The rules on what's healthy and what's not seem to change on a daily basis. (Example: We still can't figure out if coconut oil is better in your food or on your body.) But it goes without saying that binging on greasy takeout and the latest season of your favorite TV show night after night will never add up to a healthier, better you.
It turns out there are certain behaviors (like taking a break from the gym and even stressing out when you're on deadline at work) that may not be as bad as you think. Here are seven things that seem unhealthy — but are actually pretty good for you.
1. Having a glass (or two) of wine with dinner
When it comes to losing weight, you've likely heard that it's best to avoid the liquid calories found in alcohol. But a recent review of studies on the impact of alcohol on weight gain published in Current Obesity Reports found that frequent light to moderate alcohol intake — meaning at most two drinks a day for men and one for women — does not seem to be associated with obesity risk. However, binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks on an occasion) and heavy drinking (more than four drinks in a day for men, or more than three for women) were linked to an increased risk of obesity and a growing waistline. So go ahead and enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner — just don't overdo it. Drinking too much may lower your inhibition and cause you to polish off that pint of chocolate chip cookie dough.
2. Indulging in your favorite comfort foods
Whether you're trying to lose weight or not, you already know you shouldn't indulge in mac and cheese and bacon double cheeseburgers every day. However, "it's ok to enjoy comfort foods from time to time," says Rachel Beller, RDN, a nutritionist based in Los Angeles. In fact, if you deprive yourself of the foods you love, your efforts could backfire and lead to binge-eating down the road. The key to indulging your cravings, says Beller, is selecting comfort foods that yield a return on your health — think mashed potatoes made with clean ingredients or pizza made with whole grain crust. In other words, don't reach for a bag of Cheetos, which offers no nutritional value. "That would be counterproductive no matter what," notes Beller. If you do indulge in a meal that's not nutritionally stellar (hello, margaritas and nachos!), don't beat yourself up and slide into a junk food-filled abyss. Just pick up where you left off and make the next meal a healthy one.
3. Taking a break from your exercise routine
When you're trying to reach a health goal, it can be all too easy to fall into a must-work-out-every-day mindset. But the truth is, it's not a good idea to hit the gym on a daily basis. Many people don't realize that recovery is just as important as exercise, says certified personal trainer Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City. "When you work out, your body breaks down muscle tissue," he explains. "You then need to allow your body time to recover so it can re-build the muscle tissue and make it even stronger." Not allowing your body time to recover can lead to problems such as decreased performance, fatigue and injuries. The amount of recovery time your body needs varies (depending on your age and fitness goals), but Gary recommends, at the very least, one day of rest each week. "That means not exercising at all or doing something restorative like yoga or easy stretching," he says.
4. Nibbling on chocolate
It's ok to indulge your sweet tooth once in awhile. "Chocolate's main ingredient cacao contains a wealth of polyphenols — a powerful anti-inflammatory agent," says Beller. "In fact, it has twice the amount found in red wine, three times that of green tea, and four times more than black tea." According to Beller, cacao has a host of health benefits including lowering blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol, staving off diabetes (by reducing insulin resistance), and sharpening your mental function by promoting neuronal growth and blood flow to the brain. To enjoy chocolate the healthy way, try nibbling on a few squares of 70% or higher dark chocolate paired with strawberries or melted onto bananas, mix 2 tablespoons unsweetened pure cocoa powder into your coffee or a cup of warm milk or sprinkle cacao nibs on oatmeal or a smoothie bowl, suggests Beller.
5. Stressing out
Believe it or not, stress isn't always a bad thing. "Stress itself is not the enemy," says Leslie Connor, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in Wilmington, DE. "It can be an important signal or ally to us, as long as we know how to cope with it." In fact, moderate stress levels can improve performance, a phenomenon you may have experienced while working under a tight deadline. "Too little stress equals low performance — basically we aren't getting activated enough to put forward our best," says Connor. "But too much stress can also lead to low performance because it may cause you to freeze up. What leads to maximum performance then is moderate stress." In other words, you want to feel worked up enough to perform well, but not so crazed that you freeze up or panic.
6. Procrastinating (er, pondering)
"Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time," Charles Dickens once said. It's a wise sentiment that's often easier said than done. Indeed, 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators, says Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. But while everybody procrastinates, not everyone is a procrastinator, he notes. What does that mean? First, it's important to understand the definition of procrastinating. "Procrastination means actively putting something off," says Ferrari. "That's different from pausing or pondering, in which you're actively collecting information so you can move forward." So it's ok to not do a task immediately, as long as you're actually taking actions to prepare for it. The bottom line? Strive toward pondering, not procrastination.
7. Netflix and chilling
It turns out cozying up on the couch with your partner can actually improve your relationship. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that sharing media — like TV shows, books, and movies — with your partner can help you feel closer, especially if you're not part of the same social world. Previous research has shown that couples tend to feel more satisfied and committed to their relationship when both partners are part of the same social circle. So, if you're not hanging with the same friends on the regular, sharing "media experiences" can have a similar effect, says researchers. Our advice? Grab the remote and start snuggling.