Seeking True Health in a Health Obsessed Culture
Is your definition of health keeping you unhealthy?
Maybe. Maybe not. But I recommend taking a critical look at how you define health in your life and to reflect on how your definition of health is impacting your overall wellness.
When you say something or someone is healthy, what drives your sentiment?
I usually hear the following impacting this statement the most:
- Food choices
- Fitness routines
And by the frenzy of advertisements everywhere about all of the above, the definition of health in our culture has been skewed to meet the needs of for-profit industries while also fueling disconnection and shame about the food we eat, our bodies, and our stories.
It is time to start thinking critically about the messages we are integrating into our definition of health.
Any person, book, or program that touts drastic weight loss, cutting out major food groups, or specific results is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. None of these diets or “lifestyle choices” are sustaining after 1-2 years. The facts show weight cycling from dieting, disordered eating, and serious eating disorders are continuing to wreak havoc on our health.
I respect and totally get the desire to look good and feel good. Yet, there is a dark side to these pursuits when the meaning and motivations are based on fear, obsession, and untruths.
I am troubled by the loud chorus of people in the medical and wellness fields that are getting on the bandwagon of fear of fat and an over-focus on the number on the scale as a measure of true health.
And I am even hearing health preached from the pulpit. Yet when people in faith communities are equating virtue with the number on the scale or whether you eat certain foods, it only results in more anxiety, confusion, and discontent. Shaming people to lose weight or eat well in the name of God hits below the belt and increases psychological and spiritual wounds.
I am surprised how many people are still using the archaic BMI (Body Mass Index) as an indicator of health. It is simplistic, formulaic, and reductive. The BMI does not take into account your genetics, unique physical makeup, and lifestyle. Yet it is still used as the gold standard for whether someone needs to lose or gain weight.
And I am still skeptical of the FDA standards of the BMI knowing that many of the people on the board have or have had connections to the diet industry. If the BMI is a part of your definition of health, I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider its role.
We do have some serious issues to address regarding wellness in our country, but the myopic focus on weight + good food/bad food is missing so many other factors that contribute towards true health. And until we have a multidimensional view of health, we will keep spinning.
I talk a lot about what health is NOT.
I believe health is not:
- determined only by the number on the scale;
- achieving the “perfect” body or striving for unhealthy perfection;
- eating food restrictively or based on a “good” food or “bad” food mentality;
- unsafe relationships;
- an obsession with eating healthy where there is no room for flexibility;
- dieting and demonizing foods and food groups;
- shaming, blaming, or judging self or others.
I also talk a lot about how I define health.
I believe true health is:
- finding something you are passionate about and striving to spend most of your waking hours in this space. When people are bored or feel trapped in jobs or situations that drain them of their creativity, their motivation, and ability to sit in vulnerability, this has a negative impact on mental and spiritual health which in turn can develop into physical ailments.
- having a relationship with money where you are living within in your means and have enough to give and save. Leaning too heavily on finances as a means of control or comfort gives money way too much power over your peace of mind. And using money as a means to medicate can create chaos and a cycle of stress that negatively impacts mental, physical, and spiritual health.
- involvement in your local community. So many people are disconnected from the places they live, but emotional wellness comes when we feel safe, have purpose, and community.
- having a faith + regular spiritual practice. Understanding we are loved beyond measure and there is a greater purpose for your life gives perspective and meaning in all circumstances.
- having a deep soul connection with a special few individuals who you can be real with, share your fears, mistakes, dreams, and hopes. Feeling heard and understood creates connection. Connection breeds empathy and gratitude. Gratitude impacts how our brains fires and improves our well-being, body, and soul.
- living in a body that has energy, its needs met, is rested, moves well, and is free from pain. And when many are living in chronic pain or have chronic illness, practicing the previous five points can actually help improve their physical health. The only numbers of real concern are on your labs checking your bloodwork and other internal functions.
In the days and weeks to come, I will dig even deeper into these components of true health.
I am curious: How do you define health in your life? What do you think of my definition of health? I look forward to and value your thoughts and feedback on this important and controversial topic.