How to determine what “healthy” means for you

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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.

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Compare less, live more

There’s a woman on Instagram who I stalk religiously. I follow her just to see her perfectly posed, stylish, artsy, beautiful photos that always seem to have the perfect lighting and filters. I don’t know her, but I want to be like her. We all have that person. We reluctantly open our social media apps, promising ourselves that today we will not engage in comparison; but we do so anyways. Some days we hate ourselves for it. We hate ourselves for wishing that we were someone else. We hate ourselves for who we are. Why do we have so many flaws, while others seemingly lead picture-perfect lives? We feel inadequate when we compare our behind-the-scenes realities to everyone else’s highlight reels.

It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. I beg to differ. Comparison is the thief of everything. It steals our happiness, confidence, and time. It takes over our thoughts, which could be much better spent on other things. It makes us either feel superior or inferior, neither of which is healthy. Comparison breeds jealousy. Jealousy cultivates self-hate. Self-hate leads to anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues. Comparison steals the best of us and reinforces the worst of us.

We tell ourselves things that we would not dare say to anyone else. Negative self-talk drills to our cores and poisons our thoughts. It influences how we speak to others. When we are happy with ourselves, we do not feel the need to bring others down. We no longer need to rely on the crutch of comparison. But how do we stop it?

Let’s learn to admire others without questioning ourselves. Next time you feel the urge to compare yourself, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this comparison fair to myself, or to the person I’m comparing myself to?
  • How much time out of my day will I spend comparing myself to others? What else could I be doing with this time?
  • Do I have anything to gain?
  • Will I feel better or more confident afterwards?

Emerge from the security of the efforts to carefully construct yourself. Meet your true self – your honest, un-edited self. You cannot expect to find security from a broken identity. You must become intimately aware of yourself. You must embrace who you are, where you have been, and who you want to become. We all have the capability to love, serve, give, and pursue the greater things in life. Acknowledge the struggles of your past that you have conquered. Practice gratitude for your current state. Learn to not rise and fall with each success and failure. Your identity should be stable regardless of what happens to you, and regardless of what other people are doing.

Celebrate progress, not perfection. Foster gratitude over comparison. Respect yourself and embrace your own uniqueness. Everyone was created with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It is only when you decide to fully, confidently accept your own amazing and flawed self that you will begin to truly live.

Decide what is important to you. Would you rather spend your time thinking of how you measure up to others, or contributing your own talents to others? Would you rather magnify your own flaws, or empower others by fostering their strengths? Find inspiration without comparison. Use the successes and strengths of others to drive your own creativity, passion, and goals. Other people are not #goals. But they can help you acknowledge your own goals, and give you the push you may need to get there.

Do not participate in the comparison race. Slow down. Focus on the leisurely aspects of life. Abide. Dwell. Delight. Move at your own pace. Stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle. You are where you are. Remember that you are only competing with your past self. Decide that you want to improve. Nurture your strengths. Accept your weaknesses. Recognize your beauty. Get lost in your dreams. Chase something greater. Free yourself.

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Next time you’re about to comment “skinny” on someone’s photo, consider this

Skinny. 64% of women surveyed on Facebook want to receive this comment above anything else. Tiny. 52% of women surveyed on Facebook wish others would comment on their body sometimes or often. Why are these simple descriptors becoming the ultimate, most untouchable compliments?

For the majority of the population, body ideals are unrealistic and unattainable. In today’s world, the ideal body is thinner than ever before. With sponsorships for meal replacements, workouts, and detoxes all over social media, women are coming to believe that these elements will create a more ideal weight and life. Pictures of celebrities and workout fanatics plague social media. As I scroll through Instagram, I often find myself thinking, “I wish I looked more like that.” While that is unhealthy, the scarier side of the story is normal women whose bodies are being exalted, just because they are thin. I’m not sure when “skinny” became a more desirable comment than “you’re beautiful” or “you look so happy,” but I’m sure that it is dangerous.

So why are these comments about the size of someone’s body now the desired ideal? Would we wish to receive these comments on our pictures if we didn’t see them on other women’s pictures? The second someone sees you comment “skinny” on another person’s picture, the second that woman wishes it could have been on her picture. The second she wishes she would be called skinny, the second her body image sinks. The second she feels that her body is inadequate, the second she begins to diet. The second she obsesses over weight loss and the approval of others on her body, the second she enters the realm of disordered eating. Will every woman who wants to receive the comment “tiny” on her pictures develop an eating disorder? No. But, does it increase the risk. Not only does it increase dieting behaviors, it also perpetuates the obsession over body image ideals that envelops our society.

We can do better.

When did skinny become better than beautiful?

When did skinny become better than healthy?

When did skinny become better than happy?

When did skinny become better than feeling loved?

When women started using skinny as an exalted term.

We praise thinness. We praise weight loss. We praise disordered eating without even realizing it.

So how do we end this? Let’s begin by thinking of the women we want to be. Do you want to be known as the “skinny girl,” or would you rather be known as the “kind-hearted, radiant woman”? It begins with our own perceptions of what compliments are the most meaningful to us. Once we can switch our mindsets from desiring surface-level comments about our bodies to meaningful comments about our personalities and unique traits, we begin to move away from skinny-praising. And then, we can begin to compliment other women on the amazing traits they have that we now realize are more important to us. We can move from “you literally weigh 1 pound” to “you are such an inspiration.”

When you choose to end the “skinny” comments, you choose to lift other women up. You choose to point out the traits in other women that truly make them beautiful. You choose to end the dieting, body image-focused hype that so many people wish would end. Choose to end it.

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