Some say it takes 60 days to break a habit, and we all know exactly which ones come to mind when we think of the habits we’d like to break. Whether it’s a habit that has to do with your fitness routine, how much time you spend on your phone, or perhaps some pesky eating habits, we all have the power to break them if that’s what we truly wish.
When it comes to eating habits, how do you know which ones are best to break? We talked with Laura Burak, MS, RD, author of Slimdown with Smoothies, and founder of Laura Burak Nutrition and Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, both members of our medical expert board, about habits related to food that might be keeping you from achieving your health goals.
Read on to learn about the worst eating habits to avoid, and for more healthy eating tips, check out The 7 Healthiest Foods To Eat Right Now.
“Most Americans are chronically dehydrated and don’t even know it,” says Burak, “and one of the most important free eating habit shifts that will dramatically improve your health is to drink more water.”
The tricky part is that you may think you’re getting enough water throughout the day, but many of us aren’t.
“Most people wait until they feel thirsty before they drink water, but thirst is actually an emergency signal indicating dehydration,” says Burak.
In order to make sure you’re getting enough water throughout your day, Burak has a few suggestions.
“Drink water first before food or coffee when you wake up in the morning and stay consistent throughout the day,” she says, “which alone can improve your health and help with weight maintenance.”
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Many people assume that skipping meals will help save calories and shed weight fast, but both dietitians agree that this is one of the most harmful eating habits for your body and health goals.
“Consuming puny meals devoid of enough nutrients, or skipping meals altogether is the main reason most people report daily afternoon cravings or binging later in the day,” says Burak.
In other words, you may be avoiding some calories from the meal you skip, but it will most likely show up in another way later on.
“Skipping a meal typically leaves you hungrier at your next meal, which can cause you to overeat,” says Goodson, “This, in turn, causes your blood sugar to drop and leaves you with low energy and that ‘hangry’ feeling.”
And it’s usually when your blood sugar drops that you make hasty food decisions that can derail your health goals even more.
“This is when your mind and body tell you to eat anything you can find, quickly, which is typically higher-sugar convenience foods like cookies, candy, and chips,” says Burak.
“The goal is to eat fiber and protein every couple of hours to help mitigate hunger and keep your blood sugar, and energy levels, more stable,” says Goodson.
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Alcohol alone isn’t the bad guy, but when you consume it in excess, it can have some negative impacts on your health. And although alcohol can add extra calories and sugar, the trouble usually lies in what happens after you drink a lot of it.
“Too many drinks can lower your inhibitions and lead to eating unhealthy foods afterward (like ordering that pizza and fries again to your doorstep at midnight), affect your sleep quality, and give you an excuse to lay around instead of move your body the next day,” says Burak.
This doesn’t mean you need to put down the beer entirely, but it may be a good idea to avoid drinking it in excess if you want to maintain your health goals.
You can definitely still stick to your health goals and enjoy a meal out with friends, but getting in the habit of eating at restaurants on a regular basis can have negative health effects.
“Typically portion sizes are much bigger and the food has more ingredients (like sugar and fat) to make it taste better,” says Goodson.
But sometimes eating out on a regular basis is less about socializing and more about convenience.
“If you have to eat on-the-go often, look for grilled options instead of fried, sub fries or a high-fat side item for fruit or a salad, and choose whole-grain bread when you can,” says Goodson.
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According to Burak, eating too much added sugar is one of the most harmful eating habits and is “one of the leading health concerns in our country.”
And although it might be easy to admit when you want to lower your intake of sugar, it can be hard to actually take this step because of the foods that are more readily available to us.
“It’s nearly impossible not to consume added sugar due to the nature of our food supply these days,” says Burak, “The best thing you can do is focus on quality foods like fruits, veggies, potatoes, and other carbs that grow outside, don’t have an ingredient list, and naturally contain sugar instead of relying on an abundance of packaged foods.”
Similar to alcohol consumption, this doesn’t mean that you have to give up added sugar forever. But it is important to recognize if eating an excess of added sugar has become a habit, so that you can begin to make small, healthier choices along the way.
“The more sugar we eat, the more we tend to feel ‘addicted’ to it and not so healthy overall,” says Burak, “so limiting the added sugar treats like cookies and ice cream and reaching for more nutritious quality foods like an apple with peanut butter, for example, is an easy swap that goes a long way.”
Many people still fear fat and sugar. And although there are low-quality fats and sugars that are better to be consumed in moderation, there really is no reason to be afraid of these ingredients as a whole. Oftentimes when something is fat-free or sugar-free, it contains more negative ingredients to compensate for the loss of flavor.
“This trend dates back to the dreaded Snackwell’s cookie era when fat was shunned and fat-free products were touted to help with weight loss,” says Burak. “But people started consuming way more sugar because of it, which lead to more health problems.”
This is why Burak says she encourages her clients to buy “the real thing,” which means high or full-fat dairy, mayo, and butter, which are all products that should naturally contain fat! Especially these 20 Healthy Fat Foods That Won’t Make You Fat.
“Add some real dressing to your salad,” says Burak, “and not only will the fat-soluble vitamins in your food be better absorbed, but the food will taste lightyears more delicious, and you will likely be more satisfied and eat less afterward.”
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