37 “Healthy” Things You Have Permission to Stop Doing Right Now
The news that flossing is not essential for dental hygiene took many of us by surprise, but that’s not the only health habit that may not be helpful.
Eating egg-white only omelets
“Many years ago we would advise patients to eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet to reduce their risk of coronary heart disease. This theory has now been disproven. Now the research shows that a Mediterranean diet, complete with extra-virgin olive oil and nuts is associated with a reduced risk of major cardiovascular events. I now tell patients not to worry about avoiding cholesterol, and to eat plenty of healthy fats. Today the real danger to heart health is added sugars, especially those in sweetened beverages such as soda.” —Andrew D. Atiemo, MD, an interventional cardiologist in Flagstaff, Arizona. These “healthy” foods actually aren’t that good for you.
Chewing a calcium supplement every morning
“Recent studies suggest that calcium supplements may be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). A recent analysis performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears to be protective, taking calcium in the form of supplements may be associated with increased risk of plaque buildup in the arteries. Bottom line: Eat calcium-rich foods such as dairy products and leafy greens, and skip the pills.” —Andrew D. Atiemo, MD
Weighing yourself every day
“Too many people judge their health by the number on the scale, but muscle is more compact than fat, so it takes up less space in your body. That’s why when you exercise, the scale may not budge, but your clothes fit better. Muscle burns more calories than fat. People who are muscular typically have a high basal metabolic rate, which means they burn a significant number of calories, even when resting. So don’t be a slave to the scale. It’s what that pound consists of that matters.” —Anthony Musemici, certified personal trainer, master spin instructor and co-owner of CrossFit Bridge and Tunnel in New York City. These healthy foods are way more nutritious than you thought.
Getting the nasal spray flu vaccine
“In years past, nasal spray flu vaccines have been available along with the injection form of the vaccine. The nasal spray form is very appealing to many because it’s quick, easy, and there’s no needle. Now, however, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that this nasal spray vaccine not be used during the 2016–2017 season due to concerns about ineffectiveness. Get the flu vaccine still just stick with the shot instead of the spray.” —Jennifer Caudle, DO, family physician, assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine
Worrying about your blood pressure
“Years ago when I was in medical school and residency, the goal blood pressure was often 120/80. Now guidelines are a little more relaxed. According to the Eighth Joint National Committee, the general population should be treated only when blood pressure is 150/90 or higher in adults 60 or older, or 140/90 or higher in adults younger than 60 years. For people with specific medical conditions like diabetes, the blood pressure goals might be different. Bottom line: You might not need blood pressure medications, so talk to your doctor.” —Jennifer Caudle, DO. Nutritionists never eat these foods, so you shouldn’t either.
Buying fancy shampoos
“Shampoo is designed to clean the hair and scalp of sweat, oils, environmental dirt, and dead skin cells from the superficial dermal layers—that’s it. There are many fraudulent products on the market that claim to thicken or regrow hair but there is simply no shampoo that can actually do that. Save your money.” —Ken L. Williams Jr., DO, FISHRS, surgeon and founder of Orange County Hair Restoration in Irvine, California
Trimming your hair every six weeks
“Many women trim their hair regularly in hopes it will help it grow faster, but there is no science to support that haircuts lead to faster growth.” —Ken L. Williams Jr., DO
Washing your hair every day
“Unless you have abnormally oily hair, most people need to wash their hair only two to five times a week at the most. Washing it more often than necessary won’t make it more clean, nor will it help it grow faster. Over shampooing can result in a flaking of the scalp, and intense itching. A dry scalp is not healthy and is susceptible to skin and scalp disorders such as seborrheic dermatitis or folliculitis.” —Ken L. Williams Jr., DO. These healthy snacks will curb your cravings and still help you lose weight.
Forcing yourself to sit up straight
“Your mom wasn’t totally wrong—hunching can certainly be bad for your back. But the opposite is true too. Sitting up straight for too long without a break can also cause strain. If you work in an office setting, make sure your chair is at a height where your knees are at a 90 degree angle, your feet can rest flat on the floor, and you have proper lower back support. Make sure to stand up, stretch, and take a quick walk several times a day to keep from getting stiff or causing injury.” —Neel Anand, MD, clinical professor of surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles
Sleeping on a firm mattress
“People have been told that sleeping on a firm mattress can prevent or reduce back pain but in reality you can experience greater pain if the mattress is too firm because it puts more pressure on heavy points like the hips and shoulders. Conversely, a mattress that is too soft could lack the support necessary to allow proper movement. In both cases, the person wakes up stiff and in pain. Studies show that a medium-firm mattress offers an ideal amount of support to help prevent further injury.” —Neel Anand, MD
Popping aspirin like candy
“As a neurologist and pain management specialist, I am seeing an alarming trend among people who think that buying and taking a variety of over-the-counter pain relievers is a safe and effective way to alleviate pain faster. For many, the thought is that if one pill helps a little, two must surely help a little more, and maybe three will help even more than that. This thought process, though well-intentioned, can quickly turn dangerous. The pills may not be prescription, but they’re still serious medication.” —Vernon Williams, MD, neurologist and director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. Stop believing these food myths that are wildly untrue.
Getting an annual pelvic exam
“There are new recommendations for women getting their yearly pelvic exams. Recent studies are showing the yearly pelvic exams are not necessary unless you are experiencing problematic symptoms. It’s thought that yearly pelvic exams do not decrease a woman’s chance of developing illnesses such as ovarian cancer or of dying prematurely. But while you might not need the pelvic exam every year, it can still be helpful to visit your doctor yearly so you can discuss issues like family planning, pain with intercourse, depression, and any domestic abuse.” —Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California
Forcing your children to eat their veggies
“Healthy eating should be encouraged, but being too restrictive about food choices and having strict food rules can create new problems. Labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may make children fear they’re ‘bad’ if they eat a ‘bad’ food. We don’t have to forbid the treats and candy but we do have to teach our children moderation. We don’t want to be the food police. Being the food police can cause picky eaters to be pickier or cause children as they get older to seek out forbidden foods.” —Christine Wood, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and USANA Spokesperson
Having your period
“Many women think they need to take a ‘break’ from birth control pills every year to let their menstrual cycle occur naturally. But there is no need to come off birth control unless you want to get pregnant. Your body does not get used to the pill. Also, there is no need to wait to get pregnant after stopping the pill.” —Sarah Yamaguchi, MD, ob-gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, California
Foam rolling after your workout
“Gym goers can finally put away the foam rollers. Research has shown that a muscle doesn’t permanently change in length or move in an increased range of motion just by simply pushing against the outside muscle tissue(s) of a limb. Foam rolling has been trendy for years but now the science shows a lack of long-term value. If you want more range and less stiffness, focus on moving and training each joint along its intended pathway through controlled motion.” —Mike Clancy, BS, exercise science researcher and owner of MikeClancyTraining in New York City. Doctors need you to stop doing these unhealthy habits right now.
Taking a daily multivitamin
“People in the United States spend about $6 billion per year on vitamins. Virtually all of that money is wasted, since there’s growing evidence that these additions to our diet not only are not effective in preventing chronic disease, but that they may be harmful if taken in large doses. The best source of vitamins and other nutrients should be foods, which contain trace elements and fiber that supplements don’t have, so try to maintain a healthy diet and eat your fruits, vegetables, and dairy products rather than taking supplements.” —Steven J. Hausman, PhD, former research scientist for the National Institutes of Health and president of Hausman Technology Presentations
Popping antacids after every meal
“Just because you have acid reflux, or heartburn, does not always mean you have high stomach acid. It’s more common than people think to have low stomach acid, which contributes to an issue with your lower esophageal sphincter. Antacid medications may relieve the symptom but do not address the problem, and can cause a host of serious side effects, including an increased risk of heart attack, chronic kidney disease, infections, bone fractures, dementia, and a reduced absorption of vitamins and minerals. However, if you are on a PPI (proton pump inhibitor), only go off that medication under the supervision of your doctor.” Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, board-certified in holistic nutrition and owner of TruFoods Nutrition Services, LLC
Eating a low-fat diet
“We need fat. Dietary fats are essential for cell growth and for energy. We also need fat to absorb fat-soluble nutrients found in healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. And eating fat won’t make you fat either. Research shows that people had more success on a high fat/low carb diet even when they took in more calories than people in the low-fat group.” —Karen Brennan (These are signs you need to eat more good fat.)
Choosing the sugar-free dessert or drink
“Sugar-free products aren’t usually better for you. When manufacturers take out the sugar, it’s often replaced with artificial sweeteners, which could be worse for you than the actual sugar!” —Jolene Goring, board-certified nutritionist
Going full bore into a new diet or exercise routine
“Too many of us convince ourselves that we have to adopt certain practices 100 percent of the time in order to be healthy. This all-or-nothing thinking leads people to give up before they even start, thinking if they can’t eat a totally clean diet or exercise for two hours a day every day then there’s no point in starting. In reality, the most effective way to achieve any goal is to break it down into small, simple parts, and knock them out one at a time. For example, instead of saying you’ll never eat sugar again, start by making a goal to eat vegetables with every meal. Once you do that consistently, add a new goal.” —Victor Adam, certified personal trainer and owner of Axiom Health and Fitness
Running on a treadmill
“Doing endurance cardio, like running or cycling, for long periods of time is one of the most common ways people try to lose weight. The only problem is that it doesn’t really work because at that mid level of intensity, you aren’t burning that many calories overall. Instead, try mixing high-intensity intervals into your workouts. They burn more calories and increase your metabolism more than steady-state cardio. Bonus: The extra calorie burn lasts up to two days after an interval workout.” —Victor Adam
“The concept that weight management is based solely on calories in vs. calories out is outdated because it implies that the quality of calories eaten doesn’t matter, simply the amount does. But the research is starting to show otherwise. While a deficit of calories is certainly needed for weight loss, it is only one part of the equation. There are a variety of qualitative aspects to food that determine how full and satisfied we get from a meal as well as how we metabolize these calories.” —Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, Rachel Begun Food and Nutrition Solutions, LLC
Drinking pricey green juices
“Juicing has an undeserved health halo. Sure, you can drink your vitamins and minerals but you also get a lot of sugar. The worst aspect of juicing is that it strips fruits and vegetables of their fiber, which mediates blood sugar response, contributes to satiety, and promotes bowel regularity. Just eat the produce.” —Emily Braaten, MS, a registered dietitian practicing in Washington, DC
Hiding veggies in your kids’ mac-n-cheese
“Hiding healthy foods in a kid’s favorite foods may be adding some nutrients into their diet, but it’s not teaching them anything. In their mind they still don’t like ‘healthy’ foods, so hiding food does not help to create healthy habits or help attune taste buds to healthier fare. Even worse, hiding foods can create trust issues and make an already picky eater limit his choices even further.” —Stephanie Merchant, CHHP, author of The Nutrition Mom
Making your child lunch every day
“Making lunch every day for kids might make parents feel like they are creating well-balanced, healthy meals. However, we don’t really know what might be getting thrown away in the school lunchroom. Our goal as parents should be to provide healthy choices and teach kids how to pack well balanced meals, giving them that power. Children are much more likely to eat what they’ve packed themselves, and will begin to learn life skills from lunch packing.” —Stephanie Merchant. This is how you can quit these 10 really bad habits.
Worrying about your BMI
“BMI (body mass index) is an outdated ways to measure someone’s health, creating confusion and even misrepresentation of one’s body composition. When determining BMI, the only factors that are taken into consideration are height and weight, and completely excludes bone density and muscle mass. This means a muscled bodybuilder could easily end up in the overweight/obese category according to the BMI table. It can not only lead to unnecessary weight loss attempts, but it can create unrealistic expectations of overall body composition.” —Jessica Cifelli, MS, personal trainer and master instructor in exercise science
Sending back the bread basket
“With the trendy diets of the past two decades, people have feared everything from fat to protein to carbohydrates. But each one of these macronutrients is essential to our overall health. More recently, the push to limit carbohydrate consumption has left many people hungry, tired, and emotional, without much of a change to their body composition. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has suggested a minimum intake of 130 grams of carbohydrates daily to meet daily energy demands.” —Jessica Cifelli (Don’t believe these myths about low-carb diets.)
Washing your face twice a day
“This is standard skin care advice, but it doesn’t work for everyone. If you have very oily skin, then yes, you should definitely wash your face twice a day. If you have dry skin, however, washing your face twice daily will likely dry your face out even more. People should keep in mind that there is such thing as over-washing your face, and twice a day isn’t the magic number for everyone. The one time you should definitely wash it, however, is after a workout.” —Alan J. Parks, MD, dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse
Using antibacterial soap
“Using antibacterial soaps is outdated advice and can even be harmful. Health problems caused by viruses are common, and antibacterial soap does not do anything to prevent from viruses causing harm. Additionally, using antibacterial soap can increase the risk of resistance to bacteria resulting from two ingredients in those types of soap. The best way to clean your hands is with regular soap and water, making sure to clean in between your fingers.” —Rob Danoff, DO, an osteopathic family physician and program director of the Family Practice/Emergency Medicine Residency programs at Aria Health System in Philadelphia
Stretching before your run
“Static stretching before exercise was once thought to be important for preventing injury and increasing performance. However, new research has not proven it to decrease injury, and it may actually decrease muscle force. Dynamic stretching is a good alternative used to loosen the body before exercise.” —Naresh C. Rao, DO, a sports medicine specialist at Sports Medicine at Chelsea and the head physician for the USA Men’s Water Polo Team
Drinking diet soda
“Artificial sweeteners are a terrible idea. Using synthetic, lab-made chemicals to add sweetness to your food should be avoided, especially if you’re trying to lose fat. Instead, just drink water or use very minimal amounts of natural sweeteners like dried dates, honey, or maple syrup, or choose foods that are naturally sweet in small amounts, like fruit.” —Diane Sanfilippo, certified nutrition consultant and author of Practical Paleo
Chewing gum to avoid snacking
“The action of chewing sends a signal to our bodies that food is coming and time to ramp up digestive function to prepare. But if you’re not delivering calories through food after you start chewing, you’re sending mixed signals to your body. Try not to chew on anything between meals but rather, sip on lemon water or sparkling spa water with mint and cucumber, and chew again at your next meal.” —Diane Sanfilippo
“There is the idea that to rid the body of toxins you must avoid solid food and only drink juices, but this couldn’t be more wrong. The body detoxifies naturally via the liver, and our liver needs very specific nutrition to support detox processes. Choline and B vitamins are some of the nutrients our liver needs to complete detox phases, and those can be found abundantly in foods like egg yolks and animal proteins. Many people rely on green juices to help support detox, which isn’t a bad idea, but they shouldn’t be consumed in the absence of real, whole foods. The best way to drink them would be alongside high-quality protein sources.” —Diane Sanfilippo
Going on a diet
“The diet mentality may lead to weight loss in the short term but in the long run, it creates deprived eating habits that can end in rebound weight gain in excess of one’s original weight. When we restrict our food, we glorify it, making us want to eat more of it. When we diet, we also learn to ignore our hunger and satiety cues which confuses our system and messes up our metabolism.” —Julie Rothenberg MS, a registered dietitian practicing at JuliENERGYnutrition in Florida
Drinking eight glasses of water a day
“The old advice to drink eight glasses of water a day is not necessary for one to maintain adequate hydration status. The water intake needed to meet the physiological demands of the body will vary for every individual and depend on factors such as the type of diet you adhere to, your level of physical activity, your size, the weather, and even the current status of your health. Instead of worrying about a number, listen to your body. Our bodies will usually give us signs indicating when we need to drink more. Do not force yourself to drink more than is actually required for you. Drinking an excessive amount of water comes with its own risks, as it may contribute to electrolyte abnormalities such as hyponatremia.” —Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, MS, attending physician in internal medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center
Pooping every day
“Too many people think they need to have a bowel movement every day, but this is potentially harmful advice. It isn’t accurate for every patient and could lead to the overuse and abuse of laxatives. True, there are some people who will have a bowel movement each day, but everyone is a little different. What’s normal for one person is not normal for another. I tell my patients it’s more important to know what’s normal for your body and only worry if it changes significantly.” —Cedrek McFadden, MD, a clinical assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Carolina Greenville and colorectal surgeon at the Greenville Health System
Using moist toilet wipes
“Moist toilet wipes (basically baby wipes for grown ups) are relatively new, and you may think they help you get cleaner after using the toilet, but not only do they not work better—they could be hurting you. Over time, these products can lead to perianal itching, irritation, and perhaps even skin breakdown.” —Cedrek McFadden. Watch out for these healthy habits that you may not realize you’re overdoing.