Health and becoming healthy, to most people, would be mainly eating better and exercising. And usually for the most part, the people I know see it as cutting calories and losing weight. To me, there are four aspects of health: physical, social, emotional and mental and I believe all are linked.
When January rolls around, it's the kick start to the year and people quickly address the physical side. Facebook statuses and tweets are about going to the gym, being starving and eating no more chocolate. The gyms are chaos, and you are lucky if you get yourself on a treadmill. The other day, I heard a woman say, "I can't wait until February so the new year resolution people stop coming!" Is she right? How many of us kick start the year with a health kick? And how many of us end the year with a blow out?
To me, it's not about dieting. It's not about starving yourself for part of the year. It's not about letting your weight continually yo yo. It's about having a healthy lifestyle that's just part of your day to day. It's not about restricting one type of food: chocolate, carbs, fats. Sometimes people even restrict food: baby food diet, water diet, detox diet. Our bodies need a balanced diet but not a diet diet. We must fuel our bodies enough to function. Our bodies are just like a car. If we don't put petrol in, how can you expect the car to go anywhere?
Nevertheless, it does make me happy that people have a fitness focus for the start of the year. And I hope that people maintain it. Not the obsessing over calories or the things they can't have, but to enjoy fitness, and have it as part of their daily living.
As part of your daily living, exercise and eating healthy adds to other aspects of health. It can help you have routine. It can help you have a focus. It helps promote self esteem. How good does it feel when you have had a stretch of eating well and working out? However, when it becomes obsessive, we start to stress our bodies out. We start to isolate the one aspect of health and forget about other ones eg socializing, interacting with others, being happy. And we rely on 'getting thin' to be happy. Does having a slim waist line change the person you are? Does it make you a better person? Yes it shows you are a person who has stuck to routine, challenged yourself and had a focus. However, when our self esteem relies on what weight we are, then I believe this to be a problem. We need to first and foremost, look at ourselves and our character. That we will always have. Underneath the skin, and muscle. Are we good people? Are we caring? Are we kind? Are we good friends?
So when we choose exercise for losing a few pounds, we can often feel bad when this doesn't happen, when we put weight back on or when we never reach the weight we want to. This hurts our self esteem. Especially if we have unrealistic expectations.
By making exercise and healthy eating about being healthy and a daily routine, we allow it to happen naturally. We can lose the obsession with numbers of calories and pound, and merely live a healthy lifestyle in moderation.
Some people do need to have a little more structure. A plan to when they are working out, perhaps keeping a food diary, or use a fitness app. There are many resources out there to help you plan your work outs, help you understand what you should be eating but the way we explain to our kids - it's all about energy balance. We want to balance out what we put in, and the activities that we do.
Fitness and exercise should be for life. A part of your everyday. Just something you do. For health. Not just for shedding pounds. For feeling good. For releasing good hormones. For socialising. For being happy. For knowing that if we put good things in your body, we can feel good.
So here is to healthy choices and living a healthy life rather than dieting and starving ourselves.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.