Get this: In the 15th-century, people thought smoking tobacco could relieve headaches and colds and even ward off disease. In fact, it was used for so many medicinal purposes that the herb eventually became known as "God's remedy." While that might seem crazy to us now, many of the "healthy" habits we follow today are just as off-base (while arguably far less deadly)—especially when it comes to things we do to lose weight.
How could we get led so astray? 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 flat-belly goals.
You've Cut Back on Sugar
—and replaced it 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, order your copy of the Zero Sugar Diet today!
You Guzzle Bottled Water
You know how important it is to stay hydrated, which is why you're never without a bottle of Poland Spring by your side. While we commend you for getting your daily dose of H20, you should seriously consider trading your throwaway bottle for the reusable, BPA-free variety. (We like S’well Bottles. They’re $25 – $45 on Nordstrom.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 Never Miss 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." Not sure what post-pump meal will get you the body you want? Check out our exclusive report, 20 Trainers Reveal What They Eat After a Workout!
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 really hard to maintain good eating habits and have 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. And be sure to read up on these 20 Tips for Choosing Healthy Alcohol Drinks to keep calories in check.
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 faster than Ryan Lochte can swim the 300. 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. Tilefish and swordfish are also bad news. They both contain dangerously high levels of mercury, which acts as an endocrine disruptor: A fake hormone that tricks your body into holding onto fat, burning fewer calories, and reducing levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite. Confused which fish are safe to eat and which are better to skip? Check out our exclusive report, Every Popular Fish—Ranked for Nutritional Benefits!
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. For more surprising things that may make your jeans feel tighter, check out these 50 Little Things Making You Fatter and Fatter.
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 like 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. While Alissa Rumsey, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, enjoys 2% or 4% Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butter, and seeds daily. Confused about all of the good and bad fats out there? Our Definitive Guide to All the Types of Fat in Food can help!
You Get a Ton of Sleep
If this doesn't wake you up, sleeping beauty, we're not sure what will: Dieters who sleep five hours or less put on 2½ times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on only slightly less than that, according to Wake Forest researchers. 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 3 to 4 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. These 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less are all smart noms.
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. To ensure you're always keeping your serving sizes in check, read up on these 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes.
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). Switching up your exercise routine is one of the 20 Ways to Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau.
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. Curious about carbs? Check out the 20 Worst Carb Habits of All Time.
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 apt 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. 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
Don't deny your favorite dessert. If really craving that double chocolate brownie, enjoy a few generous bites instead of going for seconds at the dinner buffet line—which could rack up even more calories.
You Use Lifting Machines to Make Sure Your Form is Correct
Lifting machines. 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.
You Order the Healthiest Sounds 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. For more no-sacrifice swaps, check out The #1 Healthiest Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants!
You Do Pilates & Yoga
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. For more of Grinceri's weight loss hacks, check out our exclusive report, the 15 Best Weight Loss Tips from the Sexiest Trainer Alive
You Use 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.