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20 Surprising Habits That Are Affecting Your Health

Skipped breakfast and forgot to change your bedsheets? These common habits may be harming your health.

You've heard it before: It takes 21 days to change a habit. And while we're all on a quest to live healthier lives and improve our well-being, becoming aware of bad habits is the first step in initiating change. From chowing down on your fingernails to eating a sad desk lunch, we've compiled 20 unhealthy habits you're probably guilty of.

Flag these bad practices below and make it your goal to nix them in the bud. And if you want healthy recipes, supermarket shopping guides, and essential nutrition tips at your fingertips, subscribe to the new Eat This, Not That! magazine now! For a limited time, you can save 50 percent off the cover price—click here!

Skipping Meals

hungry woman

Avoiding eye contact with the doughnuts in the break room will clearly help you avoid the added calories, but that shouldn't spur you to skip breakfast altogether. A study from the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that people who cut out the morning meal were 4.5 times more likely to be obese, adding that eating multiple, small meals may suppress hunger and overall blood sugar levels. Instead of using this as an excuse to grab a bacon, egg, and cheese, start your morning with these 15 Healthy Breakfast Ideas you can make in just 5 minutes.

Biting Your Nails

Hand with brittle nails.

Chowing down on your claws aren't making them any more attractive. And, besides, our nail beds are a breeding ground for health-compromising bacteria that could put you at risk of getting sick. According to a small study in the journal Oral Microbiology and Immunology, pathogens such as E. coli were found in 76 percent of the nail-biting participants compared to the 26.5 percent who abstained. While you should undoubtedly kick the gross habit to the curb, you can further avoid infection by washing your hands frequently and digging your nails into the soap bar to ensure your nail beds are squeaky clean.

Prioritizing Convenience

Mcdonalds drive thru

You're handed a hot meal just minutes after you've ordered, and you don't even have to leave your car. Sure, the fast food drive-thru sounds like the eighth wonder of the world, but beware of visiting it too frequently. If you're ordering some of the unhealthiest fast foods on the planet, you're subjecting your body to loads of heart-harming fats, waist-widening sugar, inflammatory oils, and appetite-spiking additives. To ensure you're getting the most nutritional bang out of your meal, spend an hour or two on the weekend meal prepping healthy entrees for the rest of the week. You'll have nutritious meals on hand for busy days and be less likely to hit up the nearest fast food joint for a quick bite.

Sitting All Day

Man working on computer at a window

You've heard the news: Sitting all day can shorten your life. While we're not advising you to quit your 9-to-5, there are ways to avoid falling victim to this fact. Consider investing in a standing desk, walk around your entire floor every half-hour, and try these 21 Tricks to Lose Weight While Sitting Down.

Forgetting to Change the Bed Sheets

Unmade bed

Bacteria can easily become your sleeping buddy if you don't wash your sheets enough. "You have spores of fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, finishing agents of whatever the sheets are made from, coloring material, all sorts of excrements from the body," Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine, tells Insider. As if that's not gross enough, one study found that both synthetic and feather pillows harbored between four and 17 different species of fungus. Yikes!

Shopping for Low-Fat Foods

Flavored yogurt

Low-fat foods may lead you to believe you'll experience faster weight loss, but that's hardly ever the case. "Older generations hear words like 'bran' or 'low-fat' and instantly assume it's the healthy choice," Lisa Hayim, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities tells us in 37 Breakfast Habits Making You Gain Weight. "These foods, which can be high in fiber, are actually usually loaded with processed flour, high in sugar, and can be high in sodium too. Don't be fooled by the name at the bakery counter or on the menu. Read the labels and always the ingredients."

Having Lunch at Your Desk

Woman eating

If your work deadlines are forcing you to skip your lunch break, make sure you at least step away from your desk during your afternoon meal. Forking at your food in front of your computer screen discourages mindful eating and can result in added pounds creeping up.

Working Out Early

Couple running

And by early, we're talking about "you went to bed at 2 a.m. to make a deadline but kept your 5 a.m. spin class alarm" early. Swatting your alarm clock and making your way to the gym before the sun's out isn't as beneficial to your well-being as you think. While exercise can improve your mood, help you lose weight, and aid your muscle-building efforts, skimping out on sleep can lead to a surge in hunger hormones the next day. According to Wake Forest researchers, dieters who sleep five hours or less put on 2-and-a-half times more belly fat than those who get ample shut-eye.

Eat This! Tip

Feel free to work out before the sunrise—but take a minute to reconsider your morning routine if you won't be getting sufficient sleep.

Popping Antihistamines

Pill bottle

Once the months grow warmer, we find ourselves stocking our purses with bottles of Claritin and Kleenex. While dust bunnies may be your worst nightmare, you shouldn't try to shoo away their ill effects with allergy meds. Researchers at the UCLA Department of Medicine found that frequent antihistamine use can increase your appetite and carbohydrate cravings. Instead of cracking the bright blue bottle open, try natural methods to fight spring allergies.

Squirting on Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer

No matter how delicious that bottle of sweet-pea-scented hand sanitizer smells, you're better off leaving it out of your purse. Triclosan, a chemical commonly used in hand sanitizers, has been linked to increasing your risk of obesity and affecting your thyroid. Your best bet is washing your hands the old-fashioned way: soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ignoring the Weight Rack

Woman weight lifting

Hitting the treadmill and elliptical is a great way to boost your heart health, but visiting the weight rack every so often may provide even better benefits. According to the American Heart Association, strength training increases tendon and ligament strength, builds fat-burning muscle mass, and improves quality of life. Not too keen on going alone? Here's a solid reason to find a gym buddy: People exercise for an average of 34 minutes longer with a friend than they do when they hit the gym alone, a study in the American College of Sports Medicine reveals.

Using Plastic Water Bottles

Woman drinking water

Staying hydrated keeps your skin glowing and fights fatigue, but your efforts at chugging the eight recommended cups a day won't do your body good if you're guzzling from plastic bottles. Many plastic water bottles contain Bisphenol A, or BPA, which has been linked to obesity and decreasing fertility in men and women. A study in the Clinical and Experimental Reproductive Medicine proved that the industrial chemical induced early puberty in females, sperm reduction, obesity, and increased rates of reproductive cancers, while a Harvard study found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and a higher risk of becoming obese. Rather than refilling your Fiji water bottle, go for a reusable plastic-free, stainless steel jug.

Rushing to Finish a Meal

Eating fast food

Even if you're short on time, powering through your supper isn't going to help you stay satiated. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that participants who took their time eating consumed 66 fewer calories per meal than their fast-eating counterparts and felt fuller after putting their forks down. Since it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that your body is full, make sure to take your time and eat mindfully to avoid overeating and gaining dreaded pounds.

Serving Dinner Buffet-Style

Pot luck dinner

It might save you from extra dishwashing and make an indelible impression on your dinner guests, but serving supper buffet-style isn't helping anybody in the long run. A study in the journal Obesity found that when food is served from the dinner table, folks gorge on 35 percent more grub during the meal. If digging into second helpings requires leaving the table, people are more likely to rethink the decision and abstain as opposed to when an array of food is served at arm's length.

Packing Your Breakfast With Fiber

Cereal and banana

"Eating large amounts of fiber in the morning will make you gassy," celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN warns us. "Yes, fiber is important, but don't overdose on it. A large amount at one sitting will make you very bloated and gassy by mid-morning. [Make sure to] drink a lot of water when you eat fiber to move it through the digestive tract. Otherwise, it can get stuck!"

Relying on Leftovers

Leftover pizza

Is storing leftover pizza slices in your freezer is the closest you'll get to meal prepping this week? "Don't do it!" DeFazio says. "Think about how you will feel all day! The fat and salt from the pizza and sugar from the cake are recipes for bloating, fatigue, and blood sugar ups and downs." Instead, devote just a few hours on the weekends to prepping healthy entrees for the rest of your week. For breakfast, try one of these 12 Easy, Healthy Breakfast Meal Prep Ideas.

Starting Your Day With Coffee

Iced coffee

Many of us are guilty of brewing a cup of coffee right after rising and shining. And since a cup of java helps boost your metabolism, it seems like a smart choice, right? Not quite. While your cup of Joe may help you banish brain fog and prep you for the day ahead, you're better off chugging two cups of water first. A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that participants who drank about 17 ounces of water experienced a 30-percent increase in their metabolic rate! Make it a habit to pour a cup of coffee after you've guzzled down H2O to keep your fat-burning furnace and waistline in check.

Eat This! Tip

Consider waiting to get your caffeine buzz until after 9 a.m. Because your cortisol levels naturally rise in the morning after you wake and peak between the hours of 8 and 9 a.m., having a cuppa before or during this time may result in increased stress and its stimulating effects won't be as effective, according to Inc.

You Buy Diet Soda

Woman drinking diet coke
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

Just because diet sodas contain zero sugar, it shouldn't give you the green light to start sipping. Researchers in San Antonio found that elderly people who drank two or more diet sodas daily saw their waistlines increase five times faster than those who didn't drink the stuff. Chalk it up to the artificial sweeteners manufacturers spike diet drinks with. A review in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and stevioside may be associated with weight gain and cardiometabolic risk if consumed regularly.

Eating 'Whole-Grain' Cereal

Fiber bran cereal

"'Whole grains' is a marketing term and can loosely be applied to foods if they contain some amount of whole grains," Hayim warns. "Most often, though, the food may contain whole grains, but in addition to regular wheat, or white flour. These foods also have to maintain a long shelf life, so are pumped with preservatives, sodium, and artificial flavors and lack many of the needed vitamins and minerals."

You Avoid Healthy Fats

Avocado salmon nuts spoon

Sure, dietary fats are more caloric than carbohydrates and protein per gram, but that doesn't mean you should avoid them altogether in the sake of shedding some inches. Healthy fats such as avocado, salmon, herring, nuts, and seeds aid us in absorbing many of the vitamins from our diets (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), help us stay satiated, and slash our risk of heart disease. Just make sure you're avoiding saturated and trans fats and sticking to these 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin.

April Benshosan
April is a born-and-raised Brooklynite who has a passion for all things health, wellness, and tastebud-related. Read more about April