Health as an enigma: why I think we all need to define what “health” is really about

My sister recently bought a house in Windsor, which is just far enough away by car to require a podcast en route. Last time I drove down, I listened to one from “Office Hours” (a favourite of my nerdy side!) where they interviewed Ellen Berrey about her book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice. I am not particularly well-versed in this area, but she did speak the language of sociology and as she talked about the way that the word “diversity is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored,” I couldn’t help but think of my own work and the way that the concept of health has come to be taken for granted as universally worth pursuing, without critically considering even the definition of it. Her discussion about the way that the idealization of diversity can actually obscure real inequalities again got me thinking about the way that we idealize health—and particularly the appearance of it. Very rarely do we sit down and define what “healthy” really means to us.

healthy

I couldn’t help but think of some of the people I’ve met who will do extreme things in the name of health—cutting out all carbs, going on extreme diets, running themselves ragged, spending tons of money to lose weight, etc. I see it all the time in my personal life but also as a personal trainer and a professional in the world of health and fitness. Unfortunately, I often see this turn into a slippery slope. My own experience with taking the pursuit of thinness in the name of health too far and straying into disordered eating territory is just one example of the way that trying to be “healthy” can actually compromise that which we’re after in the first place.

Why is this important? In a world where we see all kinds of images offered up as “healthy” (search that hashtag on instagram, for starters), it is more important than ever to be careful not to unquestioningly assume that “health” is defined in a way that fits with us or that serves us. When I was underweight, the natural association between losing weight and getting healthy proved false—just one example of how “health” is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Consider this: with “health” held as an unquestionably worthy pursuit, the association between a thinner body and a healthier body can drive people to do things that are perhaps unhealthy (going on starvation diets, taking diet pills, etc. come to mind), albeit in the name of health. In my humble opinion, I say we get honest about it: it’s not about your health if it’s driving you insane mentally or compromising your quality of life in the process. If we talk about it as being about our health, we’re contributing to that “enigma.”

You eat whole foods and you have a happy relationship with your body, you move it in ways that feel good, but if you don’t look like the images of health offered up in the media, are you actually unhealthy? If you’re, dare I say it, “overweight” by some chart’s standards, are you shit out of luck when it comes to embodying a healthy subjectivity? I don’t think so, but I do think we need to talk about this stuff more (hence this blog). When the images we see of health are all of a narrow range of body types, and when the fitness models on the cover of fitness magazines engage in arguably unhealthy pursuits (cutting out water for photo shoots, engaging in restrictive dieting, etc.), then it’s easy to get confused—so take it easy on yourself. I don’t see the magazines and marketing gurus out there likely opening up the images of fit bodies to encompass all of those that really can be considered fit any time soon, but I do see blogs, social media, etc. as avenues for us to start to open up the definition of “health” to be more realistic and more based on what’s right for each and every one of us. I did just that on this blog not too long ago, and I have been doing my best to come back to that when I get down on myself or my body.

Cheers to blogging!

Do you consider yourself “healthy”?
Have you ever taken the time to define what “healthy” means to you?
What are the parameters you set for yourself when it comes to being “healthy”?

Body Positivity Tuesday: Be Picky

It’s time for another tip from the body acceptance arsenal. This week is about putting on blinders when it comes to things that don’t serve you on your health and happiness journey…

Week 3: Limit your digital exposure to things that make you feel bad about your body.

As a blogger, I’m obviously biased towards social media’s potential to be a positive force in our lives. But I’m fully aware how the literally unlimited exposure available to us via the internet and social media to the kinds of content and pictures that can make us feel inadequate can wreak havoc on our abilities to feel good about ourselves. The internet is also a place where people can present things that aren’t even real—as real as they appear. A big step back during my eating disorder recovery was letting go of the blogs I was following who took part in the “What I Ate Wednesday” madness. I realized that part of giving up the obsession with whether or not what I ate was good or normal or too much or too little or whatever was to stop comparing myself to others, especially those who took the effort to document their every bite on the internet.

The remedy? Examine what you expose yourself to on social media. If you’re constantly bombarded with photos to which you compare yourself, or with people promoting all kinds of extreme diets, or with anything that leaves you feeling worse off, get rid of it. We have to be the gatekeepers of what we allow into our lives, and given the way in which we are constantly connected these days, social media is a big part of this puzzle.

respect

Is there anything you’re letting go of after reading this post? 

control yourself: how to avoid needing a digital detox

I am a social media junkie and I love blogging, but I am also a bit of a hippie and I realize the power of shutting down and shutting off. A vacation where there ends up being no wi-fi, a day where you accidentally leave your cell phone uncharged and have 4% to make it through the day, and coffee shops without wi-fi are, in my opinion, gifts more so than ways to ruin a perfectly good, screen-filled day. I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of talk about the way our devices are hurting us. People, myself included, talk about how it can be stressful to be “always on” and how there are now very few jobs where you can simply work from 9 to 5 and leave things at an office. But I don’t think this is such a bad thing.

no interwebs

What I see happening is a lot of people blaming technology for issues of their own control. As I see it, I can turn off my cell phone and shut down my computer. Sure, employers might require us to perform certain duties with our cell phones, but for most of us we can set boundaries for ourselves and spend a lot less time than we do on our devices without failing to do what’s required of us.

internet water joke

Digital detoxes are all the rage, but I felt particularly grateful for technology today when I was able to coach someone who is all the way on the other side of the world. According to google maps, it would take me 23 hours and 25 minutes to fly to her, but thanks to Skype, we could bridge the 13 hour time gap and get down to coaching business. That’s pretty cool, right? Yesterday, I got to message back and forth with my best friend in the whole wide world who is currently on the other side of that world as well—Saudi Arabia is a little far for me to show up for girl talk in person. When I got snowed in yesterday, I could still work on my thesis because I have digital copies of most of my references. Today I got sucked into some chores around the house and was feeling unproductive when I realized that I was being very productive—I listened to a great podcast and ended up in a much better mood as a result. Technology is doing me well!

But there is the constant temptation of going on facebook while I should be writing, or the way that sometimes I can let in-person friendships slide because I’m spending extra time on the interwebs. And there’s Cupcake Mania. I see kidlets playing with iPads all the time and I wonder what they’re going to be like if they never play with other kids. So I do see the side where technology is a time suck and ruining our lives.

But I believe that we are in charge of our lives and we don’t have to be slaves to anything—let alone to something that can be such a positive force! So before you swear off technology and start acting like a wi-fi signal will give you cancer, I have a few tips for how to handle technology in a way that maximizes its benefits and keeps it from running your life.

  1. Simplify your stuff. Don’t download podcasts that you don’t want to listen to. Turn off the subscriptions to endless newsletters and coupons. Delete the people who rub you the wrong way on your social media. You are the gatekeeper of what makes its way onto your phone, your inbox, and into your life—make a point of filling your technology with the things that you actually use and that make your life better.
  2. Use airplane mode. Or anything that limits the temptation for you but keeps you as reachable as you need to be. I can turn my phone on airplane mode and be fairly certain the world will not fall down—I don’t have a child, a dog, or a chinchilla depending on me so most things can wait an hour while I do productive things. There are settings that block disturbances and ones that only let certain people reach you. Use them! The simple requirement of turning off the airplane mode—and demonstrating that you have 0 self control—should be enough to keep you off of Boom Beach for long enough to do something worthwhile.
  3. Share what’s worth sharing. Some people criticize the way that others use facebook and other social media to highlight the good things and hide the not so good things. I think social media can be a great place to discuss the issues that are important to us, but I feel better when I use it for the most part to stay positive. When I think about what I want to put out into the world, two things come to mind: authenticity and positivity. I want to be an encourager, so I try my best to stay out of pointless debates on twitter and to share things that lift me up in the hopes of being a little bright spot on someone’s newsfeed.
  4. Beware of the nerd safari. Do you ever find yourself reading link after link or watching video after video and simply getting lost in things you don’t remember even being interested in? This is perhaps a good way to expose yourself to new things, but with all the information in the world available online and with all the pointless things that seem to be floating around, choose what you consume wisely. I try to check in with myself and see if what I’m reading or listening to would be worth paying for (here’s hoping you stick around for the rest of my post!).
  5. Keep your guilty pleasures as pleasures. We can get into a trap of overdoing just about anything and I think technology falls into the same category as food or alcohol or TV-watching or just about anything that is okay in moderation but that can ruin us if we overdo it. I love Cupcake Mania, and I appreciate the built-in self control that comes with only getting 5 lives in it at a time. If I played it all the time, I would be losing too much time to it for it to be a pleasure. Giving myself a break to play a pointless game once a day or so is sort of like letting yourself have dessert—it’s a treat that way. But just like eating cake for breakfast lunch and dinner would sort of make it lose its luster, so would matching up coloured cupcakes if I did it all the time.

Think of controlling your technology use as a great opportunity to develop and hone your self-control. Think of the sense of control you’ll have over your life if you are the one who runs the technology instead of letting it run you. I can guarantee that a digital detox—is a short-term solution. Technology is a fact of life and we are far better off to get to work building long-term habits that help us make it a positive part of our day-to-day existence. Good luck!

Self control? This guy's got lots of it!

Self control? This guy’s got lots of it!

Do you feel bogged down by technology?
How do you manage your tech?
Have you ever done a digital detox?