Tag Archives: Continuum

The Health Continuum

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The day before I woke up in excruciating back pain, I gave a keynote address at a health conference.  And during that keynote I talked a lot about how we need to make the ideas of health and wellness more inclusive.  We need to have a bigger tent where every BODY can participate.  We need to imagine a spectrum where we can all experience health.

I asked people in the audience to close their eyes and envision health.  What does a healthy person look like?  Then I asked them, if by any chance, their vision of health looked like a skinny white woman eating yogurt?  How about salad?  Does she look like she’s feeling orgasmic over these food choices?  Several people in the audience smiled or laughed.  Yup, that was exactly what their vision of health looked like.  But I told them they shouldn’t be surprised.  As a culture we are taught by marketing and advertising and Photoshop that this is what health looks like.  But what happens, I asked, if you are not white, or a man, or not thin, or not conventionally beautiful? What if you really, really hate yogurt?  Do you not get to be well?  Do you not get to experience health?

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At this point, I took some time to define health and wellness.  I suggested that there is no particular state that a person achieves that call be called healthy or well.  While tons of money is spent convincing us that if we just buy this thing, use this product or service or spend money in a particular way, we will arrive at the ultimate hereafter picture.  There is a place that is nirvana.  We call this place perfectly healthy.  Except there is no such place.  If we are alive, we are aging.  If we are aging we are headed towards our ultimate demise.  No matter what product or service we use, we are still, in the end, mortal.

So I went on to describe health as a continuum.  Or you can call it a spectrum.  (I like continuum because it’s one of the only words in the English language that has to letter “u”s back to back, and like the word banana, it’s nearly impossible to stop saying once you have started.  You know, like continuuinuuum…)  A continuum is a scale.  It is a line with no beginning and no end.  The scale increases in a particular value as we go one direction and decreases in a particular value as we go the other direction.  As we move along the scale towards healthy or well, we get more capacity and energy to do the things we need to do as well as the things we enjoy.  We feel better.  We have more energy.  We sleep better.  We are able to relax sometimes and experience peace.  As we move down the continuum away from health and wellness these things (like energy, enjoyment, peace, sleep) are more difficult for us to access, or we experience them less often.  But again, the line has no beginning and no end.  There is no destination called perfect health where we get to arrive.  And there is also no perfect place which we cannot access.

This is important for a lot of reasons.  One reason is that we are all born at different points on the continuum.  Based on genetics and parenting and socioeconomic status and friends and other family and cultural values and lots and lots of other stuff, we all land at different points on this continuum.  And as we go along and live, circumstances will change our location on the continuum.  We will experience stress.  We will get sick.  We might win the lottery.  We might lose our jobs.  We might get married or be in a car crash or fall down the steps.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes that stuff is wonderful and eases the way towards increased health on the spectrum.  Sometimes stuff is downright catastrophic and vaults us towards decreased health on the spectrum.  Were we to look at health and wellness as a state of being or as a location, most of us just wouldn’t be able to get there, let alone stay there.  Most of us would be on the outside looking in.  And most of us have been taught that we should be consumed with guilt and self-loathing for not being there or staying there.  But if we look at health and wellness as a continuum, there is a sane and guilt-free place for everybody.

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No matter where you land on the continuum, there are things you can do to help ease the way towards better health.  Those things you can do might be wildly different from what somebody else can do.  You might be creeping along towards health at a very different point on the spectrum than somebody else.  But everybody can play.  And we can play with the knowledge and understanding that sometimes fate rolls the freakin’ dice and we land in a different spot on the continuum that we neither desired nor planned for.  But from every place, we can strive.  We can move towards the healthy/well side of the continuum with whatever resources we have at the moment.  This is with the understanding that sometimes those resources will be very low.  Sometimes the movement will be very slow or even imperceptible.  And sometimes, it’s okay to just rest there at our spot on the continuum until we have the resources and/or the desire to strive again.  Sometimes we can be there and just breathe out and in for a while.

You know it’s funny, in a physician heal thyself sort of way, how I gave this talk the day before I found myself tossed violently to a very different spot on my own continuum.  As I woke up, dazed and in pain, I looked around.  Oh, so I’m here now?  This is my spot on the spectrum today?  Okay.  I’ll just have to see what I can do.  Maybe tomorrow.  After I take a pain killer and watch some telly and gather my forces.  It has made all of this a lot easier to bear.  And I offer this in the hopes that it will be a useful visualization tool for you as well.  Or not.  Because we’re all different.  And just as there is no place called health, there is no single immutable path towards wellness either.  There’s just all of us, muddling along in our own way, as best we can.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick

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What is a “healthy weight”?

I have to admit I was taken aback when I was named one of “Healthy Weight Week’s Top-35 Healthy Weight Blogs”.  I am actually aware of “Healthy Weight Week” from many years back.  I know that Francie Berg started “Healthy Weight Week” 25 years ago in an effort to change the dialog from weight (a number on a scale) to health (decidedly not a number on a scale).  This is part of Francie’s program which includes the annual “Slim Chance Awards” which chronicles some of the dumbest, most dangerous and least likely weight loss schemes of the year.

While I am firmly behind the notion of moving away from the number on the scale as an indicator of health, and I am deeply gleeful at the notion of poking fun at some of the most ridiculous diet schemes of the year (and the epic race to the bottom that THAT entails), I have to admit a fair amount of discomfort about putting the words “healthy” and “weight” together in any given sentence.  While I think the spirit of the week is a really great thing, the name of the event still seems to imply that there is a particular “healthy weight” for each person to be.  And I think that this notion is both simplistic and dangerous.

Because, you know what?  There is no magic number.  There is not a spot on the dial of the scale that, once attained, will make you immortal or even impervious to health problems or pain or sickness.  Even if you reach that number using Health At Every Size(R) techniques or intuitive eating or super fun physical activity plans.  Even if  you attain this place by deep meditation and perfect self-love (as if that even exists) and flowers and love and light.  There is no number on the scale that will make you perfectly happy or well-adjusted or even sane.  It’s just a number on the scale.  There is no perfect weight.

And there is no perfect health.  Nobody is in “perfect health”.  We’re all crumbling away–sometimes gradually and sometimes precipitously–towards our eventual demise.  I’m sorry to be a little bit morbid.  But I think that this notion of “perfect health” is something we need to put to bed right now.  I mean right this very minute.

There are many ways to define health.  Just as there are many ways to define Health At Every Size (R).  But I favor a definition that sees health as a continuum rather than a condition.  I think moving away from health is moving in a direction where we are less able to take advantage of our current physical condition to enjoy the things we love the most.  Moving towards health is living in a way that allows us to take greater advantage of our current physical condition and squeeze more of the things we love the most out of the remainder of our lives.  It doesn’t sound super sexy.  I sincerely doubt it will sell a lot of tennis shoes or create a great bumper sticker.  However, I think this definition of health allows everybody a spot at the table.  It doesn’t separate the haves from the have-nots.  It defines health in a way that can you can keep with you for your entire life.

This is particularly important in my work as a fitness instructor.  I work with many people who are coping with many levels of physical challenges.  From joint difficulties, to disease, to chronic pain conditions to plain old aging, many of my students and readers find it difficult to identify themselves as “healthy” as it is commonly understood.  And for many of my students, the notion of “perfect health” seems so remote that it might as well be another planet.  And this distance from the notion of “perfectly healthy” can be extremely demoralizing.  “How can I even start?” or “Why bother?” they ask.

And that’s why I choose to talk about health in terms of a continuum.  I tell them, “If we can do five minutes together today, we are going to ROCK those five minutes.  We are going to count it as a success and then we are going to do a booty dance of victory to celebrate!”  Because even though five minutes of exercise can’t move them to a “perfect weight” or “perfect health”,  it can move them towards a life that contains a little more energy and allows them to fit in a little more awesome.  Even as their teacher I am neither a perfect weight nor am I in perfect health.  However, my life contains a significant amount of awesome that I am happy to share.  And to me, helping your life contain even just a little more awesome is a worthy goal.

So, I am deeply honored and deeply grateful that I have been selected as one of the unfortunately-named but super-well-intentioned “Top 35 Healthy-Weight blogs”, because it gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on this very important topic with you.  And I thank you, as always, for listening.

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

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What is Health?

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One of my regular readers recently sent me a question about how I define health.  She was particularly interested in my definition, as she felt that most if not all of the definitions of health out there in the world either would not or could not include her.

First and foremost let me tell you that I think there is no such thing as perfect health.  There is no specific state of being that you can achieve, there’s no moment that comes with achievement badges and a certificate that marks “health”.   But let’s take a moment to discuss some of the definitions of health already floating around out there.

Now let’s take a moment and consider some other definitions of health.  Here’s the World Health Organization definition of health:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Now the WHO definition does take the ideas of mental and social well being into account.  So, it scores points for that.  But it also implies that these things are in addition to the complete absence of disease or infirmity.  It also implies that health is a state of complete well being.  Now under this definition of health, i may have achieved that on one particular day, when I was 19.  I think it was a Tuesday.  But I think this is an “idealistic” view of health that leaves a lot of people who are dealing with chronic disease or infirmity with the idea that health is not possible for them.  Which sucks.  So why bother?

Needless to say I think this definition leaves something to be desired.

The Association for Size Diversity And Health has this definition of the principles of Health At Every Size(R):

1. Accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes.

2. Recognizing that health and well-being are multi-dimensional and that they include physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual aspects.

3. Promoting all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes.

4. Promoting eating in a manner which balances individual nutritional needs, hunger, satiety, appetite, and pleasure.

5. Promoting individually appropriate, enjoyable, life-enhancing physical activity, rather     than exercise that is focused on a goal of weight loss.

And this definition is far better.  It promotes a series of behaviors and principles as opposed to an arbitrary standard of physical indicators or an unattainable ideal of perfect well-being across a spectrum of categories.  I actually really like the HAES(R) principles as spelled out by the Association for Size Diversity And Health a whole lot.  But I also understand that as opposed to the WHO definition, it’s a little long and ponderous.

So how do I define health?  I’m not sure that my definition is better than either of those listed above–it’s just the way I personally see it.  I think health is one end of a personal continuum that is completely unique to each of us.  We do not achieve health.  We move towards health or away from health in our own lives.  When we move towards health, we engage in behaviors that give us a better quality of life and give us more energy and  capacity to do and enjoy the things that are most important to us.  When we move away from health, we engage in behaviors that rob of us of energy and give us less capacity to  do and enjoy the things most meaningful to us.  All the while, we must take into account that there are aspects of quality of life outside of our control.  We are imperfect beings who age and die.  This is a fact of life.  But the pursuit of health, is the process of discovering for ourselves, what behaviors allow each of us to make the most of the bodies that we already have to experience and attain that which means most to us from day to day.

Which is also very long and ponderous.  So here’s my shortcut version:

Moving towards HEALTH is the process of using the body you already have in a way that allows you to best enjoy and or/attain the stuff that matters to you most.

I’m not a doctor or a philosopher.  But those are my thoughts.  I hope you are able to find what health means to you on your personal continuum and move towards it in a way that feels wonderful.

Love,

The Fat Chick