Making healthy lifestyle changes is the first step towards living a longer and happier life (with a rockin’ bod to go along with it, obviously). Living healthy isn’t, however, about crash dieting, but changing your habits for the long term. So when you’re getting into a new, wholesome groove, be careful which healthy habits you choose. The following seem super healthy from the outset, but in reality they’re anything but.
20. Juice cleanse detoxes
You don’t need to live on liquids to rid your body of toxins. Your kidney and liver – if working properly – already take care of that. Fresh juices pass through your body really quickly, leaving you hungry, while the high sugar content gives you major energy spikes and dips.
19. Cutting out carbs
Reducing your carb intake can help you shed pounds, but it’s not healthy in the long term. Carbs are packed with fiber (which our bowels need to stay healthy) and are an important source of nutrients such as zinc and B-vitamins. Swap to wholegrain and brown carbs instead.
18. Gulping a protein shake after a workout
Forget only the first 20 minutes: studies have shown that muscles are receptive to protein for up to 24 hours after working out. This means you can go home and enjoy a nice steak ‘n’ egg dinner, instead of choking down a hastily made shake in the gym parking lot.
17. Going gluten-free
Cutting gluten won’t affect your health at all, unless you really are intolerant to it or living with coeliac disease. Gluten is a type of wheat protein and is definitely not the unhealthiest ingredient in cakes and cookies. Moreover, gluten-free products sometimes have more salt, sugar and fat to compensate.
16. Always ordering the salad
Just because it says “salad,” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Most restaurants load salad bowls with high-fat dressings, cheeses and meat. Some popular salads even have a higher calorie content than non-salad menu items: crispy chicken Caesar salads, for example, can easily clock in at 1,000 calories.
15. Stretching before a workout
Stretching can actually tighten your muscles, which increases your chance of developing an injury. So it’s better to warm up with a few minutes of lighter activity such as a brisk walk before you go running, or a light swim before you do laps. Save your static stretches for when you finish.
14. Going to the gym every day
Over-training can be just as bad as not training at all. Indeed, if your body feels under pressure, it can stop losing weight. Doing too much can also reduce the effectiveness of your workout: you need recovery time after a weightlifting session to really see the benefits.
13. Drinking diet soda
Diet soda may be free from calories, but that doesn’t mean it will help you lose weight. Indeed, researchers from the University of Texas have found that diet soda drinkers are actually more likely to gain weight around the waist than drinkers of regular soda.
12. Choosing fat-free options
When food producers take out fat, they often replace it with sugar for extra flavor. As a result, low-fat foods are often higher in carbs (which can be worse for weight gain). Sugar is also a big culprit for energy spikes and cravings, making it more difficult to stick to your diet.
11. Eating five servings of fruit each day
Experts recommend eating five to ten servings of fresh produce each day, but the majority of that should be vegetables. Fruit is high in sugar, so it’s best to step away from the grapes and keep your fruit intake down to two servings.
10. Skipping meals (and saying “no” to dessert)
You shouldn’t give in to every craving, but it’s important to listen to your body. Skipping a meal is likely to lead to overindulgence the next time you eat, while skipping dessert could make you feel virtuous enough to heap on extra portions of high-cal sides onto your plate.
9. Brushing your teeth right after eating
After you eat, acid from your food tends to hang around your mouth and can weaken your tooth enamel. And if you brush right away, it can do more harm than good. So it’s better to rinse with a glass of water and wait for 30 minutes before freshening up.
8. Only doing cardio exercise
Cardio is great for fat burning, but unfortunately it can burn off muscle, too. To get the healthy body of your dreams, then, you should combine cardio with a bit of weight training. Weight training helps to build lean muscle, which will help your body to burn fat, even when you’re resting.
7. Catching up on sleep at the weekend
If you’ve been burning the midnight oil all week, sleeping in on Saturday just won’t help. It could even interrupt your circadian rhythm and make you feel more exhausted. It’s healthier to aim for between seven and eight hours of kip every night, even if that means turning in early.
6. Staying out of the sun completely
We all know that tanning is bad for skin, but avoiding the sun completely isn’t good, either. Direct sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D (which strengthens bones, teeth and muscles) and can help protect the cardiovascular system. It’s a real mood-booster, too, helping to produce the happy hormone, serotonin. Aim to take ten minutes in the sun if you’re lucky enough to see it!
5. Snacking on granola and protein bars
Store-bought energy bars often contain lots of unhealthy ingredients like sweeteners, white flour and high fructose corn syrup. They’re high in calories, too, with some protein bars packing up to 400 calories. Basically, if you’re craving a candy bar, have one.
4. Drinking red wine
Although red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, it doesn’t contain much of it. Indeed, you’d need to drink at least a liter of wine to match the amount in a supplement. And because wine is high in calories and potentially carcinogenic, the bad unfortunately outweighs the good.
3. Drinking bottled water
This habit is just as unhealthy for your wallet as your waistline: bottled water, indeed, can cost up to 1,000 times more than tap water. And there’s no hard proof that it’s actually better for you. In fact, as chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water, it could actually be worse.
2. Taking supplements
You should be able to get almost all the nutrients you need from a healthy, balanced diet packed with whole foods, so there’s no need to take supplements. Taking too many nutrients can, in fact, be dangerous, with some supplements linked to a higher risk of stroke and cancer.
1. Exercising first thing in the morning
Researchers have found that intense exercise as soon as you wake up is bad for the immune system, making bacterial and viral infections more likely. Either keep it light with a short jog, or save your energy for a serious lunchtime or post-work gym session.