We tend to have a very narrow view of health—of what constitutes healthy and what being healthy consists of. We assume that eating “clean”—very little sugar, saturated fat, artificial ingredients, preservatives—and exercising most days of the week is the epitome of healthy.
We assume that eating kale and skipping dessert is the epitome of healthy.
We think healthy means eating less than 2,000 calories a day, and having one “cheat” meal a week.
We think healthy means being on an “eating plan” (if you’re told what to eat, it’s still a diet).
We think healthy means doing detoxes and fasts and cleanses.
We think healthy is dictated by our weight.
We think healthy means getting 10,000 steps in daily, drinking spinach-filled smoothies, and never eating gluten again.
But does it? Does that really sound healthy to you?
As eating disorder expert Jennifer Rollin, LCSW, noted, “We need to broaden our concept of ‘health’ and recognize that this also includes mental health. Being a slave to the gym and having anxiety around dessert is NOT mentally healthy…”
It is not healthy to be obsessive about food, calculating our calories throughout the day, logging them into some app, worrying over whether they’ll be serving low-fat options at our office party, weighing ourselves weekly or daily, and letting the number on the scale dictate our mood, and our lives.
It is not healthy to fear certain foods, and thereby avoid eating them. It is not healthy to run ourselves ragged, subsisting on little sleep so we can get our workout in. It is not healthy to hate our bodies. It is not healthy to think that we’re being “good” for eating salad, while we’re being “bad” for eating eggplant parm.
In other words, health is so much bigger and broader than what we eat and how much we exercise. Yes, eating foods with certain nutrients—including fruits and veggies—is important. Yes, moving our bodies is important, too.
But our thoughts, feelings, mindset, relationships, stress levels also are vital. What we say to ourselves is vital. The stories we spin are vital.
After all, how is it healthy to eat a grilled chicken salad for dinner when you’re really craving a bowl of pasta (and end up feeling dissatisfied the rest of the night)? How is it healthy to stop eating cookies, while berating yourself for your too-big legs? How is it healthy to take six kickboxing classes a week, while telling yourself the story that you’re still worthless, and you don’t deserve a respectful relationship?
Other things that are healthy: getting enough sleep, getting plenty of rest, laughing with your loved ones, journaling your feelings, forgiving yourself for making a mistake, sitting with your sadness, playing, making art, taking any class for fun, daydreaming, reading poetry, showing yourself compassion as you navigate a particularly difficult challenge.
It’s hard to have a full understanding of health because the one-dimensional perspective on health is everywhere. Magazines. Social media. Grocery stores. Restaurants. Conversations.
It seems revolutionary to think otherwise. It seems revolutionary to eat something you’re in the mood for, regardless of how many calories it has. It seems revolutionary to participate in physical activities you actually enjoy (instead of working out to look a certain way, instead of working out to work off whatever supposedly terrible thing you ate yesterday). It seems revolutionary not to own a scale, and not to care how much you weigh.
So be revolutionary. Maybe it’s time.
What would happen if you expanded your definition of “health” and “healthy”?