6 things to Avoid for Better Health
And we don’t mean pizza and burgs–those are actually ok once in a while. There are a few activities however that you should limit if you are trying to improve your health. Doing so can have a great impact on your well-being in the long-run.
1. Sitting too often
Aside from this infographic which flooded social media last year, sitting too much is probably not helping your Summer weight loss or fitness efforts. Although studies have shown that you can in fact lose weight from changing your dietary habits alone, maintaining your new weight long-term is easier if you sit less, (i.e. add some physical activity in the mix). However, if your goals are mainly fitness related, then you definitely want to spend less time sitting. Plus, the benefits of physical activity extend well beyond weight management!
But how much physical activity do you need each day? And what if you have a desk job? Avoiding long hours of sitting is difficult if you have an office job, and even more so if you have to sit for a couple more hours for the commute.
For general health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. Routine physical activity should be part of your weight or fitness goals. But if for some reason that is not possible, you should definitely spend less time sitting. As the saying goes, something is better than nothing: Even a few 10-15 minute segments of physical activity in between work hours or throughout your day can produce health benefits as well as stimulating your mind for work.
You might be able to ask your boss for one of these sweet inventions, but if you’re not so lucky, there are simple “deskcercises” you can do at your office (and even in heels ladies). These can also be done in the comfort of your home to break up tv, gaming, or just “sitting around” time.
2. Drinking excessively
And we don’t mean water. It’s fine to enjoy a couple rounds of adult beverages on special occasions or a single glass of wine (two if you’re a gentleman) to wind down each night. But when you go over these limits on a regular basis, not only are you wreaking havoc in your liver, you’re putting yourself at risk for all sorts of other health conditions. On top of this you are probably making it more difficult to reach your weight and fitness goals.
Alcohol is not cheap when it comes to calories. At 7 calories per gram (higher than protein or carbs), that puts alcohol at a range of 100-150 calories per serving depending on the type. Now add in the calories from any mixers added to these drinks. Say you had 4-5 sugary mixed drinks in a given night–that can easily add up to 800+ calories from liquid alone—almost half a day’s worth of calories or 12-20 weight watchers points!
As always, enjoy libations in moderation. Be extra mindful when trying to reach your weight or fitness goals. Opt for low-calorie or calorie-free mixers like soda water or water with a few muddled berries or herbs (e.g. mint leaves). Check out this simple calorie calculator to figure out about how many calories your alcoholic drinks are contributing per week.
3. Banning entire food groups
(Vegan and vegetarianism aside) not only is it unrealistic to give up entire food groups (e.g. dairy or grains) for the sole sake of weight loss or fitness, it is completely unnecessary unless there is a lab-tested or biopsy confirmation of a food allergy or intolerance to these food groups.
If you read on someone’s blog that giving up grains and dairy (for example) made them miraculously drop 30 lbs. in 2 months—1) it doesn’t mean it will work for you; 2) it’s probably because grains and dairy made up a big chunk of their diet to begin with. It makes perfect sense that if they removed half the foods they were eating (grains, dairy or not), they would lose weight.
Food habits (like any habit) are hard to break. And if you grew up drinking milk twice a day or eating grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, there’s a big chance you will not last the rest of your life without these foods. And that’s ok. For weight management or fitness, the focus should be on portion control rather than removing entire food groups. Dairy and whole grains are actually good sources of essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, fiber, zinc, complex carbohydrates and even protein.
Granted, some dairy products like cream cheese or sour cream (being high in fat and calories) should be eaten in smaller quantities or replaced by healthier options like yogurt or cottage cheese. And grains should be measured out and consumed in their “whole grain” form, rather than refined form. That is, whole wheat rather than white wheat; brown rice rather than white rice. Even food groups like “junk food” or “processed foods” which deserve to be banned from lack of nutrients, shouldn’t be banned. While it is a good idea to significantly reduce the amounts that you eat, banning them entirely might only drive you to fall into a huge junk food binge a couple months later.
Choosing healthier version of foods or portion control are the best methods for successful and long-term weight loss or fitness.
4. Crash Dieting or “Detoxing”
After a long and gluttonous week (or two) of feasting, many people resort to crash dieting or“detoxing” with vegetable juices to magically lift their weight (and guilt) away. Typical crash diets consists of extreme food restriction—allowing for only a handful different foods or only a single food which you are supposed to consume for at least 1 week straight. For example, the cabbage soup or grapefruit diets, or the latest trend: juicing or juice “cleanses”.
And while juicing does offer more nutrients than cabbage soup or grapefruit alone, none of these diets offer enough sustenance for daily functioning or health for that matter. While you may certainly claim to feel better the first couple of days on a juice cleanse, it’s probably due to the influx of vitamins and minerals that the body was not getting from junk food before. And although these nutrients are healthy, most juice cleanses are severely low in calories, protein, fiber, and fat. These nutrients are needed daily in sufficient quantities for energy, to build healthy skin and maintain muscle mass, to keep you “regular,” and to satisfy your hunger among many other things. It’s no surprise your body is left feeling starved, fatigued and miserable after only the second or third day. After 7-10 days of severe nutrient deprivation, you will definitely lose weight, but you’ll have probably done more harm than good to your health as nutrient deficiencies can certainly lead to a range of health problems.
Aside from the risk of nutrient deficiencies, crash dieting only leads to additional weight gain. Starve yourself long enough and you’ll feel like you can never get enough food afterward. To clarify: there is no such thing as “detoxing” your body with fresh vegetable or fruit juices. Your liver and kidneys are responsible for “detoxing” or filtering offending substances on a daily basis. Fruit and vegetable juices are best used in addition to a healthy balanced diet, where nutrients can contribute to the health of the liver and kidneys so that they can do their job properly.
5. Mindless Snacking
Have you ever walked into your kitchen and eaten a handful of whatever snack was sitting on the counter? What about eating from an endless bag of chips? How did you know when to stop? Were you really hungry at the time, or did you eat without realizing it? This act of indulging without thinking about it is considered mindless snacking.
The problem is not so much the act of indulging. In fact, indulging in moderation while on a health or fitness journey is perfectly healthy and a great way to keep you from feeling deprived. The problem is not realizing all the extra snacks may add up to a substantial number of calories each day—calories which may make the difference between losing a pound or not at the end of the week.
For example, say you ate a couple of chocolate kisses after lunch and handful of peanuts after you got home from work—this could easily add up 150 calories per day or 750 calories at the end of the work week! Just because a snack is small, doesn’t mean its calories don’t count. Be mindful. Before reaching for the next snack yourself whether you’re truly hungry or if it is worth the indulgence.
6. Skimping on sleep
Just like the phrase “you need 8 glasses of water a day” emerged, somewhere, somehow or another it became ingrained in our minds that you have get at least 8 hours of sleep for proper health. But new research shows this is actually not true for everyone. People differ in the number of sleep hours they need each night. Some people run perfectly fine on 6 hours of sleep, while others need at least 9 hours to function normally the next day.
Whatever that magic number is for you, don’t skimp on it if you are trying to manage your weight or improve your health. Insufficient sleep can disrupt your hormones and wreak havoc on your appetite, causing you to overeat or crave things you wouldn’t normally eat.
Constant lack of sleep is even worse because it’s stressful on your system. Stress can cause an increase in the circulating levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) which has been linked to weight gain or increases in stubborn belly fat.
By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian