How many times have you declared your commitment to exercise or stocked your fridge full of fresh vegetables only to through them out when they rot? Most North Americans will embark on a lifestyle change at least once in their lifetime. Whether it is a focus on healthier nutrition or adding more physical activity to their daily lives, it is a motivation usually fuelled by the desire to be healthier. But how do we define health? Does good health envelope the idea of a low fat physique? To be healthy, does one have to lose that extra body fat or is it enough to eat more fruits and vegetables and strive to move our bodies 60 minutes a day?
The industry and culture of fitness and, yes, even “wellness” has anchored itself to the belief that one must be thin, slender, free of extra fat and even sculpted to reap the benefits of good health. Having worked in the field of health and fitness for over 20 years, I have witnessed this culture first hand: classes, programs, and products making claims of longer leaner bodies only lead to disappointed customers when expectations are unmet.
So why do we continue relating weight to health? Perhaps it is because we have been inundated with the message that chronic disease is linked to fatness. It could be that, as a society, we celebrate the body ideal of thinness and reject the notion that a “healthy” body may include the overweight body. You may be shaking your head at the notion, but as Paul Campos, author of “The Obesity Myth”, strongly suggests the sounding of the public alarm on obesity and overweight is influenced by a social distaste for fat people and findings from “junk science”. Taking it one step further, Dr. Steven Blair, Director of Research at the Kenneth Cooper Institute suggests one can be fit and healthy at any weight. So, what if I told you that a weight loss program focusing on weight is less successful than one that focuses on health? What, then, is the secret to successful and lifelong health if it isn’t to lose weight?
Move your body. Start slowly, two days per week to begin and choose something you enjoy. Eat from a wide variety of whole, healthful, natural foods and avoid the processed foods. Eat in balance and moderation. Most importantly, no matter what you do, self awareness and finding your joy and passion in life is the key to good health. Unfortunately, there are many distractions that take the place of self reflection. Turn off the TV, disconnect from the internet, put the credit card in the freezer and take the time to get to know yourself, your passions and what brings you joy.
The pursuit of true health is the understanding that health incorporates the intellectual, spiritual, social, environmental, emotional and physical aspects. They are all equally important to one’s quality of life and deserve equal attention. By celebrating the healthful things you are doing now, appreciating your body for its servitude and choosing foods and activity that you enjoy, you will experience many positive results that may or may not include a slimmer waistline, but will result in happiness, joy and peaceful living.
Kathi Cameron is the co-author of “Leading to Life Long Exercise”. She holds a masters degree in Exercise Psychology and counsels on behaviour change as it relates to the promotion of health.