Six Habits to Drop Like They’re Hot

Life is full of tradeoffs. But some tradeoffs may be less equitable than you think, when it comes to good health. In fact, as a nutritionist, when I review my client’s food and lifestyle journals, there are usually a few simple tweaks and changes that enable them to take their health to the next level. Here are some bad habits you should drop:

1. Dieting

Traci Mann, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota, says there are various biological changes that occur from dieting. First, you start to notice food more often, and it becomes more appetizing, regardless of whether it’s good for you. Second, your hunger hormone, ghrelin, increases which causes you to feel hungrier. Last, and most important, as you restrict calories, your metabolism slows down, so that when you do start to eat regular quantities again, it gets stored as fat.

These changes can transform a rapid-weight-loss scheme or extreme reduction in calories into a full-blown eating disorder or a yo-yo effect with binge eating followed by restricting food. These habits can result in muscle loss, dry hair and even skin loss.

Instead, focus on having a balanced meal that contains about a palm size of protein, ¾ cup complex carbohydrate, like quinoa or yam, ½ a plate of vegetables, with 1-2 thumb sizes of healthy fat, like avocado and ditch the “diet.”

2. Hidden Sugar

As someone who exercises, it might feel like you can get away with eating sugar. However, consuming too much sugar can negatively affect your liver, which has to process it. The other downside to eating sugar is the second you do stop exercising, it is a surefire way to pack on the extra pounds.

And there are plenty of “good for you” foods that contain more sugar than you’d think. One of the worst places for hidden sugars is actually in granola and energy bars, a common snack for athletes. Watch out for other names for sugar including corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, sucrose, cane crystals, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids and malt syrup. Yes, there are that many kinds of sugar in many “healthy” snacks.

3. Too Much Alcohol

Closely tied with sugar is alcohol. Of course, a drink here and there won’t matter much, but when it becomes a regular habit, you might want to rethink it. Alcohol can lead to inflammation of the liver, says Harvard School of Public Health. It can increase blood pressure, and possibly increase the chance of various cancers.

A great trick to reduce your alcohol when in social settings is to bring sparkling water and fresh lemon with you. Half the battle of avoiding alcohol is feeling socially awkward for not drinking, but by holding this mocktail in your hand, you’ll forget there’s no vodka in it, and nobody will know the difference.

4. Not Reading Food Labels

Food labels can hold you back from reaching your goals. Claims like “fat free” or “sugar free” are enticing, but often don’t equate to a food being nutritious or good for you. When a food is labeled fat free, like yogurt for example, the product has to contain other ingredients to give it flavor. Often sugar is used to replace fat; or, if it’s a fat-free and sugar-free product, artificial sweeteners are added.

The research is still inconclusive on artificial sweeteners, but one study has shown artificial sweeteners to be linked to increased weight. It’s thought that artificial sweeteners prevent the body from being able to gauge how many calories it has consumed.

Trust nutritional facts, not front-of-package claims, and opt for natural foods rather than those that have removed or added ingredients.

5. Too Little Water

Many people underestimate the simple impact of hydration. A mere five percent drop in hydration levels can reduce performance by 30 percent. Aim to drink two liters of water on non-workout days, and 2.5-3 liters on workout days. A good rule of thumb for hydration is to assess the color of your urine. Ideally, it should be a pale straw color; if it’s more yellow, it’s a sign of dehydration, while if it’s completely transparent, it may mean you could cut back your water intake a bit.

6. Smoking

While the effects of smoking are well known — lung cancer, oral cancer, emphysema — secondary effects like an increased risk for type II diabetes are elevated for those who smoke or are exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke. This means that if you smoke, you’re also affecting the health of those around you, putting them at risk of all these health concerns. While quitting can ignite major withdrawal symptoms, with proper guidance, it is possible. So put out that butt and drop the habit.

Our actions turn into habits without us realizing it. When we repeat something so many times, it becomes second nature. To combat bad habits, pivot your goals and make intentional choices to focus on being the best version of you.