The other day, a client was telling me about how she eats 'pretty healthy' but when I assessed her usual intake, I found that she rarely hits the recommended intake for fruits and veggies, eats mostly refined rather than whole grains, consumes high fat meats and dairy products daily and enjoys a sweet treat a few times a day. Her ‘nutritional blinders’ didn’t surprise me, because I think it’s human nature to think we’re doing a little better than we really are. However, staying in the dark can be a major problem.
In a recent Consumer Reports telephone survey nearly 90 percent of the respondents thought they were eating right and said that their diet was either somewhat (52.6 percent), very (31.5 percent), or extremely healthy (5.6 percent). But when they were asked about what they actually ate, far fewer were truly following a healthy diet. For instance, of the 1,234 people surveyed, only 30 percent said they eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
The trouble is, if you overestimate how healthfully you eat you may not be motivated to make improvements. That’s key, because just a few small changes can really snowball into big results in terms of both weight control and optimal health.
So if you think you might need a reality check, try this:
Keep a food diary for a few days, then "score" it. For example, in my book The Ultimate Diet Log, you can track your usual intake then assess how well you’re doing compared to the recommendations in more than a dozen categories, from veggies and whole grains to water, meal timing, sweets and overeating. The point isn't to feel overwhelmed by all the things you’re doing wrong, but rather to prioritize the top two or three issues you’d like to tackle, set some concrete goals (like eating two servings of fruit every day) and then pay attention to your progress. This type of strategic approach can help you go from unknowingly repeating less than healthy habits to developing optimal ones that become second nature.
Even just writing down what you’re eating, how much, when, where, and who you ate with can help you learn a whole lot about your eating habits, including some patterns you might night even be aware of.
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 Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.