When I consider the word health, my instinctual afterthoughts gravitate toward exercise and fitness, eating habits, and appearing fit and toned. I then compare what I’m currently doing in my life to what other people are doing in their lives, whether it’s adhering to a new diet, experimenting with a new exercise regimen, or how muscular the person appears. With social media, advertisements, online coaches and personal trainers, and a slew of other factors that contribute to our notion that health is defined only by appearing a certain way (toned, fit, lean, etcetera), exercising on the daily, and following certain eating practices, it makes sense that there are times where we feel that we’re not living up to society’s definition of health, deeming ourselves less than adequate in our own efforts toward health and wellness.
I myself am guilty of comparing my health to society’s current definition of health and wellness. I tend to disregard that I’m my own individual–that what’s considered healthy for one person may not mesh with what’s healthy for me at this time in my life. For example, if you were suffering from a terrible, miserable, I-can’t-breathe-out-of-my-nose cold, your first priority wouldn’t be driving to the gym to hop on the treadmill or to lift weights, would it? I don’t think so, no. You’d prioritize getting the softest tissues, the warmest blankets, and medicine to help alleviate your discomfort. What about if you had the stomach flu—would your first instinct be to consume eggs, raw vegetables, and protein supplements? Probably not, because your body would prefer liquids to replace lost electrolytes and bland, gentle foods that would best settle an upset stomach. If we aren’t truly listening to our body’s intuitive cues—giving it rest when we’re not feeling our best, nourishing our body’s with life-promoting foods, engaging in activities that we truly enjoy—are we really living in alignment with our individualized health?
Health is not a “one size fits all” term, nor does it have one finite, rigid definition. As discussed in the previous paragraph, health is highly individualized. It’s very simple to associate health with related keywords such as diet, exercise, fitness, and body shape. However, the notion of health extends beyond those limiting facets. Health encompasses not only our physical wellbeing, but also our mental wellbeing, how we feel about ourselves, how we view ourselves, and our ability to tune into and follow our body’s intuitive cues.
At this chapter of my life’s journey, health isn’t defined by the amount of hours I spend at the gym or how many yoga classes I attend each week; how many macronutrients I consume or the idea of maintaining a 100% “clean diet;” how my body appears when I flex back at the reflection in the mirror. Right now, this is what health means for me as an individual: Resting, providing my body with adequate, nourishing nutrition, adhering to a gluten-free diet, practicing gentle yoga and mindfulness, and devoting a conscious effort toward practicing self-care and self-compassion.
There are many days where I feel incredibly guilty and “lazy” for not engaging in exercise like I feel I should be, not adhering to a particular popularized diet, or for taking time to practice self-care. However, I am aware that my current definition of health could change—it’s not a permanent definition. I will be able to run and exercise again once my body and mind are truly ready; I will be able to practice more flexibility in terms of my diet when I am better able to adhere to my body’s intuitive cues; I will be able to redefine health for myself as I progress forward in my personal journey toward wellness. In this moment, however, I have to work on accepting where I’m at in my life’s journey—accepting that for me as an individual, my definition of health may be different from the next person’s definition–and realizing that it’s more than okay to accept these differences.
We are individuals for a reason: We have our own minds, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and hold our own personal values, beliefs, likes, and dislikes. Health does not possess an inflexible, definite definition. Health is subjective, health is individualized, and health is defined by the very person reading this blog post. So, let’s resist the urge to compare ourselves and instead begin tuning into our intuitive selves, working toward composing an individualized, self-fulfilling definition of our own personal health and wellness.