Doctors, nutritionists, and fitness experts do a good job of telling you to exercise daily and cut the calories, but when they're on their own time, they struggle with choosing the stair climber over the sofa or skipping a late-night snack.
In fact, recent research found that people who work in health care weren't much better at taking care of themselves than the general population. "We reviewed surveys from more than 21,000 health care professionals, and they were just as likely to be overweight or obese as other Americans," says study author Ken Mukamal, M.D., a general internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "They were also just as bad when it came to using a seat belt and not smoking."
You almost can't blame them -- we're all surrounded by unhealthy temptations at every turn. "There are many aspects of our society that make it tough to lose or avoid gaining weight, including easy access to high-calorie food and a sedentary lifestyle in front of the computer and television. This is as true for health care workers as it is for everybody else," Mukamal says. Plus, the study underscores the challenge of making good habits stick. "Knowledge alone isn't always enough to ensure healthier choices," Mukamal says.
So what does work? We asked top trainers, doctors, nutritionists, and health experts to dish about their own struggles and how they deal with them. Remember these tips and strategies when temptation -- or stress, or even plain old sloth -- strikes.
Heading Off the Midday Slump
Michael Breus, Ph.D.
Clinical psychologist and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep
"I live in Arizona, but I travel between the East and West coasts two to three times a month, which means it gets almost impossible to stick to my normal sleep schedule. So instead of just fighting the exhaustion, I've mastered the midday nap. I actually write down in my schedule when I'm going to take the nap so that I leave enough time free to head back to my hotel. When I get to my room, I drink a quick cup of coffee and lie down. The caffeine kicks in after about 25 minutes and I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of my day."
Try it: If a nap is not in the cards, go for these pick-me-ups: Eat an orange. The citrus scent will perk you up, and the orange contains energy-boosting "good" carbohydrates. Or take a quick walk. This will get your blood flowing.
Winding Down Before Bed
Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Leading women's health expert and author of six books, including the classic Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom
"I often find myself in front of a computer screen right before I turn in. I'm usually e-mailing or doing research, but sometimes I'm just watching cat videos on YouTube! I get so wired I can't fall asleep. I know that tossing and turning won't work, so I get up, pour a cup of Epsom salts in a warm bath, and soak with a good book for 20 minutes. That's all it takes. When I get back into bed, I fall asleep quickly!"
Try it: Start unplugging at least 30 minutes before you hit the sheets: Send those last e-mails and texts, and move all technology out of the bedroom -- even your phone if you can.
Making Time to Exercise
Trainer who has worked with celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts
"I have three teenagers and run my own business, so like most women, I find it tough to carve out time to go to the gym. But here's what I realized: Exercise doesn't have to happen only on a treadmill. So if I can't get to the gym, I make sure that my day includes some sort of physical activity -- like gardening, rearranging furniture, bringing in groceries. All that activity can add up to burn between 250 and 400 calories."
Try it: Weave little bits of movement into your day by combining an everyday activity with some exercise. Walk your grocery cart back to the store instead of leaving it in the parking lot rack. Get off the couch during TV commercials and do some leg lifts or sit-ups.
Thinking I was too Old to Learn Something New
Sanjay Gupta, M.D.
Practicing neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN
"A few years ago, CNN started a program called Fit Nation in which viewers trained for a triathlon. I wanted to join them, but I didn't know how to swim. I just never learned as a kid, and I assumed it would be a skill I'd never master. To make it even scarier, the swim in a triathlon is in the open water. But I started out slowly in a pool, watched YouTube videos of swimming lessons, and got better and better. And now I do triathlons! My fifth one is this year."
Try it: Change up your routine in a small way each week: Take a different route to work, try a new exercise video, pack a different lunch. Adapting to new little things helps pave the way to trying new big things.
Host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger and author of four books, including Comfort Food Fix: Feel-Good Favorites Made Healthy
"Every day when I finish eating lunch, I always feel like I could eat another plateful. So I tell myself that if I'm still hungry in 15 minutes, I can eat more. That delay, plus a reminder that I'll be having an afternoon snack, is usually enough to stop me from going back for extra food."
Try it: Don't eat family-style. Put a single portion on your plate = and then remove the serving dish from the table before you take your first bite. Same goes for snacks like pretzels: Pour one serving in a bowl and put the big bag back in the pantry.
An Insatiable Sweet Tooth
Personal trainer to stars like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Megan Fox, and Katy Perry
"I want to eat chocolate chip cookies every single day. But I don't buy a box and keep them at home. Instead, when I'm craving one really badly, I make it a special event. I go out and find the best, most decadent, incredibly delicious chocolate chip cookie to eat. It ends up being so satisfying that the craving doesn't hit again for a few days."
Try it: Keep trigger foods -- ones that you know you won't be able to stop eating if you start -- out of the house. Instead, designate one or two days a week to treat yourself to a reasonable portion.
Eating Healthy on the Go
Trainer for NBC's The Biggest Loser and author of three books, including his latest, Jumpstart to Skinny
"I travel a lot and hate feeling stuck with the food options at the airport. So I always plan ahead: If you opened up my backpack, you'd find portable, healthy foods like unsalted cashews, low-sodium deli meat slices, cheese sticks, and beef jerky. On the off-chance that I don't have my own food, I search out an apple, banana, fruit cup, or a simple turkey and Swiss sandwich and eat it without the bread."
Try it: Tote a stash of healthy snacks in your bag so you're prepared, not just when you're traveling but also when you're running errands. Good options include apple slices with single-serve containers of peanut butter.
In a pinch, some fast food places have healthy options. Think the protein bistro box at Starbucks, which includes a hard-boiled egg, cheese, fruit, and a piece of whole grain bread.
Dealing with Daily Stress
Pamela Peeke, M.D.
Assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, founder of The Peeke Performance Center for Healthy Living, and author of many books including The Hunger Fix
"I'm always working on several projects at once, and it used to be that when something didn't go as planned, I'd go from zero to panic. But years ago, I realized that stress is unavoidable, and I just needed to learn how to cope better. So I started meditating. Every morning I sit for 20 minutes, close my eyes, check in with myself, and transcend to a peaceful place. When stressful thoughts enter my brain, I visualize placing them on fluffy clouds that gradually float on by. Afterward I open my eyes and feel like I'll be able to calmly handle whatever the day throws my way."
Try it: Carve out at least 10 minutes each day of "me" time to do something that relaxes you. It can be anything—reading a favorite book, looking at family photos, or closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
Nutrition and health expert for NBC's Today and author of numerous books including Joy Bauer's Food Cures
"If I'm not careful, my healthy eating habits can fall apart after dinner. I'm tired, my resolve is down, and late-night noshing is my Achilles' heel: One scoop of frozen yogurt or a chocolate chip cookie can easily turn into four or five. So knowing my tendency to go into an I-had-a-hard-day-and-deserve-sweets mode, I plan out a postdinner snack that has no more than 200 calories, like light popcorn, 1/2 dark chocolate bar, a handful of nuts, or a frozen fruit pop. I also tend to push the snack as late as possible so that there aren't too many hours left in the day for me to be tempted to eat even more."
Try it: Stock up on treats that are 200 calories or less and keep them handy. A few good ideas:
- Cherry-Vanilla-Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich: Soften 1/4 cup light vanilla ice cream and stir in 6 frozen cherries, then sandwich between 2 chocolate graham cracker squares. Freeze for an hour and enjoy!
- No-Bake Crustless Key Lime Pie: Mix a 6-oz. container of nonfat plain Greek yogurt with 1 1/2 tsp. sugar and the juice of 4 Key limes. Add 4 crushed honey-flavor Teddy Grahams on top.
- PB Banana Freeze: Split a banana in half lengthwise, spread 2 tsp. natural peanut butter on one half, and sprinkle with dark chocolate chips. Sandwich the two halves together and freeze until solid (about 4 hours).
Cutting Back on Sodium
Travis Stork, M.D.
Emergency medicine physician and cohost of The Doctors
"Growing up, there was not one dish I didn't put salt on, and because I didn't pay attention to how much sodium I was eating, I actually had borderline high blood pressure for a lot of my 20s and 30s. As I got older, I knew this was something I needed to deal with and became vigilant about educating myself about sodium in foods. I was shocked at how much salt was in many of the frozen dishes I was eating, so I cut those out. Now I read labels and trade out salt for spices like cayenne pepper and turmeric -- steps that have helped lower my blood pressure."
Try it: To help limit your intake to 1,500 mg a day, read the nutrition facts panel on packaged foods, pinpoint one high-salt item in your diet, and find a lower-sodium version. Watch out for foods that are notoriously salty, including soups, frozen entrees, salad dressings, and snacks like pretzels, chips, and popcorn.
Snacking While Working
Trainer who has worked with stars like Anne Hathaway, Carey Mulligan, Kerry Washington, Kate Upton, and Heidi Klum
"I often feel the need to nosh on something while I'm writing at night, but mindless nibbling can spiral out of control. To keep myself aware of how much I'm eating, my go-to snack is pistachios. I get them still in their shells because the process of shelling them slows me down and stops me from just shoveling the nuts into my mouth. Also, seeing the growing pile of shells is a good visual reminder of how much I've eaten."
Try it: Stock your kitchen with a few snacks that take a while to eat, including red pepper strips and hummus (takes time to dip each strip) and celery with almond butter.
Indulging Too Much When Eating Out
Host of ABC's The Chew and author of two books, including her latest, Relish: An Adventure in Food, Style, and Everyday Fun
"I see going to a restaurant as an opportunity to treat myself. If I don't order the dessert that the restaurant is famous for, I leave feeling unsatisfied. To avoid overeating during the entire meal, I share as many things as possible and am a big believer in leftovers. One predinner trick: I eat an apple or pear or other hard fruit with fiber. That means I'm not famished when I start eating, and I'm less likely to clean my plate."
Try it: If you're a party of two, order a few appetizers and share instead of each ordering a separate entree. That way you can try more dishes. Also, only eat the bread if the restaurant is known for it.