What Is ‘Health’? And How Do We Define It?

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What is health and how do we define it? It’s a pretty complex topic and our interpretations will vary as much as our personalities. In 1946 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1) at the International Health Conference. This definition was put in place as of 1948. I don’t know about you but aiming for complete health in each of these areas feels like quite the daunting task, much like asking your crush out face to face in year 8 it isn’t going to happen.

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”
– Mahatma Gandhi (2)

Well-being focus and all the buzz around it is booming. Gone are the days when it’s a popular idea to starve yourself to nothingness in order to achieve a fashionable “look”. The greater the engagement from each of us with our health can only be a good thing. With all this focus on healthy living, healthy eating and “living my best life” what happens when the foundations of understanding what health is and is not are poorly understood? In this sense, striving for health can be like navigating the maze in a Triwizard tournament with an extra catch, you’re blindfolded and there is no cup to be found. Bah ha! You’ve been Tango’d. Except when health is concerned, the consequences can be a bit more dire than a double happy slap. 

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Being aware of and taking responsibility for our health can help us in many ways, whether it’s feeling able and capable, happy and content, experiencing sadness in proportionate bouts and even saving us money on health visits and prescription charges. With the age of the internet however, the health messages we receive can be combobulated and skewed – identifying fact from fiction is a bit of a tough cookie to crack.

So how does the evidence for what is and isn’t healthy translate into simpler ideas? Is it being a certain “ideal” weight? Having the “right” body fat percentages? Is it healthy to living in one emotional state? Is avoiding the GP unless you think you might be legitimately dying mean you’re healthier than everyone sat in the waiting room for said GP? The waters become murky very quickly and it’s easy to lose sight elusive Goblet of Health whilst sashaying amongst the currents and tides of fads, shock factor headlines and public health campaigns that are somewhat not accurate anyway – think Weight Watchers in American schools and the Ob_s__y campaign by Cancer Research UK earlier this year. 

The crux in relation to nutrition and our relationship status with food doesn’t boil down to one measurement, or one aspect of health. What we eat and how we do or don’t eat affects countless aspects of our bodies and functioning. Some very real questions in relation to health and nutrition is currently in an antler head bashing contest amongst those in the field, whether accredited and qualified or not. Is it healthy to marginalise a population group because of a pattern of association without identifying causation? Is it healthy to drill diet culture into young minds, and thus setting them up for a lifetime of living “healthily” on diet culture? Is that even possible? I’m not convinced. I’m also not convinced that everything stocked in Whole Foods is automatically healthy – sorry not sorry. I’m also not convinced about the healthiness of many modern day normalities, such as our phones becoming an extra part of the human anatomy, using social media to gain self worth and validation, or extreme approaches to anything much at all. 

With health food shops donning more supplements than we can possibly afford or swallow, and health influencers donning skimpy clothing to show off abs, glutes that can crush walnuts and who can do more chin ups than an excitable dog can tail wags, does being healthy have to be so extreme? I’m going to go out on a whim here and speculate that there’s no extremes in being healthy. It’s actually more about a balance and happy medium as boring and unexciting as that may sound.

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A little secret not pushed by those cashing in on the trend, you don’t need an extreme diet to eat healthily. You don’t need an extreme exercise regimen to be healthy. You don’t need to always be happy and content to be healthy. Nor do you need to spend crazy dollar on fancy ingredients and farfetched meal plans. Health isn’t even a number on a scale. The BMI is a tool for guidance and definitely not definitive – many athletes have a BMI considered obese and I’ve never seen someone typically considered to be ‘obese’ competing at the Olympics.

Each of us will define health differently drawn from our lived experiences. The most important point to be made though is that health is not a destination but a tool for living. It isn’t the be all and end all, merely a snazzy individualised car for scooting through your days with. Yeah, you want to keep the gear box in check but you don’t want to be obsessing over whether your gears are always sliding perfectly. You also need to keep your oil and waters tanks topped up, but you don’t want to be watching them furtively whilst missing out on the enjoyment of your drive. It would be a shame to not enjoy and take in the views.

Sources:
1. http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/
2. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705649/

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Lifting The Dirt on Clean Eating with Hear Me Raw by Daniella Isaacs

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Last night I went to see Hear Me Raw. It is a one woman autobiographical show by Daniella Isaacs about her journey into the wellness trap. She documents about how her obsession about being healthy became an unhealthy obsession that instead of helping her to live her best life, hindered her from living at all.

She describes and delves into the depths of orthorexia, which is categorised as an eating disorder that stems from trying to be as healthy as possible. Lifting the lid on social media heroes donning restrictive diets and excessive exercise in order to be your best you and how everything isn’t always as it seems. I’m sure most of us are guilty of making our social media outlets a highlight reel. Instagram  never shows the full truth of our lives, and for some who are dominating the influencer circles as ‘health gurus’ are actually very unhealthy.

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Source: arcolatheatre.com

She doesn’t cut corners in her production and really gets into the grim reality of health bloggers being so ‘healthy’ that they’re unhealthy. Punishing treadmill sessions and ginger shots, snorting turmeric and forcing matcha products of all varieties down. She actually chugs some crazy ass smoothie that she makes as an example, seemingly without gagging or vomiting, which was very impressive but behind the impressiveness of such a feat is the reality of people forcing themselves to drink horrible concoctions, taking shots of health juices and not letting any form of perceived toxin into her body whilst flushing out as many toxins as possible. FYI, flushing out toxins and avoiding toxins in your food is largely based on bullshit. If your liver and kidneys are well, then you’re dandy.

Lifting the dirty on clean living is a topic that is being spoken about more and more. It’s a topic we need to keep talking about because there’s crazy dollar to be made from products promising health in an age dominated by lifestyle related disease. However, it is important to remember that health is a means to live your life and if the pursuit of health hinders you from living your life, going to events because you don’t want to face the food there, from seeing your friends because instead you feel you need to go to the gym or using food and diet as a means of gaining control in your life, or fulfilling some emotional void then maybe your healthy lifestyle isn’t as healthy as you think.

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Source: arcolatheatre.com

There’s so much bombardment of unhealthy health culture, especially on social media, that using a multitude of mediums to challenge health culture in a variety of ways will hopefully reach as many of those who need to hear it as possible. There’s podcasts and blogs and health professionals pushing the message – a play is a new way and it worked really well. I enjoyed Isaac’s performance and really loved her cutting the bullshit method of delivering.

It would be great if a version of this could go on TV and reach the masses, in the meantime however, if you were considering getting tickets to see the show I’d urge you to definitely go. It is showing until the 24th February at The Arcola Theatre in Dalston, London. After that, due tot he success I hope she does more shows to spread her message far and wide.

Ditching The Weighing Scales For Good!

How I moved away from compulsively weighing, through the weight anxiety to finally ditching my scales for good.

My set of scales are pretty standard and I’ve had them for years. I don’t even remember where I was in my journey with food when I bought them. I’ve read many times that an important step in recovering from an eating disorder is to get rid of your scales. There were a few reasons as to why I’ve resisted taking this step.
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Initially it was because I know banishing them from the house would not stop me from weighing myself or ease my anxiety when I was still recovering. I knew that I had to get to a place of using them less and placing less importance on their result with them around. Otherwise I would just buy another set, or would obsess when I went to someone’s house who had a set. It just didn’t feel like the right approach for me at that time.

Once I was more recovered I was put on medication that affects weight. A third of people on Quetiapine in the long-term develop diabetes and become overweight enough to negatively impact physical health. I was anxious about this happening to me and how not feeling in control of my appetite and weight could potentially trigger old behaviours. I did gain weight each time I went on Quetiapine.

Despite this, I stuck it out and have been taking it for the longest time that I ever had previously. Finally, I decided that the positive effects of Quetiapine outweigh the weight gain, and potential metabolic alterations it can cause. The decision to push on with taking it despite weight and appetite changes that at times felt bordering on out of control is that those side effects have eventually subsided. Who knew? I have stopped taking Quetiapine many times previously out of fear and anxiety of potentially feeling out of control with my appetite, and the unknown. Each time, I get very unwell again. It’s just a general shit show.

14 months later and I am not scared anymore. I’ve adapted. Yes I gained weight and ironically since I’ve stopped weighing myself regularly or trying to control my diet in any way there have been no drastic changes. I’ve pretty much stayed about the same and in this time, despite being near my highest weight I am more comfortable with my body than I have ever been.

Possibly due to some radical acceptance being practised. Ultimately though, this disproves my earlier theory that I had to monitor my intake and weight because of my medication. It also proves that my body has a way of adapting, staying well and maintaining some form of homeostatic harmony.

According to the BMI chart I’m probably still overweight, and I’m also pretty healthy. Most would agree that the BMI is an outdated and archaic measurement of health but it’s still used. There’s another myth disproved by my own experience, that BMI is important. I could play Bingo with previous misconceptions at this rate!

I fend off infections and illnesses well, I exercise, I enjoy it, I’m not unfit, I eat pretty balanced and I’m partial to a pain au raisin lately. Yeah I’ll look at food labels sometimes to see if it’s particularly high in sugar or saturated fat but it is more of a glance over to understand the composition of different foods. It is not the be all and end all, just more of an awareness about what’s in my food choices.

In general I feel the need to follow the path I’m advocating.  No hypocrisy, no secrets, and full transparency.It’s time to listen to my body. It finally feels like the right time to take such a  step. I feel confident that I won’t buy more in a panic or feel lost without them. This is a pretty big step and hopefully perhaps the final one in moving completely out of eating disordered behaviour, comforts and rituals.

 

Identifying Healthy Media Outlets

How to identify healthy media messages that can help harbour self acceptance and compassion.

Having written about identifying unhelpful media for helping on your journey to ditch diet culture, and protect yourself from a shit storm of dieting onslaught I think it would also be helpful to identify some pointers for identifying health positive media. It’s not all doom and gloom; there is a growing amount of people championing self acceptance, a holistic attitude to health and body positivity.

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If you’re considering swapping your magazine subscription, or clearing up your social media feeds then here’s a list of how to identify health positive media that will help and encourage you to be healthy and well without a one size fits all model.

  • They encourage self acceptance:

    Media that helps and encourages us to love ourselves can only be good. When we say “they love themselves” about someone it can be an insult for arrogance, but loving yourself doesn’t need to equate to arrogance. In order to love ourselves we need to first accept ourselves – so if your magazine or social media feed is encouraging you on a journey of self acceptance then it’s a winner. Keep that live.
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  • Encourages a healthy balanced lifestyle 

    By encouraging balance in our lives, for as unsensational as that is to sell, a harmony can be reached with ourselves, our bodies and our health. Some things you may do in your life may be technically unhealthy, however, often there are worse thing you could d be doing so, is the odd cigarette really the worst thing in the world? Or is a bit of cake really going to make you unhealthy?Balance isn’t about eating high sugar high fat food all the time. It also isn’t eating a restrictive diet of just mange-tout on Mondays, or carb free Fridays. I just made that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it existed somewhere. It’s about eating healthy food and having some balance in your life so that cake isn’t stressful, you’re not panicking at a buffet and you’re not eating the whole pack of biscuits with the TV each night because you’re swearing you’ll never eat them again. By allowing all foods, regardless of nutrition content allows for a more balanced and healthy outlook and relationship with food.
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  • Advises being inclusive of all food groups

    A lot of diets cut out food groups. No grains, no carbs, no sugars… the list keeps on going. Some diets include only eating one food group, fruit for example on a restrictive fruitarian diet. Unfortunately, yes that exists.Nutritionally, excluding any food group can lead to being malnourished, physically and emotionally. Sometimes we need a piece of chocolate for comfort, or a hot drink can be soothing. Discarding any food group only furthers a disharmony in your relationship between yourself, your body and your food.

    So yes, if you like cake then cake has a place in your diet just as all the other stuff like grains, carbs, veg, protein.
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  • Gives the power to you over your priorities

    With our health, it is largely in our hands when it comes to eating. However, a lot of media will try to tell you what you ought to be eating or not eating. They’ll try to encourage that your priority should be weight loss, or abs, or building muscle. That isn’t for everyone and in fact, a media outlet that gives the power to you to define your own goals and your own priorities is empowering – and you wanna keep that live too.Why let some editor in an office living a completely different life to you define what your values and priorities with you health ought to be? We’re all different and we all have different lives – what is important for one person may be the bottom of the list for another. Therefore, media that helps you identify what you want by asking questions to prompt considering it can be helpful, but if they’re guiding you in the direction of their own priorities then shut that shit up!
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  • Comes from a place of non-judgmentalness

    When we’re learning to be self-compassionate the last thing we need is judgements from others infiltrating the good vibes. It can be extremely difficult to develop self-compassion and shut the nagging self-deprecating voice in our heads up. Therefore, it is important to surround ourselves with media and messages that come from a place of non-judgementalness. This stance in approaching not only ourselves, but others as well, can really harbour compassion not only for ourselves but for others.It’s a great lesson to learn to not be judgmental but being surrounded by judgmental media can only lengthen and challenge our journey towards being non-judgemental. It can be hard to identify judgement words, but basically emotionally loaded ways of describing can help sum them up. Lazy or stupid for example are quite harsh judgement words, and when they’re used to describe someone or ourselves can be quite damaging.
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