I had in interesting exchange with another blogger recently that has prompted me to rethink what it really means to be “Healthy”. I’ll write about that in a moment, but first I should acknowledge this person who has been through a great trial in her life – and still is as a matter of fact. While I felt I needed to reach out with some encouragement and to be supportive of her, she’s likewise become big inspiration to me both by putting up a fight to change her own life for the better even though the road is often rocky for her, and also because her comment to me reminded me once again to change the way I look at myself, which allows me to see her situation from another – perhaps better – perspective than I had previously.
I’ve said it before that you change the way you see yourself in order to change the way you’ll see the world, so I want to thank this person for indirectly reminding me of this, and for inspiring me to work harder not only to improve myself, but also to improve my perceptions of others. I won’t name you now just in case you’d rather remain anonymous, but I really hope you’ll realise who you are, and if you want me to add a pointer from here to your blog, please contact me and I’ll update this post.
So what does Healthy mean and more importantly what does it mean to be Healthy?
I’m asking this question in this way because I feel there is a vast chasm between the definition of health in terms of the science Vs the actuality of an individual’s state of health. Which is my fancy and overly intellectualised way of say that I think were doing it wrong and we need to rethink our priorities a little.
Like most people, I spent the majority of my life before now trusting that the doctors and research scientists know what they are doing and have mapped out a list of medical rules that define what a healthy person looks like. I’ve trusted the healthy food advice that has been pushed at us through pyramids, plates, and all those other catchy ways that healthy living has been advertised to us for decades. It’s only recently that I have stopped to really think about this stuff, and to go against the standard advice that the health and medical communities have bombarded us with to really ask myself
“If the experts have got it all correct, why isn’t it working for me or for the millions of other people out there struggling with health problems?”
Something that I seem to have forgotten over the years, is that whatever you may think about science, no matter how carefully it is examined, tested, and peer reviewed – which means the scientists argue about it and don’t actually prove anything, most science is still about making a best guess based on what you think you know, and trying to apply statistical models that support those guesses – which scientists prefer to call theories because it makes their guesses sound more “science-y”. The problem though is that science takes an even lesser priority when politics and economics enters the picture, so much so that it is big industries that drive policy creation more than either wisdom or science, and a universally uninformed population majority simply goes along with what governments, food and drug industries tell us is good for us, even though the science as imperfect as it is has been telling us for years that the way we understand diet and health is essentially wrong.
In terms of deciding what healthy is it’s all about our priorities. Governments don’t have an answer and if they did they wouldn’t tell you to avoid political backlash from industry. Doctors don’t have any answers beyond what industry scientists tell them. Researchers don’t have a complete answer, because whatever they do often raises more questions, and their research often focuses on relatively narrow areas of study with relatively large margins for error, and often again based on assumptions derived from older unchallenged assumptions. In effect, nobody today really knows what healthy is in a modern world, whereas anyone living 2000 years ago would have simply stated that being healthy meant not feeling sick!
Perhaps this is where our real problem lies. We try to apply so much science and pseudo-“science”, continually questioning the wisdom of old while trying to fit our studies into a framework driven more by industry than by pure scientific pursuit of the truth, and in doing so we overcomplicate a simple definition that should be relatively straight forward. We’re so busy listening to others tell us how or what we “should” be, that we’ve stopped listening to our bodies telling us what we are and what we need. So if we do listen instead to our bodies, what is it that our bodies are trying to tell us about being healthy?
The body knows nothing about Weight, BMI, Fitness Testing, or any of that other stuff. Our bodies don’t grow fatter or thinner because someone tells us we should look like other people or should fit into trendy clothes. We don’t get 6-pack abs or muscled arms simply because it looks desirable or fits a stereotype. All of this sort of stuff is purely about vanity – Yes, I do mean to include weight, test results, BMI’s and so on – and there isn’t a single thing that vanity will give you in terms of health and fitness, but there is a whole lot that vanity will take away from you.
So what is the simplest definition that you can apply to describe what it is to be healthy? In a nutshell…:
Being healthy is the absence of everything that makes you feel unhealthy.
What I mean by this is that your own body will tell you that there is something out of balance. Something that would suggest that your body isn’t at it’s best in terms of it’s state of health. Any condition that doesn’t feel right, that feels negative in some way to you is a symptom of your body trying to tell you that you are not enjoying perfect health, and every illness or condition that further develops is your body’s failure to maintain it’s healthy balance. Here are some examples of symptoms of imperfect health:
- Always being thirsty, hungry or getting cravings
- Regular nausea, headaches, sweating, bad breath
- Difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, restless sleep & insomnia
- Falling ill several times each year for no apparent reason
- Bowel and stomach problems
- Lethargy that has nothing to do with sleep
- Weakness, sore joints, muscles or tendons that has nothing to do with exercise
- Restlessness, anxiety, ongoing depression
- Shortness of breath
- An inability to do things physically that you you feel you should be able to do
- Discomfort when you attempt to do simple physical things
- Difficulty concentrating
- Random cramps, spasms and pains, back pain and sciatica
- Dry, cracked, oily, spotty skin
Yes, I could go on and list every condition that I can think of, and yes I realise that much of this can be mental as well physical. My point is that when you feel unhealthy, you probably are unhealthy. Have you noticed though that I have not mentioned anything about weight, or fat, or muscle size, or looks? That’s because all of these things vary so much from person to person that it’s impossible to say for certain whether you would be healthy weighing more or less than the statistical average, or whether you would be healthy with a body fat percentage of 15% or 30%. If these things don’t result in a host of other symptoms that make you feel unhealthy, then isn’t just possible you’re actually in a healthy state?
I realise that I have perhaps oversimplified the point greatly, and that many will argue about things like blood sugar levels, and cholesterols, blood pressures, heart rates and all sorts of other things that don’t show up without good science and medicine, and yes I will agree with you up to a point. Consider this however, how likely are you to visit a doctor if you don’t feel that there is something out of balance in your body? How likely are you to visit a doctor if you are feeling healthy and well all of the time? It’s only when our gut instincts tells us something is wrong at best, or at worst if we ignore all of the symptoms and collapse somewhere, that we bother to get doctors involved in our health at all.
So what I hope you’ll take away from all of this is that it’s really up to you to decide what is best for you in terms of what it means to be healthy. Pay attention to what is happening in your body and don’t ignore the little things that will tell you if you are NOT at optimal health. If you see lot’s of little symptoms regularly appearing, you’re obviously doing it wrong and need to try something else. Whatever it is that you do choose to do, don’t do it simply to fit yourself into the expectations of others, do it because it makes you feel strong, capable, and everything positive that you feel when you know that there isn’t a thing wrong with the way your body is working for you. And remember, the sexy/fat/skinny stereotypes will no longer apply if you learn what it is that is truly healthy for you.