Trying to strike a balance between healthy habits and guilty pleasures is an occasionally overwhelming struggle for most women. From staying on track with a healthy diet to exercising regularly, taking vitamins and probiotics, meditating and maintaining a fulfilling social life, you likely strive to keep your well-being efforts firing on all cylinders.
Sometimes, it feels like all you can focus on is avoiding obviously unhealthy behaviors, like eating excess sugar or drinking too many cups of coffee throughout the day. And those are just the basics. There are plenty of other bad habits women's health care providers want women to kick for the sake of their health.
BAD HABIT #1: Reserving Sunblock for Summer
You likely think of sunblock as a necessity for the beach or lounging poolside, especially in the summer, but skin experts wish women would take care of their skin no matter where they are, throughout the year.
There are about two to three million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) every year, and women under 45 years old are disproportionately affected, according to research published in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology.
"We are exposed to ultraviolet radiation every day, even if it's raining or cloudy," says Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., co-founder and president at Modern Dermatology of Connecticut. "UV radiation damages our DNA, which can lead to precancerous lesions and skin cancer. That's why it's so important to protect our skin every day."
BAD HABIT #2: Skipping Meals
Whether you find yourself distracted by work or caught up in a cascade of to-dos from school drop-off to errands, it's easy to let a meal fall by the wayside. But you're only hurting yourself in the long-run, says Alyssa Tucci, RDN, senior nutrition manager of Virtual Health Partners.
"So many of my female clients and friends skip meals, especially breakfast, in an attempt to 'save' calories," Tucci says. "But there is no such thing as saving calories. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, destabilizes your blood sugar, and this makes you more likely to choose less healthful foods and eat more than you need to at your next meal."
So you end up eating more calories than you would have if you'd just eaten that meal in the first place. And what more, over time, this eating pattern can slow your metabolism, says Tucci.
BAD HABIT #3: Cutting Out Carbs
With diets like Atkins, South Beach, keto and a bevy of others that encourage limited carbohydrates, many women think they'll do well to steer clear of the evil carbs. But nutritionists are concerned about the side effects for women. "Carbs are an important source of energy for your body, and especially for your brain," says Tucci. "You need at least 130 grams of carbohydrate per day to function properly."
She points out that the key is skipping refined carbs (like baked goods, bread, pasta, crackers, chips and rice) in favor of complex sources, like fruits, whole grains, beans and starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes, winter squash and peas), which provide satiating fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.
BAD HABIT #4: Sleeping With a Tampon In
If you're experiencing heavy flow, you may be tempted to use a tampon overnight. After all, it seems like a surefire way to keep leaking at bay. But risking leakage is preferable over the negative side effects of keeping a tampon in for that long.
"Women should stop sleeping overnight with a tampon in," says Ann Mullen, the director of health education at Cycle Technologies, a company that develops effective, low-cost contraception for women across the globe. "Tampons should only remain in for four to six hours. Longer than that, and they can start to mess with your vaginal flora. It's best to stick with pads for overnight."
BAD HABIT #5: Overdoing the Screen Time
Most women know they're spending far too much time on their computers, smartphones and other devices. But being so attached to these devices is affecting our whole bodies, says Elizabeth Trattner, doctor of Chinese and integrative medicine.
"I see an incredible amount of tight pectoral and sternocleidomastoid (chest and neck) muscles, along with backs and necks that are out of alignment, as a result of women keeping their heads dipped down for hours at at time," Dr. Trattner says.
If your device isn't at eye level, you could suffer from headaches, TMJ, eyestrain and neck and back pain. Plus, screens' artificial light alters neurochemicals in the brain, affecting sleep. The fix, according to Trattner: "Be more cognizant of proper posture and limit your screen time as much as possible."
BAD HABIT #6: Using Products Harmful to Your Vaginal pH
Battling a yeast or bacterial vaginosis (BV) infection can be a complete nuisance and especially frustrating when you feel like you've been doing your best to keep your lady parts clean. Unfortunately, not all products are compatible with the vagina's naturally acidic pH.
"A balanced pH will help prevent against infections like yeast by keeping the vaginal flora healthy and happy," says Suzie Welsh, a certified fertility nurse expert and founder of women's health company BINTO.
"When it comes to cleaning, ditch the fragrance and scented products and use vaginal pH stable products. Unscented, organic, phthalate-free soap and warm water is best. Stick to cleaning just the outside of the vagina — the labia — not the inside. The organ itself is self-cleaning!"
BAD HABIT #7: Consuming Endocrine Disruptors
A bottle of water or a seemingly healthy frozen dinner might seem like a wise choice, but these products often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can interfere with estrogens, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormones, says Marcela Magda Popa, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician.
Examples include phthalates, which are incorporated in food wrap; BPA (bisphenol A), which is in polycarbonate plastics (with recycling code #7) and epoxy resins that line food and drink cans; perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are in nonstick cookware, fast-food wrappers, paper plates, and cups; and aluminum, which is often used to wrap to-go foods, Dr. Popa says.
The fix: Be informed and careful about the products you buy and consume. "We have to get used reading all the ingredients listed on labels," Dr. Popa says.