How did we make "health" so unattainable? The idea of health today is mired by cultural pedagogy, defining it in terms of something marketable and a goal that can only be obtained by select few. When you look at Crossfit, Equinox, Peloton, and the majority of fitness brands you see an overwhelming majority of a specific subset of people - a visual definition of what it means to "be healthy". The recent push towards a more inclusive and broader definition has been done so in order to capture a market share rather than provide a platform for discussion of how we can best navigate healthier and happier lives.
Props to this lady, but should this really represent what health and fitness should be about? Not to toot my own horn as a personal trainer, but i'm often told that I look healthy (which is nice to hear). But if i'm going to be honest, I don't consider myself a healthy person. I struggle with depression, body dysmorphia and often find myself unhappy with the person I am. Body mass indexes and heart rate variability determine your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health, but it doesn't mean very much when you consider your mental, social and spiritual health. When we think of health goals, the defaults are to lose 20 pounds or to build "strength". We often try and go on diets or train in ways that aren't sustainable for the long term and end up discouraged and thinking that because we fall short of short term goals, we will never achieve "health". When I started fitness, I became overly fixated with trying to build certain parts of my body to look like the six foot tall white guy on the cover of men's health. I didn't understand that the goal that I wanted to achieve required performance enhancing drugs, and a good photoshop editor. The system that I thought I needed to build had me working out six days a week for almost two hours a day. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome and suffered from major hormone imbalance did I realize that what I was doing wasn't actually helping me live a better life. Since those days, I have done a lot more research and have built sustainable routines and programs based on what I learned from my own mistakes. Yet the industry has become far worse when it comes to pedaling the narratives that I originally fell into. The breadth of research on resistance training favors hyper-masculine modalities and bias towards reinforcing modes of fitness that require expensive equipment such as barbells, plates, and machines; in spaces that can often feel both intimidating and unfriendly to the average person. As male-dominated fitness often favors maximal strength as the defining characteristic of being "fit" the overwhelming majority of trainers, influencers and industry actors seek to demonstrate and teach "strength" despite the fact that maximal strength is only one aspect of physical capability. At the same time, the female-dominated fitness space remains exclusive in its beauty standards and often utilizes its esthetics to sell clothing that only fit a small subset of size ranges and detox juices that cause bodily trauma.
With Crossfit and other competition based fitness brands, the goal of maximal repetitions or quickest time means that the focus is on performance, which is diametrically opposed to overall health and longevity. Of course, if you're driven by competition as a means to pursue health there's nothing wrong with that as long as you're happy. So how do you define health? The keyword is "you" in all of this soapboxing. My goal isn't to define what health should be, but to try and open a discussion and critical engagement towards the definition outside of its cultural narrative. If you want to lose weight, ask yourself if it's you that wants to do it, or if something else is influencing your decision making. When you think about how you do it, think about your future self, and whether or not they're going to be a happier version of you. For some of my clients it's a matter of reframing the goal to take into account a holistic view of wellbeing. If weight loss is definitively the goal, we want to take a look at how we can interpret that in a way that is about growth and happiness . I want to lose 20 pounds in 3 months can be reframed as "I want to maintain a healthy body fat percentage that will prevent disease and improve my overall physical health, because it will allow me to go on hikes and build memories with my friends" By choosing to focus on happiness we can start to build our own personal definitions of health and in turn find goals that are our own. By doing so, we can begin to define our own systems and modes of wellbeing.