So you’ve been doing all the right things: you’ve been exercising regularly, steering clear of fatty foods and you have a good skincare regime. But somehow when you look in the mirror, you still see more of a “before” than an “after” picture.
Your first inclination might be to boost your diet and exercise plan, but before you start slashing calories and signing up for boot camp classes, you might want to make sure some seemingly harmless habits aren’t holding you back. After all, staying healthy is hard enough even when you aren’t sabotaging yourself. Here are seven subtly unhealthy habits that might be holding you back.
1. Ordering a Salad
If you’re at a restaurant and everyone around you is ordering fries, double bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes, choosing to order a salad seems like a grand feat of will power that should add at least three years to your life. But many times, ordering a salad is just like buying diet soda or smokeless tobacco. It’s an unhealthy choice that sounds healthier than the alternatives, but is still terrible for you.
The reality is that some salads are worse for you than a Whopper. So, make sure you don’t order something just because it sounds healthy; make sure you check the nutrition facts. If you aren’t willing to give up on those big Caesar salads, try asking for the dressing on the side so your lettuce doesn’t get drowned in it.
2. Drinking Your Calories
When you’re busy counting the number of calories in your meals, it’s very possible you’re missing a few hundred by not counting the drinks you have between meals. You probably already know to avoid soda, but what about that drink from Starbucks that you “need” before work and therefore doesn’t factor into your analysis of your diet?
Well, if you order a Grande Caramel Frappuccino—known as a medium Caramel Frappuccino in the rest of the free world—you’re looking at a 410 calorie way to start your day. To put that in perspective, a vanilla milkshake from Chick-Fil-A only has 90 calories more than that Starbucks pick-me-up. Drinking rather than eating these calories doesn’t make a difference. Be sure to check nutritional information on everything you order, including drinks.
3. Sneaking Sugar Into Your Diet
Even if you already avoid submarining your diet with sugary drinks and blatantly unhealthy desserts, sugar still can be damaging your diet from some unexpected sources. If you get back from a run and reach for a sports drink rather than a glass of water, you just added 55 grams of sugar to your diet. If your pre- or post-workout routine also includes an energy bar, you’re looking at an addition 30 to 50 grams of sugar. Even stuff like granola and nonfat yogurt can still be bad for you. They can contain 14 and 47 grams of sugar respectively.
While these food items might otherwise be healthy, you really do need to watch your sugar intake since excess sugar can prematurely age your skin and even cause heart disease. Once again, it’s very important to read nutritional labels on all products—even healthy sounding ones. Opt for water or sugar free alternatives whenever possible.
4. You Don’t Moisturize Regularly
Most people are familiar with the old adage that if you drink when you’re thirsty, it’s too late: you’re already dehydrated. The key to avoiding dehydration, this thinking goes, is to drink all the time so you never get thirsty.
Taking care of your skin should be approached in the same way. You should use products for dry skin on a daily basis to avoid getting dry skin at all. Exactly how often you should moisturize depends on what kind of skin you have, the weather and what activities you do. But, remember that if you only break out the lotion when you spot some dry skin, then it’s already too late for the products to be as effective as possible.
5. Going to the Gym and Not Working Out
You’ve seen the people at the gym who sit on the leg extension machine for a half an hour that only move when they want to check Facebook on their phones. Those aren’t the people I’m talking about here. You know they’re not really improving their health and on some level, they probably know it too.
No, what I’m talking about is going to the gym, actually exercising, but really just going through the motions. Maybe you’ve found a workout you like and so you haven’t changed it in six months or maybe you’ve just lost some motivation. Either way, your visits to the gym probably aren’t doing too much for you anymore. At some point, you need to ask yourself if you’re actually pushing yourself at the gym or just going through the same old routines just to be able to tell yourself you went.
The best way to avoid this habit is to go to the gym with someone else. A Stanford study found that receiving a phone call asking participants if they were exercising regularly resulted in a 78% increase in the number of minutes per week they spent exercising. If just a phone call can have such a big effect, imagine what going to the gym with another person who has similar fitness goals can do.
6. More Skin Products Means Healthier Skin
You’ve gotten lotions and creams for every Christmas and birthday since your first pimple and you’ve even started buying your own once you did some research on what actually works. Now that you have an incredible stockpile of skin care products, it only seems natural to want to use them all to get the best result possible.
But, you might actually hurt your skin when you use too many products at once. Skin care products can contain chemicals that aren’t potent enough to be rough on your face when used by themselves, but can cause some irritation when used in addition to others. If you still want to use more than one product at once, Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, suggests you don’t combine those that contain retinol, alpha-hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, vitamin C or benzoyl peroxide.
7. Too Much Screen Time
The hard truth is that even eating right and exercising regularly aren’t enough to make up for some other unhealthy habits. A particularly difficult one to avoid, especially if you work on a computer all day, is spending too much time in front of a screen. It’s getting more difficult to find a profession that doesn’t require doing so.
One frightening study found that anyone who spends more than four hours a day watching TV, playing video games or going on the computer has a 113% increased risk of heart attack and stroke and a 50% higher risk of dying. Even more disheartening was the fact that the study found it made no difference if those who spent more time in front of screens worked out frequently or not. So remember: diet and exercise can’t totally cover for an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle. If you spend all day parked in front of a screen, try not to do the same thing when you get home.
If you’re already working hard to stay fit, don’t be your own worst enemy. Remember to read nutritional information and don’t eat or do things only because they sound healthy. If you’re not seeing the results you want, there’s probably a reason for it. But remember, that reason may not always be immediately apparent.