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Defining Health

In order to get healthy, I had to change my definition of health.

For those of you that don’t know me well, I’ve spent the last fews years on a health and wellness journey that kicked off somewhere in 2015.

It began in the form of exercise, yoga, long walks, and learning meditation to cope with financial and emotional stress. Today, I employ roughly all of these practices in my daily routine – with the addition of being conscious of eating good foods and seeking joy throughout my day.

So am I healthy?

The World Health Organization defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Under this definition I might be healthy? “Complete” seems like a scary target to hit and it leaves a lot of gray area to be defined.

I realized recently that somewhere along my health journey I had redefined ‘health’ to empower me to keep going.

My definition is as follows: “striving to take care of oneself by eating good foods; moving the body in a way that aligns with personal fitness capabilities and goals; meditating to address emotional processes and bring peace to the mind; and practicing self care through seeking joy and joyful activities.”

Under this definition, am I healthy?

Yes. Hell yes.

Why is the term Healthy loaded with pressure?

We are all differently abled. We come from different backgrounds, have different home lives, have different opportunities presented to us. We learned to model different behavior and we have different ideas on what it means to be healthy.

I want to preface this because I think in the last few years, the term “healthy” has become synonymous with shaming others for not meeting certain criteria.

“Oh that’s not healthy

“She doesn’t look healthy

“I would eat that but I’m trying to be healthy

We’ve all heard the sayings or maybe even muttered them ourselves.

For some, the term healthy can be loaded with connotations of a certain body image, weight requirement, spiritual practice, and state of mental health. I’ve even seen the current wellness movement shy away from even using the term, and replacing it with terms like alignment and wellness.

While I don’t disagree with the use of these new terms – in fact, I think alignment is really beautiful – I think the underlying problem is still there. Somewhere along the lines the term healthy became a stack of goals impossible for the average person to meet. (Or at least to felt impossible for me.) And in order to be healthy, you have to place yourself on this self-righteous pedestal of pride steeped in matcha, green smoothies and going for a run you hate.

Ok maybe I’m taking it a little far. But this is what it felt like for me when I first started this journey. I’d look at people that went running and think, “I can never be healthy because I am not built to be a runner (hello unwanted knee pain)”. I’d look at the green smoothie drinkers and think, “I can’t be healthy because I loath green smoothies.” I’d see a super skinny woman meditating with perfect posture and think, “I have a hard time with mediation, and sitting up like that to do it is hard.”

What all these excuses have in common is the fallacy that health is an all or nothing approach.

But Hillary, the WHO says….

Forget that definition of “complete wellness”. You will find much better results in the version that says, “seeking wellness.”

Health is a beautiful thing to strive for. And for me, it doesn’t matter if I hit the target. What truly matters is I’m trying to hit the target.

Changing this definition has made all of the difference for me. It’s allowed me to afford grace to my efforts, rethink solutions and reprogram my many limiting mindsets.

For me, health is:

  • Making peace with the body you are in and celebrating its unique abilities. Perhaps you are an all-star runner, perhaps you hate running like me, perhaps you don’t have the ability to run. We can all be celebrated for who we are.
  • Moving your body in the way that you can. I’m not talking rigorous exercise as a catch all for any of my abled or my differently abled friends. I’m talking about being intentional and connected with your body – and seeking that connection everyday. Enjoy lifting? Connect with your body through that. Want to push yourself to be your definition of fit? Find the exercise that will bring you joy and compliment that goal.
  • Enjoying foods that nourish your body and soul. “Diet” was a super hard concept for me to wrap my brain around. So instead of adopting a traditional, “rigorous health-conscious meal guideline” I co-opted a system known as intuitive eating. I seek a balanced approach to enjoying foods that will bless my body and bless my soul.
  • Practicing self care. I do this with a combination of things that bring me joy. Some of my favorites include yoga, meditation, cooking an awesome meal, listening to music, writing, playing music, crafting jewelry, taking a nap, enjoying a show, gardening, playing with my dogs. If it brings me joy, I call it self care and seek time doing it.

All the things I think health is not:

  • Meeting rigorous exercise requirements that do not bring you joy in the process. Been there, tried that, and all it did was bring me shame. I quit more times than I care to admit using this boot-camp-steeped-in-fat-shaming-myself approach.
  • Shaming yourself and others when goals aren’t met. Did I mention that I used to shame my own efforts? All it did was sabotage me from my goals and convince me I wasn’t cut out for fitness.
  • Eating a strict diet fueled by shame and disconnected body image. Shame was a theme in my life. Not. Any. More. I celebrate my body for all of the amazing things it can do and for the amazing things it has done.
  • Brushing off emotions and telling yourself the narrative to “toughen up”. My favorite coping mechanism used to be to ignore my emotions and then drink when they showed up. It. Doesn’t. Work.

Your journey

Wherever you are on your health journey – I hope that you can find some peace writing your own definition of health. I hope you can begin or continue to love the beautiful body you were given. And I hope you can celebrate your efforts – no matter how small.

Being “healthy” is a journey and a challenge that I will accept for the rest of my life. And I hope you will too.

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