Our culture has a wacky perspective on what healthy means. Culture says if you eat lots of greens, a bunch of protein, and little to zero carbs, simple sugars, and fat, then you are healthy. You will also be healthy if you force your body into shape by walking thousands of steps a day, crunch your abs flat, and burn more calories than you eat. If you don’t follow the rules and control yourself then you are unhealthy, which means you will stay fat or get fat if you aren’t already. Culture’s definition of healthy is “skinny.” Skinny isn’t enough, though, because even if you aren’t fat right now, you should probably “drop a few l-bs” because it will be healthier for you.
If you are following the rules but you aren’t slimming into those pants that are supposed to slim you down even more, and you’re feeling miserable about why your body is still craving sugar, then according to culture you need to have better self-discipline and take care of that addiction or you are just never going to be healthy. Shame on you.
I tried culture’s way and ended up in recovery for an eating disorder that almost killed me. Doing healthy culture’s way led me to the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life.
Health has nothing to do with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh, or what size I wear. Health has to do with being connected to myself; healthy is between me and my body. Healthy is being able to tune into my body and know what it needs based on the things I feel–hunger, sadness, pain, pleasure, wonder, fatigue, etc. Healthy is responding to my body in a way that is respectful and loving without judgement, shame, or questioning. When I am connected to my body and obliging what it needs and wants, then I am healthy. I can be whatever size and weight and eat all of my favorite foods and still be healthy because healthy doesn’t have a shape or size or criteria. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way; healthy is a state of being.
There’s a difference between not feeling well and being unhealthy. When I am not feeling well, my body is trying to tell me something is wrong, and it will adjust until I do something to feel better, like maybe eat a sandwich; take a nap; go to the doctor. When I am connected to my body, I intuitively know what to do to feel better and I will do it. That’s healthy.
Conversely, when I am “unhealthy,” outside of being legitimately sick, then I have become disconnected from my body– viewing and operating myself from the perch of the world–the media, my friends, my family, my doctor, my peers, culture–and living from a space of perceived expectations without understanding that I am perfectly fine just as I am. There’s actually nothing wrong with my body, but I believe I am unhealthy because the world says I should be eating certain foods, weighing a certain amount, and looking a certain way. So I squirm in the discomfort, forcing and dieting my way into “health.”
I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than disconnecting from my body and forcing it to squeeze into culture’s expectations of what healthy means.
Practically speaking, healthy is:
- being in tune with my hunger and fullness cues.
- knowing which foods I enjoy eating and which ones I don’t.
- eating what sounds good rather than because something is good for me.
- listening to when my body wants to move and when it doesn’t.
- understanding how my body moves and how it doesn’t.
- accepting (maybe even loving!) my body as it is today.
- appreciating what my body can do as it is today.
- wearing clothes that fit me today.
- resting when my body is tired.
- challenging myself when I’m energized and uncomfortable.
- feeling the feels when I’m triggered emotionally.
- coping with life using tools that are right for me.
- respecting what my body tells me ( e.g. More please. I’m done. That hurts. I’m hungry. Let’s rest.)
- honoring the need for self care.
Healthy is not:
- counting calories.
- restricting/omitting food groups.
- watching what I eat.
- idolizing greens and protein.
- demonizing carbs and fat.
- controlling portions.
- regimenting exercise.
- burning more calories than I eat.
- judging food as “good” or “bad.”
- fitting into a particular size.
- reaching a goal weight.
- ignoring hunger or fullness.
- demanding a certain number of steps in my day.
- shaming myself for eating or eating something I supposedly shouldn’t have.
- disrespecting my body’s call for rest.
What does healthy mean? Healthy means I am connected to my body–trusting and responding to whatever it’s asking for.
How do I know if I’m healthy? I live in the freedom to eat and move how I want to; I feel good inside my own skin; I am at peace with myself regardless of the cultural noise around me about nutrition and body.
What does healthy mean to you?