Plenty of unhealthy habits are obvious —chain smoking, subsisting off greasy takeout, and drinking a bottle of wine each night come to mind. Regardless of whether or not we consider ourselves health fanatics, it generally seems pretty easy to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors habits. But, as it turns out, it's not quite that simple — in fact, there are a number of supposedly healthy habits that may actually be hurting us. There are a number of diet, exercise, sleep, and even hygiene patterns that we may have heard praised as healthy by friends or online that have actually been described by experts and doctors as detrimental to our overall health.
It's not a huge surprise that many of the secretly bad habits on this list pertain to diet, exercise, and sleep. Our society tends to encourage and praise weight loss, regardless of the methods used to shed pounds. And since self-care is often undervalued, it's not considered a big deal to skimp on sleep all week and then crash for 12 hours on Friday night as we cross our fingers that it'll make up for the massive deficit we accrued over the past five days.
So, let's take a step back and look at some habits that are commonly viewed as healthy — and the scientific explanations for why they're not.
1. Detox Diets
After the holidays or a vacation that included more restaurant meals or well-deserved "splurges" than usual, many people think a detox is an effective way to jump back into healthy eating patterns. Detoxing is a troublesome fad — not only is it an ineffective way to lose weight, but it can actually harm your health. As Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, told The Guardian, detoxes are unnecessary because our bodies are designed to naturally get rid of toxins: “The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak... There is no known way — certainly not through detox treatments — to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”
Other experts have spoken about the health risks associated with depriving your body of nutrients in favor of detox diets, which are frequently liquid-based. Lona Sandon, a Dallas dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told NBC News that fasts "lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients" and "weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation."
So, whether you're feeling bloated from a few days of eating more than usual or you're hoping to shed a few pounds, the healthy solution is to eat a balanced diet — not to temporarily deprive yourself of entire food groups.
2. Eating Low Fat & Fat Free Foods
We often assume that a food labelled "low fat" or "fat free" is the healthiest option — but that's not always the case. Fat is actually essential to a healthy diet — experts recommend that we get between 20 and 35 percent of our calories from fat. Instead of striving to eliminate fat from our diets, it's better to seek out "good fats," such as nuts, olive and vegetable oils, avocados, and fatty fishes like salmon and albacore tuna.
3. Drinking Diet Soda
I don't think anyone is drinking diet soda because they think it's full of nutrients — but because it boasts a zero calorie label, it's often viewed as a better health option than a drink that contains calories. But diet soda has its own downsides — it's an acidic beverage that can erode the teeth. Some healthier alternatives include seltzer, smoothies, green tea, and plain old water.
4. Exercising Too Much
Exercise is essential to overall physical and mental health — but, yes, there is such a thing as exercising too much. Working out causes small muscle tears and giving yourself a day off is what allows these tears to repair themselves. And a recent study found that individuals who engage in strenuous daily exercise are more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who exercise in moderation. Over-exercising can also lead to insomnia, osteoporosis, and a weakened immune system, so make sure that when you exercise, you're also exercising moderation.
5. Staying Out Of The Sun
Too much sun exposure has myriad risks — painful sunburns, skin cancer, and premature wrinkling come to mind. And for us fair-skinned individuals who have suffered more than one blistering sunburn, the idea of spending time in the sun without sunscreen sounds downright frightening. But let's not forget that Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that's provided by sunshine. Experts recommend that fair-skinned people spend 10 minutes per day in the midday sun before putting on sunscreen or going indoors. For those with darker complexions, up to 20 minutes is recommended in order to absorb sufficient Vitamin D.
6. "Catching Up" On Sleep
During the week, hectic work schedules and nighttime social activities (or, in my case, the inability to turn down that "next episode" on Netflix) often prevent us from getting enough sleep. By the time the weekend rolls around, we can't wait to "catch up" on sleep. Although sleeping for four hours on Thursday night and twelve hours on Friday averages out to a healthy eight hours, that's not exactly how it works. According to The National Sleep Foundation, long-term sleep loss negatively impacts our job performance and "catching up" on sleep won't reverse this. Sleeping more hours when we can may be satisfying, but it will do nothing to improve our concentration and reaction times — two things which are negatively impacted by not consistently getting enough shut-eye.
7. Brushing Your Teeth Right After A Meal
Reaching for your toothbrush and floss immediately after a meal seems like a healthy thing to do, but rushing to brush our teeth after eating can actually do more harm than good — especially if you've consumed anything acidic. Dr. Howard R. Gamble, president of the Academy of General Dentistry explained to the New York Times: “With brushing, you could actually push the acid deeper into the enamel and the dentin." However, you don't need to wait too long — it's safe to brush 30 to 60 minutes after a meal.