Consumers generally want to eat better and are willing to spend more money on healthy foods like fresh and organically grown produce, but they also remain prone to reach for fast food and snacks for comfort and instant gratification, according to a new study on today's dietary trends.
While the public is given easier access to nutritional information and advice than ever, there continues to be a gap, if not a disconnect, between what people voice as their health concerns and how they actually act upon them, the researchers found.
For the study, participants were grouped in different segments based on their stated nutritional attitudes and priorities. As it turned out, even the most health-conscious among them routinely engaged in a balancing act between what they perceived as better choices and other factors like pricing or convenience.
Upon closer examination, the researchers also detected some stark discrepancies between reported and actual eating habits. Moreover, people were often not even aware of the inconsistencies in their actions.
Of course, these findings are not especially surprising. Surveys have long shown that most of us are somewhat unsure about the requirements of a truly health-promoting diet.
However, nearly half of those also admitted to having at least one sugary soft drink a day and to including pastries and other sweet and fattening items in their breakfast. Only about a third consumed the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetable servings on most days.
How people define "healthy eating" is what's questionable, says Nancy Metcalf, a senior project editor at Consumer Report magazine who was responsible for the poll. If people are misinformed or don't understand what a healthy diet entails, adherence to what they think they should be doing is getting them nowhere.
The blame for this widespread confusion over what constitutes sound nutrition does obviously not rest with the public. Because the messages people are given are often inconsistent or sometimes outright contradictory, they can do more harm than good for those trying to follow them.
For good reason the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) warns against diet programs and guidelines that promise fast and easily achievable results for weight management and nutritional well-being.
Instead of focusing on narrow measures and oversimplifying solutions, it would be more effective to foster an overall "healthy food environment" where consumers can meet their particular needs and also be confident that the information they are provided with is reliable and actionable, experts say.
This, obviously, would involve multiple components, including better health and nutrition education, greater access to healthy food outlets, and the creation of more health-promoting policies both at governmental and local levels -- to name just a few.
Ultimately, only when health-conducive behavior is commonly accepted as the norm and facilitated accordingly can real progress take place.
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“This is the number one reason I see people veer off the path of healthy eating,” says Bailey. “Friends say things like, ‘Come on, don’t be a downer all the time. Let’s go have a few drinks.’ And then after a few drinks and appetizers, you think you are so far off the path that you can’t find it anymore. Or family members complain about ‘healthy meals’ and plead for the old favorites back again.” She explained how this can lead you to feel like you’re “ruining the fun and enjoyment” for those around you. “The key is to be confident in yourself and know that choosing to eat healthy is the right thing for you and for your family,” she said. “Plan for a day each week that allows you to enjoy a fun meal with your friends and family, and then purposefully return back to eating healthy.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click Here to See More Healthy Eating Obstacles (And How to Overcome Them)
“I have a lot of people tell me with their words that they want to eat healthy and make real changes in their health and body composition, but they haven’t really committed to that change,” Bailey explained. “As soon as it gets inconvenient, uncomfortable, or just unenjoyable, they stop trying. It takes a firm commitment to make real change, and a long-term view as well.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock
“Sometimes, it’s the simple things that throw us off track,” Bailey said. “We go to a wedding or a conference and we don’t have as much control over the food as we usually do -- that’s okay!” It’s important to remember that you won’t be “perfect” 100 percent of the time, nor is there a need for you to be. One meal, or even an entire weekend that strays from the normal standards of eating healthy won’t ruin your efforts. Just make sure that afterwards, as Bailey puts it, “you get up and start eating healthy again.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click Here to See More Healthy Eating Obstacles (And How to Overcome Them)
“The stresses of life with jobs and relationships are not the stresses that our bodies had to deal with long ago. Our modern-day stress is a chronic, low-level stress that causes an inflammatory response and leads to lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hypothyroidism,” Bailey explained. “Your commitment to a healthy diet can often be overtaken by the demands of our work life. And yet, one of the best ways to combat that stress is to maintain a healthy diet.” She advises learning to control your stress response by building healthy sleeping habits, including mindfulness through yoga or simple meditations in your day-to-day life, and maintaining a regular exercise routine. “Sometimes we like to say that a good hard workout helps us with our stress, but remember that recovery is just as important as the workout itself,” Bailey added. “And by consciously scheduling in this ‘recovery’ time, you will be able to maintain your commitment to eating healthy as your body will crave the good nutrients to help it heal.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock
“A lot of people don’t even begin the journey to eating healthy because they believe it is too expensive,” Bailey said. “In reality, eating healthy by fixing your own meals can be less expensive than stopping by that fast food joint for breakfast and lunch and then grabbing some take-home meals for dinner every day.” She explained that by preparing your own meals you’re more in control of the nutritional content, the portions, and the cost. “It does take a little bit of your time to shop and to prepare, but your body will respond with more energy, a better immune system, and a trimmer build,” said Bailey. Click Here to See More Healthy Eating Obstacles (And How to Overcome Them) Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Follow Timi Gustafson, R.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD