We delight in the rolls on a baby’s leg, but criticize the rolls on our sides with searing disdain. We hurl the word fat around as an insult, when really it’s just a neutral descriptor. We visit medical professionals who calculate our BMI – yet it’s not a true indicator of health. Health is not counting calories or points obsessively. Health is not avoiding fruit or obsessing over achieving 10 000 steps per day. In fact, I think those things are all incredibly unhealthy, but it’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to get to this point of view. Ironically, our view of “health” is often very unhealthy.
Take my weight for instance: the only time in my adult life I’ve been at a “healthy” weight according to BMI calculations is after a traumatic wisdom teeth surgery and painful and protracted recovery. The muscles in my face were stretched when the dentist lost a piece of the tooth he was removing and had to leave my mouth open for longer than expected in order to search for the missing piece. I ended up in physio. Does lying on the couch for three weeks in pain only able to eat muffins soaked in milk equal health? My BMI calculation seems to think so.
Take my weight for instance: in both the years where I ran 16 races, and the year where I ran my first half marathon and won a provincial silver medal within a week of one another, my BMI calculation categorized me as “overweight.” I was strong. I regularly went to the gym. I set goals and I crushed them. Does running a half marathon in 2:18 equal health? My BMI calculation doesn’t think so.
But a number derived from my weight in kilograms divided by my height in metres squared can’t accurately measure my health. It can’t measure strength. It can’t measure muscle. It can’t measure life experiences or the stress or trauma we’ve faced. It can’t measure our stories or our growth. It can’t measure the freaking way our body is uniquely constructed and made as determined by our genes.
I’m learning that health is eating well because it makes me feel well. Health is a giant piece of carrot cake because it tastes good. Health is not feeling any guilt or worry about having eaten that piece of cake. Health is running and walking and yoga and hockey and swimming because they make me feel good, not as a way to earn activity points or burn calories. Health is balance. And health is embracing the body I’ve been given, and knowing that what’s healthy for my body does not get to be determined by an equation.