5 Unexpected Health Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Photographed by Winnie Au.
This article was originally published on June 24, 2015.

Let's say you're rushing through Duane Reade to grab a quick snack before your workout. Do you go with the protein bar with the super-fit-looking lady on it? Or do you stick with the boring one with
just the name?

Or, another example: Do you drink your coffee while you get ready for work? Or do you grab it on the way?

These kinds of routine choices are made in an instant. And yes, they may seem totally inconsequential. But the truth is, your answers to these questions can affect your health a lot more than you might realize.

Here are a few seemingly small daily decisions — and how they can make or break your routine.
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Photographed by Winnie Au.
1. Don't be fooled by "fit foods."
We weren't joking about the packaging. A recent study found that participants who were given a trail-mix-type snack with the word "fitness" on it ended up eating more than those who ate the same food with just "trail mix" on it. And, those in the "fitness" group ended up putting in less effort in a workout later on.

The idea is that we see fitness-y words (or an image of a running shoe) and subconsciously feel like we've already done some work — and have chosen the healthier option. Or, we believe the product somehow complements the little work we've actually done. But, we're usually not aware of the changes this might cause in our behavior later on. Instead of falling for fitness-themed packaging, be on the lookout for truly healthy fuel choices, pre- and post-workout.
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Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
2. Delay having your morning coffee.
Those of us who rely on our morning cup of coffee to get us through the rest of the day tend to grab it as soon as possible after waking up. But, to get the biggest energy boost possible, we might want to adjust that a little bit. By waiting an hour after we wake up to chug our coffee, we'll be piggybacking on the body's release of cortisol, which naturally makes us feel more alert. Otherwise, the caffeine could actually block cortisol's effects, making those early-morning Starbucks runs less effective. (Honestly, though, if you're shelling out for those premium frapps, you might as well get the biggest boost for your buck.)
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
3. Clock out at night.
By now, we all know at least a few of the things we're supposed to be doing to get a good night's sleep. (Whether or not we actually do them is another story). But, Joyce Walsleben, PhD, of New York University's Sleep Disorders Center, told us there's one easy and powerful trick that's often overlooked: Get rid of anything that reminds you of the passage of time. This includes clocks, of course, but also means you should try to cover up any blinking DVR lights that will hint at just how late it is — and how long you've spent trying to fall asleep.
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Photographed by Alexandra R Gavillet.
4. Break out of the anxiety cycle.
Everyone deals with anxiety at some point in life. But, the ways we usually try to beat that anxiety can end up making us more — you guessed it — anxious. For instance, we might fall into the trap of hesitancy, waiting until we're absolutely 100% certain something is going to be a success before we go for it. In that case, we'll probably leave everything until the last minute or just give up on the idea altogether.

But, as Alice Boyes, PhD told us before, we can break out of that cycle. If you find yourself responding to stress by being hesitant, Boyes suggests learning to interpret that "uncertainty cue" differently. You can start by taking the time to think through your anxiety in that moment. Understand that it's not a sign that you need to freak out; it's just a sign that you're doing something new. Once you realize this is your pattern, it'll be easier to recognize when you're spending too much mental energy on it.
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Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux.
5. Keep "good" bacteria in mind.
Talk about bacteria, and almost everyone's initial response is something along the lines of "ew." But not all bacteria are harmful. So rather than stressing about the baddies, take some time to think about the good guys.

We now know more than ever about the way our guts and brains talk to each other. And, research indicates that our guts may be more in control than we realize. For instance, a recent study suggested that people who eat more fermented foods may also show fewer symptoms of social anxiety. This builds on previous work linking probiotic supplements to lessened symptoms of depression.

Of course, not all probiotic regimens are created equally, and you should only seek out one that makes sense for your individual needs. Although we can all respond to different things in different ways, experts generally advise us to stock up on brightly colored veggies, leafy greens, and those anxiety-reducing fermented foods rather than supplements. And, they suggest keeping fried and highly processed foods to a minimum. But, whatever you choose, the key is paying attention to how it makes you feel.