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The Worst Health Habits to Ditch ASAP

Curb bad habits. Photo: ThinkStock

Do you bite your nails? Are you a no-SPF beach bum addicted to the midday sun? Or, (eek!) are you a smoker trying to shake the nicotine monkey off your back? Let us help you say goodbye forever to these 14 common bad health habits.

How to Break Bad Habits For Good

Nail biting

Why you have to stop: Biting your nails makes for ugly hands and over time can interfere with normal nail growth, damage the outer layer of your teeth, and cause nail deformities such as split nails. Harmful bacteria such as staphylococcus also live underneath nails -- and you don't want to chew on that.

Your short-term action plan: Go for a professional manicure once every 2 or 3 weeks, suggests Angelica Kaner, PhD, a clinical professor at Yale University Medical School, because when your nails look pretty, you'll be less likely to snack on them -- especially after you've spent $25-plus to make them beautiful. Or try a product such as MAVALA Stop for Nail Biting and Thumb Sucking, which makes nails and cuticles taste terrible. At the very least, keep your nails trimmed short -- you'll have less to bite, and that harmful bacteria has less space to grow.

Your long-term action plan: Nail biting is a common nervous habit that is often an expression of some deeper anxiety. "Ask yourself why you're feeling anxious," Dr. Kaner says. If you can't figure it out on your own, consider getting professional help. Because exploratory therapy can take some time, Dr. Kaner suggests substituting a new, healthy behavior, such as keeping healthy snacks on hand, such as apples or carrot sticks, to satisfy the need to crunch without destroying your nails. (Or give one of these 2-minute stress solutions a try.)

Lying to your doc

Why you have to stop: Doctors can sometimes work miracles, but they can't read minds. It may be embarrassing to discuss your body with someone you don't know well, but not telling your doctor the whole story can lead to misdiagnoses, inadequate testing, and even dangerous drug interactions, says Prevention advisor David Katz, MD. "Health treatment is based on a partnership: the doctor-patient dyad," Dr. Katz says. "Your care is only as good as this partnership."

Many patients even fib about how closely they're following their prescribed health care regimen. A study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examined patients' use of an inhaler that recorded each use -- 73% of patients said they used the inhaler three times a day, but only 15% actually did. And 14% even emptied their inhalers to make it look like they had been using them.

Your short-term action plan: Before your next appointment, make a list of: medications and supplements you take, visits you've made to alternative practitioners, alcohol or drug use or abuse, any unsafe sexual practices, moods and mental health details, sleep pattern, dietary pattern, and physical activity level. These details are crucial tools your doctor needs to assess your health, and writing them down ahead of time will help ensure that you don't forget anything. If you feel shy sharing details aloud, hand the list to your doctor. "Remember that your doctor works for you," Dr. Katz says. "You are not giving away your secrets; you are sharing them with someone who is duty bound to use them only for your good." (These seven so-called "healthy" habits might actually be causing more problems than they solve.)

Your long-term action plan: If you still feel yourself withholding information from your doctor, ask yourself why. Is it because you don't like her? If so, get a recommendation from friends or coworkers for a new doctor. Schedule a meet-and-greet appointment with potential candidates so you can get to know them. "Insurance isn't an issue when no services are rendered, but it is important to find out the doctor's policy on payment for this kind of conversation," says Susann Pisano of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade organization that represents health insurance companies.

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