What is "health?"

I don't know about you, but the concept of "health" feels rather elusive and abstract to me.


It's a word we toss around all. the. time. But what does it even mean?


Before you continue reading my ideas about health, I encourage you to pause and reflect for yourself...

👉What does health mean to you? How would you define it?

  • The absence of disease?

  • Or maybe it's more about how you feel - having good energy and positive spirits.

  • Or maybe your idea of health is related to how much you can do - having an able body that can run, jump, and play with your kids.


man walking on tree in nature, health, healthy, energy, nutrition


What is health?


👉The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."


I appreciate this definition because it validates my idea that health is about much more than being able to run a mile or having proper calcium levels.


This definition makes sure to include mental and social well-being into the equation too - something I think traditional doctors and Western medicine often overlook.


There's still a lot to this definition that is left to interpretation, however. "Complete well-being" seems like a pretty subjective term with a wide range of presentations.


I know there are aspects of health that are non-negotiable and quite straightforward like having a beating heart and lungs that can take in enough air to survive. But my guess is every doctor has different components of health that they deem more important and more critical than others.


So...What is health? I'd love to hear your definition!


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My version of health


In many ways, I'm blessed with good health.


But there are also many ways in which it feels like my body isn't working properly or optimally. I have chronic pain and digestion problems that interfere with my daily life. My mobility is limited. My menstrual cycle is off-the-charts painful and interferes with day-to-day functioning. And then my mental state and emotions are often impacted by my pain.


But the last time I checked my blood tests were fine, I'm free of disease, I get high quality sleep, I have amazing friends, an incredible husband, and feel really tapped into my life's meaning and purpose.


All of that feels like health and wellbeing to me.


When I think about what optimal health looks like to me, my body, and my life - this is what I came up with!

  • Blood tests come back in the normal ranges

  • Having enough energy to comfortably get through the day

  • Getting solid, uninterrupted sleep

  • Moving my body pain-free

  • Painless digestion

  • Ability to carry a child

  • Free of disease

  • Adequate hygiene

  • Being able to see, hear, smell, and taste

  • Being able to walk

  • Ability to think clearly

  • Minimal memory loss

  • Able to have complex ideas and problem solve

  • Minimal stress & minimal overwhelm

  • Absence of mood disorders

  • Experiencing joy

  • Feeling supported socially and emotionally - Connectedness

This is MY list and a reflection of my values. It's not all-inclusive and it might differ from what you'd put on your list!


For me, having a body that's able to carry a child is really important in what I consider a healthy version of myself, but for some people this either isn't relevant or doesn't feel like a factor they would even consider.


Also, because I was born being able to walk, maintaining that ability is a sign of good health to me. But not everyone is born with equally abled-bodies.


And because I was born highly sensitive, easily depressed, and easily anxious my version of mental well-being is going to be different than someone else's. What feels healthy and comfortable for me, might feel very scary and uncomfortable to someone else.


Marketing and the media are constantly comparing you to other people. Telling you to get stronger, faster, more flexible, more energetic, more productive, more popular, more more more.


But health is personal.


"Good health" for you is going to be different than "good health" for me. I know the science books say otherwise, but the philosopher in me hasn't come to a conclusive understanding of a definition of health that applies to all people.


I'd encourage you to determine what health means to YOU.


Now let's tackle another big topic:


Does health have a look?


Take a moment and picture someone "healthy;" what image comes to mind?


My guess? A muscular, slender, able-bodied person.


We have come to associate size with health.

Specifically, thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy.


👉But these are assumptions we need to begin challenging immediately.


Thin people have diseases.

Muscular people have heart attacks.

Small bodies have chronic pain.

Able-bodies get depressed.


Smaller does not necessarily mean healthier. Even though the media, marketing, doctors, friends, and family will tell you otherwise.


Just like thin people can be sick, people in larger bodies can be healthy.


People in larger bodies run marathons.

People in larger bodies have perfect bloodwork.

People in larger bodies have great sex.

People in larger bodies experience joy.


Unfortunately we live in culture that frequently assumes that big = unhealthy.


Most doctors still prescribe weight loss as a means to "health" when evidence shows that pursuing intentional weight loss actually leads to more stress and more weight cycling which are both negative health outcomes.


Health At Every Size


diversity, plus size, women, health, joy, nature


Health at Every Size (HAES) was a concept originally introduced in book form - a book written by Lindo Bacon.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

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Over time the HAES principles have been trademarked by the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) and Lindo Bacon has written another book, Body Respect, that further elaborates upon the HAES principles and expands their reach to be more focused on social justice and the systems of oppression that exist regarding size.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

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The principles of HAES are:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

✨Body respect - treating all humans AND THEIR BODIES with respect regardless of size.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

✨Celebrating body diversity and embracing all the different size, shapes, forms, and abilities bodies can take⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Looking critically at the science and research surrounding health, diet, weight studies, etc. ✨Advocating for shifts in healthcare to equalize access to information and services and fights for equal medical treatment of people in all body sizes⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

✨Actively working to challenge weight bias and weight stigma⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

✨Believing that movement can be joyful and nourishing⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

✨Valuing pleasure in eating, honoring hunger cues, and finding flexibility with food rather than following prescribed meal plans centered around weight control.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


One of my favorite component of HAES is the recommendation for folks to pursue health promoting behaviors.


What if, instead of prescribing weight loss, doctors prescribed actual health promoting behaviors.

"Try this dance class."

"Try taking this supplement."

"Try going to bed a couple of hours earlier."

"Try to get some more sunshine and fresh air."


If you're nodding along to what I said above and had the thought "My doctor does tell me those things!" I can't help but wonder if you live in a smaller body.


Because many people in larger bodies do not hear those recommendations. When they go to the doctor they are met with "lose weight. lose weight. lose weight."


Ovarian pain? Lose weight. Hurting knees? Lose weight. Feeling depressed? Lose weight.


If you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. Start listening to the stories of people in larger bodies.


This is one reason why health disparities exist. Because health treatments and recommendations aren't universal. People in larger bodies are subject to weight bias and weight discrimination especially by the healthcare industry.


"Weight loss" is frequently prescribed as a health goal. But weight loss doesn't ensure health. They are not the same thing.


It's very important to tease apart our associations with size and health. ESPECIALLY if you work in healthcare.



Do we owe anyone health?


There's so much pressure to be healthy.


It seems we're all expected to live a life dedicated to achieving and sustaining health.


For me personally, my health is important because I want to dance again without pain, I want to make sure I can bring children into this world, and I want to grow old with my husband with sound mind. I do personally value health and want to pursue it.


But does everyone? Is pursuing health a personal responsibility? What happens if health isn't a high value for someone? Is having health as a goal a privilege? Is your worth determined by your health?


These are all questions I'm still exploring in my own life! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!


If you want to get plugged in to my inner circle and get all the latest thoughts on health, Intutive Eating, and mental health 👇 be sure to sign up for my Monday newsletter here!