What if we viewed health as a process, as something we could choose to do at each moment, rather than something we look to attain? What if it was actions we could take at each juncture in the road, rather than any sort of measurable outcome like statistics or numbers? What if it were something that was relative according to each individual, so that we could all do it right now and whenever we wanted to regardless of our current situation and regardless of what it looks like for other people?
I ponder these things at the cusp of the new year – a time ripe with resolutions to get healthier/thinner/fitter and I remember being in that place too, once upon a time. Year after year I made the same pledges and ultimately I’d fall flat on my face. I was trying to change too much and setting the goal posts further and further away – too focused on the outcome to realise I was doing the process all wrong too. We don’t have to do health perfectly, and we don’t have to stick to strict rules (I’d actually say that is less healthy really), instead I think really we just need to focus so much on the journey we forget the destination altogether.
See, I am a firm believer in intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is one of those dumb things, like organic vegetables, that wouldn’t need the adjective in front of the noun 200 years ago. Organic vegetables, before the advent of modern agriculture, were just regular veggies and intuitive eating, before diets existed, was just eating and the way we’d eaten for thousands of years. It looks different in every culture and for every person. The basic premise is that you eat what you want, how much you want and when you want (and included in the idea of “want” is what will feel right for your body). It’s pretty simple, but hard to do for most people (I used to be one) who have been eating according to external rules and dictations their whole life (since babies, I am learning as a mother – because there are even rules about how much and how often your baby should eat!)
I am also a firm believer in intuitive movement – I wholeheartedly believe movement is essential to thriving (whatever that looks like for you), but again, I don’t believe it needs to be dictated by external rules. In fact, after nearly 10 years as a personal trainer and 3 as a yoga teacher, I believe the opposite – strict rules push us into a corner where we rely fully on motivation and negative self talk or negative views of ourselves in order to make ourselves move in ways we don’t enjoy but believe we “should”. I am of the belief any movement is good movement and if we find things we love we’ll never need motivation again. I personally love bush hikes, yoga asana and a full body weights circuit in my home gym with my husband. I do not like running, high intensity cardio (unless it’s less than 15 minutes) or long slogs in the gym that focus on individual body parts. Make me do one of those and I will procrastinate, make excuses and not move at all. Allow me to move in the ways I love and I’ll crave the moment in the day as soon as I can get the chance to do it. It’s pretty simple – we are drawn to things we enjoy!
I also believe that health is absolutely, definately much more than what goes in our mouths and how much we move our body. In fact, I think those two things are relatively minor pieces of the puzzle (contrary to what the health industry will lead you to believe). I think that all of us have different values around what health looks like – and all of them are practices I can do at any moment – for me it involves staying mostly sober, connecting to nature, spending time with my tribe, living according to purpose, making time for stillness and silence and breath, being mindful of my thoughts, being present and making sure I make time for fun (in the form of spontaneity and hobbies). In the end, healthy for me isn’t a bunch of rules I stick to in order to maintain or get to a weight, a size or some other number used to “measure” my “health”. For me, and most I would argue, keeping weight out of the question is actually vital to achieving optimum health because of the way pursuit of weightloss sabotages our ability to listen to our body’s own signals. And so health is a way of life and a set of things I ‘practice’ to feel my best in each moment.
So as we sit in the silly season and head into a new year I would encourage you to have a think about this idea of health as a process rather than an outcome, and envision how that would look for you. For me, it means I never need to make a commitment to change things on Monday or next year or after XYZ event, because for me health is a choice I make consistently. It doesn’t involve deprivation or resisting, ever, and it took me a long time to learn that actually, those things can be the unhealthiest of them all. Sometimes the healthiest choice involves a bit of balance which means croissants for breakfast (as we did Christmas morning) or ice cream for dessert (as I do most nights).
Let me know what you think of this concept and if you could see it working for you. And of course, throw any questions at me I’d love to help.