If You Really Want To Be Healthy, You Can’t Forget This
By Bella Westaway | Brand and Content Specialist at Wild Women On Top
Diet and exercise.
That was the prescription for ‘health’ I grew up with.
Broccoli and burpees. Cutting carbs and doing crunches. Spinach and spin classes.
This ‘calories in, calories out’ messaging centered around the size of my thighs and the flatness of my stomach, as if ‘health’ and ‘hotness’ were one in the same.
It wasn’t until after I was diagnosed with depression that I realised this health equation was missing a key ingredient. Happiness.
I realised that rather than focusing on how far I could run or how many pull-ups I could do, I should be focusing on how I felt in my everyday life. That having enough energy to enjoy the day, or make dinner after work, or hike up a hill was more important than some arbitrary number of kilograms or kilometers.
Now, I see health as far more holistic. It’s not only how you eat, move and sleep, but how you rest and play. It’s about your relationship with yourself, your community and the planet. It’s about how much you enjoy your life.
Here’s how I re-framed my focus and found joy!
I move because I love my body, not because I hate it
I used to see movement as a way to punish myself for something I ate, get more ‘toned’, or as an obligatory chore stave off disease. Surprise, surprise, I could never stick to it.
Now, I move for my mental health, for fun, freedom and joy. I move because moving feels really, really good. I move because I know that if I treat my body well, it’s going to treat me well: with more energy, focus, patience, and joy. I’m going to feel better, sleep deeper and live longer.
I don’t have a hard-core routine (that’s just not my vibe), but I move most days, enjoying yoga, Pilates, dancing, hiking and the occasional HIIT session (meaning I run up and down some stairs until I feel good) when I need some serious endorphins!
If movement doesn’t feel good for you, do something different. There’s hundreds of different ways to move your body, so keep trying things until you find something fun.
I eat to nourish myself, and for pleasure, of course!
Food is good for you. Calories are good for you. Even fat is good for you!
I’d found that when I focus on foods that are going to give me energy and make me glow, I have less room for stuff that doesn’t add to my health. I’m never on a diet, and I eat what I please, but I focus on crowding out my diet with an abundance of real food, mostly plants and relax about the rest.
That means beautiful quality wine, chocolate, butter and bread are all welcomed, in healthy quantities, and with a LOT of enjoyment.
I do my best to care for the planet
We can’t be healthy without a healthy planet. For me, taking care of the planet means doing what I can to lead a more sustainable life.
It’s reducing packaging, growing my own herbs and veggies, cooking more, spending time in nature, picking up rubbish whenever I see it, using a keep cup (or making coffee at home), composting, purchasing clothes that are sustainable (either vintage or from sustainable brands), supporting sustainable companies (and not supporting those that aren’t!) and recycling.
I could be doing more, but I could be much less. If 7 billion of us make small changes, we can heal our earth.
I prioritise self-love (no, that’s not a sex thing)
I’ve been told by my mum that, to her generation, ‘self-love’ sounds like a negative thing (or a sex thing, but that’s a different point). She might be right, because when you look up synonyms for self-love, it says “egotism, selfishness, egocentricity”.
To be clear, that’s not what I mean by it. To me, self-love means caring for yourself enough to make choices that make you happy.
It took me a long time - and a lot of therapy - to learn to love myself. But it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for my health. Because when you love yourself, you treat yourself well. You nourish yourself, move your body in a respectful way, turn off social media and maintain healthy boundaries. You make choices that are right for you, not your parents, or your partner, or your high-school teacher, or that 'frenemy' who keeps giving you unsolicited advice. When you love yourself, you’re able to turn the volume down on that bitchy inner voice that tells you you’re not enough.
Self-love means putting your own oxygen mask on first so you can better care for others. Self-love means believing you are worthy, valuable, and important.
And that’s the furthest thing from negative I can imagine.
I spend time with people I love
When I was a child, socialising was considered to be a treat. Birthday parties were cancelled if I hadn’t done my homework or tidied my bedroom, and play was considered something that happened after all the work was done.
Unfortunately, I didn’t drop this philosophy when I entered adulthood, and as a result, my friendships suffered. Paid work and housework were prioritised over social time and chilling out with mates was seen as an ‘optional extra’ rather than a key part of my healthy lifestyle.
And yet our relationships and connections are possibly the most important thing we can do for our health and wellbeing. Building a strong community, a network of people who love and support you, is a key pillar of health. We are living through a loneliness crisis, which has been made even more significant by COVID-19. This needs to change.
For me, this means regular family gatherings, lots of social time with friends, quality time with my partner, 3pm walks with workmates and beautiful incidental connections – with the bus driver, my barista, my yoga teacher etc – every day.
Health is complicated, but it’s also simple. If the goal is to have a happier, more joyful life, anything that adds to that mission is healthy.
To quote Hunter S. Thompson: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, 'Wow what a ride!'"
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