A lot of popular talk on health and fitness across all sorts of platforms seems to be about attaining them so that we could look our best and apparently, as a definite consequence, finally start living our best lives. We can even see it with marketing campaigns for services that promise to provide customers with the tools to attain health and fitness advertising success with people who’ve used their programmes and attained “hot bodies” as a reward.
Those “hot bodies” are represented as the epitome of fitness that is supposedly attainable for everyone who follows the “right” formula being sold. Because toned legs and a six-pack are the faultless markers of wellbeing, am I right!? [I’m actually absolutely wrong, but you were smart enough to realise that and I am proud.]
Of course, the aesthetics of those advertisements change in line with whatever body type is in and to emphasise whatever body parts being fetishised that season. So fitness is conflated with appearance, which is not only wildly inaccurate but also dangerous. As it’s been documented in human history time and time again, not everyone with a trim physique, bright smile, and glossy hair looks that way because of their impeccable ways; in fact, for a number of people, those looks came at the cost of unhealthy habits and mental strain.
The premise of using attractiveness as a criterion for health and fitness is faulty anyway because of how subjective it is. But above all, everyone is different with different needs and body types.
Now I am not here to tell you precisely what to eat, how to move, or how to do anything, really, to be fit and healthy. But I know that healthier, positive, and particularly, more body positive narratives on these issues that also encourage healthier behaviours are certainly possible. Here are a few tips that can encourage a shift in perspective:
Re-think your understanding of health and fitness
We’re all in need of nutritious food, exercise, good sleep and the rest of it, not just people who want to change how they feel or look.
We’re all living organisms who need to nourish our bodies in ways that allow them to work effectively. Addressing your physical needs isn’t a means to an end; you won’t stop needing to keep up with healthy habits once you have your dream physique or even once you’ve reached your wellness goals.
It’s also important to remember that sometimes our bodies’ appearances may not match up to our ideals even after making conscious efforts to get healthier. And as long as we are actually getting and keeping ourselves healthy, that’s okay.
We are all unique, biological beings after all, and our bodies’ original purpose isn’t to decorate the world. Their original purpose is to be vessels that allow us to navigate our lives, and that’s pretty amazing.
Try to find out what it means to be healthy for you
Because, as discussed above, we’re all unique, biological beings, what being healthy means for one person may not be the same for another. While guidelines for different biomarkers that can give an idea about our health do exist, it’s a good idea to find out what your individual targets should look like.
Want to know how much you should weigh? Ask your doctor. Want to know if your blood work looks good? Your doctor can help with that. Want to know if the sound your shoulder makes when you wake up is normal? You’ve probably guessed it by now, see your doctor.
It’s perfectly understandable that not everyone has a good relationship with their General Practitioner/Primary Care Physician, nor do they necessarily feel that they can address their concerns with them, but really, they’re your best first line of support. If changing doctors is the best option for you, go for it. If you need a referral for more specific care, why not ask for one?
Try to get the ball rolling with the right people, because 2 AM Google searches and advice from Facebook groups tend to have nothing on tailor-made advice from an expert with access to your medical records.
Get friendlier with food
Food is nourishment that we give ourselves a few times a day and comes in a variety of colours and textures, and can taste pretty nice. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That’s because it is, so it makes sense to develop a good relationship with it.
It’s also a good idea to follow universally accepted advice like eating different types of food so you can get a variety of nutrients, savouring the flavours, and feeding yourself when you’re hungry, and stopping when satisfied. Eat your veggies, and don’t forget to drink water — you know the score.
I found this New York Times article by Dr Aaron E. Carroll to be a great, sensible guide on how to eat healthily that’s based on his knowledge as a paediatrician and health services researcher, which he also shares with his patients. As he himself notes, they’re general guidelines with some scientific backing that make sense and also work for him but are not a substitute for medical advice. He also writes that they may not work for people with metabolic disorders who could have their own dietary needs.
I personally found that taking up an interest in cooking, finding out the flavours I like and experimenting with different foods and recipes helped me develop a healthy, more positive relationship with food as well. Enjoying food does not have to mean or lead to overindulgence, and there doesn’t have to be a fear of that either. You can enjoy great flavour, get sufficient nutrients AND know how to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied; there are no contradictions.
Move in ways you love
Exercise is essential for good health and its benefits are numerous. For the average adult, 150 minutes of moderate activity a week (or 75 minutes of intense activity) is what’s recommended, and it doesn’t have to be hard or boring. Are brisk walks your thing? Do you like to speed things up and go for runs instead? Is playing basketball with your friends your idea of fun? Maybe you have a wide enough living room and you like hula hooping in it? You get the idea. There are a lot of choices available, and you can find something that’s safe and works for you.
You don’t need to be an expert in your activity of choice — the more you do something, the easier it’ll become. Besides the health benefits and the enhanced mood resulting from exercise, you’ll also begin to see what an amazing instrument your body is, which is fundamental to body positivity.
Have you wondered how you can become fitter, healthier AND more body positive? Do you have any of your own tips to achieve that? Share your thoughts in the comments!