Discovery Guest Post: The NEW Definition of “Healthy” w/ Theresa Carmichael
The term “healthy” demands new perspective because it’s not about “good” and “bad” foods or your body weight anymore.
Well it’s February, and you know what that means? We survived diet month! Wahoo!! We know it all too well; the “New Year, New Me” mantra. Before the ball drops to ring in the New Year, diet program and weight loss commercials begin and gyms run specials on new memberships. People start scheming their next diet, workout regimen, and overall promises to improve “health”. Therefore, January became better known as diet month.
The marketing community is no stranger to this yearly spike in health consciousness amongst society, and they take FULL advantage of the opportunity. The dieting industry is a multibillion dollar industry and after all, it’s only smart business to take advantage of customers when they’re most vulnerable, right? However, regardless of these efforts, research shows 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail (1).
I feel now is the time to address “health”; to further discuss its true definition, and how far away we’ve strayed from it. I decided to recruit a friend and coworker, Theresa Carmichael, RD, to help me write this article. Theresa earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Food & Nutrition from San Diego State University. She later completed her dietetic internship with an emphasis in Clinical Nutrition through the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Theresa has been working with the eating disorder population since 2014 and loves helping clients overcome their struggles with food.
I chose to use air quotes around the word “health” or “healthy” in this interview-styled article to emphasize the wide variety of definitions associated with this word. My mission is to open your mind and stir your curiosity in redefining what “health” can mean to you. Here’s a peek at my interview with Theresa Carmichael on this controversial topic. I hope her answers may offer you more clarification in your journey to “health”:
What does “healthy” mean to you?
“Healthy is such a loaded word. And I feel like that is why it is used in so many different arenas. While many of us are focused on the term “healthy”, as if carries some type of moral value/worth for our lives, I have tokened the word “healthy” to encompass a holistic approach. “Healthy” may look different for each person, however overall it is a sense of well-being when it comes to their biology as well as their mental health. One is not more superior to the other.”
What are synonymous for “healthy”?
“Happy, present, and able.”
What are “healthy” meals? What makes a food “healthy”?
“Balanced (representative of all food groups- carbohydrates, protein, dietary fats, fruits, vegetables), nutrient-dense, enjoyable & fun!”
What does society say is “healthy”?
“As stated in the first question, healthy takes on a whole new meaning in our society. It is sad actually, as I often see the term healthy being used in a way to differentiate from those who are perceived as “unhealthy.” It is a comparison game. One that our society is lacking a compassionate approach, especially with nutrition and well-being.”
What does a “healthy” relationship with food look like?
“A healthy relationship with food does not have any food rules. You eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are satisfied. There are no extremes or any true “superfood.” All foods fit in variety, moderation and balance all while honoring our food preferences. Being able to identify the ‘7 Hungers’ and honoring them in a way that meets your needs in the moment is the key to a healthy relationship with food!”
What does a “healthy” body look like? What’s a “healthy” weight?
“HA HA HA! I laugh because as a dietitian, society may expect me to whip out the BMI calculator or scale… WRONG! A healthy body is a body that is taken care of in a compassionate way- gentle nutrition, without dieting and while engaging in joyful movement! The intuitive eater inside of all of us is going to be more accurate at determining what their individual “healthy” weight will be- even more accurate than a dietitian or physician calculating some algorithm to find an exact number. It just doesn’t work that way. A healthy body is one we can accept as ours, no matter what the number is on the scale. Research has shown that we can find health at every size, and that weight stigma may actually be the one doing a number on our health.”
What does a “healthy” relationship with your body look like?
“RESPECT! If you haven’t read ‘Body Respect’ by Linda Bacon you really should. When we respect our bodies, we are more likely to honor it with gentle nutrition and joyful movement. Be grateful for the amazing things your body can do for you.”
Is “healthy” the new “perfect”? Is perfectionism achievable?
“Oh my gosh what a great question! Perceiving things/people/food as “healthy” in many ways can set us up for failure as a society. What I see time and time again in my work as a dietitian is this comparison game I mentioned before. Labeling food as “healthy” or “unhealthy” can create black and white thinking- keeping us from the very beautiful things that can happen when we practice the grey area. When food is just food and furthermore imperfect. I cannot urge enough how important it is for all of us, including health professionals, to set feasible & attainable goals for improving disordered eating patterns. Focusing on the “perfect way to eat” can exacerbate feelings of shame that, unfortunately, we all succumb to in the world of diet culture and intense focus on body image.”
Health isn’t about “good” and “bad” foods or your body weight. The term “health” demands new perspective instead. Health means having a mind clear of guilt and shame associated with your food selection; a mind rid of negative thoughts about your pants size. Health represents honoring your body’s intuitive cues, and concentrating on variety, moderation, and balance in all aspects of life. This includes feeding your hungry body food it’s craving, without judgement, until it’s satisfied. And, moving your body in joy-filled ways to celebrate what it’s capable of, without focusing on how to alter it physically. Health does not look a particular way. Society teaches us to judge one’s health like a book cover, when we haven’t even read a single chapter. I encourage you to pull away from the rigid, societal views of health, and replace them with individualized healthy behaviors of your own. Health is not one size fits all. Everyone’s journey with health appears different, and that’s okay! Health is overall well-being achieved through intuitive behaviors and mental clarity. Our bodies are constantly telling us what we need to be healthy, now all we have to do is listen and respect.
1. Luciani, Joseph. “Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” US News, 29 Dec. 2015, health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail.
About the Author
Emily Travis, MPH, RDN, LD, earned a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Baylor University in 2014. She then completed her Dietetic Internship and customized Master’s degree with concentration in nutrition and focus in epidemiology from the University of Texas School of Public Health in 2016. Emily obtained extensive training and experience in outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization eating disorder treatment throughout her dietetic internship. Emily also has experience working in private practice. Emily works with individuals to help them obtain a more positive body image, while overcoming their obstacles around food.