Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
What Kind of Healthy Eater Are You?
“Eating healthy is hard,” Julie said at her last clinic visit.
“I know,” I replied. With junk food around us all the time it can be incredibly difficult to navigate healthy food choices.
In the famous Chinese book, The Art of War from the 6th century B.C., Sunzi states the following:
“If you know yourself and your enemies, you can win 100 battles without a single loss.”
Zhi bu zhi ji, bai zhan bu dai
How true this is when it comes to healthy eating. You must know your strengths if you want any chance of winning this battle.
To help you know your healthy eating type, take the quiz in this article.
Focus on Your Strengths
One reason why diets don’t work is because diets force people to focus on their weaknesses, namely limit calories. If people better understand their healthy eating type, then they can focus on their strengths.
According to the Gallup organization, if we focus on our strengths we are six times more likely to succeed. The same is true with healthy eating. We must focus on our strengths to be successful.
In working with my patients, I have identified three main areas of healthy eating strengths. To help you find your “healthy eating strengths,” take the quiz below.
Are You A Restrictor?
1. I like having a list of the foods I can and cannot eat. Yes/No
2. I can resist restricted foods. Yes/No
3. I do best when food temptations are out of sight. Yes/No
4. I don’t feel deprived of unhealthy foods. Yes/No
Are You A Moderator?
1. Moderation in all things is healthy. Yes/No
2. I can make a box of cookies or a bag of chips last for weeks, even months. Yes/No
3. I don’t obsess over food. Yes/No
4. I don’t have any food addictions. Yes/No
Are You A Replacer?
1. I love healthy versions of my favorite foods. Yes/No
2. Knowing that there are healthy ingredients makes food taste better. Yes/No
3. I like foods that look like what I have always eaten. Yes/No
4. I like to modify recipes at home or the menu at restaurants. Yes/No
What is Your Healthy Eating Strength?
To determine your healthy eating type, add up the number of times you responded “Yes” in each category. If you reported “yes” at least two or more times then this is a healthy eating strength for you. You may find that you have more than one healthy eating strength.
Congratulations if you are a restrictor. You draw strength from a list of foods to eat and avoid. To you there are good foods and bad foods. You make a decision once and then you never have to decide again.
Restrictors may be motivated by a strong sense of purpose when it comes to healthy eating. They may even have suffered from a previous health crisis. Many have a strong family history of cancer, heart disease or dementia and they want to do everything possible to maintain their health for their families.
For example, a restrictor who is trying to eat healthy will either completely cut pizza out of their diet or decide that the only pizza they can eat is a healthy homemade pizza. To stay strong, restrictors may not even go anywhere near where the traditional American pizza is served.
Successful restrictors like to keep temptations out of sight. They pack a healthy lunch from home so that they are not tempted to go out for lunch. They also always have healthy snacks on hand to avoid the temptation of a vending machine. At home, successful restrictors have completely purged their homes of any junk food. This way they are never tempted.
When invited to a friend’s house, where healthy food options may be limited, restrictors may eat something before they leave to help them resist unhealthy food temptations. Many restrictors I know can actually visualize what unhealthy foods are physically doing to their bodies. To them, every bite counts. Every bite they take is a step closer or away from health and wellness.
Successful restrictors find enough strength through their purpose or healthy eating to help them avoid feelings of deprivation. They may even choose to log their daily nutrition in a hand-held app.
Congratulations if you are a moderator. You never have to feel deprived. If you occasionally have a desert with friends you are fine with just a few bites. Moderators are the best adjusted to the American way of life and thrive in food settings with all types of people.
For example, successful moderators tend to eat very healthy at home, however, when they are out with friends it is fine for them to have a slice or two of pizza. They also don’t feel guilty about the slice of pizza with friends.
Moderators don’t need to record their nutritional intake on a hand-held app. They tend to listen to their bodies which means they generally eat very healthy and stop when their bodies are full. They don’t overeat and they don’t binge. Successful moderators practice mindful eating habits.
Congratulations if you are a replacer. I have found that most people trying to eat healthy can be classified as “replacers.” Replacers look for healthier options of everything.
For example, a replacer would never give up pizza. Rather, they would make their own healthy homemade pizza with almond or coconut flour, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and plenty of veggies on top. Because it is healthy they feel free to eat as much as they need.
Replacers are always looking at how to “hack” any recipe into a healthy version. They like to experiment in the kitchen or shop at health food stores. They also enjoy food conversations with other replacers as they creatively come up with healthier versions of the foods they love.
Successful replacers can always find something healthy at any restaurant. The salad dressing is always on the side and it is generally olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They generally ask for raw vegetables instead of the pre-meal bread and steamed veggies instead of the fries. They may also choose a lettuce rap for their sandwich instead of the white bread bun.
A replacer prefers kale chips to potato chips and dark chocolate covered almonds over chocolate cake. They may even try to use ripe bananas instead of sugar in a recipe.
The Challenges of Restrictors and Replacers
While moderators thrive in all food situations, restrictors and replacers face unique challenges when not surrounded by other health conscientious people. Surprisingly, I have found that food is far more divisive than even politics or religion.
Many people, if they are honest, have underlying food addictions. As a result, there is a chance that they may become quite defensive if others are trying to make healthier food choices. For this reason, when restrictors and replacers eat with people on the Standard American Diet (SAD), they need to be exceedingly careful not to appear judgmental.
As a standard practice, it is best for restrictors and replacers to not discuss food with family or friends unless asked. Lead by example. People, unfortunately, are very sensitive when it comes to food.
My Healthy Eating Strength
I am both a restrictor and a replacer depending on the situation. I am driven to eat as healthy as possible because of my previous health challenges and to suppress the many serious disease causing genes that I have.
I also cannot moderate. For me it is the whole bag of cookies or no cookies. For this reason, when it comes to cookies, I am a restrictor.
In other situations I am a replacer. For example, if I want a slice of bread with my nut butter, the only bread I generally eat is Ezekiel bread. Ezekiel bread has no flour and is very low glycemic. While I could easily down a whole loaf of bread at a restaurant, it is impossible for me to overeat on Ezekiel bread. There just is no sugar rush or addictive qualities in Ezekiel bread.
My wife, Jane, has found herself with tendencies in each of these categories at various times in her life. Currently, she has tendencies toward both a moderator and a replacer. While she prefers not to buy or make a traditional cake, she can go to a kid’s birthday party and be satisfied with one or two bites of cake.
Jane also loves experimenting with healthier versions of her favorite foods. For example, on our website you will find chocolate chip cookies made with white beans, and mac-n-cheese made with cauliflower. You may also see other healthy versions of the foods you have always loved.
Making it Work for You
Let’s face it, eating healthy is hard. I know it is a struggle for me every day. They key is to focus on your strengths rather than your food weaknesses. Understand your healthy eating type and then structure your environment to help you capitalize on your strengths.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.