Caroline Shugart column mug

Caroline Shugart column mug

We are not great at evaluating our own health. Sure, our sniffles tell us if we have a cold, and back pain is pretty obvious. However, we probably tell ourselves that we weigh less and exercise more than we really do. The 2017 Utah Health Values Study noted that only 45 percent of people in Utah thought they were overweight or obese, when the rate in 2016 was closer to 60 percent. Summarized in the study was this concept: “I’m doing fine, but everyone else has a problem.”

I don’t believe this is intentional self-deception as much as people simply comparing themselves to a standard that makes them come out on top, saying things like, “I’m not as heavy as Morty” or, “I exercise more than Judy.” Perhaps Morty and Judy aren’t the right standards for comparison.

Do you pat yourself on the back because you only had one piece of pecan pie when Uncle Walt had two? Do you wait to see what everyone else orders from the menu before you order? Does sister Francis sit on the couch longer than you do, so it’s okay to be a bit less sedentary? Does comparing yourself to others improve your health at all?

In an obesogenic environment (an environment that contributes to obesity, promoting weight gain), we have to be careful to choose appropriate role models as our standards. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to unhealthy people, nor should we compare ourselves to air-brushed photos of celebrities, which eliminates all “imperfections.” I think you should compare yourself to … you.

“Wait a minute,” you say. ”I’m not in the best of shape, and I’m carrying around a few more pounds than I should. And I know I’m not getting the recommended 60 minutes of exercise most days of my life. Why would I ever want to compare myself to me?”

Let’s be realistic. You are who you are. But maybe you also have a vision of who you want to become. Being honest, you probably recognize that you are not going to transform yourself from a couch potato into an Olympic-class downhill skier, return to your wedding dress size, or be the next “American Ninja Warrior.”

However, you can go from being able to walk around the block only twice to being able to walk at a brisk pace for a full hour. You can return to that pant size you left behind three years ago. You can eat more consistent and balanced meals. You can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, diabetes, hypertension and depression. Even a modest 5 percent reduction in body weight can improve chronic disease conditions.

How do you improve your current health status? Step one is “knowing your numbers.” What is your fasting blood sugar level, your cholesterol level and your blood pressure? How many sit-ups or push-ups can you do in a minute? How far are your fingers from the floor when you try to touch your toes? What is your average daily calorie intake? How many minutes per week involve aerobic exercise and strength training? How many servings of colorful fruits and vegetables do you eat each day? How much sleep do you get on an average night? How often do you eat empty calorie snacks and fast food? How often do you feel happy?

Those are your numbers, not Morty’s or Judy’s or Frances’. Your efforts to improve yourself should be compared to your own baseline. Are your wellness indicators improving over time? That’s the goal, to be better next month than you are this month.

I don’t have a weight scale in my house. I learned long ago what my caloric requirements are for my activity level. I eat a plant-dominant food plan. My weight has been consistent for years. I may seek inspiration from faster and stronger peers, but I compare myself to … me. You should compare yourself to you. And if your indicators, your numbers, improve over time, then you are on track for improving your health and wellness. It takes perseverance, patience, and monitoring your progress and journey. Happy and healthy 2019 to you as you become version 2.0 of who you are today. Be Well!

Shugart is a nurse, dietitian and personal trainer. She has traveled to over fifty countries and territories and is currently improving her table tennis skills. Email her at Caroline.Shugart@gmail.com.

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.

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