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Prevention

The Worst Health Habits to Ditch ASAP

Emotional eating

Why you have to stop: Face it: When you eat because of stress, boredom, or depression, you're not reaching for the celery sticks -- you're much more likely to chow down on chips, cookies, and other unhealthy comfort foods. Frequently subjecting your body to that kind of fatty, sugary calorie rush can lead to obesity, a leading cause of heart disease and diabetes. "Obesity is more important than heavy drinking and smoking combined in terms of chronic disease," says Roger Gould, MD, an expert on emotional eating and author of Shrink Yourself.

Your short-term action plan: Gould suggests keeping a food journal (here's how to find a food journaling style that works for you.). Note what you eat, when and where you eat it, and why you're eating (Are you hungry? Bored? Do you need to relax?), and then rate your hunger before eating on a scale of 1 to 10. You'll probably notice a pattern -- are you inhaling a stale brownie at your desk after your weekly meeting with your nightmare of a boss? -- and can then start to combat the unhealthy responses to emotional stress with preventive measures, like calling a friend before reaching for the brownie.

Your long-term action plan: If you can't prevent the snacking, seek out a mental health professional. Emotional eating is "emotional hunger transformed into physical hunger," Dr. Gould says. In fact, a 2006 study found that obese people's desire to eat triggered the same brain action as addicts' desire for drugs -- that's a serious addiction, and you should not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. If you're not exactly bingeing but still having trouble kicking the habit, learn to replace snack attacks with stress-relieving activities, such as taking a walk or doing yoga.

Rarely flossing

Why you have to stop: Flossing helps prevent gum disease and keeps your teeth and gums looking good, but it may also stave off non-mouth-related diseases: A study in the journal Circulation showed that older adults with higher levels of four gum disease-causing bacteria in their mouths also tend to have thicker carotid arteries, which raise the risk of stroke and heart attack. Plus, people with gum disease have a 63% higher risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a study in the Journal of National Cancer Institute. That's scary business, because 90% of dentists say that most patients don't floss regularly.

Your short-term plan: Buy a floss-holding device to make the process easier and faster. In an Indiana University study, 50% of previous nonflossers were doing so regularly 6 months after introducing floss to their routine; 85% of the new flossers used a holding device -- only 15% preferred doing without the aid. (Check out the 25 Foods Dentists Won't Eat.)

Your long-term action plan: Incorporate flossing into your morning routine before or after brushing. "Think of it like taking a shower," says Steven R. Fox, DDS, in private practice in Manhattan. "It's something you should do every day."

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