There’s no reason you shouldn’t feel like the best version of yourself this summer. A strict diet is not required.
Instead, get ready to hit the beach by making sure you’re not weighed down by unpleasant symptoms like bloating, dehydration, and discomfort.
Here are a handful of tips from registered dietitian and nutritionist Andy Bellatti to get you feeling your best in under a week.
DO: Drink lots of water.
Water is essential – it regulates the shape of every cell inside our bodies. If we don’t get enough, in fact, these cells begin to shrivel up. The CDC recommends choosing water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages to “help with weight management.”
Swapping a cold glass of H2O for a single 20-ounce soda will save you about 240 calories.
So hydrate, Bellatti told Business Insider, “ideally with water.”
DON’T: Go on a juice cleanse.
- Saaleha Bamjee/Flickr
If you’re considering a “detox” or “juice cleanse,” you might want to reconsider. Drinking just water, juice, or any other liquefied concoction for more than a few days can set you up for unhealthy eating behaviors, and can often lead to spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, which can spawn cravings and mood swings.
“This is a recipe for ‘hangriness,’” Bellatti said, “that also inaccurately paints all solid food as problematic.”
DO: Cut back on sodium.
- Not drowning your sushi in soy sauce can be a good start.
Most of us – 89% of US adults, according to the CDC – eat too much sodium, and that’s not including any salt added at the table. Too much salt in your diet can cause puffiness and bloating, so cutting back can help you avoid that.
“Sodium retains water,” Bellatti said, “so lowering sodium intake also reduces puffiness.”
DON’T: Start banning foods.
- Flickr/Ariel Waldman
There’s a difference between cutting back on things you eat in excess and banning certain food groups entirely.
Diets that rely on avoiding ingredients (like sugar or gluten) can lead to replacing those things with other ingredients that play the same role in the body (like honey or corn-based foods). Doing this can be dangerous if the replacement products are nutrient-deficient.
DO: Fill up with fiber.
- Flickr/With Wind
Writer Michael Pollan said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Fresh, high-fiber vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, and brussels sprouts – which the CDC calls “powerhouse foods” – are a great source of key vitamins and nutrients, including fiber, which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal.
“Whole, plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds) are best,” Bellatti said. “One quick way to add extra fiber to your day: sprinkle chia, hemp, or ground flax over whatever you’re eating for a boost.”
DON’T: Rely on powders and pills.
- Flickr/B Rosen
The problem with diet powders and pills, Bellatti said, is that they often take something that was once a whole food, like a fruit or a vegetable, then process it to separate out one ingredient. That’s alright for things like cocoa powder, which does have nutrients, but it shouldn’t make up the bulk of your dietary intake.
“When something is a powder, you’re probably using what, a teaspoon or tablespoon at most? And you have to wonder how much that can really do. Versus a cup of broccoli or a quarter cup of cashews. That’s something significant,” Bellatti said.
DO: Be mindful of portion sizes.
- Flickr/IRRI Photos
The baseline portion sizes of our snacks and meals have ballooned over the last 40 years – even the plates and cups we serve them on have gotten noticeably bigger.
The average size of many of our foods – whether fast-food, sit-down meals, or even items from the grocery store – has grown by as much as 138% since the 1970s, according to data from the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Nutrition, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
So be mindful of portion sizes, and if you’re eating out, consider taking some of your meal home for later.
DON’T: Focus exclusively on calories.
- Flickr / Ian T. McFarland
Focusing too much on calories can be dangerous, too, since the measurement falsely makes it seem like a calorie of one food is exactly the same as that of another.
“This is especially true when eating at restaurants,” Bellatti said. “Many low-calorie items are loaded with sodium, which retains water and can leave you feeling bloated.”
Plus, keep in mind that for sustained weight loss, you’re only supposed to lose about 1-3 pounds each week.
“That tends to be a lot more sustainable than losing a whole bunch at once,” Philip Stanforth, a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas, told Business Insider.
DO: Think positive.
- Flickr / Jim Fischer
Thinking positively about eating and feeling better can help motivate some people to stick to a new lifestyle.
“In terms of changing the way you eat (it’s much more than a ‘diet’), focus on the opportunities and what you can eat as opposed to what foods you’re trying to cut down on,” Dr. Donald Hensrud, who chairs the Mayo Clinic’s division of preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine, wrote in a blog post. “There are many wonderful foods and recipes to explore, and believe it or not, we can learn to like new foods.”
DON’T: Expect miracles.
Let’s be real: Eating right for a week isn’t going to counteract decades of subsisting on fries and Frappuccinos. But it is enough to reduce some of the more irritating aspects of those symptoms, like the bloating linked with a high-salt diet, and the fatigue associated with blood sugar crashes.
“The most that can happen in a week’s time is that you make choices that help reduce bloating and puffiness. Any promises beyond that are more about marketing and hyperbole than anything else,” Bellatti said.
But committing to treating your body well – even if only for a few days – might be enough to lay the foundation for months or years of future healthy eating. If you can prove to yourself that you can treat your body right (and that it feels good to do so), you just might be more likely to keep it up later on.
Which is worse for you: weed or whiskey?
It’s a tough call, but based on the science, there appears to be a clear answer.
Keep in mind that there are dozens of factors to account for, including how the substances affect your heart, brain, and behavior, and how likely you are to get hooked.
Time is important, too – while some effects are noticeable immediately, others only begin to crop up after months or years of use.
The comparison is slightly unfair for another reason: While scientists have been researching the effects of alcohol for decades, the science of cannabis is a lot murkier because of its mostly illegal status.
More than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2014. There have been zero documented deaths from marijuana use alone.
- Gerardo Garcia/Reuters
In 2014, 30,722 people died from alcohol-induced causes in the US – and that does not count drinking-related accidents or homicides. If those deaths were included, the number would be closer to 90,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, no deaths from marijuana overdoses have been reported, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. A 16-year study of more than 65,000 Americans, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that healthy marijuana users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy people who did not use cannabis.
Marijuana appears to be significantly less addictive than alcohol.
Close to half of all adults have tried marijuana at least once, making it one of the most widely used illegal drugs – yet research suggests that a relatively small percentage of people become addicted.
For a 1994 survey, epidemiologists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse asked more than 8,000 people from ages 15 to 64 about their drug use. Of those who had tried marijuana at least once, roughly 9% eventually fit a diagnosis of addiction. For alcohol, the figure was about 15%. To put that in perspective, the addiction rate for cocaine was 17%, while heroin was 23% and nicotine was 32%.
Marijuana may be harder on your heart, while moderate drinking could be beneficial.
Unlike alcohol, which slows your heart rate, marijuana speeds it up, which could negatively affect the heart in the short term. Still, the largest-ever report on cannabis from the National Academies of Sciences, released in January, found insufficient evidence to support or refute the idea that cannabis may increase the overall risk of a heart attack.
On the other hand, low to moderate drinking – about one drink a day – has been linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with abstention. James Nicholls, a director at Alcohol Research UK, told The Guardian that those findings should be taken with a grain of salt since “any protective effects tend to be canceled out by even occasional bouts of heavier drinking.”
Alcohol is strongly linked with several types of cancer; marijuana is not.
In November, a group of the nation’s top cancer doctors issued a statement asking people to drink less. They cited strong evidence that drinking alcohol – as little as a glass of wine or beer a day – increases the risk of developing both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer.
The US Department of Health lists alcohol as a known human carcinogen. Research highlighted by the National Cancer Institute suggests that the more alcohol you drink – particularly the more you drink regularly – the higher your risk of developing cancer.
For marijuana, some research initially suggested a link between smoking and lung cancer, but that has been debunked. The January report found that cannabis was not connected to any increased risk of the lung cancers or head and neck cancers tied to smoking cigarettes.
Both drugs may be linked with risks while driving, but alcohol is worse.
- Unsplash / Michael Discenza
A research note published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF) found that, when adjusting for other factors, having a detectable amount of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in your blood did not increase the risk of being involved in a car crash. Having a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.05%, on the other hand, increased that risk by 575%.
Still, combining the two appears to have the worst results.
“The risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone,” the authors of a 2009 review wrote in the American Journal of Addiction.
Several studies link alcohol with violence, particularly at home. That has not been found for cannabis.
It’s impossible to say whether drinking alcohol or using marijuana causes violence, but several studies – including a recent analysis published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience – suggest a link between alcohol and violent behavior.
For a study published in January, researchers used fMRI scans to see how two alcoholic drinks impacts brain function in 50 healthy adult males. Compared with sober participants, the intoxicated volunteers were found to have reduced functioning in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain linked with moderating social behavior. That reduced functioning was also linked with aggressive behavior.
The finding aligns with some previous research on alcohol’s connections with violence. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes, and a study of college students found that the rates of mental and physical abuse were higher on days when couples drank.
On the other hand, no such relationship appears to exist for cannabis. A recent study looking at cannabis use and intimate partner violence in the first decade of marriage found that marijuana users were significantly less likely to commit violence against a partner than those who did not use the drug.
Both drugs negatively affect your memory — but in different ways. These effects are the most common in heavy, frequent, or binge users.
- Kristoffer Trolle/flickr
Both weed and alcohol temporarily impair memory, and alcohol can cause blackouts by rendering the brain incapable of forming memories. The most severe long-term effects are seen in heavy, chronic, or binge users who begin using in their teens.
Studies have found that these effects can persist for several weeks after stopping marijuana use. There may also be a link between daily weed use and poorer verbal memory in adults who start smoking at a young age.
Chronic drinkers display reductions in memory, attention, and planning, as well as impaired emotional processes and social cognition – and these can persist even after years of abstinence.
Both drugs are linked with an increased risk of psychiatric disease. For weed users, psychosis and schizophrenia are the main concern; with booze, it’s depression and anxiety.
The largest review of marijuana studies found substantial evidence of an increased risk among frequent marijuana users of developing schizophrenia – something that studies have shown is a particular concern for people already at risk.
Weed can also trigger temporary feelings of paranoia and hostility, but it’s not yet clear whether those symptoms are linked with an increased risk of long-term psychosis.
On the other hand, self-harm and suicide are much more common among people who binge drink or drink frequently. But scientists have had a hard time deciphering whether excessive alcohol use causes depression and anxiety or whether people with depression and anxiety drink in an attempt to relieve those symptoms.
Alcohol appears to be linked more closely with weight gain, despite weed’s tendency to trigger the munchies.
- Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Weed gives you the munchies. It makes you hungry, reduces the natural signals of fullness, and may even temporarily make food taste better.
But despite eating over 600 extra calories when smoking, marijuana users generally don’t have higher body-mass indexes. In fact, studies suggest that regular smokers have a slightly reduced risk of obesity.
Alcohol, on the other hand, appears to be linked with weight gain. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who drank heavily had a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Plus, alcohol itself is caloric: A can of beer has roughly 150 calories, and a glass of wine has about 120.
All things considered, alcohol’s effects seem markedly more extreme — and riskier — than marijuana’s.
When it comes to addiction profiles and risk of death or overdose combined with ties to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.
Still, because of marijuana’s largely illegal status, long-term studies on all its health effects have been limited – meaning more research is needed.