You’ve heard before that being skinny doesn’t necessarily mean someone is healthy, right? That’s right… that skinny girl in college who never hit the gym, had the record on keg stands and gorged herself with fast food every night (without seeming to gain an ounce, while I on the other hand LOOKED a slice of pizza and gained 5 pounds. Just kidding - I was eating the pizza) wasn’t exactly the epitome of health. Shocking, huh? Unfortunately for her, that lifestyle will probably catch up to her with age. Or maybe she’s got a killer metabolism and it will never catch up, but I don’t think I’m surprising you when I say she’s still not the definition of healthy.
The same thing can be said about people who are fit. Being fit doesn’t necessarily mean you are healthy. When I think of healthy, I think of an all-encompassing definition of health – a combination of mental, physical and emotional health. Unfortunately, the fitness industry doesn’t really focus on this all encompassing idea of health - rather it focuses on “fitness" (hence its name - fitness literally means the condition of being physically fit). We have to remember that the fitness industry is just that, an industry. It’s a business. Of course the goal is to make you feel like you need to be wearing the latest gym wear, or trying the newest fat burner, or experimenting with the newest fad diet – but having or trying all of these things isn’t going to magically make you healthy.
This has been on my mind a lot since recently reading an article about new eating disorders. The one that really got me thinking about this is called orthorexia nervosa and unfortunately it is on the rise. It primarily affects young girls, although boys can be affected as well; it is an obsession with “clean eating ”. Foods start to be seen as good and bad. They start to be seen as numbers. This is why I caution people about counting macros. While I personally love tracking macros because it’s the most effective way I have ever found to know exactly what I’m putting in my body, I can definitely see how it could become obsessive (similar to calorie counting). That’s why I say it’s not realistic to do 365 days of the year. Do it in the beginning to learn how to fuel your body and learn about the makeup of foods. Do it at a time in your life when you’re working toward a specific goal: during a cutting season or reversely, when you’re bulking to gain muscle mass (more on these phases in a later blog post) but don’t try to do it forever. Take a break from it and try eating intuitively if you find yourself obsessing. I knew a girl who was in FANTASTIC shape, but she was so obsessed with her macros, if she went over by a few grams she beat herself up over it. She would chew up foods that she was craving and spit them out if she “didn’t have room” in her macros for it. Was she fit? Incredibly. Was she mentally healthy? She’ll be the first to admit it – not so much .
I’m not sure how to combat this. The word “balance” gets thrown around a lot in the fitness community. “It’s all about balance”, “you’ve got to find your balance”. I will admit I’m guilty of using some of these lines myself. But what exactly is balance? I don’t know. It’s different for everyone. For me, it’s eating healthy a majority of the time but not depriving myself of things I want or life experiences. It’s grabbing a donut at the office when everybody else has taken one, and my favorite kind is still sitting there like it has my name on it. But it’s doing this once every couple of weeks instead of once a day. It’s being able to have that donut without beating myself up over it, or feeling like I ruined the whole day and throwing in the towel. It’s indulging once or twice a week in a meal that “fit chicks” would probably frown on, but knowing that it’s not going to derail months and years of hard work and consistency. It’s planning on going to the gym 5-6 times a week but knowing if I only make it 3 or 4 times, that’s okay. I’ll survive. How did I find this balance? I don’t really know that either . It came from months and months of trial and error. It come from realizing I don’t want to spend my day obsessing over calories, macros, when I’m going to lift, etc. Living that way is exhausting. I will say there is an element of self-control when it comes to making smart food choices. I also got really lucky because I found a form of exercise that I truly love and look forward to. However, I talked last week about how I used to panic if I missed a lifting session. It felt like I was ruining all of my hard work. I experienced the same feeling if I ate a little bit off track. Eventually I realized that our bodies are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. I didn’t gain 25 pounds in college overnight, and I certainly wasn’t going to gain it back overnight if I missed one workout or had a serving of ice cream.
But again, this is a slippery slope. You tell yourself this too many times and before you know it, you’re back where you started. I wish there was a magic answer for this, a cautionary tale, or a checklist I could give you to help you find your balance and let you know when you’ve achieved it. Unfortunately that doesn’t exist, but here is what I do know:
- Going to the gym 6 days a week, hitting all of your lift sessions, hitting all of your ab sessions, completing all of your cardio sessions, eating X amount of calories a day and drinking X ounces of water does not necessarily equal healthy
Restricting yourself throughout the week so you can binge on the weekends does not equal healthy. (FYI this is known as yo-yoing)
However, letting yourself enjoy your weekends does not equal unhealthy
Being so obsessed with your macros that you’re chewing up foods and spitting them out does not equal healthy
Hitting the gym “only” 3 days a week does not equal unhealthy
Having a six pack does not necessarily equal healthy
Having fat on your stomach, thighs, butt, WHEREVER does not equal unhealthy.
So what IS healthy? Again – it’s different for everybody! But what I do know is it IS a way of life. It’s not a destination. It’s not a certain look. It’s not your physical appearance. It’s taking rest days when you need them. It’s getting enough sleep. It’s clearing your mind from unnecessary stress. It’s an awareness of how your mind and body react and prefer certain things. It’s becoming more in tune with your body. It’s moving your body and fueling your body in the ways that make YOU feel best.