these electrically charged minerals. So how do you do this?

It’s simple: just eat and drink electrolyte-rich foods and beverages. These include bananas, dairy products, coconut water, avocados, and watermelon. (It’s important to note that excessive amounts of electrolytes can also have detrimental effects on your health. If you suspect you have too many or too few in your diet, you can have a urine test done to measure your levels.)

Calcium: Calcium is mentioned twice in this list because it’s one of the body’s most important nutrients—crucial enough to merit its own section, too. You’ve probably heard that calcium helps maintain strong bones. While that’s true, calcium does a whole lot more, too.

That includes supporting:

  • healthy muscle function
  • nerve signals
  • a healthy heart beat
  • normal cell signaling

As you can see, calcium plays a vital role in your body’s daily function. Additionally, too little calcium in your diet can negatively impact cognition—which can be catastrophic during a busy day.
You can find calcium in dairy products, tofu, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale).

Magnesium: Like calcium, magnesium is also an electrolyte. The essential mineral also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to produce energy. And it helps regulate your body’s levels of another key nutrient—calcium. Too little magnesium in your diet may result in muscle weakness and fatigue.

If you’re looking to add more magnesium to your diet, consider snacking on whole nuts or pack a salad of leafy greens for lunch.

Iron: As with most of the nutrients listed, iron plays a vital role in energy production. It also helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue—which can throw a wrench in your busy day.
Meat is one of the main sources of iron in many people’s diets. If you are vegetarian, focus on eating iron-rich foods, such as beans and nuts.

Vitamin C: Nothing interrupts a busy schedule like a cold. Not feeling your best makes it incredibly difficult to take on your daily tasks. Enter vitamin C, which supports the production of leukocytes—white blood cells that help maintain your health.
Most nutrients have many roles, and vitamin C is no different. In addition to supporting a healthy immune system, this vitamin also helps optimize your body’s creation of metabolic energy (energy extracted from nutrients.). Specifically, vitamin C supports the process your body uses to transport and process fatty acids.

So whether you’re looking to maintain a healthy immune system or support healthy energy levels, it’s crucial that your body gets enough vitamin C. You can load up on this vitamin by eating more citrus (or drinking orange juice), broccoli, or Brussels sprouts. Snacking on raw bell peppers is another good option.

Zinc: Like vitamin C, zinc plays a key role in the health of your immune system. (It also does a whole lot more, from supporting eye and kidney health to helping optimize DNA production.) Zinc is most commonly found in meat, seafood, and eggs. So vegetarians and vegans, take note: you might need additional sources of zinc in your diet. This could mean eating more legumes and nuts, or simply taking a dietary supplement.

Water: Good old H2O. Pretty much everyone knows they need to drink a lot of it, and yet many people don’t. Dehydration can cause headaches and fatigue. Fortunately, there’s a surefire way to avoid this: drink more water. If you struggle with proper hydration, consider investing in a large water bottle to carry with you throughout the day. There are even apps that can help you track your hydration!

Balancing Your Diet and Your Schedule

When it comes to healthy eating, it’s easy to let your schedule interfere. But eating a balanced diet doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time. It just means more planning and a little bit of prep.

If you find yourself munching on vending machine snacks throughout the day, consider stocking up on nutrient-rich snacks like nuts or fresh vegetables and hummus. Similarly, a homemade, vegetable-packed sandwich can make an excellent, nutritious lunch—you just have to set aside time to make it.

At the end of the day, balancing your diet might mean balancing your schedule. Nutrition doesn’t necessarily require hours and hours of planning and preparation—15 or 20 minutes of meal prep in the morning can make all the difference. In an hour or two on Sunday, you can knock out your meals for the week. Find what works with your schedule and stick with it.

Nutritious meals might seem time consuming, but they’ll supply the fuel you need to push through a busy day. And with optimal energy levels and focus, maybe you’ll find that nutrition saves you time after all.

exercise and aging

exercise and aging

Most people know the basics of staying healthy—at least in theory. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly. Sleep enough. But putting these healthy habits into practice is where there’s room for improvement. This is natural. Nobody is perfect, after all, and change can be difficult, especially after years of forming certain lifestyle habits.

Here’s the good news: supporting health at any age is possible no matter how long you’ve been putting off healthy lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to start living your best life.

Many people—especially those in middle age and later—think they’ve passed a point of no return on their health journey. That is, they think it is too late to see the health benefits of certain lifestyle changes. But studies show you can enjoy the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes at any age.

In other words, it’s never too late to start caring about your health and learning how to take care of your body. The first step is learning about the supporting science, and then applying health tips for all ages to support physical and mental health throughout your life.

Neuroplasticity: Habits, Change, and the Aging Brain

Humans are creatures of habit. Daily life is built around routines—meals, work, sleep, and hobbies. And, as you’re probably aware, these habits can be hard to break or change.

There’s a neurological reason for this. As you repeat certain behaviors or activities, the neurons in your brain rewire and adjust the way they fire to code that behavior as a habit. So the behavior literally becomes wired into your brain.

Naturally, these wired habits are difficult to break—difficult, not impossible. Your ability to change habits has, in part, to do with neuroplasticity, which is simply your brain’s ability to change.

From infancy and childhood (even into early adulthood), the brain is incredibly plastic. This means it changes and develops easily. As you age, this process slows so much that scientists used to think neuroplasticity disappeared completely around age 25. In other words, they thought the brain’s wiring was fully set by your mid-twenties.

Recent studies, however, have shown this isn’t the case. Your brain can form new connections, create new neurons, and change its structure at any age. The process might look different as you age, but it is still possible.

So yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And, more importantly, you can form new habits to support health at any age.

Out With the Bad: The Benefits of Dropping Unhealthy Habits Today

When people confront lifelong habits—whether it’s smoking, drinking too much, or eating too many processed food—they often ask the same question: how much of a difference could it really make?

The answer is simple. Dropping unhealthy habits as soon as possible can have a huge positive impact on your health.

Take smoking for instance. For a pack-a-day smoker of 20 years, each additional day spent smoking might seem like drops in the river. But the health benefits of quitting smoking, such as decreased risk of heart disease, can be seen after just one day.

Remember, if your goal is to replace unhealthy habits in your lifestyle, you have to start somewhere. Each day that you stick to your goals, you work towards rewiring your brain. So even if you’re not seeing immediate health benefits, you are working to create new neural pathways that will help you maintain a healthier lifestyle going forward.

Making the Change: How to Take Care of Your Body as You Age

The habits you set in early adulthood are factors that will shape your health profile later in life. Depending on your lifestyle, your risk for serious ailments will change. But those statistics aren’t set in stone.

Adults in their sixties, seventies, and beyond can still see the benefits of improving their diet, physical fitness, and mental health. Together, these positive lifestyle changes can set the stage for a happy and healthy life that extends well into old age. Whether you’re a teen, early adult, or pushing past middle age, look at the following tips for supporting health at any age:

  • Incorporate exercise into your routine: Whether it’s a daily walk, weight training, or high-intensity cardio, it’s important to stay active no matter your age. In young adults, high levels of physical activity improve cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and can help you maintain a high level of fitness later in life.
    If you’re middle aged or older, physical activity is just as important, if not more so. Increased levels of physical activity can help support you overall cardiovascular health, and more. And for older adults, physical activity helps keep muscles strong, helping maintain mobility and ensuring you can continue performing day-to-day tasks.
  • Eat nutritious food: Your diet affects nearly every aspect of your life. Food is fuel, and you want to make sure you’re giving the body the nutrients it needs to run effectively throughout life. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, your diet provides your body with the fuel it needs to grow and develop.
    As you age, your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight—which looks a little different for everyone—and can help support total body health throughout your life.
    Additionally, healthy eating can just make you feel better. It’s hard to quantify, but people who eat nutritious foods often report feeling more satisfied and energized throughout the day. And this is a benefit you can take advantage of at all ages.
  • Keep your brain engaged: Scenic walks, reading, or learning a new skill are a few activities that can help keep your brain engaged throughout life. The brain loves a challenge—so why not give it one?
    By striving to learn throughout life, you can keep your brain active. This promotes neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to continue to learn and grow into old age. Staying mentally engaged and challenged can also help optimize mental health throughout life.

Stay Positive with a Growth Mindset to Stay Healthy as Your Age

No matter your age, caring about your health involves adopting a growth mindset. It means believing that your health and lifestyle can change for the better. It’ll just take time and effort.

Remember, these changes don’t have to occur all at once. Start small and work towards your larger goals. It’s natural to slip up, but it’s up to you how you respond to your mistakes. So what are you waiting for? Take the first step towards health—no matter how small.

family with children

family with children

Childhood and adolescence are among the most important stages of any person’s life. And while this probably isn’t news to you, it bears repeating. The amount of growth and development the body experiences during these periods of time are astounding. Simply put, the body changes during childhood and adolescence—a lot.

During childhood and adolescence, it can even seem like the body is constantly in flux. The changes come so rapidly that it may be difficult to monitor your child’s health—both physical and mental. Whether you’re a parent searching for facts and tips about your child’s health or a teen looking to read up on your health, you’ve come to the right place! After all, what better place to start than the basics?

The list below breaks down some of the most important (and interesting) facts about childhood and adolescent health.

1. A fast metabolism doesn’t mean you can forget about nutrition:

Adults often bemoan the fact that metabolism slows with age. That is, the body becomes less quick and efficient at breaking food down and turning it into energy the older it gets. So while children and teens can—and often do—scarf down four bowls of pasta without immediate consequences, that same amount of food might have lasting effects on an adult (and their waistline).

This fact leads many people to believe children, especially teenagers, can eat just about anything while maintaining their health. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly true. Children and teenagers can eat a lot of food, but that’s because the body is doing a lot of growing. That means it requires a lot of energy. And to provide it with the energy it needs, good nutrition is key.

The fundamentals of good nutrition stay the same from childhood to adulthood: you should strive to eat a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based fats, and quality, lean protein.

2. Teens and children should steer clear of adult beverages—and not just alcohol:

It goes without saying, children and teens shouldn’t drink alcohol. While the brain is still developing, alcohol consumption can have lasting, negative consequences. That being said, alcoholic beverages aren’t the only drinks to keep away from teens.

As of 2014, the CDC reported that 73 percent of children consume caffeine daily. While children under the age of 12 should avoid consuming caffeine altogether, teens can drink small amounts of caffeine without impacting their health. Here’s the problem: the amount of caffeine teens take in depends on what they’re drinking. And energy drinks are popular among teenagers.

Teens 14-17 years old are advised to consume no more than 100 milligrams (mg) of caffeine each day—roughly one strong cup of coffee. Some energy drinks contain triple that amount of caffeine in one can. And many teens are drinking multiple energy drinks a day. You don’t have to be good at math to know that is way, way over the recommended limit.

So why does this matter? Children and teens are physically smaller than adults, so they feel the effects of caffeine much more strongly than, say, most people working office jobs. What’s more, teens’ brains are still developing and maturing. Caffeine can also disrupt teenagers’ sleep cycles—and sleep is a crucial time for brain development. In extreme cases, excessive caffeine intake can even put teens’ hearts at risk.

3. Sleep is a vital aspect of teen health and wellness:

Ask nearly anyone how much sleep you should get, and they’ll likely give you the same answer: eight hours. And while eight hours is a good guideline for adults, the recommended amount of sleep for healthy teenagers is between eight and 10 hours.

Between the demands of school, work, friendships, and other relationships, it can be hard for teenagers to prioritize sleep. But here’s why it’s important: Sleep plays an important role in pretty much every neurological process and function—memory, risk assessment, processing sensory input, you name it. And as a teen, your brain is still developing and making neural connections. Sleeping enough is crucial to allow those connections to be made.

4. Sunscreen is no joke:

While sunburns may seem like no big deal in the moment, they can have lasting impacts on your health. Excessive sun exposure—whether it’s frequent sunburns, extreme sunburns, or even too much tanning—can lead to premature aging of the skin. This means seeing wrinkles younger in life, and, in some cases, increased risk for skin issues.

This doesn’t mean staying out of the sun entirely. You can still go to the beach, swimming pool, or take a long walk on a sunny day—just be sure to wear sunscreen. And not just any sunscreen. The higher the SPF rating, the better.

As a guideline, 15 SPF is appropriate for daily wear, but for extended periods of sun exposure, you should aim to wear 30 SPF sunscreen or higher. And don’t forget to reapply every two hours, as needed!

5. Take care of your ears:

No, seriously. Ear health may seem like a strange topic to talk about, but it’s no joke. And it’s one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of adolescent health. With the proliferation of affordable smartphones, earbuds, mp3 players, and headphones, virtually everyone can listen to music anywhere.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But here’s the problem: teens and children (and even adults) often don’t understand the risks of listening to loud music for prolonged periods of time. And, as a result, many teens listen to music at dangerously high volumes. Blasting music through your headphones or earbuds will damage the cells in your cochlea, increasing your risk for hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). So take care of your ears while you’re young—future you will be grateful!

6. Teens should exercise regularly:

When it comes to adult health, consistent exercise is one of the most oft-cited aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, exercise is a vital element of teen health.

You’ve probably come across a variety of suggestions for how much exercise teens should do: 30 minutes daily, 30 minutes six times a week, 60 minutes three times a week—you get the idea. If you average out these various suggestions, here’s the bottom line: teens should get somewhere between 180 and 210 minutes of exercise each week. This could be swimming, cycling, going to dance practice, walking the dog—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are revving your heart rate up.

While regular exercise will help keep your body healthy, the benefits aren’t purely physical. Regular exercise can help teens with mood regulation, alleviate stress, and get better sleep. All good important aspects of adolescent health.

7. Dental health is health, too:

As a teen, it’s easy to feel invincible. Your body bounces back from most injuries and your brain hasn’t fully developed its risk-assessment abilities. This combo can lead teens to make some, well, rash decisions. It can be hard to see the big picture.

When it comes to dental health, however, it’s all about the big picture. Once your baby teeth fall out, you have one set to last the rest of your life— so it’s important to take care of them. Ask adults what they wish they’d done differently in their teens and twenties, and many will give the same answer: they wish they’d taken better care of their teeth.

Dental health doesn’t have to be complicated, but it requires consistency. Be sure to brush and floss at least every night and you’ll keep your oral health thriving for the years to come.

8. It’s never too early to prioritize mental health:

One of the most common misconceptions about mental health is that only adults suffer from these kinds of issues. While early adulthood is a very common time for many mental health challenges to emerge, anyone, no matter their age, can experience change in mental health. In fact, one in about five teens has a diagnosed mental health disorder.

So what does this mean for you? Whether you experience mental health challenges or not, it’s never too early to prioritize your mental health. For teens, this might mean taking a break from social media, seeing a therapist, and, in some cases, taking medication prescribed by your healthcare provider. It’s all about finding what works for you and not waiting until adulthood hits to address any issues.

Woman After Weight-Loss Looking In Mirror

Woman After Weight-Loss Looking In Mirror

Your body image is the way you view yourself—the mental picture you’ve created from several factors. Naturally, physical metrics—like body size and weight—play a part in shaping your image of yourself. But psychological, mental, and emotional factors make just as big of an impact on how you see yourself, and how accepting you are of your body.

Here’s the catch: your body image isn’t always accurate. Your perception—shaped by all the facets listed above—can be skewed. You’re often your harshest critic—especially when it comes to the way you look.

A negative body image can impact your life in many ways and keep you from feeling your best. Nobody wants that, so it’s time to start untangling the psychology of weight, body image, body positivity, and body acceptance.

The body positivity discussion exists on an individual and societal level.

On an individual basis, body positivity describes a frame of mind. When you’re body positive, it means you generally feel good about your body. This includes accepting the changes that your body naturally can—and will—experience. Body positivity requires having realistic expectations for yourself, and, more importantly, being forgiving of your body as it changes.

Body positivity also describes a broader social movement. Society has had unrealistic beauty standards for about as long as popular media has existed. And that’s a long time. In recent years, people have talked more openly about the negative effects these beauty standards can have on individuals. When you are constantly exposed to unrealistic images of how you “should” look, it’s pretty hard to feel good about yourself. Makes sense, right? The body positivity and body acceptance movement is simply people calling for changes to the norm. Advertising and media should reflect the real world: this means representing people of all shapes and sizes.

So contrary to popular belief, body positivity isn’t a fad. And it certainly is not encouraging people to be unhealthy. Rather, body positivity is a frame of mind and a social movement simply encouraging people to be more accepting of themselves and others.


Factors That Influence Body Image

The human brain is constantly taking in and processing information—both consciously and unconsciously. It’s one of the things that makes life so interesting. But it can also be a bit inconvenient. Because of your brain takes in so much information, your body image is often influenced unconsciously by the world around you.

Some factors that might have a negative impact on your body image include:

  • Culture and family: Beauty standards vary from culture to culture. How well you fit in with your culture’s ideas of beauty can have a lasting impact on the way you view yourself. Your family can have a similar influence—for better or for worse. A supportive, body positive family can help foster body acceptance in children. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. Judgmental family members can have a lasting toll on an individual’s self-image.
  • Media: As mentioned above, advertisements and other forms of media—especially those related to the fashion industry—play a big role in shaping society’s beauty standards. And often, those standards are unrealistic. Comparing yourself to an unattainable (and possibly unhealthy) standard of beauty often leads to a negative body image. Try to be mindful of the media you consume—especially on social media!
  • Weight loss or fluctuations: Rapid or extreme changes to your appearance can impact body image for the worse. This even includes weight loss. Many people who shed weight rapidly still have a negative body image. One possible cause for this is “phantom fat,” a phenomenon in which people still feel overweight, and even view themselves as overweight after they have quickly dropped some pounds.
  • Skin conditions: Body image isn’t all about weight and size. Acne, scarring, and other changes to your skin can impact body image, too. Because of airbrushing, makeup, lighting, and other post-production tricks, people in the media always seem to have perfect-looking skin. Remember: this doesn’t necessarily reflect how those people look in reality. And you exist in the real world. So when you compare your skin to theirs, you’re not being fair to yourself.

Body Image and Health: The Effects of Body Positivity on Your Physical and Mental Wellbeing

Most people want to feel good about the way they look—to have a positive body image. It might sound simple, but this goal can be harder to reach than you might expect. But there are good reasons why it’s worth it to keep aiming for body positivity.

After a while, body negativity can take a toll on your mental wellbeing. Body positivity and body acceptance, on the other hand, can boost your confidence, mood, self-esteem, and general sense of wellness and fulfillment. This can help reduce social anxiety, improve your performance at work, and benefit your interpersonal relationships.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Positive body image is also linked to healthier lifestyle habits. People with a positive body image tend to maintain a healthier diet, smoke less, and drink less alcohol than their body-negative peers. This creates a positive feedback loop. The better you take care of your body, the better you’ll feel about it. And the better you feel about your body, the more you’ll want to take care of it.

Phantom Fat: The Psychological Effects of Weight Loss on Body Image

Contrary to popular belief, improving your body image isn’t always a matter of losing weight. This is because, as mentioned above, your body image isn’t always tied to how you look—it often has more to do with your thoughts and other mental and psychological elements.

A phenomenon known as phantom fat is good example. When a person loses a substantial amount of weight—enough to change their physical appearance—they sometimes still see themselves at their previous weight and size. And they still feel their “phantom fat” on their body. People experiencing phantom fat report worries about knocking things over and perceive themselves as much larger than they actually are.

People’s experiences with phantom fat vary greatly. And there’s not one guaranteed way to help your brain catch up with the way you look. Often, it just takes time. After years and years of learning to view yourself one way, it can take a while to change those thought patterns.

Changing your brain can take longer than changing your body, but that mental adjustment is possible. Whether it’s replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones, throwing out the scale, or reciting affirmations, there are countless strategies for boosting your body image. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you.

Tips for Maintaining a Body-Positive Mindset

At this point, you probably have one main question: if body positivity is so important, what can you do to keep your body image positive? There’s no fix-all solution—body acceptance and positivity look different for everyone. Try a few of the following tips and practices to see which help keep your body image positive!

  1. Keep your self-talk positive: If you find you frequently experience critical thoughts about yourself and your appearance, try replacing those criticisms with self-affirmations.
  2. Move your body every day: You may be sick of hearing about the benefits of exercise, but there’s a reason you hear so much about it. Exercise really works wonders! A little bit of movement each day, even if it’s not rigorous exercise, can really help you keep your self-image up. This could mean jogging, cleaning, dancing, or going for a walk.
  3. Be kind to yourself: A lot of people write self-love and self-care off as corny and unimportant. Don’t let that be you! There’s no right way to practice self-care, but try doing something each day that is truly for yourself. This could be as simple as setting time aside for reading a good book or as involved as going out for a massage.
  4. Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable: When considering your clothing choices, be sure to account for two factors: how the clothes feel physically and how they make you feel. If your clothes are too tight, itchy, or otherwise uncomfortable, it’s hard to feel good about yourself. Try to find clothes you like the look of that are also comfortable.
  5. Be mindful of who you surround yourself with: Your friends, coworkers, and peers can have a huge impact on your self-image. Try to surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good. This goes for social media, too! A social feed full of negativity won’t do your thoughts any favors.

You’re constantly bombarded with messages about your body—from your loved ones to what you see on your screens. With all this input coming in waves, even a healthy body image can be worn down or swept away entirely in a tide of negativity. That’s why it’s important to buoy your body image with a raft of body positivity.

The journey to body acceptance and a healthy body image isn’t an easy one. And it’s different for everyone. So before you embark, it’s nice to know just how positive your body image already is.

The healthy body image quiz below will walk you through different aspects of body positivity. The points from your choices will automatically tally up, and your score at the end will reveal how your body image positivity compares. Once you find your score and the group you fall into, links to resources are waiting to help you improve or maintain your healthy body image.

Take the Healthy Body Image Quiz



Your immune system is always working to keep you healthy. Understanding how your body protects itself gives you ammunition to fight off germs. There are a lot of immune system myths out there about keeping yourself healthy. Do your research to separate the fact from fiction so you don’t fall for these immunity myths.

Start on the right path by reading this list that busts seven of the most common immune system myths. Learn what does and doesn’t make you sick. And discover the facts about steps you can take to stay healthy year-round.

Immunity Myth 1: Cold weather makes you sick

Sure as the changing of the seasons, you can be certain you’ll wind up catching something in the winter. The question is, why? People often contract common cold viruses in cold months. So, you might believe low temperatures are responsible for making you sick.

Not so.

A link does exist between chilly temperatures and sickness, but it is a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Most likely the changes in behavior associated with cold weather are what trigger these seasonal surges.

Cold weather keeps people indoors for longer periods of time. This leads to the spread of germs between people who are in close contact. Think family members, co-workers, classmates, or the people with whom you share a bus ride. Proximity to others is the primary way viruses spread, regardless of outdoor temperature.

A similar pattern occurs when children return to school after summer break, or when you start attending a new gym. Physical closeness to lots of people increases the chance you’ll catch a bug (whether it’s warm or cold outside.)

Some research highlights that cooler temperatures provide a better living environment for specific viruses. Rhinovirus (the microbe responsible for the common cold) is usually living dormant in your nasal passages waiting for more suitable temperatures. When cooler weather comes along, it wakes up and reproduces.

If you stay inside due to the weather, an inadvertent cough or sneeze sends the cold virus into the air you share with others. Because colder weather brings people closer, a sneeze might be all it takes to spread a cold. But the temperature change was only part of the equation.

Immunity Myth 2: Seasonal allergies are a sign of a weakened immune system

The opposite is true. Seasonal allergies are the result of an over-reactive immune response mistaking small particles in the air for harmful microorganisms. Consider allergies the hallmark of an over-vigilant immune system, rather than one slacking off.

It can be difficult to distinguish allergies from other upper-respiratory issues. They share many of the same symptoms, but are not contagious. You might experience a headache, congestion, runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, or even a sore throat. All are symptoms of a cold, too.

The difference is allergies aren’t triggered by bacteria or viruses. Harmless particles like dust, pollen, or mold are introduced to your body when you breathe. If you have seasonal allergies, your immune system responds to these particles like it would a potential pathogen.

To minimize your allergy symptoms, try to identify the source of your allergy. If it is pollen, avoid blooming plants. Dust allergies can ramp up when it is windy outside. So, consider protecting your mouth and nose with a mask on windy days.

These allergies are seasonal, as their name implies. That means time will start to bring relief. Allergy symptoms can be controlled well with proper medication prescribed by a physician. Talk to a doctor and see if they can help you find a way to manage your seasonal allergies.

Immunity Myth 3: Handwashing “kills” viruses

You might be surprised to learn that washing your hands doesn’t actually kill viruses. Viruses aren’t alive, which means they can’t replicate on their own, but washing does rid your hands of viruses in another way.

Soap adheres to the membrane, or outer wall of viruses. And soap molecules also compete with the lipids within the virus membrane to help pry it apart and render it harmless. This stickiness means microbes can be rinsed away with water. When you wash your hands, you are literally washing off the viruses that can make you sick.

If you want a refresher on how to properly wash your hands then check out this handy guide. Proper handwashing technique is important, and there’s more to it than you might think.

After you are done washing your hands make sure you dry them thoroughly. It is harder for viruses to transfer from dry hands. Wash and dry often throughout the day. Handwashing won’t kill the germs that can make you sick, but can effectively get rid of them.

Immunity Myth 4: Hand sanitizer is more effective than handwashing

Handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. When handwashing is not available, hand sanitizer is a good backup option.

Unlike handwashing, hand sanitizers do destroy microbes. The alcohol in hand sanitizer deactivates viruses and keeps them from transferring from your hands. Hand sanitizer made of at least 60 percent alcohol effectively kills bacteria and microbes on your hands.

To make the most of your hand sanitizer, try to remove visible dirt and debris first. Wipe your hands off with a napkin or cloth before using sanitizer to clean. Dirt and oils from your skin make hand sanitizer less effective at killing microbes.

Hand sanitizer isn’t as effective at removing microbes as hand washing, but it is practical. Having hand sanitizer with you is a convenient way to clean your hands on the go. When you are out shopping or driving in your car, you can’t always stop to wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer in these situations to keep yourself safe from germs.

Immunity Myth 5: “Feed a cold, starve a fever”

This refrain is one of the more pervasive immune system myths. Your body needs adequate fuel to fight off infections of any kind. Imagine trying to fight a battle on an empty stomach. That’s how your immune system will behave if you restrict what you eat when you’re sick.

There isn’t much evidence to support the notion that fasting reduces a fever. In fact, your body’s calorie demands increase when you fight off an infection. Your immune system needs energy from your diet to increase white-blood-cell production. The rise of your internal body temperature boosts your metabolism, too. This means you need more calories to keep up.

However, if you’re feeling sick you might not have a big appetite. This is completely normal. Don’t force yourself to eat if you don’t want to. You might end up feeling nauseous.

But whether you have a cold or fever, it is important to eat what you can when you’re sick. Stick to whole, nutritious foods if you’re under the weather. Many fruits, cooked vegetables, and protein are easy on the stomach and supply you with the essential nutrients your body needs. Choose those that sit well with you.

Immunity Myth 6: Chicken noodle soup will shorten your cold

As good as this sounds, a bowl of soup is not a cure of any kind. Chicken noodle soup is, however, a time-honored comfort food. Unfortunately, the soup itself boasts no magical healing powers—the plumage of the chicken used to make the soup doesn’t either.

Time, rest, and appropriate medication are the only ways to defeat an infection.

That isn’t to say chicken noodle soup is a bad idea. It’s a great way to deliciously acquire some hearty nutrition. It’s full of quality ingredients that can help fuel your body in its time of need. Antioxidants and vitamins from the veggies help support your immune system. And protein from chicken gives sustainable energy to aid in the fight.

Soups (and other hot meals) will help alleviate some of the symptoms of a cold. The steam from the broth can help clear the sinuses and heat can soothe a sore throat.

Other foods can provide similar relief. Hot tea, honey, rice, bananas, and applesauce are palatable and can settle an upset stomach. Try some of these foods the next time you’re feeling unwell. They won’t cure your cold on their own, but will fill you up with the nutrition you need to support your immunity.

Immunity Myth 7: Exercise weakens the immune system

Taking on an Olympic-style training program might throw your immune system for a loop. But regular, low-impact exercise can do your body good. A habit of exercise is a reliable way to prepare your body for germs that might come along.

White blood cells flourish when you work out. Exercise increases cell turnover in your body and stimulates the production of these important immune cells. After all, they’re the front-line troops fighting against viruses and bacteria.

Make it a goal to exercise for your immune health, and overall wellbeing. Be sure not to overdo it, as too much vigorous exercise can have a detrimental effect. Keep it simple with walking, jogging, or swimming. Just make sure to move your body every day to support your immune system.

Stop the Spread of Immune System Myths and Misinformation

Now that you know the false facts surrounding immunity, do your part to replace the myths with the truth.

Make sure you practice appropriate safety measures during times of increased viral spread. Demonstrate your knowledge about immunity myths by prioritizing exercise and eating nutritious foods to keep you feeling strong. Teach your family and friends about the importance of handwashing.

Bust the myths about your immune system and do what you can to help your body stay healthy.

Your immune system is in a battle every day. That’s its job.

You’re protected by a coordinated defense. Cells, proteins, and chemical signals join forces against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens. And your immune system also helps in wound healing, cellular and tissue turnover, and repair.

A healthy, functional immune system is a complex machine. It contains many layers, subsystems, tissues, organs, and processes. But a basic understanding can help you see what you need to maintain healthy immunity.

Barriers to Entry

Imagine your body as a castle to be defended. The first layer of defense are your physical and chemical barriers. They’re the high, thick walls that turn away many intruders.

Your skin is the most obvious physical barrier. And it’s a good one. Your largest organ is a waterproof covering that protects you against pathogens. Skin’s construction, substances on the surface, and other compounds in deeper layers help it provide protection.

Skin does a good job, but there are other paths into the body. That’s why other physical barriers exist.

Your upper respiratory tract has tiny hairs called cilia. They move potentially harmful material away from your lungs. Your gut barrier blocks absorption of possibly harmful substances. And your excretory (bathroom) functions physically expel pathogens.

Mucus blurs the line between the physical and chemical. Whatever category you put it in, mucus is an effective trap for invaders. It’s produced by membranes throughout your body. This thick, gluey substance is your body’s sticky trap, grabbing microbes and not letting go.

Other chemical barriers include: tears, saliva, stomach acid, and protective chemicals produced inside of cells and in your blood.

Immunity in General: Your Innate Immune System

The innate immune system is sometimes called the non-specific immune system. This subsystem of your larger immune defense is loaded into your genetic code. That’s the innate, or inherent, part. And it provides more general protection, destroying any microbes that enter your body. That’s the non-specific part.

Your cellular defenses kick in if a pathogen survives your physical and chemical barriers—which could also be considered part of the innate subsystem. That’s where phagocytes (a specific type of immune cell) come in. These white blood cells act like guards patrolling your body and destroying invaders.

These cells are found throughout the tissues of your body. They kill pathogens through a process called phagocytosis. It’s complicated, but there’s a simple way to understand it.

Phagocytes eat the invading microbes. They were named phagocytes for a reason—phago comes from the Greek for “to eat.” Phagocytes ingest or engulf the invaders. While trapped, several killing mechanisms are deployed to destroy the pathogen.

Some phagocytes have receptors that distinguish between healthy cells and potentially harmful substances. (They also deal with turnover of dead and dying cells.) Other pathogen eaters are chemically signaled to sites where they can be most useful. Phagocytes even help with the cleanup and repair after the invaders are destroyed.

Adaptive Immunity

Your adaptive immune system is like an immunity database. After encountering a specific pathogen, you have immune cells that can recall the best way to destroy it. That’s why it’s also referred to as specific or acquired immunity.

The original pathogen exposure can be intentional or accidental. That doesn’t matter. A normal, healthy response starts with an antigen. Think of an antigen as the bar code of each cell. Just like every item in the grocery store has a unique bar code, each cell type has a unique antigen code to identify it.

These antigens—mostly proteins—can also identify pathogens. Our immune system has learned to read these antigen codes. When they recognize something as being foreign, they initiate an immune response.

Each unique antigen triggers the creation of a unique antibody. The y-shaped antibody binds back to the corresponding antigen and marks the invader for attack by other immune cells. Some antibodies can even take care of business for themselves.

Lymphocytes (another specific type of immune cell) are the main cells involved in your adaptive immune system. Two types of white blood cells—T and B cells—are produced in your bone marrow. They can attack and kill pathogens on their own, or assist other white blood cells in the responses.

T and B cells form the basis for your body’s immunity memory bank. B cells present antigens and create and release antibodies. Memory T cells—those that survive previous attacks—quickly and effectively respond to known pathogens. Together, they help your immune system efficiently and effectively destroy known bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens.

Defend Your Immune System

Above, you’ve read about the way a normal, healthy immune system functions. But your defenses can be impacted by your environment, diet, stress, sleep, travel, and other lifestyle factors.

Healthy immune function is a whole-body effort, and maintaining it takes a holistic approach. Here’s a few things that can help:

  • Get at least seven hours of sleep a night—and avoid pulling any all-nighters.
  • Exercise regularly to promote memory cells, enhance skin immunity, and mobilize immune cells.
  • Minimize stress as much as possible or practice healthy coping strategies, like exercise.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins to provide essential micro- and macronutrients and important phytonutrients. A healthy diet (that includes healthy amounts of fiber) will also provide your microbiome with what it needs to maintain good gut barrier function.
  • Practice good hygiene, including frequent handwashing, so your body doesn’t have to deal with as many pathogens in the first place.

Food cravings come in all varieties and flavors. Whether it’s a late-night hankering for something salty or a hole in your stomach that only ice cream can fill, a craving can be a powerful feeling. But what causes these longings? And, more importantly, what is your body trying to tell you through them?

Although the exact root of food cravings is up for debate, there are two main schools of thought: food cravings are generally thought to be either psychological (tied to emotions, anxieties, etc.) or physiological (tied to vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies). Though the facts are still being uncovered, exploring both of these approaches can give you valuable insights into your health.

Strap in for a crash course in cravings: what they are, what you can learn from cravings, and what to do when they come creeping up.

What are Food Cravings?

Food cravings are a nearly universal experience. That being said, the frequency and intensity with which people experience food cravings varies greatly. For some, a craving is simply a lingering desire—maybe you’ve been thinking about your favorite salty snack all day and have to stop for some on your way home from work. But food cravings can be much more intense, causing people to compulsively snack on certain foods.

In day-to-day conversation, cravings are often labeled one of two ways: sweet or salty. But in reality, people crave a huge variety of flavors and types of food: carbs, coffee, fats, and even non-food items (but this article is going to focus on foods). Cravings can be brought on by sensory input—sights, smells, and, of course, tastes—or other factors, such as anxiety and stress.

Because the term “food cravings” covers such a broad range of experiences, understanding your own cravings requires self-reflection. It’s not always the cravings themselves that are important, but rather the context in which you experience them.

Physiology vs. Psychology: The Craving Debate

As mentioned above, some researchers believe food cravings indicate nutrient deficiencies, while others think food cravings stem from anxiety, stress, and other mental factors. In short, it’s a question of physiology (the body) vs. psychology (the mind).

So which theory is correct? Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer. But let’s dig through the evidence.

The notion that cravings indicate a nutritional deficiency in your diet makes sense. There’s a certain logic to it, which is perhaps why this is the explanation many people latch onto. If you’re craving salty foods, you must be low on sodium—or so the reasoning goes.

It would be nice if food cravings were that straightforward and easy to unpack, but there isn’t really any science to back it up. Instead, the physiological underpinnings of food cravings are much more muddled. It’s true that an unbalanced—or nutrient deficient—diet can lead to cravings. But it won’t lead you to crave specific foods depending on what your body needs. An unbalanced diet may impact your body’s ability to feel full and satisfied. And when you don’t feel properly full after a meal, that makes room for cravings to sneak into your day.

The psychological explanations from some food cravings are similarly complex. It’s tempting to assign cravings for particular foods to specific mental states or emotions. (Examples include: If you’re craving pasta, you want to feel comfort and warmth. Cravings for crunchy foods reflect your need to vent aggression—and so on.) And though there may be some truth to this line of reasoning, it’s not that clear-cut.

It’s true food cravings often reflect emotions, but specific foods—or flavors—are not universally linked to specific emotions. If you are craving pasta, for example, it might reflect the fact that you’re stressed. For another person, however, this same craving might mean they simply had a long day and love pasta. Memories can also play a role in these cravings. If you associate pasta with certain fond memories, you may crave pasta when you subconsciously want to evoke or re-experience those memories and emotions. Context is everything.

In short, your cravings can tell you about both your physiology and psychology. To learn what your body is telling you, however, don’t focus too much on the food you are craving. Focus on the context in which those cravings arise.

Food Cravings and Feelings: What is Emotional Eating?

You’ve likely heard someone reference emotional eating, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard an exact definition. That’s because “emotional eating” is a bit of a catch-all: it means any eating that is stimulated by a feeling other than hunger. Eating because you’re sad? That counts as emotional eating. Eating because you’re bored? You guessed it, also emotional eating.

Eating when you’re not hungry might sound strange, but it’s incredibly common. Most people enjoy eating—especially when it’s a food they love. And because it is enjoyable, eating can easily become a go-to response for a whole variety of stressors, emotions, and other experiences life throws at you. Eating can be comforting, fun, and exciting—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Because emotional eating isn’t directly responding to hunger, however, it can often lead to overeating. This, in turn, can lead to negative feelings or stand in the way of your health goals.

Here’s the good news: there are a number of tried and true ways to identify and avoid emotional eating in your own life.

One of the most common strategies for managing emotional eating is keeping a food journal. It’s where you record the things you eat, when you eat them, and how your mind and body feel. This helps put the two pieces of the puzzle together: the cravings and the context.

By putting these elements side by side, you may start to recognize patterns. Maybe you eat a lot on days when your partner is working late. This could indicate boredom and loneliness trigger your cravings. Or maybe your cravings hit after nights where you work late. This could mean you’re eating to release the stress of the day.

What is Your Body Actually Saying With Food Cravings?

If you find yourself experiencing frequent food cravings or emotional eating, it’s worth taking time to reflect. What is your body trying to tell you? Or, to be more accurate, what is your body responding to?

Is it stress? A poor diet? Boredom? There are endless possibilities, but only you can find the root cause. It is, after all, your body.

The process doesn’t have to be complicated—just listen to your body. And pay attention to context. As mentioned above, a food journal is a great tool for identifying what causes your cravings. Are you eating in response to certain emotions? Or is it the result of a diet that never leaves you feeling full and satisfied? Both can be managed with small lifestyle changes.

Tips for Satisfying Cravings in a Healthy Way

You can’t identify a cure without first diagnosing the problem. Similarly, you won’t be able to manage or avoid food cravings without first assessing why you are experiencing those cravings. Once you’ve identified the cause of your cravings, you can start to work on solutions. If you need some ideas, don’t worry—here’s a list of a few common strategies for managing cravings:

  1. Incorporate fruits, veggies, and other nutrient-rich snacks into your day-to-day routine: Healthy snacks are underrated. A handful of nuts and a few carrots will leave you feeling full and energized. And this can help you avoid some of those salty cravings during the work day.
  2. Stand up and move: Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be rewarding and beneficial. If you find that you often eat in response to stress, try going for a quick walk. Being outside and moving can help your body produce stress-managing endorphins that will leave you feeling more relaxed than a bag of potato chips.
  3. Chew gum: If you often eat out of boredom, gum might be a solution for you. Chewing gum gives your mouth something to do, which may seem small, but can help stave off cravings throughout the day.

As you experience, reflect on, and manage food cravings, remember to be generous with yourself. Understanding what your body is telling you through food cravings requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-compassion. Sure, you’re trying to give into cravings a little less, but nobody is perfect. A scoop of ice cream (or three) every once in a while isn’t such a bad thing—you can always start again tomorrow.