Healthy/ ˈhel-thē/ adjective: having good health; not sick or injured. This is the definition of healthy according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. But healthy is not this straightforward. It is an elusive term that few understand, yet many obsess over. I believe that healthy refers to overall physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Healthy is a feeling, not a set of rules. There is no right or wrong way to be healthy. What you eat, how often you exercise, and how you look does not make you a good or bad person. Healthy has nothing to do with how many pounds you can bench or how your body looks in a bikini.
I decided to ask two of my fellow Registered Dietitian friends to give their input on their personal definitions of healthy. According to Alexis Willman, “Healthy means giving your body all of the nutrients it needs, without sacrificing your happiness.” Allison Woods states, “Being healthy does not have one simple definition. Being healthy to me means feeling strong and confident in who you are. It’s eating a balanced diet while also enjoying a donut or bowl of ice cream every once in a while. It’s having positive thoughts about yourself, even if it’s not where you want to be in that moment; but it’s also knowing that one day you’ll get there.”
While everyone’s personal definition of healthy varies, here is my take on determining what healthy means for you:
Healthy is individual. No two people are built the exact same. For some people, physical health may be a top priority. For others, mental or emotional health may take precedent. Going to the gym 6 days a week may be considered healthy for someone who finds exercise to be therapeutic or rewarding. For someone who dreads working out, a 30 minute walk 3 days a week may be healthy. Healthy is not universal, it is individual. Therefore, healthy is not up for comparison. What is healthy to your best friend may not be healthy for you. What the media advertises as healthy may not be accurate in your life. It’s up to you to determine your own sense of healthy based on your own wants and needs.
Healthy is variable. On some days it means eating all of your servings of vegetables and going for a jog to boost your energy. On other days it means eating warm cookies and binge watching your favorite show on Netflix. Your version of healthy can and should change from day to day based on your feelings, energy level, state of mind, and stress level. It may even change based on the weather. On a sunny, 75 degree day, healthy may be taking advantage of the weather and going for a walk at the park. On a rainy afternoon, healthy may mean lighting candles and taking a nap.
Healthy is intuitive. Healthy habits should come naturally. If you feel restless, then exercise. If your body is tired and worn down, then rest. If you are craving a bowl of fruit for breakfast, then eat the fruit. If you can’t stop thinking about that donut at your favorite bakery, then eat the donut. Listen to your body. Build trust with your body to regulate your food intake, exercise levels, and sleep. It knows what it needs. It’s up to you to override your mind’s messages, and truly become in-tune with your body’s signals.
Healthy is flexible. We so often fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to healthy. Your healthy lifestyle should be flexible according to circumstances. You should be able to put your meal plan aside to spontaneously go out to eat with your friends. You should be able to skip your planned workout for the day if you get invited to a party at the last minute. Your definition of healthy should work around your day, not control your day.
Healthy is comfortable. Your healthy lifestyle should not feel forced. Health is not a chore. Drinking green smoothies that you hate in order to be healthy is not actually healthy. Going to an exercise class that makes you feel inadequate just because your fit friend goes is not actually healthy. Healthy should not be so all-consuming that you forget to live. Healthy should fit to your preferences and fall into place with the rest of your lifestyle. Healthy means finding a sense of peace with yourself and your decisions. Find peace in eating a salad because you were craving the refreshing texture and needed to feel energized. Find peace in eating wings because you were enjoying spending Saturday watching football. Healthy should be comfortable, peaceful, and rewarding.
Healthy is balanced. Healthy takes all factors into account. Some days you may want to be physically healthy, but your mental health is more important. You should be able to give thought to healthy food, yet not be so restrictive that you miss out on foods that you really enjoy.
Healthy is dynamic. Your definition of healthy is always changing. When you’re in school, healthy may mean walking to class instead of taking the bus and indulging in late night pizza because you’re enjoying living in the moment with your friends. When you’re working, healthy may mean keeping a piece of fruit at your desk and indulging in cake when it’s your co-worker’s birthday. When you’re a parent, healthy may mean going outside and playing with your kids and eating popcorn while watching Disney movies. Healthy changes with each phase of your life. When you were 20, healthy may have meant running 5 days a week. When you’re 50, that habit would no longer be considered healthy, as it puts your joints, bones, and muscles at risk for injury. As you age and change, allow your definition of healthy to transform with you.
Now it’s your turn to determine what healthy means for you. Ask yourself: is my definition of healthy individual, variable, intuitive, flexible, comfortable, balanced, and dynamic? It may take some experimenting until you reach that ideal point, but you will get there. Focus on your body. What feels right for it? What feels wrong for it? Healthy is not about having control. Healthy is about giving up control and letting your body tell you what it needs. It’s smarter than you think.