Years ago, my husband used to run a coffee shop. They sold 900-calorie coffee drinks, as well as sandwiches, salads, and snacks.
Customers would often quiz him on the offerings, as they decided what to eat or drink. They’d ask him about sizing, or how it tasted, but far more often, they’d ask him, Is it healthy?
His answer was always the same: That depends on what you consider “healthy.”
Not everyone has the same definition of what healthy means, or what healthy habits look like. The dictionary says health is “being free from disease,” but my standards are higher. I don’t want to just avoid sickness, but to feel good.
While some things are blatantly unhealthy, much of good health is subjective. What’s perfectly healthy for me might make you feel blah, and vice versa. The only way to figure out what works for you is through trial and error (and, if you’re lucky, with some feedback from a doctor, or trainer, or nutritionist).
For me, healthy looks like a good foundation: good food, good sleep, lots of movement.
When it comes to food, healthy looks like high protein, high fat, low sugar, no artificial sweeteners. (My healthy-for-me food choices would earn me a scolding from many of my husband’s former customers.) But after years of trial and error and blood work, I know that I’m prone to hypoglycemia, and that kind of food keeps my blood sugar stable. Artificial sweeteners make me rabidly crave sugar, so I lay off them.
I ate too many carbs on vacation, and then I got sick, because that stuff wasn’t healthy for me. I’ve reined in my eating habits this past week, and I’ve felt much better.
(My kids eat a lot more carbs than I do, and that’s fine. That’s their healthy.)
When it comes to sleep, I need a bunch. I wish I were one of those people who only needed 6 hours a night, but I need 7.5-8 or bad things happen.
Healthy looks like building rest into my life. Not just sleep, but rest.
I need exercise, and by now I have a good idea of what kind I enjoy and what kind I dread. (Your preferences are probably different, and that’s great.) I need movement, too—not just the kind that builds muscle or makes me sweat. When I get busy, exercise tends to be the thing I drop first. Not activity (I’m pretty good about getting my 10,000 steps), but exercise. So I skip it, and then I don’t feel good. Not healthy.
I need daylight: the natural kind when I can but the happy light kind when I can’t. When we moved last year, we looked for a place with big windows facing east and south. And though I crave daylight, my skin hates the sun: I’ve accepted that my skin and intense sunlight are never going to be on good terms. Healthy looks like acting accordingly.
I wasn’t born knowing these things, and my idea of what healthy habits look like—for me—will probably change as the years go by. (If you figured out what your body needed in your teens or twenties, I applaud you. I wasn’t that smart.)
Healthy is often something we look for “out there”—like it’s just one thing, and we can have it.
I did CrossFit for years. I have mixed feelings about it, but I’m very grateful for one big takeaway: your body is yours, it’s unique, and you need to tinker until you figure out what works for you. If you can experiment and pay attention, you can know your body and learn how to treat it right.