Can I ask you a personal question?
What’s your definition of health?
Feel free to sit with that for a moment.
As you consider the question, what physical sensations come up in your body - a sense of energy or maybe tension? Just notice any sensations without judgment.
If you felt a sense of dread or fear, you’re not alone. If your definition included a comment about weight, you’re not alone.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, health is “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially: freedom from physical disease or pain.”
Note. This holistic definition of health includes mental and physical health, it doesn’t include anything about weight. Unfortunately, diet culture twisted that definition to include an assumption that to be healthy also means being of “ideal weight.” Let’s rethink that for a moment.
In the spring of 2019, during professional training with The Body Positive, I had the pleasure of learning the nuances behind reclaiming health.
Years ago, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott LCSW founded The Body Positive, “a non-profit organization that has helped thousands of adults, teens, and children turn away from body dissatisfaction and self-criticism to live with joy and purpose.”
Their anti-diet, Be Body Positive Model® for healing body image and reclaiming health from a weight inclusive perspective has been revolutionary. The model includes 5 competencies, including Reclaim Health, Practice Intuitive Self Care, Cultivate Self-Love, Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty, and Build Community.
Let’s dive deeper into how to Reclaim Health
In order to come up with your own definition of health and ultimately reclaim your health from the diet binge cycle that the modern-day definition of health often creates, it’s important to recognize all the various messages you’ve received about what it means to be healthy.
For example, what messages do you receive about health from your family, friends, the media, and health care professionals? Are those messages helpful or harmful to you? It’s important to note that these messages can come from a well-intended place - from family for example.
The purpose isn’t to judge who or where the messages came from. Bringing a sense of mindfulness to the messaging is what’s important. By increasing awareness around this messaging, you can craft your own definition of health by sorting out facts from diet culture myths about health, weight, and beauty.
Creating your own definition of and reclaiming your health invites you to focus on true measures of health without focusing on weight.
I realize this statement probably just flipped your entire perspective of health on its head and may feel jarring. And I invite you to take or leave any of these ideas as we explore a weight inclusive definition of health.
Weight inclusivity is based on the principles of Health At Every Size® (HAES) - a practical and research-based model that honors the genetic diversity of every body size and shape.
The model focuses on promoting life-style behaviors that can support metabolic fitness (stable blood pressure and blood sugar, and heart-protective cholesterol levels) and reduce the physical and psychological damage that is caused by diet culture’s size discrimination or sizeism.
Research has shown, when people stop fighting and fearing their genetics, they are more likely to adopt sustainable self-care behaviors such as eating regular, satisfying meals and snacks, moving their body in a way that feels good rather than painful, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress or anxiety with activities that bring them joy.
The Reclaim Health competency of the Be Body Positive Model® encourages you to accept and honor your ancestral lineage in order to reduce body shame, increase body acceptance, and promote self-care behaviors out of love rather than fear.
Even if you were adopted or don’t know much about your ancestors beyond your parents, it is possible to still honor the fact that every one of your ancestors survived so that you could live. Every bit of your talents, personality, illnesses, quarks, and physical appearance has been inherited from your ancestors. By learning to accept your body, you’re also learning to accept your lineage.
When I was in my 20’s, the height of my disordered eating and competitive running days, I hated how big my legs were. I hated that they weren’t long, lean, and more feminine. Ironically, looking back, my legs were bigger because they were strong. They allowed me to win marathons and pass men going uphill with a smile on my face - I loved that!
What I also didn’t know back then is that my ancestors on my Dad’s side of the family came from the mountains of Central Europe. They had strong legs that helped them tend fields and carry their crops down the mountain to the village. Even today, one of my distant cousins is a hiking guide - still making a living with his strong legs and living in the mountains.
Those are my people!
Learning that brought so much clarity to my past struggles with my own body and ultimately food. Do I still wish it was easier to find a pair of pants to fit my strong legs? You bet! But that frustration is fleeting when I remember how much I love being in the mountains and having strong legs to carry me to spectacular views.
Exploring your body story with open curiosity allows you to decide what definitions of health are helpful and which ones are harmful. Which ones promote hope and which ones promote
fear? When you accept your body based on your genetics and lineage, you’re more likely to take care of yourself through consistent self-care behaviors.
Even after you come up with your own unique definition of health, you’re still likely to be bombarded with recommendations on how to improve your health. Remember the diet and wellness industry is in it for the big bucks and long haul!
Here’s a tip to help you stay sane and true to your personal definition of health.
I encourage you to test drive any health recommendations with open curiosity. Run your own experiment with any health recommendations that you hear or read. Take what works, leave the rest. By doing this, you’ll be able to become a confident expert of your body - on your own terms.
Now I'd love to hear from you!
If you were to make 1 self-care, health goal - not based on weight - what would that be? To reach this goal, what specific action will you need to take? Leave a comment below. Your thoughts and ideas will support others who are also search for their own definition of health.