What is health? Is health a problem to be solved? Is health a standard to be achieved? Is there a correct way to be healthy?
Or is health an ongoing journey with multiple paths and options?
My lived experience has shown me that health is a process of respecting and caring for my body. A process that empowers and enables me to live my best life. A process which requires a variety of solutions: a health toolkit.
We all know the image of what a “healthy” person should look like: thin, fit, able-bodied and beautiful. Mainstream culture and the healthcare system tend to echo this rigid idea that a “healthy lifestyle” means focusing on diet, exercise and weight loss.
During my recovery from an eating disorder, I learned to let go of that image of the so-called “healthy” person. For me, the closer I got to looking like the ideal, the more unhappy, unstable and unhealthy I became. As I followed rigid diet rules and overexercised, I may have outwardly appeared “healthy” but my pursuit of that image was breaking me.
Now by embracing a more nuanced vision of healthy, my day-to-day life is much more flexible, energizing and joyful. I no longer need to force my body to meet a narrow health ideal. Instead, I utilize a health toolkit to take care of my body through a variety of practices and strategies that help my body feel good.
My “tools” include: fun movement like hiking and kickboxing, counseling, daily time in the sunshine (if possible), intentional connection with family and friends, and antidepressant medication.
Intuitive eating and gentle nutrition are also a foundational part of my toolkit. My experiences have taught me that rigid eating plans and restricting certain foods only cause hardship in the long run. The body craves food when it is being deprived on both a psychological and physiological level (Resch, Tribole “Intuitive Eating”). I plan on discussing the struggle of food restriction in more detail in a future post.
For last ten years, I have been exploring the complex idea of “health”. Building on my understanding of the human body as a registered nurse, I have read and re-read books discussing emotional regulation, nutrition, shame, stress, body acceptance, and health at every size (HAES). The knowledge presented by the experts has shown me that health is beyond complicated and has more interconnected factors than typically discussed.
By expanding our view of health and embracing its complexities, I believe we can better care for our bodies. Over the next few months, I plan to write about various health topics from this more flexible and nuanced place. I hope to encourage others to let go of simply pursing the thin ideal and instead consider building a health toolkit.
While my experiences have shown me the validity of this shift, there is also research and science to support these changes. Every post will include a reference and recommended reading section at the end.
When health is viewed as a nuanced process, there is a freedom to pursue a variety of helpful behaviors, practices and strategies that benefit our unique and wonderful bodies. This transition was not easy or quick. This shift involved intentional growth, mistakes and doubt—but ultimately, it has been completely worthwhile.
Thanks for reading.
Reference and Recommended Reading
1. “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole
2. “The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor
3. “Body Respect: What conventional health books get wrong, leave out, and just plan fail to understand about weight” by Lindo Bacon PhD and Lucy Aphramor PhD, RD.