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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Signs Your Healthy Eating Regime isn’t as Healthy as You Think

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We are all constantly bombarded with messages that we as a nation
are unhealthy. We’re getting more overweight and obese. We’re not
exercising enough. We drink too much and eat too much of the wrong
foods.

You’re Always Hungry:
One sure fire way of knowing that your new dietary lifestyle isn’t
sustainable is by how hungry it leaves you feeling. Your body makes
hunger signals in response to needing energy and nourishment.
Identifying real hunger from emotional hunger or boredom hunger,
or habitual hunger can be tricky – and if you now live in a permanent
state of hunger most of the time with a growl in your stomach then
chances are something is a miss.

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Your Diet Is Stressful:
If you find yourself crying because of a food, then something isn’t right.
If you’re stressing because nothing available to eat is fitting with your
new dietary lifestyle then maybe it’s too restrictive. Food is a form of
enjoyment that is very natural to us. Sometimes making big changes
can be slightly stressful as you adjust, say if you’re transferring from an
omnivore to a vegetarian diet. However, if it feels overwhelming or too
restrictive then maybe a longer transition time might help to gradually
ease into your preferred dietarylifestyle.

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Eating Becomes About Emotions:  We’ve all comfort eaten for some
reason or another. The problem really emerges when eating replaces
emotions, whether that’s overeating as a way to deal with emotions,
or under eating. Neither scenario is entirely avoidable but as a default
then this starts spelling trouble with your relationship with food.
Dieting as a way to ‘undo any damage’ caused by emotional eating will
only fuel the disharmony with your relationship with food. There’s a
whole range of advice, books and therapies available to help with
healthy expression of emotions.

 

Fat Becomes a Feeling: Fat isn’t a feeling. You don’t ‘feel fat’ emotionally
speaking. If that becomes a default rhetoric you use when you’re feeling
a bit crap then, without sounding like a psych stereotype, do some digging
about what you’re really feeling. Maybe you’re upset, or angry or annoyed.
It can be anything which solidifies the argument that fat isn’t a feeling.

 

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Guilt and Shame Appear:
We often eat for emotional reasons. A classic break up scene is crying at a
film with a tub of ice cream. It’s a natural reward so if you’re feeling a bit
down or have had a stressful day then a glass of wine, or some chocolate
may be on the agenda. That’s totally cool; no one ever died of a heart attack
because they ate 1 or 2 chocolate bars when they were hacked off on occasion.
Guilt and shame are such strong emotions and they really have no place in
your life when it comes to food. 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 someone else tried shaming you for your food
choices and it keeps happening, it might be time to stick up for yourself and
ask them to not do that as nicely as you can. Maybe a “I’d rather you didn’t
Karen” instead of “FUCK YOU KAREN!” when you’ve reached the end of your
tether might be needed.

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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