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.
The Fat Chick