Everyday habits shape your long-term success, which is why the foods you put into your body today are so important for your physique and well-being tomorrow.
That being said, the “smart” choices you’re making to achieve a healthy lifestyle may be backfiring.
Yes, you pick up tips from authoritative sources, adhere to highly praised eating regimens, and shop for foods marketed toward athletes because, hey, if it’s good enough for a pro, it’s good enough for you. But some of these seemingly good steps toward better health and fitness are actually doing a disservice to your body. Here, we navigate the lifestyle choices that are keeping your abs covered and your health below par.
1. You use reusable shopping bags
Shoppers who use reusable bags are more likely to purchase organic produce and healthy food, according to a new study from the American Marketing Association. But here’s the kicker: The same shoppers are also more likely to purchase junk food, too. The researchers collected data from loyalty cardholders from a major grocery store chain in California for two years, and compared the same shoppers on trips when they used reusable bags and when they used the store’s plastic or paper bags. Researches believe the reason lies in philanthropy. Shoppers feel “virtuous” because they’re helping the environment, which leads them to “treat themselves” to junk food loaded with added fat, salt, and sugar. Talk about a double-edged sword.
2. You feast on ‘fit’ foods
You didn’t work out, but you did manage to wolf down two power bars and a shake. But hey, that’s kind of the same thing, right? No, of course not. But that’s what bars, mixes and other “fit foods” are having some consumers believe, according to a research from the Journal of Marketing Research. In the study, participants were given trail mix-style snacks labeled “Fitness” or “Trail Mix.” They were told to eat as if they were having an afternoon snack, then given eight minutes to taste and rate the product. After, they were given the option to exercise as vigorously as they liked on a stationary bike. Interestingly enough, those trying to watch their weight ate far more of the snack marked “Fitness;” they also used less energy during the exercise phase.
3. You trust food labels
Emblazoned with lofty ideals and hefty promises, the branding labels on health- and fitness-focused foods can confuse people into thinking they’re consuming something wholesome and nutritious when that’s just not the case, according to research from the University of Houston. In the study, researchers asked 318 participants to complete an online survey, which randomly displayed pictures of food with marketing terms like “organic,” or a Photoshop image that lacked any connection to those words in an effort to create different images or ideas of the same products. These products included apple sauce (“organic”), lasagna (“whole grain”), Chocolate Cheerios (“heart healthy”), Cherry 7-Up (“antioxidant”), and peanut butter (“all natural”). The researchers found participants rated a product healthier if it contained at least one of the buzzwords compared to seeing an image of the product without the healthy terminology.
4. You’re overhydrating during workouts
Yes, you need water—and lots of it. But there is such a thing as overhydration. New recommendations, published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, advise men and women only to drink when thirsty during exercise. Downing water or sports drinks during a workout can severely reduce blood sodium levels in your body, interfering with normal regulatory processes. This is especially important for endurance runners training for marathons, recreational exercisers, and athletes getting ready for summer training camps.
5. You’re splurging on sports drinks
If you’re putting back an electrolyte-filled sports drink after every single workout, you’re loading your body with unnecessary calories and sugar (up to 34 grams). You don’t need an electrolyte-filled beverage to sustain a moderate 20-minute run or gym session. To drop weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, and the empty calories from these drinks are counterproductive to your fitness goals. In fact, people who consume one more sports drinks every day gain more weight over a three-year span than those who don’t, according to a study published in the journal Obesity.
6. You’re overdoing artificial sweeteners
It seems like you’re making a healthy choice by reaching for sugar-free sweeteners, but artificial varieties can be 100 to 300 times sweeter than the real stuff. A 2008 study from Purdue University and the National Institute of Health suggested saccharin can lead to weight gain. Rats who consumed artificial sweeteners eventually lost the connection between the body and the brain that occurs from tasting sweet food, which is to prep the body to burn extra calories. Essentially they became conditioned to have a weaker digestive response and gained weight over time. Another 2008 study from Duke University found similar results, linking Splenda to obesity.
7. You dine out—a lot
Cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day is a daunting if not tedious task if you’re not comfortable in the kitchen. But even if you’re eating out or getting take-out from fancy sit-down restaurants, you’re sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. It’s not just fast food joints—dine-in restaurants serve up more cholesterol and trans fat than what you make at home too, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found. Fast food customers got an average of 3.5 more grams of trans fat a day, while restaurant eaters took in an extra 2.5 grams. That may not sound like much, but we’re talking about something so bad that the FDA just banned it. What’s more, people who regularly dine out consume an average of 200 calories and 58 mg of cholesterol more a day than their home-cooking counterparts.