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Whether you're just beginning your journey to better health or have been eating your veggies and exercising for years, you should feel proud of yourself for choosing to make healthy lifestyle choices. However, with so much contrasting health and wellness information out there these days—especially from unqualified sources, it's all too easy to fall into seemingly "healthy" habits that might actually be preventing you from achieving your goals.
While most of these practices aren't bad in and of themselves, they can certainly harm your health if done improperly. Here are some "healthy" habits to watch out for.
While those before-and-after pictures of keto dieters on Instagram seem inspiring, they can cause us to focus on the short-term cosmetic benefits rather than our own optimal health. Severely restricting an entire macronutrient category makes it that much easier to become nutrient deficient (learn more about the ugly side effects of keto). While you can certainly overdo it the other way and eat a fair amount of empty calories on refined carbs (think white bread and sugar), adopting a low-carb diet isn't always the answer for a healthier life.
When it comes to carbs, ditching whole grains, fruit and other "good" carbs makes it difficult to obtain enough fiber, antioxidants and electrolytes. Going on any kind of restrictive diet also makes one more likely to engage in binge eating and eventually gain the weight back. Focus on making lifestyle changes, rather than engaging in diet behaviors, for habits you can actually maintain. If you're still looking to go lower-carb, we have this handy guide to go low-carb the healthy way (good carbs still included).
Related: 30 Healthy Low-Carb Foods to Eat
Here's where the all-or-nothing mentality may hurt you. If you exercise too hard and too fast, you could end up with an injury that sidelines you, or even just a feeling that getting healthy is "too hard" and that you can't keep up. Remember to start slow, and give yourself time for the progress to show. The CDC recommends adults aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity weekly. But remember, any movement is better than no movement.
It's also important to mix up the types of exercise you are engaging in and allow yourself at least one rest day each week. If you just can't stay still, use these days to take a walk with a friend or do some much-needed stretching. It's a healthy reminder that exercise is more than working up a sweat and torching calories.
Pictured recipe: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
Avoiding gluten isn't necessarily a bad thing—if you've legitimately got an allergy or sensitivity to it (learn more about gluten intolerance). And the best way to find out whether the thing slowing you down is wheat or something else, is to get checked by a professional. If you're not sensitive, avoiding it isn't going to offer you any real health benefits.
If you do find you need to avoid gluten, be careful how you go about it. Gluten-free processed foods like cookies and crackers aren't always healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. In fact, some gluten-free options, like pasta, actually contain less protein and fiber, which you'll need to make up elsewhere.
There are many other better ways to eat healthy, rather than skipping gluten. Focus on healthy foods you can and should eat lots of—like veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, fish and healthy fats. Plus, all of these foods have research-backed benefits, while going gluten-free for health is widely discouraged by health professionals.
Related: High-Fiber, Whole Grain Recipes
Social media also puts intermittent fasting on a pedestal, as Instagram-famous trainers, celebrities and everyday people share their amazing weight-loss results from restricting when they eat. And, yes, research has shown that intermittent fasting can help with weight management, but it's not as simple as many think.
Waiting until noon to eat breakfast doesn't give you license to eat a Waffle House All-Star Grand Slam every day—you still need to follow healthy eating practices. And the window that you're "allowed" to eat in should be reasonably large to get an appropriate amount of energy: if your mental clarity, energy levels and well-being start to suffer, you may be fasting for too long.
Pictured recipe: Cucumber & Avocado Salad
Adopting a plant-based diet can be a wonderful way to boost your health and weight loss—but it can also be dangerous if you don't do it right. Going vegan means different things to different people—some choose to only consume raw foods and juices in pursuit of health, others live on processed vegan junk food rather than wholesome plant-based foods. Plus, you'll need to make sure you're getting enough key nutrients, like vitamin B12 and iron.
If you're not sure how to get enough nutrition as a vegan, start with a Mediterranean-style diet (minus the fish, meat and cheese, of course). It's rich in whole grains, produce, beans and healthy fats, and is a great start for eating a well-rounded vegan diet.
Don't get us wrong, staying hydrated is an important part of staying healthy—but it is possible to overdo it on water consumption. The "golden rule" of eight glasses a day is actually a myth— some people need more and some less depending on body size, activity level and climate. Drinking too much water (gallons and gallons in a short amount of time) can actually lead to hyponatremia, a condition where your sodium levels are too low.
If you're trying to boost your consumption of healthy foods, it's likely a lot of your water intake is also coming from produce, yogurt and eggs. Keeping a reusable water bottle with you during the day is a great way to boost water consumption if you aren't prone to drink it otherwise, but only drink water when you're thirsty—and don't feel the need to force yourself to drink to hit a specific number.
Yes, sunburns are not good for your skin, and if you burn too often, you're risking long-term damage, and have a higher risk of eventually getting cancer. But the sun is less of an enemy than some would make it out to be. While it's certainly important to wear sunscreen, we actually need some sun exposure. The sun is the best source of vitamin D we have, helping us produce it naturally in the body.
Vitamin D is responsible for strong bones and properly functioning muscle, nervous and immune systems. It's also thought to play a part in chronic disease prevention. While your sun exposure needs vary based on skin color and climate, studies show getting 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure several times a week makes a major difference. Try taking your lunch break outside the office or opting for the pavement over the treadmill on your next workout.
While sleeping in all weekend may seem like the perfect reward for a week of early-morning workouts and hectic deadlines, it's much healthier to stick to a regular sleep schedule all week long. Consistently getting too much sleep—more than nine hours—increases your risk for chronic diseases, reduced mental health and inflammation. Your body treats oversleeping like extra hours of being sedentary, so it's important to find a sweet spot when it comes to sleep.