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Health - It's more complex than we think

My tag-line is ‘Your health matters’. I feel like I should have emphasised the ‘your’ in that sentence to highlight that everyone’s health is completely individual.

Health is not a black or white kind of thing, like: you either are healthy or you are not. Health is found on a spectrum, and this spectrum is also very individual. Where we draw the line of how we feel can differ hugely from what someone else would feel in the same situation (are people with a disability, an impairment, a chronic illness not allowed to be and to feel healthy? Food for thought!)

Health is not a destination or an end point to a journey. Although you are forgiven to think that way, given how health is sold by the wellness industry as the goal of all goals. But are these goals actually achievable for everyone? Unlikely. But health sells, even with spurious claims, we part with our hard-earned cash willingly when someone promises us that they will make us healthier. A lot of these promises are based on exaggerated interpretations of research, unfounded theories or, at worst, completely made up.

Health is a resource we all have access to in varying amounts. Barriers to health also vary a lot depending on people’s financial, mental and motivational resources. Socio-economic status, discrimination, weight-stigma, racism, oppression and external control of access to health and health care play a significant role in whether someone can and will use these resources. In addition, physical and mental health can be impacted by upbringing and trauma, which can both have long-lasting implications.

Health should not be a moral obligation, because not everyone can achieve the societal image of health (due to all the reasons mentioned above), and because if it were, then it would be just another form of oppression by prescribing what we have to do. But what is often forgotten here is that even if we did all the things that supposedly make us ‘healthier’, they may not work. And then what? We feel guilty and ashamed for not managing to be that ‘picture of health’. And that’s not going to make us feel any ‘healthier’.

Health should not be tied to a body size. There is now sufficient evidence that even staunch o*esity task forces have to admit that people in larger bodies can be as healthy as people in smaller bodies. But weight is an easy scapegoat, and unfortunately most healthcare providers still suggest weight loss as a cure-all for patients in larger bodies, regardless of the medical complaint they seek treatment for. This means that healthcare is not equal for all; weight stigma amongst healthcare professionals means that a lot of people in larger bodies will either not make an appointment at all or wait for much longer to see their GP which can then exacerbate their complaint or illness.

As we learn more and more about how our bodies and brains are connected, we are finding out more about how our mental health is linked to our physical health. Experiencing stress can be super detrimental to our overall health; it can affect our gut, our hormones and our brain functioning. This relationship seems to be bi-directional, meaning that our physical reactions can affect our mental health as well. Trying to reduce all the stressors in our lives can be pretty much impossible, but learning how to become more resilient and finding ways of dealing with them can be a game-changer. This could be as simple as a 10 minute meditation, breathing exercises, mindfulness, finding something you enjoy doing, being in nature (even if it’s your inner city park), setting some time aside to read or having a chat with a good friend.

Take-away messages:

- Health is different for everyone

- Health should not be a moral obligation as it is not accessible for everyone

- Health sells, so beware of misinformation and spurious claims

- Health is NOT dependent on the size of your body

- Mental health and physical health are intricately linked

Look after yourselves,

Ela x

Ela Law Nutrition, Sevenoaks, Kent, UK

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