10 Unhealthy Habits You Need to Break Now

By: Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.

Find out which 10 daily habits you should break right now to eat and live healthier.

Lemon, Cucumber & Mint Infused Water

Some of the things you do—or don't do—every day might be sabotaging your efforts to be healthier. As you read the list of daily habits, don't be too hard on yourself and expect that you'll change all of these at once. The key to success is to slowly integrate change into your life. And if you fall off the wagon occasionally, don't fret or beat yourself up—it's more important that you get back on. Take a look at these 10 habits to see if there are any places you can make a healthy change.

Pictured recipe: Lemon, Cucumber & Mint Infused Water

1. Not Drinking Enough Water

Water accounts for 60 percent of our body so it's not too surprising that drinking water benefits your total body health. Staying hydrated helps to keep your memory sharp, your mood stable and your motivation intact. Keeping up with your fluids helps your skin stay supple, your body cool down when it's hot, allows your muscles and joints to work better and helps clean toxins from your body via your kidneys.

So, how much water should you be drinking? The Institute of Medicine says adult men need about 13 cups per day of fluid; adult women need about 9. (You get about an additional 2 1/2 cups of fluid from foods.) But because one size doesn't fit all, the best way to know if you're adequately hydrated is to monitor your urine color: if it's light yellow (the color of lemonade), that means you're drinking enough.

2. Eating Late at Night

There are a couple of reasons why you should think about moving your dinner hour earlier. Researchers suspect that the longer lapse between meals allows the body to process the food more efficiently. There is some research around intermittent fasting (where you space out your meals and eat in a shorter window), that suggests it may help with weight loss. (Learn more about intermittent fasting)

Another reason is that you may sleep better: according to the National Institutes of Health, late-night meals can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep.

Plus, most of us aren't eating carrots and apples late at night—we're reaching for snacky foods that aren't necessarily the healthiest choices.

3. Not Getting Enough Exercise

Physical activity has lots and lots of health benefits (seriously, the list goes on and on). Not only does it keep you looking and feeling great, but exercising regularly can help you lose weight and boost your energy. Exercising regularly can also help you live longer. Additionally, exercise keeps your heart healthy; lowers your risk of some types of chronic disease, such as breast cancer and some aggressive forms of prostate cancer; improves blood flow to your brain, keeping you sharp; and helps with blood sugar control.

Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week, plus 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (e.g., running) and 2 or more days of resistance training.

4. Skimping on Sleep

You know that falling short on sleep is a major no-no, but why—what's the big deal? Research shows that not getting enough shut-eye can impact a whole slew of things: it can compromise your immune system, your judgment and ability to make decisions (you are also more likely to make mistakes) and your heart health. Being sleep-deprived may fuel depression and make it harder for you to lose weight if you're dieting—and more likely that you'll give in to that sweet temptation tomorrow.

Aim to get around 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, although there is no magic number, says the National Sleep Foundation, so listen to your body and try to get the amount of sleep that your body needs to function at its best. (Eat these 9 foods to help you sleep better.)

Air-Fryer Turkey Stuffed Peppers

Pictured recipe: Air-Fryer Turkey Stuffed Peppers

5. Eating Too Much Sodium

Americans, on average, eat about 1,000 mg more sodium each day than we should. One of the easiest ways to cut your sodium intake is to cook at home using fresh ingredients. Restaurant foods and processed foods both tend to be very high in sodium. To trim your sodium intake even further, try boosting the flavor of food cooked at home with herbs and spices rather than salt.

6. Choosing Foods Because They "Sound Healthy"

More and more food labels are sporting health benefits on their labels. If such claims lure you in, know that just because a product lacks fat or gluten or carbs doesn't necessarily mean it's healthier. For example, fat-free products often deliver more sugar than their counterparts (and many full-fat options are the healthier choice). Avoid being duped by a healthy-sounding label claim by comparing the Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredient lists across brands of the same food category. It's worth stating that some of the healthiest foods at the grocery store don't have any packaging or branding like fruits and vegetables.

Zucchini Noodles with Quick Turkey Bolognese

Pictured recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Quick Turkey Bolognese

7. Eating Lunch at Your Desk

It's all too easy to munch on your midday meal desk-side, but according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you'll feel more satisfied and will rein in that temptation to binge midafternoon if you turn your attention toward your meal. Study participants who ate lunch without distractions felt fuller 30 minutes after eating, and ate less when they snacked later, than people who played solitaire on a computer during their midday meal (learn more about eating mindfully and how it can help you).

Related: Healthy Lunches to Pack for Work

8. Cooking Everything in Olive Oil

Even though olive oil is packed with heart-healthy antioxidants (called polyphenols) and monounsaturated fats, there are times when it's not the best choice for cooking. Why? Because olive oil has a lower smoke point than some other oils (that's the point at which an oil literally begins to smoke and olive oil's is between 365° and 420°F). Don't miss our guide to the best healthy oils for cooking.

When you heat olive oil to its smoke point, the beneficial compounds in oil start to degrade, and potentially health-harming compounds form. So if you're cooking over high heat, skip it and choose a different oil. However, olive oil is a great choice for making salad dressing or sautéing vegetables over medium heat.

Healthy Brownie Bites

Pictured recipe: Healthy Brownie Bites

9. Skipping Dessert

You may think you're doing a good thing by banishing sweet treats. But studies suggest that feeling deprived—even if you are consuming plenty of calories—can trigger overeating. And making any food off-limits just increases its allure. So if it's something sweet you're craving, go for it: a small treat won't break your diet! Two squares of dark chocolate or ½ cup of ice cream clock in at under 150 calories.

10. Not Changing or Sanitizing Your Kitchen Sponge Frequently Enough

This might not be something you think about regularly, but your kitchen sponge can harbor 150 times more bacteria, mold and yeast than your toothbrush holder. Ick! According to a study from NSF International (an independent public health organization), most of the germs they found won't make you sick, but some could. (Get our ultimate guide to preventing food poisoning.)

So, if you're the person who diligently cleans the kitchen counter, sink and refrigerator shelves, but fails to disinfect your sponge afterwards, try this to keep germs at bay: microwave a wet sponge for two minutes daily and replace it frequently–every two weeks.

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