What is Wellness?

Peaceful lakeview1024

Peaceful lakeview1024 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you well?

I used to think I was well. I could still fit into my high school clothes even though I was on the far side of 30. I exercised more days than not and had become a decent runner. I ate a pretty healthy vegetarian diet. I avoided most chronic disease and only visited the doctor on the occasions when my body could not fight off some invading microorganism. I even managed to sneak in some meditation and yoga on occasion.

I thought I was well.

But I wasn’t.

It turns out that wellness is not measured by the number of miles that you run. Or the amount of broccoli that you eat. Or even the number on the scale.

It’s great to be fit and to eat healthy, but that is only a small piece of the wellness pie. Wellness is as much about what happens inside your mind as it is what happens to your body.

So, what is wellness?

Wellness is Acceptance

Wellness begins by accepting what is. If you constantly fight against some truth, you cannot win and you cannot be well.

Wellness is Balance

If you focus too much one way, you will automatically neglect something else. Wellness is centered. Wellness doesn’t play favorites.

Wellness is Attention

If you close your eyes to the truth, you are the embodiment of a lie. Rather than turning your gaze away from those areas where you struggle, turn towards them and let your attention focus.

Wellness is Perseverance

It is easier to be sick than to be well. Wellness takes effort. You may fail. That’s okay, failure is not inconsistent with wellness. A lack of trying is.

Wellness is Personalization

Wellness is not what works for your neighbor. It is not what the media dictates to you. Your wellness needs to be custom tailored for you.

Wellness is Freedom

Wellness, at its most basic, is freedom from disease. But it is also freedom from addiction. From fixation. From fear. From discontent.

Wellness is Ongoing

You may be well in one moment and not in the next. That doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It means you’re human. Unlike a turkey, wellness is never done.

Perhaps we should measure wellness by the number of smiles as well as the number of miles. The amount of true friends as well as the amount of broccoli. The number of hours slept and the number on the scale.

Perhaps the best way to recognize wellness is by its corollary: peace. When you are well, you are at peace.

 

 

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Responsible Leadership

I got into an interesting conversation with my fiance the other day about Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. Although he generally supports his political views, my partner had trouble with the concept of someone being in a leadership position (including making decisions that impact other people’s health) who does not maintain a healthy lifestyle themselves.

Christie at a town hall meeting in Union City,...

Christie at a town hall meeting in Union City, New Jersey February 9, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first reaction was indignation. After all, a person’s BMI says nothing about their character or their intellect. Someone’s exercise habits do not reflect their dedication to their job or their ability to make sound decisions. However, in Chris Christie’s case, it’s not just about weight. He has been open about the fact that he struggles with making healthy lifestyle choices.

My fiance then posed the following question, “As a teacher, do feel obligated to maintain a healthy lifestyle since you are an influence on your students?”

Interesting.

I had never thought about my own health in this way before. Yes, I consciously teach my students (directly and indirectly) about health and wellness. We take jumping jack or stair sprint breaks. We hold push up contests. We dispel myths about nutrition and fitness. We discuss my dietary choices and I teach them about food. I talk about my races. I share how much fitness has enhanced my life. I encourage them to be healthy through these conversations and my modeling good lifestyle choices.

But, as a teacher, am I responsible for being a healthy role model? Should that be an implied part of any contract for someone who is in a leadership role (including parenting!)?

Perhaps not, but it is good to remember that, whether we signed up for it or not, others are looking at our actions and learning from our choices. When you make healthy decisions, you are also helping others become healthier as well.

As for Chris Chistie, I applaud him for being willing to openly discuss his struggles with weight loss. I hope that he can find a place of health – for himself, his family and his constituents.

Disorderly Conduct

We tend to see eating disorders as all or none; you either have one or you don’t. The reality is that unhealthy relationships with food can be much more nuanced and subtle than a full-blown diagnosis of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are very serious, even deadly, and should be addressed by a professional support team. However, many people exhibit signs of disordered eating yet never develop an eating disorder and may never realize that they have developed a damaging attitude towards food. Even though disordered eating may never prove life threatening and may not progress into a full blown eating disorder, it should still be addressed so that optimal health, both mental and physical, can be obtained.

Used Plate

I had my own run in with disordered eating in high school. I was coming off of the common stage in teenage girls where I added body fat to my frame. I was self conscious of my new curves and wanted to keep them in check. I started exercising and became more conscious of what I was eating. Always a good student, I approached fitness with much the same determination and research as I did a school project. The accepted wisdom of the time was that a low fat diet was best.

In my 14 year old brain, I assumed that if low fat was good, no fat had to be even better. I restricted my fat intake to 10 grams or less a day. Healthy? Not even close. I ate tons of products (note, I didn’t say foods!) that were modified to be low fat. Of course, that fat was replaced with chemicals and sugar. Not so good. i remember eating salads made with fat free dressing and fat free cheese. Blech!

I wasn’t alone in this “diet.” A classmate of mine lived on Fruit Loops (fat free!) for over a year. I had discussions with another friend on how to mitigate the dry skin and hair loss that comes with an extremely low fat diet.

All along, I thought I was doing the “right” thing. Dean Ornish was on all the magazine covers touting¬†the heart disease reversal that occurred with a low fat diet. All of the research seemed to point to fat as the ultimate diet demon. I just took it a little too far.

This was not an eating disorder. I never dropped any significant weight. I did not restrict calories. I rarely binged and never purged. Yet, I obviously had a disordered view of food, classifying it as “good” or “bad” and eliminating an entire macronutrient from my diet.

I started to shift when a friend of mine, who was starting to compete in bodybuilding contests, would eat peanuts as a snack at school. I was horrified. Did he not realize that those had 16 grams of fat per serving! But then I looked at him. He was lean. Leaner than me. He was strong, carrying muscle along his entire, previously skinny, frame. Maybe he was on to something.

I slowly started introducing fat back into my diet. It was scary at first. I pictured my arteries clogging like gutters in the fall. I figured that I would gain weight and maybe even have to increase a pants size.

Much to my surprise, the opposite occurred. My weight stayed about the same but I became leaner. I no longer woke up starving in the middle of the night and I was satisfied after eating in a way I hadn’t been before. It took a couple years, but I eventually made peace with fat and with food in general. It’s neither bad nor good. It’s just fuel.

Disordered eating tends to follow the current dietary trends. I don’t see too many people who restrict fat like I did since low fat is not in vogue. I do see quite a few people who demonize carbs like I did with fat, figuring if low carb is good, no carb must be even better. ¬† There are people who eschew food completely in the name of “cleansing” and exist on nothing but juices and broths for days or weeks at a time. Others take vegetarianism to the extreme and consume only raw, vegan foods. Some people operate between extremes: all you can eat one week and diet shakes the next.

While none of these ways of eating are “wrong,” they all have a black and white view of food that does not allow much room for variety and complete nutrition. Going vegan is not a sign of disordered eating on its own, but going vegan as a way of cutting out foods that you fear will make you fat is another situation entirely. Disordered eating is as much about the motivation behind the diet as it is about the food on your plate.

It’s your body; you get to choose what you put in it. Are you making your choices based upon fear and restriction or health and balance? It’s never too late to develop a healthy relationship with food and bring some order to your plate.