Are you so up-to-date on the latest medical news that your friends call you for a diagnosis before they call their own doctor?
Or are you so nervous when you see a doctor -- if you even do -- that your blood pressure goes through the roof? There's even a name for that -- white-coat hypertension.
Which end of the spectrum do you fall on? Or are you somewhere in the middle? Your health personality affects your behavior and the choices you make about how you take care of yourself.
Does that matter? Health care professionals and researchers are beginning to think it does.
"It's important to know what type of health personality you are," says Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, MScED, MFA, co-founder of Daily Life Consulting in New York. "The more clearly you understand yourself, the less destructive you will be … or, in more positive terms, the most constructive you will be."
While not much research has been done in this area, one organization, the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a health and wellness research firm in Harleysville, Pa., has been conducting annual surveys of more than 2,000 American households since 1999. Through their surveys, the firm has found that Americans typically fall into one of five health personalities, according to company President Maryellen Molyneaux.
Molyneaux says 26% of those surveyed are "Food Actives," defined as those who believe in creating a healthy lifestyle through a balance of diet, exercise, and nutrition.
"Well Beings" -- 23% of those surveyed -- focus on achieving good health through all means, including diet and nutritional supplements as well as lifestyle changes. These two most active health segments are very aware of their health and actively seek to improve it, says Molyneaux.
The polar opposites of "Well Beings" are "Eat, Drink, and Be Merrys" at 21%. This group knows they probably should live a more healthy lifestyle, but aren't all that concerned about it, says Molyneaux.
The final two categories, the "Fence Sitters" (18%) and the "Magic Bullets" (12%), are in the middle of the spectrum, says Molyneaux. "Fence Sitters" are neutral about most health issues. They know what to do, but they just don't get off the fence and do it. "Magic Bullets" are looking for the one pill, diet, procedure or convenience that will solve their particular health issues.
"Food Actives" and "Well Beings" are more likely to consider alternative/complementary health care as options, says Molyneaux, while "Eat, Drink and Be Merrys" and "Magic Bullets" turn to over-the-counter medications. "Fence Sitters" look to conventional health care practitioners and prescription medications.
There are pros and cons to each of these health personalities, says Weingarten. On the surface, for example, "Well Beings" might not appear to have a problem.
"They sound very balanced," Weingarten says. However, this health-personality type needs to accept that while their efforts are admirable, their health isn't completely under their control. "Things happen," says Weingarten. "This group can be so focused on doing all the right things that they may ignore symptoms that call for a doctor's attention."
"You can't take care of your health all by yourself," says Weingarten.
Marc David, a nutritional psychologist in Boulder, Colo., also calls these folks the experimenters. "They're willing to try everything that's out there … new treatments, medications, diets, etc.," says David, also the author of The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss. "Experimenters are the test pilots for new innovations."
First-Year Medical School Syndrome
"More power to you," is what Weingarten says about "Food Actives." "It's important to be educated about health care in general, and certainly your own health in particular." The downside though? Coming down with first-year medical school syndrome, says Weingarten. "Oh, no, I have this symptom ... I must have this disease."
"Don't make yourself crazy," Weingarten cautions. Keep reading those medical journals if you like, but remember that not every symptom spells doom.
From a nutrition standpoint, foodies should focus on balance, says Patricia Vasconcellos, RD, CDE, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "A variety of foods will also increase the enjoyment of eating," she says.
"Live healthy," adds Dave Grotto, RD, LD, director of nutrition for the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Evanston, Ill., and also an ADA spokesman. "But make sure you take time to enjoy your life, because that's also an important part of a healthy immune system."
If you're an "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" type, you're one of the folks who's having all the fun, says David. "You know how to celebrate life."
What you might not know though is how to practice moderation, David adds. It's easy to go overboard when it comes to food, drink, or other lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, all of which can affect your health, from being overweight to developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
"The lesson this group needs to learn," says David, "is when to cut back in order to lead a more balanced life."
Time to Get off the Fence
Are you a "Fence Sitter"? Time to get off that fence, says Dave Grotto. The upside of being a "Fence Sitter", says Weingarten, is that if you're this type of health personality, "you don't knock yourself out."
"You don't torture yourself over everything," she says.
On the minus side, though, is a tendency to procrastinate or become overwhelmed by too much information.
"This group are the contemplators," adds Vasconcellos. "They hear the information but aren't quite sure if it will work. "It's good to question everything, but don't use this as an excuse for not getting healthy."
'Magic Bullets' Go to Extremes
Then there are the "Magic Bullets," who make the connection between health, exercise, and seeing a doctor but are less inclined to make diet changes, says Molyneaux. They also have a very high use of medications.
It's important for this health personality type to remember that there really are few, if any, magic bullets, she says. "If you're always searching for a quick fix, you're going to become disenchanted pretty quickly."
And seeking perfection can be more than emotionally unsatisfying, Weingarten says. It can be downright dangerous if you keep turning to more extreme measures (such as repeat cosmetic surgeries) for attaining your goals.
Says David, "We spend way too much time looking for that magic bullet. Life is just not that simple."