Every time you go online or turn on the news there seems to be a new story about how unhealthy Americans are. We all know we need to exercise regularly and eat well, so why are so many of us overweight?
According to a new study, less than 3 percent of Americans lead a "healthy lifestyle," defined as meeting all of these four criteria:
- A diet score in the top 40 percent on Harvard's Healthy Eating Index
- Body fat percentage less than 20 percent (for men) or 30 percent (for women)
- Exercising for at least 150 minutes a week at moderate or vigorous intensity
- Not smoking
The area where people performed the worst was body fat percentage, with less than 10 percent of people fitting into the "healthy" category. Why are so few Americans lean despite a thriving weight-loss industry?
As a dietitian and weight-loss expert, one of the most common issues my clients struggle with is what I call "diet detoxing," where they come off an overly strict diet weighing more than ever and are frustrated and demotivated. Our fast-paced, technology-focused lifestyles and high-calorie, nutrient-poor convenience foods have made it harder than ever to be healthy. But eating healthy 80 percent of the time and leaving some room for less healthy food can work. I've seen the 80 Twenty lifestyle help so many people reduce their body fat, gain muscle, and improve their health. Some simple changes people can make for major health impacts are easier to implement than you think. They include:
- Cooking at home more often
- Choosing whole foods over processed foods
- Making vegetables cover half of your plate at every meal
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day
- Drinking water rather than sugar-sweetened drinks
Small changes, like eating soup before a meal, can help you slash up to 550 empty calories a day and be leaner with minimal effort.
Surveys and purchasing habits show another interesting trend: People are moving away from diet foods and embracing health foods and wellness. Rather than taking nutrients out of our food supply to make everything fat free, low calorie, sugar free, there is a new shift toward natural, quality, and nutrient-dense food. I hear this from clients all the time: You want to hear what to eat, NOT what not to eat.
Still, it's important not to be fooled into buying overly processed foods thinking they're healthy. Knowing which junk foods are disguised as health foods can help you decipher what's really the right thing to buy.
There are promising signs Americans are turning over a new leaf and getting healthier. Just last year, a decline in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes was reported. Sales of sodas have been dropping steadily, and Americans seem to be making healthier choices at the grocery store. Nutrition-focused trends for 2016 include plant-based diets and supporting local farmers. Hopefully all are signs of Americans putting their health and nutrition first.