The H Word

One of the things that I really struggled with when I first came to the Health at Every Size(r) concept was the word health. Maybe I’m the only one but for so long “healthy” had been synonymous with “weight loss” that I had a hard time not rebelling against the concept wholesale.

As I’ve always said on this blog – I do not believe that health is a moral, personal, or societal obligation.  I believe that everyone gets to choose how highly they want to prioritize their health and what path they want to follow to get there. People are allowed to jump out of helicopters wearing skis and they are allowed to be sedentary and eat a diet of fast food,  Also, health is demonstrably multi-dimensional and not all dimensions are within our control.

Since health is important to me,  I had to get myself to a place where health is not a dirty word (I should have known since it has 6 letters and not 4).  I had to disassociate it from my weight loss days.  In order for me to get okay with the H word, I first had to come to it on my own terms.  In that process I realized that each of us gets to decide for ourselves what our definition of health is.  I think it starts with a baseline – the things that we can’t control – diseases, disabilities whatever.  And, at the risk of sounding a little after school special here –  it starts with realizing that our baseline health is unique to us and doesn’t make us better or worse, just different. Then you look at what’s possible starting at that baseline, decide what of that possibility you want to achieve, and then create a plan for how to get there.

For me there’s a lot less crazed perfectionism and obsession in health than there was in dieting because it’s on my terms.  I’m making decisions based on my goals, not for somebody else’s standards.  And I get to succeed early and often:  Eat some broccoli – success.  Go to the gym – success.  Eat some cake without guilt or shame-success.  (For me it’s a healthy behavior for me to sometimes eat for pleasure.  It is unhealthy to feel guilty or ashamed about it.)  Becoming ok with the H word has given me physical health, but something more as well.  It’s given me the mental health I need to continue to make good decisions that are in line with my goals.

10 thoughts on “The H Word

  1. It’s understandable that some people have issues with the word. I can only hope that they can work around them. For me, health has always been knowing what is best for my body and treating my body accordingly. I am still learning to how eat healthy. I have always been thin due to genetics so I have always thoughts I could “get away” with stuffing my face of junk all the time and it would be ok because I stayed thin no matter what. But junk food has taken a toll of my body even at my young age, so I’m learning how to eat more balanced meals so I can have more energy. And I’ve been trying to not be sedentary and do workouts that I enjoy and that get my heart rate up and blood pumping. I’ve also had to learn that I can’t be perfect either. There will be some things I can never change, but focusing on the things I can change makes a difference. Physical health has a lot to do with mental health. The healthier I eat and the more I work out my body, the more energy I have and the happier I am.

  2. Thanks for this post on the “h” word. What came to my mind was my struggle with “extremes” or “all or nothing thinking”. I think my journey towards health and seeing that I am/can be healthy at the size my body is supposed to be, needs to include working with and mitigating that all or nothing thinking that I learned so well from the diet world,

  3. It’s ironic that “health” in this day and age is equated with “deprivation and suffering”. Not too long ago, feeding your body wholesome, nourishing food several times a day was considered the road to health, and it was then (as it is now) a luxury for most people. At what point did becoming/remaining healthy stop being a joy?

  4. I 100% understand feeling like health is dirty word to the anti-dieter. I have trouble prioritizing health because I feel like it is a very small step away from dieting. I know I need to get over it, because I do want to live a long and fulfilling life. I don’t want to need a ton of medications as I age. It would probably be helpful to me to make out a lust oh health goals (obviously not weight related) and figure out how best to meet those goals. My first one should be to quit smoking for real and to get more regular exercise. I’m still not totally past the exercise as it relates to weight loss thing though. Working on that.

  5. I think for me it is still hard to see the decision to eat cake as a healthy one. I don’t mean you’re wrong, I mean that I am still struggling in this area. I find I end up being obsessive about health and fitness and I feel guilty still about choosing to eat for pleasure at times. You are so right, people who have never done the diet round-about and disordered eating route likely wouldn’t understand that a healthy attitude towards all food and emotional health about food is important too.

    1. This weekend, millions of people are going to make resolutions to “get healthy”, and I’d bet that very few of them will include mental health in that objective. Don’t get discouraged about struggling, by the way – it takes a long time to undo all the mental knots we’re taught to tie ourselves in about food.

  6. I think it starts with a baseline – the things that we can’t control – diseases, disabilities whatever.

    I think this was my biggest stumbling block with HAES. I have a not-so-controllable chronic physical condition along with a (better controlled) mental health condition. Sometimes my physical issues limit the healthy behaviors in which I’m able to engage; sometimes my psychological issues mean that at any given moment, I need to make my mental health my number one priority, even if that means doing something I might not consider so “healthy” (for me, in that moment) in terms of the purely physical.

    By a lot of mainstream standards, I’m never going to be “healthy,” regardless of which behaviors I practice. So when I first heard “Health at Every Size,” my first thought was that size (regardless of my weight or BMI) has never been my biggest (real or perceived) health issue. (And realistically, a lot of HAES readings I first read did focus on topics like food/nutrition and exercise/physical fitness — which are not bad but are incomplete.)

    And truly, if “health” had just one definition that was supposed to apply everyone, Health at Every Size would not work for me. But really, if “health” is the process of making the daily decisions that are best for each of us individually — well, that’s just awesome.

    1. Yes.

      My weight gain has been *caused by* a combination of some health problems I’m dealing with, and the underlying cause of said problems. That is – I’m fat and unhealthy – but I’m fat because I’m unhealthy, not the other way around.

      So – I climb stairs and huff and puff – not because I’m fat, but because I’m anemic. Which, in turn, prevents me from doing the (intense) cardio that people want me to do so I’ll stop huffing and puffing… (I do still walk a lot, but I also do have to rest more often than I did a few years ago.) And it’s *food* (and supplements) that treat the underlying condition… restricting good food has never helped anemia! So I concentrate of getting through this, as I know it will improve, and *then* I’ll work on condition.

      Equally – I have seen friends gain tremendous amounts of weight on steroid treatments for various illnesses. Again, the weight is *a result of* the (sometimes lifesaving) treatment – but then they’re told (and sometimes believe) that they are at “an unhealthy weight.” As opposed to what? Dead?

      Fat + Unhealthy =/= Unhealthy Fat…

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