Real health #1 What does it mean to be healthy?

Today is the 1st January, the start of a new year and a new project for me! I have been reflecting over the last week on the concept of health. January is a time when lots of us want to get healthier and fitter, maybe get back to some healthy habits after indulging over the festive period or lose some weight. As a nutritionist and health coach I want to help people to reach their health goals and feel better in their bodies but I don’t really resonate with the traditional messages of control and restriction in the health and fitness world. So I decided to start a daily blog series on “true health” where I will share tips on how you can work with your body to make small changes gradually to move towards better physical and mental health. As all Bridget Jones fans will know, new years resolutions should never start till the 2nd January so for today I just want to focus on the idea of what it means to be healthy.

Think of the healthiest person you know. How would you describe them?

  • The absence of diseases or illness?
  • Healthy behaviours that they follow e.g. eating well or exercising?
  • Healthy appearance e.g. slim with good skin or shiny hair?
  • Emotional stability e.g. happy and stress free?
  • A good social life or family network?
  • All of the above???

The World Health Organisation defines health as:

“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”

This is quite a holistic approach but still definitely brings up some questions! Can someone with a disability be healthy? What about someone with a lifelong genetic condition? If someone has a chronic disease which can be managed and does not affect their quality of life, are they healthy? And what does complete well-being mean anyway and who can actually achieve it?!

The answer to these questions is that there is no answer. Defining health is actually a really difficult thing to do as it has different meanings depending on the individual. People tend to describe health based on their own situation and experiences. Someone with a chronic disease or disability that they are managing might be less likely to describe health as peak physical fitness and focus on the emotional and social aspects instead. A shy person who might not have the most active social life can still feel healthy and happy and might describe health as having a healthy lifestyle and the lack of disease. For some, being healthy means maintaining a slim physique but others living in a larger body might feel healthy, confident and energetic as they are. Health can also be seen simply as being able to participate in and enjoy life to the fullest.

Regardless of the specific definition, it is important that we see health as a resource for a fulfilling life, rather than the ultimate aim or achievement. A problem with the current health and wellness industry is that it abuses an image of health to keep people trapped and chasing an unattainable goal. We are constantly bombarded with images of skinny or athletic women (men too!) and made to believe that if we don’t have abs or we have too much cellulite then we aren’t healthy and we need to do something to fix ourselves whether that is a new restrictive diet, weight loss program or exercise regime. Good health is a priority for many of us and we are willing to pay crazy sums of money for nutritional supplements, fitness programs and other products which promise to bring us closer to this image of health. We can quite easily revolve our life around trying to be healthy but this obsession can take away from our emotional and social well-being.

I know for sure that my definition of health has changed over the last few years. I used to think I was healthy as I was slim, I looked reasonably well and exercised like a fiend. People around me thought so too and I was complimented for being the fit one but looks aren’t everything and inside, my body wasn’t functioning like it should. I was stressed and anxious and my obsession with food and exercise was detracting from my social life. Good health is something many of us take for granted and we don’t think twice about neglecting our bodies until things start to go wrong. But a small amount of time and effort spent on learning how to look after ourselves and actually going out and practicing it can really make a difference. These days, I take a much more holistic approach to health and definitely focus more on keeping my stress levels down over everything else (not an easy job when we’re in the middle of a pandemic!).

So your task for today is to reflect on how you would define health and take 5 minutes to visualize your healthiest self.

Maybe jot down a few of the most important things that you thought of in a journal or in your phone notes to refer back to. For example:

True health to me is…

… feeling comfortable, light and free in my body
… challenging myself and experiencing life to the fullest
… nourishing my body and mind with healthy food and movement
… feeling free and unrestricted in my food choices
… sleeping well and feeling energetic and happy

Maybe some of these resonate with you or maybe you have your own idea of what it means to be healthy. Everyone’s image of health will look slightly different and that’s a good thing! For me right now I define health as feeling strong and energetic in my body, having a solid support network around me and feeling like I am following my purpose and sharing my passions through my work.

Tomorrow’s post will be on how to set achievable goals to work towards your image of true health.

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and have some thoughts on what it means to be healthy. Let me know in the comments below what true health means to you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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