7 Ways you’re sabotaging your health

Jul 5, 2010 at 5:24 p.m. ET

You’ve got the best intentions to eat right, exercise and maintain a healthy weight, but no matter how hard you try, you feel run down and, worse, you haven’t seen the results you feel your health and fitness efforts deserve. What gives? Before you ditch your desires to stay healthy and fit, make sure you aren’t falling victim to these seven daily habits that can sabotage your health.

Woman drinking coffee

1. Setting health and fitness goals

If you have a laid-back Type B personality, setting health and fitness goals can be the perfect kick in the pants to adhere to a diet and exercise program. If you rule your life with perfectionist thinking, however, setting goals can actually set you up for failure. For example, if you set the unrealistic (and potentially harmful) standard that you must do 75 minutes of intense cardio every day and lose 20 pounds in two weeks, you will either 1) end up injured or ill due to the undue rigors you're forcing on your body, or 2) you will abandon ship when you can't get through day four of your workout and the scale doesn't change. Get together with a personal trainer and/or sports nutritionist who can help you set more realistic goals.

2. Trying to lose weight

If you are overweight, "losing a few" will not only reduce your risk of chronic weight-related disease, it will also make you feel and look better. Yet, if you take your waist-whittling desires to the extreme, you can end up duly sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. Following calorie-restrictive or fad diets puts you at risk for nutrient deficiencies (if you are able to actually stick to these diets long-term), increases the likelihood of binge eating and counters any progress you happen to make on these unrealistic diets. At worse, if you begin to obsess about losing weight by restricting your food intake, you can develop eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, and thwart your chances of developing a healthy body image and attitude toward food. To successfully lose weight and keep it off, start with small dietary changes, such as cutting out soft drinks and eating fruit in place of dessert, and gradually incorporate more physical activity into your lifestyle.

3. Exercising every day

Whether you are a competitive athlete or just a fitness enthusiast, exercise is an established part of your life. If your performance is faltering or your fitness level is degrading, however, you may be overtraining. Getting that daily endorphin rush is certainly important for your mental and physical health, but overloading your body without taking sufficient rest days can actually do more harm than good. More is not necessarily better when it comes to fitness. Too much exercise can increase your risk of injury and illness (it impairs the immune system), insomnia and mood disorders, chronic pain in muscles and joints, headaches, appetite disorders and utter lack of energy. Schedule a rest day into your weekly workout plan, prioritize cross-training with your exercise activities, and vary the intensity of your weekly workouts. You'll actually find you feel better, perform better and look better when you aren't overtraining.

4. Sipping that nightly glass of red wine

Despite the evidence that a glass of wine every night can reduce the risk of heart disease, alcohol isn't healthy for everyone. If you are pregnant, drinking can harm your fetus. Even modest consumption of alcohol can increase your chances of cancer. Wine can worsen the syptoms of heartburn and rosacea. The extra calories from wine may also hinder your ability to lose weight. Sure, wine may help your heart, but the American Heart Association actually recommends diet and exercise as primary ways to protect heart health and to not rely on alcohol in any form to ward off heart disease. Your best bet is to talk to your doctor to see if drinking wine on a regular basis is right for you. Instead of drinking wine, have a glass of grape juice, watch your diet, and exercise.

5. Drinking coffee

Too much of a good thing is, well, too much. Though research has shown modest consumption (no more than three cups per day) of coffee can ward off Alzheimer's and diabetes as well as boost your mental and physical performance, consuming excess amounts of caffeine can put you into a tailspin. Megadoses of caffeine can cause upset stomach, insomnia, nervousness, headaches, caffeine dependence, dehydration and bone loss, particularly for women past menopause. In addition, those afternoon specialty coffee drinks may put you at risk for tipping the scales. For example, the venti white chocolate frappuccino with whipped cream at Starbucks tops out at a whopping 760 calories, 105 grams sugar, and 21 grams fat (more than half of which is saturated). Stick to three cups or less of coffee per day. To keep your gourmet coffee calories in check, read the nutrition information on your favorite coffee bar orders and opt for the drinks with the least calories, fat and sugars.

6. Taking supplements

Think your daily multivitamin megadose is going to make up for your poor diet and lack of exercise? Think again. Popping a pill doesn't compensate for an unhealthy lifestyle. That doesn't mean, however, that supplements aren't good for you. Your first priority should be to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress. If you have these components in place, a multivitamin can take up the slack. Supplements won't miraculously turn you into a superwoman, but they can augment an already healthy lifestyle. And keep in mind, taking supplements without following a healthy lifestyle is simply a waste of money.

7. Seeing the doctor

Sorry to disappoint you, but this isn't a free pass to avoid your doctor at all costs. This is your cue to think about your current schedule of doctor's visits. Do you wait until you're sick to make an appointment? If so, you're putting yourself at risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, that often don't have serious symptoms. Even though annual exams are uncomfortable, require time out of your busy schedule, and, in some cases, run up costs, seeing your doctor can save your life. Your doctor can detect disease in their early stages, when they're most successfully treated, and she can alert you to your risk factors and give you the best recommendations for preventing disease. As you get older, regular doctor visits become even more crucial to your health. If it's been a while since you've had an annual exam, get on the phone and make an appointment today.

You can save your health or sabotage it. It's up to you.