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What is “healthy” anyways? (The dangers of a one-size fits all mentality)

About a month ago, I was scrolling through Facebook, and I saw a post that stopped me in my tracks: a well-meaning woman had shared about her experience of getting healthier, and she had included with her share a “before” and “after” picture. This is pretty natural. A lot of people who choose to share publicly around their health journey share these photos, and the posts are often focused on the idea of losing weight. And for sure, these transformations should be shared and celebrated! Good for that woman!

Yet despite the fact that I KNOW all that…intellectually…I didn’t feel celebratory. I felt incredibly activated by this photo.

My blood began to rise. I felt passion bursting forth within me as my heart and soul raged, “I’m so tired of this! Of the black and white idea that there is a “right” way to look or a “right” way to be healthy! Or that health is solely based on what we look like on the outside. I feel it’s doing so much more harm than good!”

Full on inner temper tantrum, and I’ll tell you why.

Because sixteen years ago, when I was 18, I was in the trenches of adolescence and battling an eating disorder. At that point, I was the “skinniest” I’d ever been at that age, and I was receiving a lot of external validation for how “healthy” and “good” I looked. In reality, when it comes to health and wellbeing, I was at all-time low.

I was anxious ALL the time; constantly obsessing. I was losing my hair. I pretty much got dizzy for a good 30 seconds to a minute almost every time I got up. My blood pressure and heart rate were abnormally low. I couldn’t really poop. (Only once every 3-4 days and only tiny nuggets! TMI, but we need to keep it real about this stuff, y’all!) On the outside I looked “healthy,” and yet my insides were screaming for attention.

If you know me, you know I am a passionate woman about all things concerning coming home to yourself and listening to the answers within. The things concerning the very core of our wellbeing–both individually and collectively. And I will not be quiet about this very essential message of health: HEALTHY does not ONLY equal thin or skinny or a particular size.

There are so many cultures throughout time that have known this. For instance, in the beautiful ancient practices of Ayurveda, it’s taught that each of us has a beautiful constitution and that our constitutions vary. We need different things. Our bodies are meant to function in different ways. What looks “healthy” for one being may not be truly healthy for another. For instance, a Vata body is more naturally slender and thin (which is healthy for that particular person), while a Kapha body naturally is fuller and larger boned.

I feel it’s time to shift away from a one-size-fits-all image of health that isn’t determined by reality but by the programming we’ve received through consumer culture. Buying into this idea that there is one particular look that always equals healthy is doing so much more harm than good.

Believe me, I know. I have intimately experienced the “prison-like feeling” of feeding myself based on what I thought I needed to look like. I have felt the restriction of valuing others’ validation more than my own hunger. I have experienced the suppression that comes with trying to control how people value me by using my body to get validation and approval.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t receive recognition for physical transformation that is in service of their health! By all means, let’s celebrate those people and their visibility. And, let’s also talk about the real need to shift the conversation from health away from what society tells us is healthy and our own inner knowing about what feeds and nourishes our deepest health and wellness.

To me, “healthy” is: 

  • Do I feel vital?
  • Am I sleeping well?
  • Am I eating foods that nourish me?
  • Do I feel emotionally connected to myself and my emotions and others?
  • Am I moving my body in a way that invigorates me and supports my muscles/joints/bones, and supports my blood pressure/heart rate/etc.?
  • Am I creating space for a spiritual practice or something that connects me to my essential self?

When those things are lined up for me, I feel healthiest. I’m also bigger now that I used to be. People out there might judge my current body size as “unhealthy,” yet what matters most to me is that I feel healthier and more on purpose.

I’m not saying that your health markers need to be the same as mine, either. If healthy means something different to you than it does to me, by all means, pursue your own unique version and vision of health.

What I am saying is that looking at weight above all else as a marker of health is a perfect set-up to put our worth–our enoughness, sense of wellbeing–always outside ourselves as we strive for something that may not even be truly right for us. It’s time to stop outsourcing our health like this! It’s time to learn to look within, listen to our bodies, and take aligned actions toward our truest version of health.

I’d love to hear, what judgments do you have around your health and habits right now? Are there things you think you “should” be doing but aren’t? Or ways you “should” be being “better”? Now ask yourself, do those ideas about what/how you should be doing come from you and a true deep knowledge about what’s best for you? Or are they coming from outside yourself? From what you see upheld in the world as valuable and praiseworthy?

If you’re ready to go deeper on this with me, I’d love to have you join us at this year’s Yoga’licious Retreat, August 2nd-5th; enrollment is almost closed, and I have just 3 spots remaining. This year’s theme is about claiming “This is Me” and through our weekend together you’ll have the opportunity to unwind many of the scripts around being yourself including health and wellbeing that may be getting in your way of unapologetically expressing yourself.  You can reply to this email if you’re interested in learning more!

xo,

P.S. If you want to hear more about my eating disorder and the healing I’ve done around that experience, I have a podcast interview coming out in a few weeks with my friend Tyla–it’s called A Year Ago Today. Stay tuned for more details in the upcoming weeks!

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