7 health shortcuts that could actually be bad for you

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

19 August 2019

Could some ‘healthy’ habits be doing you more harm than good?

We're constantly trying to improve our health (and often with minimal effort!) but are you going about it the right way? If you suffer from any mystery symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue or digestive upset, is it possible that some commonplace, everyday habits that you assume are healthy, could actually be doing you more harm than good?

Here I outline 7 health shortcuts that could be leaving you feeling a little under par:

  1. Guzzling diet soft drinks
  2. Napping
  3. Counting calories
  4. Crossing your legs
  5. Eating on the run
  6. Juicing
  7. Washing down your food with liquids

Throughout this blog I explore these themes in more detail and offer some tips for swapping in some healthier approaches instead.

7 health shortcuts that could actually be bad for you

1. Guzzling diet soft drinks

People often assume that 'diet' soft drinks will help them on their road to weight loss success. However, the opposite may be true, as instead research suggests that stocking up on foods or drinks that are loaded with artificial sweeteners could actually be having just as detrimental an effect on our waistline as plain, old sugar.

Read my blog for more info on some of the concerns around artificial sweeteners.

What's the best approach?

Sources of natural sweetness are always going to be preferable to those made in a laboratory. My advice is to firstly ensure the vast majority of the liquids you consume are water, but if you do find you crave a hint of sweetness now and again, add some fresh fruit slices, or some sweet herbs such as mint to jazz up the flavour slightly.

Cutting down on your intake of sweeteners could have a number of health benefits from improving your digestion, to even having an impact on regulating appetite or your mood!

2. Napping

Whilst controlled napping could potentially help to increase productivity and/or alertness,1 on the contrary, napping for too little, too long or unregulated periods of time could all end up negatively affecting some of our cognitive functions in the short-term.1 Plus, getting into the habit of daytime snoozes may also risk upsetting your bedtime routines later on in the day.

What's the best approach?

As many of our hormones work in sync with our circadian rhythm, meaning that we're generally better equipped to sleep at night when it's dark and get up in the morning when it becomes light again, it is best practice to follow this routine.

Therefore, especially if you're struggling to regulate your energy levels throughout the day, it can really pay off to make the effort to go to bed that little bit earlier come evening time, rather than being tempted to give into the urge to nap during the day.

Another tip is to consciously aim to get up at the same time every morning - yes, that's right, even on days off! Again, this can help to train your body into better sleep routines over time.

3. Counting calories

Traditionally, meticulously counting calories was thought to be the be all and end all when it came to weight loss and maintaining a health body weight, however, nowadays we're thinking twice!

For many people, religiously counting calories ends up involving eating more processed foods as these tend to have the nutritional info handily printed on the pack.

However, in the longer term, consuming lots of these foods may not be the best approach as they could give rise to other health issues and unsustainable weight loss. Instead, fresh foods which are generally less calorie dense anyway, are the way to go!

What's the best approach?

Calorie counting can, in some cases be helpful initially, for example, in order to help get you in the habit of eating and cooking with fresh foods (which are generally lower calorie options, may I add), but longer term, you shouldn't be over-reliant on calorie counting.

Once we are more in the way of eating a healthy variety of foods, have mastered some of our preferred cooking techniques, have our favourite, go-to healthy recipes, and are used to listening to our body for signals that we're hungry or full, there should be no need to count so scrupulously!

4. Crossing your legs

Sitting cross-legged is a common habit that women in particular often pick up - it's easy done at your desk at work, right? However, did you know that crossing your legs could cause chaos with your posture? It can throw your pelvis and back out of alignment which could give rise to structural issues, pain or discomfort in the long-term.

What's the best approach?

If you're worried about your posture or feel that some aches and pains are definitely niggling, sitting up straight is the aim – no slouching! Whilst this is often easier said than done, I find that supporting my back with a lumbar cushion can really help to encourage better posture, and with minimal effort. Get one for your desk at work and/or your car if you do lots of travelling.

5. Eating on the run

If you're continually eating on the run (easy done if we're leading busy, modern lives with lots of work and family commitments) you're not only more likely to make poorer food choices, but this unhelpful habit can also have detrimental effects on your digestion.

Eating quickly means your stomach won't have time to prepare for the arrival of food and your 'rest and digest' functions won't be given the chance to get fully functioning in time for your latest meal. This can easily lead to acute symptoms including acid reflux or indigestion, but over time these could translate into more chronic symptoms, such as food intolerance, which can end up proving difficult to shift.

What's the best approach?

As much as we're all busy, hopefully you can try to find even just 10 minutes to sit down, relax and focus on the food in front of you at meal times. This could do wonders for your digestion, but may also bring with it some other benefits such as reduced stress levels.

Traditionally, eating meals was quite a momentous part of our day and unfortunately this has been somewhat lost – it should be a time to replenish our energy but also really appreciate, and hey, maybe even enjoy our food – who'd have thought it!

6. Juicing

Juicing is a bit of a fad and people are often happy to assume they are able to get all the nutrients they need by adopting this habit, whilst also potentially boosting energy levels or losing a pound or two along the way!

In reality, by juicing lots of fruit or veggies we're stripping the fibre from these good quality wholefoods and we risk getting a quick sugar hit by guzzling too much juice at once.

Whilst opting for fresh juices may indeed provide you with a hit of energy initially, longer-term, you're more likely to experience energy slumps as your blood sugar levels are quickly reigned back in. Plus, in addition to this, juicing isn't particularly kind on your digestive system.

It's much more important to focus on chewing each mouthful of food properly in order to make the most of your food in terms of its nutritive value, plus chewing helps stimulate your digestive functions sufficiently.

What's the best approach?

Of course, aiming to include more fruit and vegetables in your diet is never a bad thing; just don't be tempted by juicing everything in sight! Smoothies using whole fruits and vegetables are a better option as these contain less sugar when compared to the crucial fibre content!

Then, let's not forget about the more savoury options such as homemade soups, stews or curries which are the perfect way to incorporate veg, as well as fruit, into your regime. Below I've listed some of my favourite recipes that I urge you to try:

15 Minute Rainbow Soup
Vegetarian Tomato Stew
Aubergine Curry

7. Washing down your food with liquids

Whilst I'm most definitely an advocate for drinking more water (my advice is to hit at least 1.5l of plain still, water daily – and remember - teas and coffees don't count!), guzzling down lots of liquids alongside your meals only risks diluting your all-important digestive juices. Contrary to popular belief, strong stomach acid is key for good health!

What's the best approach?

Try leaving at least 20 minutes either side of eating before turning your attention to rehydrating plus, if you have a glass or two in the lead up to eating rather than alongside your meal, you might actually find you end up eating less. Often when we start to feel hungry it's actually your body crying out for some water instead!

Then, if you still feel that your digestion needs a little extra support despite you changing your drinking habits, a herbal bitter remedy such as Yarrow could help do the trick. Take a dose 5-10 minutes before meals, in a small splash of water, for best results.

My Top Tip:

If you struggle to get enough bitter tastes in the form of foods, why not try adding some Yarrow bitters to your regime? Take these 5-10 minutes before your meals, 3 times daily, for best results.

"I suffer a lot from acid reflux and heartburn, this helped to make me feel better and calmed everything down. Would highly recommend."

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