Beware the word “healthy”

“Healthy” is an empty word. You have to fill it. Defining this word for yourself is both an opportunity and an imperative. Unless you take the time to think critically about what “healthy” means to you, the gazillion-dollar diet industry will find your weaknesses and exploit them.

It’s that very special time of year where diet companies around the world pour billions of marketing dollars into warping your sense of self, one diet message at a time. But now that diets are falling out of vogue, diet companies are trotting out the same old malarkey behind a feel-good fig leaf of “health.”

The truth is, there is no single meaning to that word. I’ve found great comfort in the perspective that NO food is healthy, as argued in this piece published in the Washington Post. It has given me permission to stop obsessing over the word and whether I’m embodying it to perfection. Because there is no such thing.

When we talk about being healthy, I wish we were just talking about living in a way that lets our bodies and minds feel well. But…when you look deeper, so much of it comes down to the size of your clothes or the number on a scale or what you look like. Not, say, your blood pressure, cholesterol, resting heart rate, or overall state of mind.

“Healthy” to some people means low-fat, low-carb. “Healthy” to others means high-fat, no-carb. “Healthy” to many people means food rules; the more structure the better. I have tried all of those, and none of them was right for me.

Now I realize why. I was defining health based on what I read in magazines and saw on TV and heard from other people who were just as lost as I was. But I never ever listened to my own instincts or trusted my own body. It never even occurred to me.

The longer you’ve been defining yourself through the lens of diet culture, the more definitions of “healthy” you’ve heard and tried. Fat-free. Sugar-free. Gluten-free. Counting. Cleansing. Fasting. Some of them won’t make sense for you, and some of them don’t make sense at all.

That’s why you’ll need to define “healthy” for yourself. As “health” fads come and go, you owe yourself a foundation that doesn’t depend on the whims of diet culture.

Since I swore off diets years ago, I’ve worked to develop a definition of healthy that serves me — not the sales goals of diet companies. I eat vegetables because I like them, and they provide my body with nutrients — not because I’m “good.” I eat carbs because I like them, and they provide my body with energy — not because I’m “bad.” I eat what I want, when I want to, whenever it feels right. That makes me feel free. That’s health to me.

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