Would you consider yourself to be “extremely” or “very” healthy? According to a new poll from the NPD Group, 80 percent of Americans do. The results have researchers a bit concerned since three-quarters of adults qualify as overweight or obese, and just 20 percent eat a healthy diet, based on the optimal guidelines. Interestingly, 44 percent say they have made changes in the past six months to improve their diets, with a focus on more protein, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids, but only 21 percent say they’re on a diet, down from 24 percent in 2004.
If you regularly read my blog, you know I’m not of fan of “dieting” in the traditional sense because I believe that nutrition and weight management are all about putting smart strategies into action rather than counting calories or employing deprivation. So I’m OK with fewer people reportedly dieting. But like other health professionals, I have concerns that overestimating health status may lead to not taking actions that have the potential to significantly slash health risks. For example, in my private practice I often see clients who come to me to lose weight, but when we start discussing their health, they realize that there’s a difference between not being sick right now and being truly healthy. In addition, many don’t realize just how unhealthy they feel until after they’ve made consistent lifestyle changes that result in a surge in energy, stronger immunity, better digestive health, more level moods, and improved sleep quality.
I've also noticed that many of my clients think they eat healthier than they actually do. I’ve had clients say, “I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables,” only to discover that they’re short of the recommended minimums nearly every day. Others believe they make healthy choices when dining out, but after keeping a food diary they realize that while they’re not ordering bacon cheeseburgers, their restaurant meals are out of balance, lacking enough veggies or whole grains and containing too much fat.
Weight aside, here are 13 questions to ask yourself to better assess your health:
- Do you eat two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables every day? (One serving of fresh produce is one cup, about the size of a baseball.)
- Do your meals include only 100% whole grains (e.g. brown or wild rice, quinoa, barley, whole oats, 100% whole grain versions of bread, pasta, cereal and crackers, etc.) rather than refined versions?
- If you’re an omnivore, do you eat seafood two to three times a week and bean-based meals five times a week? And if you’re vegan, do each of your meals contain an all-natural protein source?
- Do you choose plant-based fats (such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and nut butters) rather than animal-based or man-made fats (such as butter, cream cheese, margarine, or shortening)?
- Do you season meals with herbs and spices such as basil, garlic, rosemary, ginger, cinnamon, and mint in place of excess salt and sugar?
- Do you avoid regular and diet soda and drink roughly 8 cups of water daily?
- Do you eat breakfast each day and eat your remaining meals no more than five hours apart?
- Do you limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman or two if you’re a man? (One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of 80 -proof distilled spirits—and nope, none during the week and several drinks on the weekend doesn’t count as a yes!)
- After each meal, do you feel full but not stuffed, satisfied, and energized both mentally and physically for the next 3 to 5 hours?
- Are you aware of emotional or social eating triggers, and do you have healthy alternative ways to cope?
- Do you feel as if you have a healthy relationship with food and eat in a way that consistently makes you feel well physically and emotionally?
- Do you fall asleep easily, sleep soundly, and awake feeling refreshed?
- Do you engage in at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity five days a week?
The goal isn’t to be perfect, but rather to have a clear understanding of where you stand, including what’s going well and what you could be working to improve, even if it’s just one step at a time. If you answered no to many of these questions, what obstacles hold you back? Or are you confused about what’s healthy? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.