Wellness Wednesday: What is Healthy?

Healthy is a word that gets thrown around, to the point where it's almost meaningless. Todays Wellness Wednesday post answers the question what is healthy, and what it means to me. 

The word healthy gets thrown around a lot. What does healthy really mean as it relates to food?

Have I told you guys about my nutrition counseling mastermind group? Every other Thursday, I google chat with a group of dietitians who also do nutrition counseling and blog: Anne, Alex, Robyn, and Kylie. We all work in the disordered eating/intuitive eating realm, so it's a great place to brainstorm, share and learn.

Have you ever had a group of people where every time you get together, you leave feeling inspired, supported and basically ready to win at life? That's how it is with this crew. They're essentially my Taylor Swift RD girl squad...except in that metaphor, I think I'm Hailee Steinfeld.

From what I can gather from instagram, we all have very different eating habits. Alex needs a tofu intervention, Robyn really likes dipping dark chocolate into things, Anne would starve without Blue Apron, and Kylie likes to make food love children (quichezzza aka quiche-pizza, french toast-avocado toast...). Yet, we all have the same basic food principles. Food is meant to be savored. Dieting and deprivation is the actual worst. Eat food that makes you feel awesome.

A few weeks ago, Anne emailed an article on a new study that examined how people eat in response to various descriptors, including healthy, unhealthy and nourishing. It found that after eating a cookie labeled as healthy, participants reported being more hungry than eating the same cookie when it was labeled unhealthy. They also found that people ate significantly more popcorn after being told it was healthy than when it was labeled nourishing or unhealthy. So basically, you'll probably feel hungrier and eat more if you think what you're eating is healthy, regardless of how 'healthy' it actually is.

This prompted a discussion, since we're all conflicted on the word. On one hand, well, see above. Calling something healthy essentially gives a green light to eat as much as you want, paying no attention to portions, fullness and how it makes you feel. And what does healthy even mean? Sure, my cinnamon spice cookies, made with almond meal, naturally sweetened with raisin paste, and packed with healthy (<--there it is again!) fats from coconut oil and nut butter certainly qualify to most as healthy, but if labeling them as such triggers binge eating half the pan, are they still healthy?

On the other hand, as bloggers, the word healthy is helpful for google rankings and helps the people who need us most to find us. People don't search for "whole grain cookies made with just a little bit sugar and coconut oil instead of butter", they search for "healthy cookies".

To healthy, or not to healthy. That is the question.

That's when Kylie chimed. "I think it's worth us trying to redefine the world healthy. Not using the word healthy doesn't help anyone. People have to reframe their opinions of what healthy is."

She is so right. When the world healthy is used around food, most people interpret it to mean nutrient-dense/real food/low fat/low carb/high protein/paleo/gluten free/sugar free or whatever their particular spin is. But true "healthy" has only a little to do with food itself. It has to do with behaviors.

So yes, I will continue to describe food as healthy from time to time, just to appease the google gods. When I describe a food as healthy, I mean to say it's nutrient-dense and made with whole foods. But please know, that's not necessarily what healthy means to me.

Part of healthy is eating mostly real, whole foods with an emphasis on plants. This is a big part, but much smaller than what most people think.

Healthy is eating mostly real, whole foods with an emphasis on plants and not feeling deprived when you do, or guilty when you don't.

Healthy is not basing your self worth on food choices, considering yourself 'good' when you've eaten mostly real, whole foods with an emphasis on plants or 'bad' when you don't.

Healthy is moving your body regularly, not with the goal of burning calories, paying penance for eating 'bad' or to build an unrealistic physique, but because moving your body makes you feel awesome, gives you energy or helps you reach a goal, like running a 5K.

Healthy is being able to find pleasure in food, because no matter how delicious the food is, you trust yourself that you'll be able to stop eating before feeling sick to your stomach full.

Healthy is getting enough sleep, prioritizing self care, connecting with those you love and nourishing your soul as much as you nourish your body. Healthy is also going through times when you're sleep deprived, don't have time to devote to the people you love, and feel empty inside. But you recognize it, and take steps to correct it now, rather than waiting for "things to settle down."

Healthy is aiming to eat mindfully, but also recognizing that living a full life means scarfing down the occasional meal at your desk, and that's OK.

Healthy is being able to stop eating when you feel satisfied and satiated. When you know restriction isn't in your future, it's easy to moderate portions without even thinking about portions.

Healthy being able to cope with emotions without food, but also recognizing that there are times when you've had a really bad day, and dammit, an ice cream cone WILL make you feel better.

Healthy is accepting your body, as it is. Or at least trying to accept it as it is - everyone has days when they don't like what they see in the mirror. Healthy doesn't exclude trying to tone your arms or flatten your stomach, as long as self worth isn't involved and achieving it doesn't entail dangerous or unsustainable methods. It's simply being realistic about your genetic blueprint, and trying to love yourself, as your are, in this moment.

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Now, I'd love to hear from you. What does healthy mean in your book? If you had to define it, what would you say? 

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