Throughout the larger part of 37 years (almost 38), my notion of “health” has been rather fluid, flowing and yielding easily to the external pressures of fad diets, in vogue exercise regimens and supplements, and the not-always-so-well-informed teachings and advice from family and friends. One of the biggest disconnects for me was always equating health with weight. I remember being no more than 5 years old when my mother took me to the doctor because I was going through an “uninterested in eating” phase. Although I was only slightly underweight, my interpretation of that visit to the doctor was that I was not healthy because my weight was off. After a few weeks on ProteVit (a nutritional supplement similar to Ovaltine produced by the Mexican division of Mead Johnson), I gained some weight and was quickly bumped back into “healthiness”. Only a few years later, however, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction and from the ages of about 9 to 35, I was overweight and continuously struggled to determine what being healthy really meant.
A second and just as important misconception I had for the longest time was the notion that health was fundamentally an external, physical issue (a thought process similar to those who smoke to keep from eating, or take other drugs or dangerous recourses to keep from gaining weight or looking a particular way). It didn’t matter if internally and emotionally I was and felt a mess, if I looked a particular way and the scale registered a particular weight, I was okay. I remember going through a bad heartbreak some years back. I spent days (or more like weeks) in bed and eating seemed hardly necessary. Emotionally I’d never felt worse in my life but the fact that the scale marked one of my lowest weights as a full-grown adult somehow justified that miserable mental and emotional state that I was in.
By far my lowest point, however, came when I was 22 years old. Exactly one week after graduating from college and tired of not being able to break into the 150′s, I gave myself the “gift” of liposuction. Thinking that it was a shortcut to health (despite the contradicting information in small-print on the plastic surgeon’s pamphlets and consent forms), I went under the knife only to end up less than a year later weighing 198 pounds and still clueless about nutritional eating, physical activity, mental and emotional well-being and overall good health.
My silver lining and my first glimpse at true health came only in recent years. Ironically, it occurred as I found myself surrounded by people struggling with cancer. It was interacting with women trying to overcome or contain the disease that I realized what the basic and fundamental principles of being healthy are. Whereas physical appearance had been one of the primary indicators before, now I oftentimes perceive greater overall health (mental, emotional, spiritual AND physical) in people who may be under or overweight, have no hair, may be missing one or both breasts but have completed their last chemotherapy infusion and are grateful and appreciative of life in a way that someone with a full head of hair and a voluptuous body but a wretched outlook on life and a series of detrimental habits may not.
Most important in making the connection with the true meaning of “whole health” has been the realization that it is undoubtedly comprised in equal parts of a healthy physical body (internal and external), a healthy mind, and a healthy emotional and spiritual state. In my own attempt to achieve whole health, the first step has been dismissing the erroneous belief that it (or anything else worthwhile in life) can be achieved fast. The second step has been realizing that in order to achieve it I do not need expensive or sophisticated gadgets, equipment, pills, shakes, creams, lotions, memberships or subscriptions. In a single hand I can now list the 5 things that, over the course of two years, are gradually yet consistently bringing me closer to my utmost and healthiest self:
1) Eating more natural, fresh and nutrient-rich foods which, coincidentally, have made me enjoy my kitchen and cooking a lot more;
2) Drinking plenty of water. Ice water with lemon has become my newest addiction and, quite honestly, I couldn’t be happier about it;
3) Being physically active on a regular basis, whether it’s yoga, walking, cycling or jogging, the trick is to move around. I never thought I would be one to love jogging but, as my body has slowly gotten in shape and built up stamina, it is now something I actually look forward to and enjoy;
4) Drinking a daily multi-vitamin. The Walgreens’ brand is a great, cost-effective alternative to the national brand names.
5) Being kind and patient with myself. This includes picking myself up gently after a setback and gracefully taking that first step forward once again, and loving the life I’m living no matter how imperfect it may be.