“You must be having a great summer! You look so healthy!”
The words were innocent enough. Complimentary even.
I had just gone in for a dental cleaning, and was chatting with the hygienist, who I had seen on a regular basis for many years. She is an incredibly caring person, and I know she meant well.
Unfortunately, those words sent me into panic mode. What did she mean I “looked” healthy? I wasn’t sure, but I certainly did not take it as a compliment. As soon as I got home, I raced to a mirror, and scrutinized myself…facing forward, facing backward, from each side, and up close. I was not digging “healthy”. Proof in fact, that I really wasn’t. (Healthy, that is.)
Since that time, I have spent many runs, many bike rides, many car rides, many church services (oops), not to mention many nights drifting off to sleep, thinking about what healthy “looks like”.
The components of health were obvious to me:
Nutrition: Your body thrives when you eat nutrient dense foods. I believe Michael Pollan said it best. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A diet is how you choose to eat, not something you “go on”.
Physical activity: Exercise is crucial to your well being. Choose activities that you enjoy. Your body needs cardio and resistance/strength training. Find what works for you, and do it.
Sleep: Your body needs sleep in order to repair itself. Plus, it helps regulate hunger by maintaining a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. When you don’t get enough sleep, you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.
Spirituality: Believe in something bigger that yourself. This is what gives you hope. Knowing and trusting in God allows me to accept things I can’t control. For some, meditation fills this need, while others find their spirituality in nature.
Nothing earth shattering here. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to what needs to be done to achieve “health”, as we are all unique individuals. So, we can’t say that there is one way of eating, or one form of exercise, or an exact number of hours to sleep, or one way to experience spirituality. We do, however, need to be mindful of each of the components, and we should find out what works best for our bodies.
And how do you know when you have found the perfect balance? Well, that’s the hard part. It requires brutally honesty.
Am I physically healthy?
When you get blood work done, are your numbers good? I’m talking cholesterol (and your ratio of HDL to LDL), blood pressure, triglycerides, and glucose here. And are your numbers good without medication? Does your weight/BMI/% of body fat fall in the healthy/normal range? Do you feel good? Are colds and other illnesses the exception rather than the rule?
If this was all there was to “looking” healthy, I wouldn’t have questioned my hygienist on that day last summer. But the mere fact that I did, despite the fact that I could have answered yes to all of the above questions, was all I needed to reevaluate my own life. This is what pushed me to search for what “healthy” looked like. There had to be more to my health than just numbers. I dwelled on this for months.
And then I understood.
So, to my above list, I now add the following:
Feeling at peace: Accepting yourself wherever you happen to be on life’s wellness journey. Knowing that you have the ability to make changes in your life. Realizing you can change your perception of yourself, and understanding that it’s okay if you aren’t quite there yet. Because while I have made peace with food, I am not 100% at peace with my body.
If life were simple, there would be a formula that we could use to create a visual of what we would look like at optimal health. Wouldn’t that be great? We would no longer need to strive for something unattainable, unsustainable, or even detrimental to our health. But there isn’t. So, if we truly desire to “look” healthy, we need to take responsibility for ourselves, and change what isn’t working.