We’re all looking for ways to incorporate healthier habits into our everyday lives, whether that’s moving more, eating better or finding a little balance.
But more so than ever before, we’re bombarded by mixed messages about health and fitness, as well as confusing and contradictory nutritional advice. This in a world where it’s never been easier for us to compare our bodies and lives to friends, family, celebrities or even perfect strangers.
From our fickle fascinations with the latest superfoods (Is it kale, quinoa or goji berries this week? Maybe chia seeds?) and frequent “thinspiration” or “fitspiration” hashtags on social media (#thinspo and #fitspo), it’s no wonder that so many of us give up on our New Year’s resolutions by February, especially ones related to health or fitness. It’s too expensive or too hard, too time-consuming or confusing to change our habits. It takes so long to *see* a difference. We’re defeated before we even start.
Around the world, there are nearly 2 billion adults who are overweight; 600 million of them clinically obese. On the opposite end of the spectrum, eating disorders are on the rise, including in kids as young as 10. We’re not just talking about anorexia and bulimia, but also newer disorders, like an obsession with healthy eating called orthorexia, affecting kids, teens and young adults.
That’s a big disconnect: We’ve never been more fixated on calories, our macro nutrient ratios and nutritional science. And we’ve never been more ill, thanks to the rise in chronic conditions largely related to our relationship with food and our stressful, sedentary lifestyles.
According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since the 1950s. We’re working more hours and spending more time commuting. Our leisure activities often involve the couch. That’s a lot of sitting.
Depression, too, is on the rise, mysteriously (or not!) linked to the same chronic conditions that plague the populations of rich countries, like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So we’ve got the perfect storm: we frequently consume low nutrient, high calorie food that does little to satisfy or nourish our bodies; we don’t move enough; we’re unfit and unhappy. And it seems so overwhelming, so impossible to repair, that it’s easier to pretend it’s not happening. We’ve got generations of eating and lifestyle habits to undo and little time.
However, true wellness probably doesn’t have a thing to do with the latest juice cleanse, fitness craze or the number on the scale.
And wellness doesn’t mean that you have to be making the same food choices as your neighbour, your BFF or your boss. Every body is different. What works for one person might not work for another.
As a lifestyle choice, not as a diet or fitness resolution, wouldn’t it be nice if we believed that wellness could be achieved at any size? If we could forget about goals based on how we looked and instead focus on feeling better?
As part of that, we’ve got to work harder to protect on our mental health, not just worry about whether we fit into our jeans. In fact, mental health needs to be the foundation of any wellness plan.
We’ve got to move more too. It’s been proven that exercise has benefits not tied to weight loss: it sets you up for better sleep and more energy plus regulates your mood and lowers your risk of chronic diseases.
Humans evolved to eat all kinds of foods and have been, for tens of thousands of years “opportunistic omnivores”. Now that many of us live in a world where cheap, high calorie nutrient devoid foods are plentiful, we need to find ways to eat that make us feel our best, in amounts that match our level of activity.
So the path to wellness starts perhaps by realizing our food system is flawed and our exercise habits aren’t optimal. We start by making tiny incremental changes to be a little better each and every day, based on our own bodies and our own lifestyles.