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Health is Not a Number: Moving Beyond Diet Culture Mindset

Vibrant health, much like most of the good things in life, can only be experienced and measured through your fully embodied experience of being in connection with what your body (and heart and soul) needs.

Let’s be clear from the outset: Health is not merely a set of numbers on a chart or a lab test that comes back with a singular measurement of one part of you and judges you as healthy or unhealthy.   And health is certainly not the number on the scale, the size of your pants, the number of calories you just ate or the amount of minutes you stair-stepped at the gym.

Said another way: you are not merely the sum of the numbers that can be tracked.  It is the whole of who you are and how you live that creates your experience of health.  Those numbers that we’ve all become fixated on are merely a measurement of health, not your the totality of your total health on its own.

This might sound a bit different than what you’ve heard over the many decades that the  diet and fitness industry have been brainwashing us.   Heck, it probably sounds different than what conventional western medicine tells you, too.

But remind me again how many people have preventable, lifestyle induced health problems we experience under our current healthcare system?  A quick Google search reveals that up to 80% of heart disease and diabetes could be prevented if we approached health differently.  Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for how we define health and wellbeing.

So back to that…..

Health is also not a binary switch that you turn on or off. It isn’t as though if you eat this then you won’t be healthy or if you don’t eat that you’ll lose out too.  Health is the totality of how you live, how you treat yourself body, mind, heart and soul and the choices you make day in and day out

What I’m proposing is that health is a spectrum that we all move up and down on at any given time, any given day. If you’re living a full life and not rigidly controlling or contorting your food choices, denying yourself pleasure or forcing extremes with your workouts, then chances are you move in gradients on this spectrum.  And this is actually a good thing, because a static state is usually at odds with a vibrant state- and it seems to me the goal is more vibrancy, more full bodied experience and expression of life, not one in narrow confines.

Health is an expression of vibrancy, vitality and a zest for life.  That expression may come from things like: 

  1. Mindful eating

  2. Good sleep

  3. Joyful exercise

  4. Being in nature

  5. Authentic relationships

  6. Satisfying sex

  7. Meaningful work

  8. Peace of mind & heart

These are things that can’t be measured with a lab test and won’t show up on your scale. But nail these things, really make them a priority and you will no doubt experience health and vitality.

Our actions can move us more in the direction of health or away from it, but the diet and fitness industry advertising would have you believe that to maintain “health & fitness” (which is actually just code for THIN) all your choices have to be pristine and perfect and you should be able to maintain willpower and control.  This just isn’t true when it comes to being a human on the planet who eats food, lives well and cares for themselves body, mind and soul.

Imagine the physical and mental exhaustion that would ensue if you swung from healthy to unhealthy anytime you ate a cupcake, drank too much wine or didn’t work out for a week. This is what the strictness of the diet and fitness industries would have you believe, but it just doesn’t work like that. It merely means you are a human, enjoying the fullness of your life.   We don’t swing to extremes simply because we didn’t follow the perfect prescription for health.

Nothing about your life  should be whittled down to mere numbers or a binary switch.  When we do this in our relationship to body, health and food, we miss the entire spectrum of pleasure, enjoyment and connection that is available through creating a truly embodied relationship with ourselves, our health and our vibrant expression.

Here are a few steps you can take to nurture that embodied approach and ditch the diet mentality numbers for good:

  1. Begin by Listening: When we begin to live in an embodied way, by listening, honoring and responding to the signals and cues of our body, we make choices that move us ever closer toward health rather than away.   After each meal, give some part of your free attention to how your body, mood and energy feel- are you lighter and more energized after that meal or do you feel grumpy, sluggish and ready for a nap?  These are signals from your body of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to food- listen and respond in kind- this is the first step to having a more embodied relationship with food

  2. Watch your Motivations: Sometimes we like to think that  food is good for us because we’ve been told it is a good option for losing weight.   But this might not be the right food for you and your body and as such, you’re merely motivated by the hope of losing weight, not actually caring for your body and creating more health

  3. Health is Holistic: This means that health isn’t just about your physical body but about your entire experience of being human: mind, body, soul & emotions.   Each part of you deserves attention, care and practices that up level the health and harmony of that system.

  4. Perfection is not Part of this Picture: The reach for perfection is built from an idea that to be worthwhile, lovable and good women we must meet an external standard of health, thinness and beauty.  It’s NOT true.   Plenty of women who have never met that external standard live really awesome, joyful and satisfying lives.  Let yourself be one of them.

The key is to set your measure for health and happiness upon your own life and body, not diet culture’s idea of who you should be and how you should show up.  Working hard to meet someone else’s expectations of us?  That’s the most unhealthy thing we could ever do.

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