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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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.

 

5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight On Your Diet

When your body is trying to tell you your diet or lifestyle change isn’t as healthy as you thought

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Source: Demi Whiffin

We are constantly bombarded with how unhealthy we are as a nation. We’re getting more obese year on year, our children are more obese than they’ve ever been, we don’t exercise enough, we eat too much and we don’t eat enough of the “right” foods. The government have even written a Childhood Obesity Plan in order to try and tackle the growing problem of our nation’s health. It’s natural to respond to these messages by trying to be healthier in your own diet. That’s perhaps largely the purpose of some of these messages.

Many people set out on diets with great intentions: they want to feel more energised, be more active and hit their daily fruit and veg quota of 7 a day. Alongside those intentions is a dieting industry that is massive just waiting to help you on your way with ‘quick fixes’ and ‘easy plans’.

For example, at Be:FIT 2017 when I was looking at a product the sales person assumed I wanted to lose weight and tried to sell me a formula for that. I was a healthy weight and had no interest in losing weight.  It seems that everyone is fair game regardless of their health status because the dieting industry’s message is quite clear, we could all do with losing some weight. Not all diets are healthy and sustainable though. There is a massive failure rate for dieters. The storm of trying to lose weight can look very overwhelming and bleak.

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Salmon, chilli and ginger fishcake with sweet potato fries and roast veg. Healthy. Unrestricted. Tasty. 

If you have decided that you want to lose some weight, or revamp your diet then there are some tell tale signs that your diet isn’t all that healthy despite how many celery sticks and crackers you trying to fill up on.

  1. You’re always hungry:
    If you’re always hungry then your diet isn’t sustainable. Your body makes hunger signals in response to a need for energy and nourishment, e.g. food not some spiritually embodied meal replacement shake. Identifying real hunger from emotional, boredom or habitual hunger however can be tricky but ignoring your hunger regardless of the reason for it isn’t leading you anywhere healthy.
  2. Your diet is stressful:
    If you find yourself hangry and stressed because you can’t find a suitable something to eat that you fancy then that’s pretty stressful. This could indicate that you’re diet regime is to restrictive. Food is a form of sensory enjoyment and when that enjoyment becomes a huge stress and you find yourself wishing you could be non-human so you didn’t have to eat because it’s too much stress then it’s time to re-evaluate the sustainability of your diet.
  3. Eating becomes about emotions:
    We all comfort eat to some degree. A classic break up scene involves copious orders of pizza and ice cream in front of the TV. Emotional eating becomes a real problem when eating patterns and behaviours become a way of experiencing, expressing of stuffing down emotions, whether that’s overeating or under eating. It can go either way. Responding to emotional overeating with a restrictive diet to “undo the damage” will only fuel your disharmony with food. There’s a whole range of good advice, books and support available out there to help with healthy expression of emotion and regaining confidence with food.
  4. Fat becomes a feeling: 
    Fat isn’t a feeling. It isn’t an emotion either. If ‘feeling fat’ becomes a regular rhetoric for you when you’re feeling something unpleasant then it’s time to do some digging about what you’re really feeling. When fat becomes a feeling, whether you actually are fat or not becomes irrelevant and you can find yourself feeling ‘fat’ even when you’re very underweight. It also entrenches the negative connotations to the word fat, which gives the word way more weighting than it deserves.
  5. Guilt and shame start hanging around:
    A diet that is very rigid can mean more chance of swaying from the plan. This creates and heightens feelings of guilt for eating a ‘bad food’ such as chocolate bar. No one died from a heart attack because they ate a chocolate bar or two on occasion. Feeling so emotionally worn down because you ate something doesn’t have a place in a healthy relationship with food. None what so ever. If the shaming is coming from someone else for your food choices and it keeps happening it may be time to stick up for yourself. I don’t mean punch them, but in a reasonable way saying something along the lines of “I’d rather you didn’t comment on my food Karen” might help avoid internalising their judgement or snapping with a “FUCK OFF KAREN!!”.

New Year, Same Person

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We are fast approaching 2018. We currently reside in the week between Christmas and New Year, a period of time that I call “limbo week”, when you’re not quite sure what day it is; some people are back in work, some aren’t and there seems to be no real logic as to who is and who isn’t. It’s a time for recovering from the family antics, the overeating and the forced fun. For myself, it’s a time for squeezing in those books on my ever-growing reading list, binge watching a series I’ve wanted to and spend some time resettling myself for the new term at uni.

Culturally we put a lot of emphasis on the 1st of January, as if this one day is the most important first day of the month each year. As if the 1st of January holds the power of being a life changing 24 hours. It’s not really though is it? If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture it is just the first of another month, just like the 1st of November was, and the 1st of June, and the 1st of March.

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This isn’t to say I’m against goal setting and lifestyle changes for better health and contentment. I am a massive advocate of goal setting and a massive advocate of continuous goal setting. I believe in aiming for what we want in life regardless of which particular month it is. The world never stops and the universe puts no extra speciality on any other months. It is just another 24 hours that the Earth continues orbiting and spinning.

With any goal setting though, swearing you’ll stick to a massive overnight change of lifestyle is never going to be effective. You will not suddenly eat a restricted diet any better than the previously failed diets just because it’s January. You won’t miraculously start going to the gym 5 times a week and get a six-pack just like that last gym membership you swore would change everything didn’t. Even if you do lose weight, say if it’s medically viable for you to need to in the first place, life won’t be any less stressful or more care free at a certain size. If you don’t need to lose weight, medically speaking, then being a size 10 won’t change your life in the ways that diet culture promises.

If your lifestyle isn’t particularly healthy then small steps may be beneficial and you might notice being able to run for the bus with ease after some commitment. Maybe you have smashing a goal like running or swimming a specific distance in mind. That’s cool. Go for it. I’m all for healthy endeavours and challenging yourself.

Shrinking to a size 8 or “the perfect 10” however, won’t make life any better than it is now, not really. People might tell you that you look better but for those putting extra emphasis on your looks, on you being slim and meeting beauty ideals well, fuck ’em. You don’t need that shit any more than you need a detox diet, or a juice cleanse or a faeces face mask. (I made that up. I don’t if they exist but wouldn’t be surprised).

Make some goals that are realistic and be weary of the new year resolution trap that will only set you up for failure and perpetuate an annual system of Monday morning mentality if you don’t meet your transformation goals overnight.

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If you want to make changes it doesn’t matter which day you start. Plan ahead, be realistic and practice self compassionate. So here’s the cliché cocktail: Rome wasn’t built in a day, lives don’t change overnight (except for lottery winners), and as a heads up healthy sustainable lifestyle isn’t associated with any of the following words, phrases or promises:

  • Fad
  • Fasting
  • Cleanse
  • Detox
  • Toxins
  • Colonic irrigation
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Liposuction
  • Plastic surgery
  • Fillers
  • Botox
  • Diet
  • Restriction
  • Challenge
  • Blitz
  • Transform
  • Lose 3 st. in a month
  • Breathing fire when you reach a size 8 because you’ll be so smoking hot
  • Everyone you hated will suddenly love you
  • The universe will totally change
  • The world is gonna flip on its axis
  • Prince Harry will ditch Meghan Markle for you

What will I be changing in the new year? What am I aiming for? All the same things I’ve been working towards for a while now. I got a climbing pass for Christmas, so that’s more climbing on the agenda. I want to keep trying my best to fuel my body well. I want to keep working on my degree. I want to keep training for the London marathon and raise some dollar for my cause – link at the top of the page *wink nudge wink nudge*

I want to keep reaching goals. I want to practice consistency because that seems to be the on.

Keep writing.
Keep reading.
Keep on keeping on.

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So here’s to the same shit, different year, for growth and progress, just like yesterday. I’m starting to quite like consistency. I think it’s pretty neat.