What does Health Look Like?

Here are two memories:

The first is when I was 14. I came down with severe food poisoning. It felt like I was dying. The only things I could get down my throat for two weeks were small sips of water and grapefruit (very weird I know). My mom and I both thought maybe I had E. Coli, but the various parasites/bacteria/ the like I got tested for all came back negative, so to this day I do not know what the cause was. I was treated with antibiotics and slowly started feeling better.

I remember feeling so happy to be returning to school after two weeks of being home. On my first day back, during my last period history class, one of the “popular” girls came up to me and said “Oh my God, Cate! You look so good! You look so thin!”

I remember this moment vividly because at the time, her words made me feel good. I felt good that I had gotten sick and that I looked thinner. I felt good that I had probably lost about 10 lbs in 2 weeks. I felt proud.

The second is when I was 22. It took me 5 years to graduate college. My last year, I lived at home with my parents. I had a full course load and two part-time jobs, and my parents were always on my back about improving my grades. I was in constant fear that I wouldn’t graduate that spring due to my grades (and I came really close). I was probably getting an average of 5 hours of sleep a night, and it was during this time that I had one of the only two panic attacks I have ever had in my life (the second was during the swimming portion of my first triathlon. I am not a good swimmer.) I was also taking medication for my learning disability which made me have virtually no appetite, so I was eating whatever I could scrap together whenever I remembered to, and I was dealing with all this stress by running 5-6x/week. It was probably one of the most unhappy and unhealthy times in my life.

During this time, I also got into rock climbing. It was a good way to relieve my stress. I remember one night I was climbing with my friend when a girl from my major at school that I had known for years came up to me and commented on my weight, saying how good I looked. “Wow, are you running a lot or something?”, she said. “You look really thin.” I told her that yes, I had been running a lot, and again, I remember a looming feeling of proudness about my thinness.

At some of the sickest, and most unwell times in my life, I have had people go out of their way to come up to me and tell me how good and healthy I looked, as compared to the times when I was actually really very well.

This really gets me wondering: what does health look like? Thinness? Quick weight loss? Hollow faces and protruding collarbones? I am not saying thin people can’t be healthy- there are all types of bodies, and they can all be healthy- including thin people- but the general consensus seems to be that fat = unhealthy and thin = healthy, but guess what?

The gravitational pull of your body mass to the universe has absolutely NOTHING to do with health. You cannot tell how healthy someone is by how thin/fat they are. I speak with patients every day, many who have cancer, or GI issues, or major depressive disorder, or other disorders, who are losing weight very rapidly, and let me tell you, this is NOT HEALTHY. So why do we praise people for losing weight, regardless of the context or cause?

I want to re-direct where this blog is going and incorporate more thought-provoking pieces about these types of issues. There will still be recipes on here, but if I didn’t talk about all the issues at hand, I would disservice the nutrition community, and public health in general.

If you want to read about pioneers (including health professionals and dietitians) who are also questioning the relationship of weight to health, check out the Health at Every Size movement. Its a concept I am just diving into, but it makes so much sense.

I entered into the field of nutrition initially because I thought eating things like kale would save the world, but along the way I found there were bigger fights to fight. We put weight on such a pedestal that we sacrifice our health at the expense of losing weight. And that, my friends, is the opposite of what I personally set out to do, so I won’t promote that. Ever. 

There is SO.MUCH.WORK.TO.DO. Let’s get to it.

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