It’s funny how our perception of things changes as life changes us. I’ve always prided myself on being what I thought was “healthy.” But with each passing year, I have begun to ask myself what is health; specifically, what makes a person healthy?
Without digging too deep, my initial, superficial answer was someone who was active, who was a healthy weight, someone who ate a well-balanced diet and lived a well-balanced life. And while I think, in most instances, I got the answer right, I have begun to realize that a lot of what I thought was healthy was actually unhealthy. My thought process on the whole idea of health was actually quite specious.
For most of my life, my “active” and “healthy” lifestyle meant running close to 100 miles a week. Working out at the gym two or three times a day. Then I’d eat mostly fruit and vegetables and for a long-time little to no meat. And punishing myself for having a cookie or a slice of pizza. I fluctuated between a size 4 or 6. And the moment I did treat myself or god forbid take a day off from exercising, those clothes felt too tight. But I couldn’t buy a size 8! Could you imagine what people would think if I bought a size 8?
I read this book last year called the Body of Truth. It’s an amazing read. I think every woman and man – everyone – should read it. It talked about our perception of health, especially as it related to body image.
It’s hard to not get wrapped up in what people should look like when you turn on the television or open a magazine. Although, happily, we’ve started to see a change with that. A more diverse array of people.
The whole ideal of health is widely debated as well. Skinny versus fat. I hate both of those words, by the way. I hate chubby or chunky. I hate stick thin. All of those words carry negative connotations. Thinner people don’t like being told they should be curvier and curvier people hate being told they should be thinner.
Here’s an idea. Maybe we are all supposed to naturally look different. I have friends whom I know are healthy that are naturally thinner than me. Friends who are naturally larger and eat more vegetables and exercise more than my naturally thinner friends. And who is to say that either group of them is wrong or unhealthy because they don’t fall into this very strict definition of “health”?
What I have learned, as it pertains to body size, is that even I don’t have one set size. What I am as a teenager is not what will probably be the case in my 20s and 30s and so on. And I’ve learned that if I have to work out three hours a day and eat a heavily restricted diet to maintain a certain size or weight, that probably isn’t my set weight. And actually might make me unhealthy.
And the debate isn’t just about weight. It’s about sleep, too. I may require more sleep than someone else to feel my most healthy self. That doesn’t make me lazy or unmotivated. It makes me, well, me.
At 34 and ranging from a size 10 to 12, I am happy to be who I am. I exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet (and don’t beat myself up if I have a slice of pizza). I get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. I feel healthy. I feel happy. I feel full of energy. And most of all, I don’t feel stressed. I’ve moved away from comparing myself to others (you know what they say about comparing apples to oranges). I’ve moved away from starving myself and overexerting myself to meet a specific standard.
I think we all need to learn how to be kinder to ourselves. And to others. This isn’t about me promoting being obese, either. This is me promoting each of us to look deep inside and find a kind of individual health that we can maintain every day throughout our whole lives. Not about crash diets and fads or stereotypical body types or ways of living. This is about embracing who we are at each stage of our lives. If we all loved ourselves a little more. The world, in its entirety, would be a whole lot healthier.
Until next time,