Expanding Your Definition of Health
Author: Rhea Lewandoski R.D.
Health is more than just the absence of disease or illness. It is a state of well-being that includes physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.
How do you define your health right now?
What markers do you use to check-in on your health?
What messages have you received throughout your life about health?
After reflecting on your current definition of health you may notice it is quite limited; has been impacted/defined by diet culture; and/or is very focused on one and not inclusive of all the following categories. Sometimes we can be so focused on one category, we don’t leave space for the others.
To expand our definition of health we can begin by educating ourselves on all aspects of health and what definitions we received from diet culture. After reflection we can begin to define health for ourselves.
Can include markers such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, etc.
It is often assumed that physical health is determined solely by food choices and exercise habits, but studies show that much of our physical health is determined by genetics, physical environment, access to health care, race, gender identity, etc.
Weight is a marker of health that is often overused and taken out of context. It can be part of the picture but basing one’s health on their weight alone is inaccurate and harmful.
Activities/behaviours that promote physical health will look different for everyone, but some may include:
Incorporating more or less joyful movement
Eating enough/a variety of foods
Taking rest when needed
Taking any necessary medications or supplements
Is defined by the World Health Organization as "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes [their] own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to [their] community.”
Taking care of our mental health looks different for everyone, but could include:
Achieving a proper work-life balance
Taking time for yourself and/or making time to see others
Working with your treatment team or clinicians (therapist, dietitian, doctor, psychiatrist etc.)
Making value-based activities a priority
Includes the ability to cope with emotions (both comfortable and uncomfortable) in a way that does not disrupt other areas of your life
Implies a feeling of safety and belonging
Things that may support your emotional health include:
Having a strong support system
Allowing yourself to feel all your feelings
Working with a therapist or counsellor to develop helpful coping mechanisms
Being in an environment where you are valued
Is the ability to form healthy and rewarding relationships with others
Involves the ability to adapt to different social situations while being your authentic self
Things that may contribute to positive social health include:
Spending time with loved ones
Forming new connections/meeting new people
Taking time to yourself
Doing preferred activities with others (ie. dancing, going for walks, going to restaurants, etc.)
The ability to lead a purposeful life that reflects your morals and values
Ways to nurture your spiritual health may include:
Attending religious gatherings
Spending time with like-minded people
Partaking in different forms of activism/advocacy
Spending time in nature
As you broaden your definition of health you may start to move away from limiting beliefs about what your health “should” look like. Health is more than just physical and is individualized. Over time you can start to incorporate thoughts, activities, and behaviours that nourish all aspects of YOUR health.
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DEAL: what is emotional health? (n.d.). Samaritans. https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/schools/deal/deal-resources/emotional-health/emotional-health/
Ghaderi, A., Tabatabaei, S. M., Nedjat, S., Javadi, M., & Larijani, B. (2018). Explanatory definition of the concept of spiritual health: a qualitative study in Iran. Journal of medical ethics and history of medicine, 11, 3.
Mental health: strengthening our response. (n.d.). World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response
Mental health support in Sydney’s North. (n.d.). MentalHealth. https://www.ramsaymentalhealth.com.au/northside