We are, without a doubt, overloaded constantly by messages about what is and isn’t “healthy”.
News headlines frequently decry certain food groups and activities as “bad” for you, whilst social media gurus pronounce x and y as the magic pills for vitality. Whether something is “healthy” or not is a frequent topic of conversation.
But what does “healthy” truly mean?
Restriction, omission, diet plans, strict exercise regimes, mounds of broccoli, salads; for most people this is what “healthy” signifies. And in a lot of ways, if you look at the definition of “healthy” according to OED online, it’s not so hard to see where this idea comes from:
- In a good physical or mental condition; in good health.
1.1 (of a part of the body) not diseased.
1.2 Indicating or promoting good health.
1.3 Normal, natural, and desirable.
1.4 Of a very satisfactory size or amount.
This definition alone may offer an explanation to our confused and often fractured relationship with being “healthy”, as defining what is or isn’t healthy instigates a degree of comparison (hello point 1.3 and 1.4…hello obsessive and unhealthy behaviours).
It seems that most people would like to be adorned with the label “healthy”, a badge of honour and a virtuous halo, but few people feel that being “healthy” can be fun or fulfilling. So where’s the disconnect?
Have a conversation with friends, family and co-workers; ask what they believe is meant by “healthy” and you’ll likely end up with remarks centred on cutting out the bad, eating bland tasting rabbit food and taking up residency at the gym; only those with abs fit the “healthy” mould, right?
Alternatively, people that eat without concern for the nutrient density of their foods whilst living a sedentary lifestyle may claim themselves to be “healthy” as they never get sick. Can “health” simply equal “not sick” (visibly at least)? If we take the dictionary definition point 1.1 seriously then perhaps it can.
Is our focus on “healthy” good for us?
As “healthy” for many people can range between the aforementioned extremes, being “healthy” may not be so healthy after all. Healthy is too often externalised and based upon socially acceptable definitions of what the word means rather than the individual’s own experiences.
So what about “wellness”?
The rising tide of “wellness” has brought a raft of additional “healthy” labels – plant based, paleo, flexitarian – there’s one for everyone. Sceptics might suggest we’ve merely swapped the “healthy” label with “wellness”; a far glossier, well-manicured term featuring model-esque advocates.
But wellness should be more comprehensive than “health” by involving a more holistic and individual approach, something that appeals to more women than men currently.
It seems a lot like “healthy” is failing women far more overtly than men, with wellness stepping in to fill the void. Want someone else’s word(s) for it? Here’s an extract from a great article which summarises impeccably:
But the forces behind the rise of oxygen bars and detox diets are worth taking seriously—because the success of the wellness industry is a direct response to a mainstream medical establishment that frequently dismisses and dehumanizes women.
Health has been getting a face lift with the rise of the wellness scene but wellness still may not be the right way forward for everyone.
Let’s decide what’s best for us, ourselves
You know your own body better than anyone else; rather than worrying if something meets societal definitions of “healthy”, assess your choices by asking “is this going to help me to feel at my best?”
What makes you feel at your best is not the same as what will make someone else feel at their best. When it comes to your health, you as an individual should be prioritised and not the latest celebrity backed juice cleanse/workout/diet book.
Feeling at your best, long term, requires a holistic and intuitive approach. Trust your gut, appreciate the signals your body gives you (not what the media rams down your throat) and question what measurement of health you would use without dress sizes, celebrity fads or diet programmes to distort your judgement.