There was a period of time when people thought smoking tobacco was healthy. Experts also downplayed just how detrimental sugar is to your health, and let’s not forget about the low-fat craze of the ’80s and early ’90s. All of this is to say: Certain once-believed “healthy” habits turned out to be anything but.
Science and research methods are ever evolving, which means weight loss recommendations are constantly being revised. That’s why nutritionists are constantly switching up their diets to stay lean. (More on that here.) To make sure you’re not falling victim to diet-derailing health myths or following antiquated advice, we’ve rounded up bogus “healthy” habits that will only leave you wider and softer than before. See which wacky health tips have fooled you—and then try these 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat to get back on track towards achieving your goals.
You Replaced Sugar with Artificial Sweeteners
As evidence continues to stack up against sugar, consumers are looking for ways to have their cake and eat it too—literally. To meet the demand, food makers are churning out sugar-free packaged foods like puddings, cookies, and soda—but don’t get it twisted; these options aren’t going to help you trim down. In fact, they may have the opposite effect on your gut. Many artificial sweeteners cause insulin (our body’s primary fat-storage hormone) to be released in your gut because they’re sweet like sugar. Plus, when manufacturers take sugar out of products, they often add in bad-for-you fats like palm oil and cream to make up for the taste, They also use sugar alcohols, which can have a laxative effect if eaten in excess. The bottom line: If you’re craving something sweet, skip “sugar-free” options and eat what you’re really craving in moderation. (If you’re diabetic, consult with your doctor for healthy, safe ways to cut down on processed “sugar-free” foods in your diet.) For even more ways to dial back on the sweet stuff and clobber cravings, check out the Zero Sugar Cookbook for no-added sugar recipes!
You Guzzle Bottled Water
You know how important it is to stay hydrated, which is why you’re never without a bottle of water by your side. While we commend you for getting your daily dose of H2O, you should seriously consider trading your throwaway bottle for the reusable, BPA-free variety. (We like S’well Bottles. They’re $35 on Amazon.com.) Bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA, can negatively impact fertility in both men and women and has also been linked to obesity. Don’t believe it? The science doesn’t lie: A 2011 Harvard study found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and odds of being obese than those in the lowest quartile. Fill your new BPA-free bottle with these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss for a delicious twist on plain H20!
You Work Out Daily
It’s great that you’re so committed to your workout routine, but if you’re spending all your free time sprinting and lifting you’re not giving your body enough time to recover and rebuild, which can increase your risk of injury and actually hinder your progress, explains Jay Cardiello, a fitness and nutrition expert who has sculpted the bodies of some of the music scene’s biggest superstars, including 50 Cent and J.Lo. To ensure you’re giving your body the downtime it needs to lean out, Cardiello suggests taking one or two days off per week.
You Refuel With a Post-Sweat Smoothie
Whether it’s a long run, a killer barre sesh, or a hot yoga workout, it’s a mistake to feel like it isn’t complete without a trip to the beverage bar. “If you’re in the habit of ‘refueling’ with a protein shake or smoothie after every single workout, you may want to reconsider,” St. John cautions. “For most workouts longer than one hour in length, eating a protein-rich meal afterward is completely sufficient. Consuming a protein shake in between is likely unnecessary and instead just increases caloric consumption.”
You ‘Save Calories for Later’
If you regularly skimp on calories on days you have plans to grab drinks or a special dinner after work, you could be doing more harm than good. The reason: It’s hard to maintain good eating habits and portion control when you’re starved. To avoid overeating, snack on a cup of baby carrots or an ounce of almonds before you leave to meet your friends. If you’re drinking alcohol, limit yourself to two drinks at most to save on calories and keep from getting inebriated and losing your self-control.
You Eat the Wrong Fish
When it comes to belly-slimming meals, there’s nothing healthier than a nice piece of fish, right? Well, that may have been true 100 years ago, but today that’s not always the case. While the chicken of the sea can be an impeccable source of lean protein and heart-bolstering omega-3 fatty acids, certain varieties and preparations can bloat your belly. Let’s look at farm-raised salmon (all Atlantic salmon is farm-raised) as an example. Although wild salmon is high in omega-3 acids, which fight weight gain-causing inflammation throughout the body, farm-raised salmon is packed with omega-6s, which actually increases it.
And the Wrong ‘Healthy’ Snacks
With more us relying on snacks rather than full-on meals to fuel our day, it seems everyone is on the hunt for the next nibble that can keep them trim. Unfortunately, marketers are on to us. And they’re slapping misleading health-centric phrases like “whole wheat,” “gluten-free,” and “low-fat” on foods that are full of as much (and many times, much more) sugary treats like ice cream and cookies. So if things like flavored yogurt, whole grain cereal, pretzels, and dried fruit are part of your snacking repertoire, you might be working against your workout goals. To find out which things to toss out of your kitchen, read up on these 25 Worst ‘Healthy’ Snacks for Weight Loss.
You’re Obsessed with Antibacterials
We know it might seem a little crazy, but your hand sanitizer could be making you fat. Triclosan is a synthetic antibacterial agent frequently added to soap. Researchers refer it to as an “obesogen”—a compound that can potentially cause weight gain by disrupting the body’s hormones. Studies suggest that triclosan can negatively affect the thyroid. As thyroid hormones control metabolism, any hit to the organ’s functionally could cause you to gain weight. The evidence is of particular concern for hospital workers, researchers say, as they’re exposed to the antibacterial agent on a regular basis and often show significantly higher levels of triclosan in their urine. A study in the journal PLOS One found a detectable level was associated with a 0.9-point increase in body mass index (BMI). If you’re a frequent hand-washer, experts recommend sticking to good ol’ soap—not the antibacterial kind—and to buy organic products when possible.
You Eat Low-Fat Fare
You know that eating trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease, weight gain, and stroke, so you’re smart to stay away. But not all fats need to make your “do not eat” list. In fact, consuming healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil can actually help you slim down and stay healthy. “Fats not only help us absorb many of the vitamins from our diets, but they also help keep us fuller longer, which can aid weight loss efforts,” explains nutritionist Lori Zanini. Not to mention, reduced-fat products tend to replace harmless fats with low-performing carbohydrates that digest quickly—causing a sugar rush and, immediately afterward, rebound hunger. Simply put, they can make you gain weight. So stick to full-fat processed food (if you’re going to eat it at all) and work a few full-fat fresh products into your diet, too. Registered dietitians Lauren Slayton and Torey Armul incorporate things like olive oil, avocado, fish, butter, ghee, and coconut oil into their daily diets.
You Skip Your Zzzs for a Morning Sweat Sesh
Getting in a workout first thing in the morning is a great way to boost energy and get your day started on a healthier note. The problem? If you set your alarm for 5 a.m. but didn’t get to bed until after midnight, you could be missing out on crucial sleep. Dieters who sleep five hours or less put on 2½ times more belly fat, according to research from Wake Forest. If you want to hit the gym before dawn, make sure you are going to bed at a reasonable hour to get the recommended six to eight hours her night.
Or You Sleep Too Much
Unfortunately, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. While skimping on sleep is associated with weight gain, researchers at Wake Forest found that those who sleep more than eight hours a night packed on more belly fat, the dangerous kind that’s associated with heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Shoot for an average of six to seven hours of sleep per night—the optimal amount for weight control. And burn calories overnight with these 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.
You Cut Back on Calories
According to a survey from the Calorie Control Council, 17 percent of Americans skip meals to lose weight. If that sounds like a strategy you live by, it might very well be responsible for your expanding waistline. That’s because skipping meals slows your metabolism and boosts your hunger. That puts your body in prime fat-storage mode and increases your odds of overeating at the next meal. To keep your metabolism revving throughout the day, focus on small, protein- and fiber-packed snacks or small meals every three to four hours. You will not only burn more calories eating a series of smaller meals but also avoid the afternoon crash and end of the workday slump.
You Skip The Yolk
Egg white omelets might be your brunch and breakfast go-to, but it’s time you give those silky, golden yolks some love. They’re a great source of fat-incinerating choline and vitamin D, a vitamin most Americans don’t eat enough of. Why’s that matter? Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to abdominal obesity. Also, the yolks contain healthy fats that boost satiety, making it less likely you’ll overeat later in the day, explains registered dietitian Kayleen St. John. For the head-to-toe amazing info on eggs, find out What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Eggs!
You Overload Your Plate with Healthy Food
Just because your meal is healthy doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice portion control. Remember, even virtuous foods have calories so if you overeat things like avocado, oatmeal, and chicken you can pack on the pounds. Half of your plate should be filled with veggies, and the remaining half should hold a cellphone-sized serving of lean protein, a fist-sized serving of grains, and a bit of fat no larger than the size of your pointer finger.
You’re Committed to Your Fitness Class
While working out is critical for maintaining your metabolism if you haven’t switched up your workout routine recently, your six-pack might melt into a barely-there two-pack, says Dr. Sean M. Wells, personal trainer and author of Double-Crossed: A Review of the Most Extreme Exercise Program. “If you’ve been doing the same workout for the past few months, your body isn’t being challenged anymore, meaning it’s not burning as many calories as it otherwise could,” he explains. So if you typically stick to spin classes, consider checking out a boot camp or Zumba class to give your metabolism a kick. Can’t bear to leave your Schwinn? Look for a more intense class or challenge yourself by turning up the resistance (yes, even when the instructor doesn’t tell you to).
You Go for Gluten-Free
For some people, eating gluten-free is a necessity. But for those who think “gluten-free” means weight loss-friendly, beware the health halo. “Most gluten-free breads are made from refined grains, with white rice flour being the most popular. These breads have double the carbs of whole-wheat breads,” shares Nashville-based nutritionist Sarah-Jane Bedwell. “Plus, studies show that people who eat whole grains have less belly fat than those who eat refined grains. If you must go gluten-free, due to celiac disease or a similar diagnosis, look for gluten-free breads made with a mixture of seeds and naturally gluten-free whole grains, such as millet and amaranth.”
No Matter What, You Eat Before Your Workouts
“Trainers have engrained into our brains that we must eat something before and after a workout,” says registered dietitian Lisa Hayim. “So much so, that we neglect our actual feelings of hunger and satiety, and thoughtlessly stuff something into our mouths. Although pre- and post-workout eating is essential for athletic recovery, many people have enough fuel from a recent meal they consumed and do not need those extra calories. A good rule of thumb is if your last meal was three or more hours before your workout, grab a carbohydrate-rich snack (30 grams of carbohydrates or less),” she explains.
You Gave Up Dairy
Unless you’re lactose intolerant, steering clear of milk, Greek yogurt and other popular dairy-based breakfast foods to save calories may be doing you more harm than good. The primary reason: Calcium plays a key role in regulating the way the body metabolizes food. Specifically, it determines whether we burn calories or tack them on as excess fat. On the flip side, a calcium-rich diet can help you burn more flab, according to a University of Tennessee at Knoxville report, which is exactly what you want if weight loss is your goal.
You Pencil in All Your Workouts
There’s no denying that working out is an important weight loss factor, but oddly enough, thinking about your upcoming sweat sessions too often can make it more difficult to lose weight. Research indicates that when your favorite boot camp or running trail is always on the brain, you opt to consume more calories—likely because you assume you’ll just blast it away once you break a sweat. So what should you do instead? Set it and forget it! At the beginning of each month, sit down with your iCal and plan out your workouts for the next month. This way you aren’t constantly thinking about your post-work gym sessions; you can just reference your calendar and go.
You Eat Lots of Protein
While protein may be among the most talked about nutrients among dieters, eating too much of the stuff can cause weight gain. When you take in more protein than your body needs (which is about 0.45 grams per pound for men and 0.35 grams per pound for women) the extra protein will likely be stored as fat, while the excess amino acids will be excreted. Not convinced? Consider this: In one recent study of more than 7,000 study participants, researchers found that those who ate high-protein diets had a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight during the course of the study than those who ate less of the stuff. Yikes!
You Buy ‘All-Natural’ & Organic Groceries
In a recent study, people estimated snacks labeled “organic” to be lower in calories, more nutritious and even tastier than when reviewing the same snacks without the “organic” label. The only problem? That’s hardly the case. Plus, all-natural isn’t a regulated term, so marketers can slap this on products that are still highly processed, caloric, and loaded with sugar. If you down these groceries without looking at the label, you may ingest more calories than you realize, which can derail your rapid weight loss efforts.
You Pass on Dessert
Sure, skipping dessert saves you on calories and sugar. But constantly depriving yourself could lead to an out-of-control binge later on. And if you forgo your favorite sweet treat for a “healthier” version, you may feel less satisfied and reaching for something else to curb that sweet tooth. You’re better off opting for a few bites of your favorite dessert than depriving yourself altogether.
You Use Lifting Machines to Make Sure Your Form is Correct
Lifting weights is a great way to blast fat and building lean, calorie-burning muscle. But sticking to machines may not be the best option. Most lifting machines focus on single joint exercises, which fail to improve muscle imbalance and does not burn as many calories as hitting the squat rack or swinging a kettlebell. Mix it up with free weights, kettlebells, and a TRX.
You Order the Healthiest Sounding Menu Item
Strange but true: When you think of your meal as a light choice, it can cause your brain to pump out more ghrelin (the hormone that boosts appetite and slows metabolism), according to a Yale University study. To keep your ghrelin levels balanced, stick with restaurant foods that only sound indulgent. For example, if you’re at Chick-fil-A, go for the breaded and fried Chicken Sandwich over the Cobb Salad. The sandwich sounds like the more indulgent alternative, but in reality, eating it over the greens keeps 300 calories and 36 grams of fat off your plate.
You Only Do Pilates
If you do a lot of exercises or workouts that require you to sit and lay down, you have to know that you’re not burning a lot of calories, right? So if you refuel afterward like you just went on a long run or hit the weight room, you’re apt to pile on the pounds. “When you’re sitting or lying down, it’s near impossible to get your heart rate up enough to make any significant change to body composition,” explains personal trainer and People magazine’s Sexiest Trainer Alive, Angelo Grinceri. Although yoga and pilates can help you tone up and burn calories, it’s better to mix up your workouts with other heart-pumping activities such as running, swimming, or a HIIT-style circuit.
You Wear a Waist Trainer
While curvaceous celebs like Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose claim to get their tiny waists by wearing a waist trainer (which is really just a modern-day corset) we’re calling their bluff. Makers of the product say that helps to metabolize fat, release toxins, compress the core, and reduce food intake. The truth: “Of course you won’t want to eat when you have trouble breathing and your stomach is being pushed into your spine,” says Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, a dietitian specializing in weight management and sports nutrition. However, once you take that trainer off, you’ll go back to your old eating habits and quickly gain the weight back—and many then some, warns Koszyk.
You Skip Your Morning Cup of Coffee
Some people swear that drinking coffee can cause you to hold onto fat—and a 2005 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that too much caffeine can increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that triggers fat storage. And there’s no denying that the syrupy, sugar-laden blended beverages at the coffee shop are calorie bombs. But sticking to a cup of black coffee each morning could actually rev your metabolism; the average metabolic rate of people who drank coffee with caffeine was 16 percent higher than those who drank decaf, according to a study in Physiology & Behavior. Coffee is also an excellent pre-workout beverage too, getting you pumped for your sweat sesh without all the added fillers and artificial sweeteners as the tubs sold at your local supplement store. In fact, researchers found that cyclists who took a caffeine supplement were able to ride a mile farther than those who took a placebo.
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