It made me think about our notions of health. Currently, health seems to be equated with weight. If you are overweight, you are unhealthy. If you are thin, you are healthy. End of story. But health is not synonymous with weight and confusing the two is problematic, not only for those affected by eating disorders, but also for the countless others who face a constant, unrelenting message that they are sub-optimal, undesirable and unhealthy.
(Photo by Eileen Sproule)
The truth is you can't tell if someone is healthy just by looking at them...just like you can't tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. People can be healthy or unhealthy at many different sizes and shapes. But sadly, far too many people are only focused on the numbers on the scale as the ultimate definition of their health (or worth). Far too many people engage in restrictive dieting, which is dangerous (dieting is #1 predictor for developing an eating disorder) and ultimately just doesn't work (95% of people will regain the weight they've lost and often add more weight). So, let's move beyond the simplistic and inaccurate "weight = health" discussion and dive a little deeper.
Here's what I think it means to be healthy:
- being able to move through the world with a sense of belonging, self-worth and self-acceptance
- recognizing that your body is a precious gift
- taking care of your body by consulting with your healthcare professionals and making changes to improve your health, if necessary, in ways that are measured, safe, realistic and long-lasting
- honouring your time, talents and relationships more than your physical appearance because the former are true assets and the latter will inevitably change as you age
- being able to identify, express and process emotions in ways that aren't self-destructive or damaging to others
- having a moderate, flexible and accepting attitude towards food--- that all foods in moderation are fine
- being able to forgive yourself for mistakes and imperfections (and being able to forgive others as well)
- exercising for the joy of moving your body, not because you need to burn off calories, prove something, avoid feeling difficult emotions or punish yourself
- using self-regulation, self-soothing, and restorative means to handle stress rather than resorting to controlling, dulling or denying techniques that are maladaptive and damaging.
- being able to give and receive love, knowing that all relationships contain risk and pain
- having resilience in the face of life's many challenges
- reaching out for help and support when life becomes too hard
Not one of these bullet points mentions BMI, percentage of body fat or how many miles you can run. These are blunt-edged tools that cannot possibly measure the true nature of health, which is complex, subtle and personal.
Okay, so those are my thoughts. How do you define healthy?