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Health Tips

Drop It Like It’s Hot: How to Lose Habits That Aren’t Helping You and Build Better Ones

It’s frustrating: You’ve been working to build new, healthful habits but aren’t seeing a boost in energy or confidence. The truth is, your daily efforts might not be as helpful as you hoped. Check your routine for the following traps.

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If you’re practicing any of the following seven habits, it’s time to reevaluate them. These common “healthy” habits aren’t actually as great for you as they might seem – in fact, they could be downright sabotaging your overall wellness. Plus, we’ve got all of the advice you need to replace those not-so-great habits with better, healthier alternatives.

1. Eating too little

In the truest sense, calories equal energy. And if you’re restricting calorie intake too much, your body lacks essential fuel.

In fact, when you significantly restrict calories, your systems don’t have enough energy to perform their most essential functions. Instead, the body adapts and tries to conserve energy, slowing down your metabolism in the process. This can lead to feeling sluggish, unfocused and even unmotivated.

While being mindful of your calorie intake, you should home in on nutrient-dense calories so your body gets everything it needs to run like a well-oiled machine.

Nutrient-dense calories will fill you up with good- for-you vitamins, minerals, fats and other must-haves so you can keep your body properly fueled and operating at its best.

Additionally, instead of cutting back on calories, try incorporating more foods that’ll satiate your hunger and help you feel fuller for longer periods of time. Filling foods deliver those much-needed, energy-generating calories without leaving you hungry or unsatisfied. One of the best options? Protein! Protein powers nearly every one of your body’s systems, from cell repair to strengthening muscle. And it’s as filling as it is beneficial.

A protein-packed breakfast or snack will help keep you on track. Try this savory-sweet granola bowl: Granola-topped Apricot & Plum Bowl with Tahini Yogurt Dressing

2. Relying on “diet” foods

It’s counterintuitive (and maddening), but the bulk of convenient “diet” foods, low-calorie snacks, meals and even meal-replacement products are far from ideal choices for anyone trying to eat clean.

These foods, which include items that claim to be low-fat, low-calorie and even helpful for weight loss, are typically loaded with additives.

These processed products often feature sugar or sugar alcohols to enhance their flavor – just take one 6-ounce container of low-fat vanilla yogurt, which contains a whopping 23.5 grams of sugar (hint: always opt for plain, unsweetened).

And there’s another sneaky little detail hiding among the low-fat, low-calorie “diet” foods: Often, these products don’t fill you up or keep you satisfied for any length of time. As a result, this could lead to some unintended and not-so-smart snack choices.

Instead of reaching for processed diet foods, fill your plate and your pantry with nutrient-dense whole foods. These items offer a high dose of vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients that deliver energy and an overall sense of vibrance and good health. Nutrient-dense foods like brown rice, baked potatoes, salmon, lean cuts of beef and plain Greek yogurt are always better alternatives to packaged and convenient products.

3. Exercising wrong

Having a workout plan benefits both your physical and mental health. Breaking a sweat regularly helps strengthen your heart, build muscle, protect your bones, grow new brain cells and even boost endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that help enhance mood and encourage a sense of well-being.

But sticking with just one form of exercise and performing it over and over again isn’t the best route to take. Instead, change it up and keep your body on its toes. Rather than just relying on aerobic exercise, add interval training — these short bursts of intense activity burn more energy while preserving lean muscle mass. Incorporate resistance training and weight lifting to build muscle and prevent a decrease in metabolic rate. Then bask in the rush of endorphins.

4. Not getting enough zzzs

If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep every night of the week, it’s hard to get through the day, let alone think about healthy habits.

Skipping out on the hours of shut-eye your body needs has a variety of negative effects, not the least of which is a sluggish brain (and jangled neurotransmitters). In the simplest terms, this means your body isn’t able to burn energy as efficiently and you can’t think as clearly. Over time, these inefficiencies can add up to increased mental and physical stress.

Studies have shown that those who adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and seeds) sleep longer and enjoy a more restful slumber. The reason? Many of those foods naturally contain high levels of melatonin, serotonin and vitamin D — all hormones that play a role in sleep.

In addition to fueling your body with the best possible foods, do your best to stick to a set sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is a building block for healthy living.

5. Missing out on functional nutrients

If you aren’t getting enough of the right nutrients, you could be sabotaging yourself. Without functional nutrients, or the nutrients that promote optimal health, your body can’t run at its best. And that’s where nutrient-dense foods come in.

Nutrient density is an eating concept that goes beyond judging a food by its calories alone. Instead, you focus on the nutrients – or the nutrients per calorie. The more nutrients packed into a single food calorie, the more beneficial it is.

Just take broccoli, for example: A 1-cup serving contains just 31 calories, but you’re also getting a ton of vitamin C and vitamin K, making it a nutrient-dense food. Whole grains are another great example. Calorie for calorie, whole grains offer a broader spectrum of vital nutrients than their refined counterparts.

And research suggests that consuming more nutrient-dense foods is key to overall health. The act can promote longevity and lower the risk for some of today’s biggest killers like heart disease.

In addition to nutrient-dense foods, it’s also important to ensure you aren’t overlooking protein or fiber. A lack of protein is particularly troublesome because getting the right amount helps preserve muscle while boosting your metabolism and overall energy.

Fiber, on the other hand, helps satiate hunger – it can even help you maintain a healthy weight naturally. Fiber-rich foods and meals help fill you up quickly, which may influence how much you eat (and what you choose to eat at later meals).

6. Stressing out

High levels of cortisol, one of the body’s primary stress hormones, can stymie even the best intentions. When you’re stressed, your body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered and the production of stress hormones amps up.

The problem: Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol prompt the body to seek out energy-dense foods, especially those rich in sugar and fat. While these foods might ease stress in the short term, they leave you feeling, well, not your best.

Constant tension and anxiety can also impact sleep, and research links sleep disturbances with a higher risk of diabetes and other diseases. To keep cortisol in check, get at least eight hours of sleep a night and exercise daily. To lessen stress, try meditation, deep breathing, yoga or safe, tension-taming herbs and supplements.

7. Obsessing over the scale

There is nothing good (mentally, physically or emotionally) about being tied to a number on the scale. It’s nerve-wracking and, most importantly, not a true indicator of how healthy you are.

Focusing too heavily on your weight can hamper your efforts for better overall health and wellness. Staring at the scale can actually distract you from bodily cues, preventing you from paying attention to important signals like hunger, stress and exhaustion. It’s better to eat mindfully, feeding your body when it signals it’s hungry and stopping when you’re full. No scale can reflect those key clues.

In truth, your weight and clothing size are very poor indicators of how healthful your lifestyle and diet are. The number on the scale is just that – a meaningless number.

So, banish the scale and look at “good health” through a wider lens, one that offers more opportunities to rejoice. This is the benefit of nurturing habits that nourish the body through energy-rich foods, a regular exercise regimen and a tried-and-true sleep routine.

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