Would you say that you eat a healthy diet? Many would say “Of course!” – in fact, according to one consumer reports survey, 9 out of 10 Americans indicate they eat at least a “somewhat” healthy diet. Yet I’d argue that’s unlikely given the rate of preventable chronic disease in our country. Heart disease, many cancers, diabetes and even many autoimmune conditions are considered preventable with a healthy diet and lifestyle. So, if we’re all eating a “somewhat” healthy diet, what’s the problem? Why are the rates of preventable disease so high? And why is it that, for the first time in history, our children’s generation is expected to have a shorter lifespan than us?
Aside from the 13 hours of sitting we do (that’s surely to be a link in the chronic disease puzzle), there are three potential challenges I believe have led us to thinking we eat a “somewhat” healthy diet when the reality is much different.
For those who know me personally, I’ve always thought my diet was healthy. Yet, looking at the food I eat now compared to just 10 years ago, you’d be absolutely flabbergasted by the changes. It took me a whole lot of sickness, training, courage, perseverance and self-love to transform my diet. Which is why I’m so passionate in my coaching, blog writing and general approach to wellness. My opinions come from both personal and professional experience, but also from a place of love and a genuine desire to support clients on their nutrition journey!
So why are we all getting chronically ill? Chew on this:
First, the ever-changing and vast amount of nutrition guidance available on the Internet is overwhelming and confusing. Combine this with the fact that we’re all bio-individual humans and no one diet is for everyone, and you’ve got yourself in a pickle. Many of us end up trying diet trend after trend with no clear direction. One day you’re on a weight watchers program, the next month you’re going Paleo for gut-healing, and before you know it, you’re adding grains back in because you’re exhausted. You get the idea. Nutrition trends and marketing convince you that you’re eating a “somewhat” healthy diet. Unfortunately, these trends make it a lot harder to know if you’re really eating a diet that’s most healthy for your unique, bio-individual body.
Another huge problem – related to trendiness – is that we’re focused on the wrong information when it comes to nutrition. Services and products that were created to help manage diets (think My fitness pal, fooducate and the many food diary apps out there) have us zeroed in on calories. The problem? Not all calories are created equal. When you eat 1,200 calories of packaged potato chips versus 1,200 calories of broccoli, you know you’ll feel and function much differently. But, if calories are your only gauge for nutrition and you’re meeting your calorie goals regularly, then of course you’ll tell yourself, “I eat a somewhat healthy diet!” But, in reality, a diet of 1,200 calories has the potential to miss out on a ton of key nutrients depending on your food choices. Check out this example of a 1,200 calorie daily diet . It’s missing the recommended fruit and vegetable intake, whole grains and healthy fats. And the recommendations are packed with refined grains and unhealthy fats, yet it’s recommended for weight loss.
The final pesky challenge that makes us all answer “Yes! I eat a somewhat healthy diet” is an absolutely normal human behavior – self-preservation. It’s human nature to overemphasize our positive habits and underemphasize our negative habits. Heck, I’m a nutrition coach and it wasn’t until I launched a reboot program that I truly realized that I was overestimating my fruit and vegetable intake while missing out on key nutrients. How’s that for honesty!
For those interested in going on their own nutrition journey, the first step for eating a truly healthy diet is self-awareness. While I absolutely don’t recommend Wikipedia as a source for health information, it does include an important concept in its definition of self-awareness --“self-awareness can be compromised due to the desire of self-preservation.” You may be overestimating your healthy food choices as a means of protecting yourself. You’re either protecting yourself from the realization that what you eat isn’t nourishing your body, or perhaps from the expected pain of having to make changes to your diet. (Note: With a nutrition coach, it should be more fun than painful!) Either way, it’s a self-defeating situation that isn’t keeping us healthy for the long-term!
Remember: small steps matter most, so start where you can be most successful! Though I don’t personally recommend it for more than a few days unless it’s tied to a specific goal, it’s good to begin with tracking your food intake. Here are a handful of food choices you can track that promote more nutrition self-awareness:
- Vegetable servings. Vegetable juice does NOT count, unless it’s homemade.
- Fruit. Fruit juice doesn’t count. Without the fiber, it’s pure sugar!
- Refined carbohydrates. This includes 99% of all breads (except Ezekiel and a couple of other smaller brands), crackers, cereal, pasta and more. We often eat waaaay more of this less than optimal food group than we think.
- Wild fish. Keep your heart healthy with three servings of wild fish per week. I struggle with this one!
- Water. Most busy professionals are the first to say they don’t drink enough water. Use a fun phone app and start tracking today!
- Whole grains. We often think we’re eating whole grains when we eat whole wheat bread, pasta or crackers. Yet, these are not whole grains. Whole grains look similar to what you’d see in the field where they grow in nature. They include brown rice, quinoa, barley, amaranth, steel cut oats, millet, farro and other ancient grains.
- Preservatives or unidentifiable ingredients. They’re lurking even in healthy foods. Check your packages and start tracking which family favorites have ingredients you can’t pronounce and/or you’d never see growing in nature.
- Sugar. This one’s a kicker. Take a few days to track your added sugar intake and you might be shocked! One of those delicious soy coffee beverages from your favorite coffee shop, for example, might add a whopping 20 teaspoons of sugar to your day.
Notice how I didn’t provide any guidance on targets for each of these food choices. Remember, we’re all bio-individual so what’s good for me may not be good for you. You can find recommended intakes from the Institute for Medicine, Harvard University of Public Health and the USDA online, or you can work with a nutrition coach to discover what’s best for your body!
And, as always, you can join a hubbub nutrition challenge today to start upping your nutrition self-awareness!