It's no secret Americans as a whole make some poor health choices. It feels like an outdated notion, of course, because we spend our time researching and learning about feel-good exercise and self-care practices (with experts and science to back them up). As proof, a study published in BMJ Open suggests more than half of what Americans eat is ultra processed. "Hyper-processed foods are those that are formulations of several ingredients that, besides sugar, oil, salt, and fat, are not generally used in cooking,” says registered dietitian Rachel Berman, head of content for About.com Health.
Moreover, less than 3% of Americans meet the basic qualifications for a "healthy lifestyle," according to a 2016 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The bottom line is we need to do better. To understand exactly what that means, I reached out to Amy Lee, MD, who practices internal medicine in Los Angeles as chief medical officer of Lindora, with an emphasis on nutrition and weight management. As part of her mission to help her clients lead healthy, happy lives, she founded Nucific.com—a wellness blog and supplement company. Clearly, she knows her stuff. Keep reading to find out what mistakes she says you're probably making and how to resolve them quickly.
Forgetting about your toothbrush
Eating dessert and snacks after dinner can add as many as 1000 calories to your day—you know this. But this is one habit we all have a hard time breaking. So here's a tip: "Brush your teeth right after you eat your main course at dinner," suggests Lee. "This will help keep you from eating more for two reasons. First, your motivation to eat will go down once your mouth is clean. And second, that minty toothpaste will overpower your palate and make dessert far less appetizing." FYI: The Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush ($190) is a life-changer.
Focusing on what you SHOULDN'T do
"Focus on what you should do instead," recommends Lee. If you visualize eating that doughnut all day, you're going to be fantasizing about it a lot. "Focus your attention on eating something healthy instead," she continues. Prepare a salad; cook your own chicken and veggies—turn it into an event. It'll help curb temptation and change the way you interact with your food. "This is a simple trick, but it works wonders," says Lee.
Scheduling TOO much time to work out
"This plays into something called Parkinson's Law," Lee explains. "The more time you give yourself to complete a task, the bigger that task becomes. This applies directly to working out. You see," Lee continues, "when you give yourself a very limited time to work out, the task becomes smaller and more manageable."
Force yourself to pick out a few exercises, and do them to the best of your ability until the clock runs out. It'll also help you stick to it and better reach your goals. "Instead of giving yourself an hour to meander around at the gym, try 15 minutes of focused exercise. You'll begin to find yourself exercising more regularly because you've removed all your excuses. Plus, you'll feel less stressed out about exercising knowing you'll be done in 15 minutes," says Lee.
Eating snacks too quickly
Protein bars (which Lee mentions are basically glorified candy bars), granola bars, and crackers are all snacks you can go through too quickly. "The problem is," Lee explains, "these snacks are calorie dense, and you'll end up eating way too much too quickly.
Instead, choose snacks that take a bit more time to get through. "Pistachios and walnuts in the shell, whole oranges, artichoke leaves, boiled shrimp—they're more difficult to eat and therefore limit your consumption. You'll eat less, thus consuming fewer calories."
Making New Year's Resolutions
"Since only a small percentage of Americans actually stick with and achieve their New Year's goals, I beg my patients to avoid them at all costs. More often than not, they lead you to feel worse, not better, about yourself," Lee comments.
Rather than going for a previously unattainable goal, Lee suggests shorter-term goals are better. "I'm a big fan of making new month's resolutions. These monthly goals should be related to developing one easy healthy habit, such as committing to walking the dog every day for at least 10 minutes, drinking a full glass of water upon waking, or just committing to call someone who brings you joy every week for a month."
Now, read about the four foods that are making your memory worse.