Seriously, fuck “healthy.” I’m tired of it. The word is a drug. The masses are addicted, and marketers are fueling the addiction like the only LSD dealer at Woodstock.
Healthy needs to take a hike.
The word is getting us nowhere. The country’s obesity rate continues to climb past 42% of adults. Americans gained an average of 29 pounds in 2020. We’re still too fat, and being too fat is the root cause for most popular diseases.
Categorizing things as “healthy” isn’t helping our health.
If it’s doing anything, “healthy” is just confusing people. The confusion creates problems. Problems lead to internet research. The internet – suspiciously – points back to healthy as the solution.
It’s a destructive cycle. We need to break free.
Who Decides What’s Healthy?
If you’re not sick, you’re healthy. Only two people know if you’re sick. Either you know or your doctor determines you’re sick.
If your doctor thinks you’re sick, he can tell you what is healthy. He can tell you what you need to do to get unsick.
Your doctor can prescribe medicines or therapies. He or she can prescribe rest or exercise. He or she can prescribe foods to avoid and foods to eat.
Doctors endure extensive training to determine what is healthy. Somehow, society is more suspicious of their definition of healthy than the claims made from strangers on our phones.
Here’s who does not know what is healthy for you:
- Your Skinny Friends
- Your Facebook-addicted Aunt
- Your Overly Concerned Spouse
- Your Stoner Friend Obsessed With Burning Sage
- Your Mom’s Friend That Spends All Her Time Binging Netflix Documentaries
- A Meathead on Instagram With 100,000 Followers
- The Marketing Executive In Product Development
- The Self Proclaimed Expert On Midday Local News
When these people tell you what is healthy, you should feel empowered to tell them, “fuck off.” That’s how we break the cycle. We stop using the word, and we stand up to people abusing the word.
So Nothing Is Healthy?
Healthy foods. Healthy ingredients. Healthy snacks. Healthy recipes.
These things are not inherently healthy. That’s not how health works.
We all are constantly making choices that affect our health. Some things we do make us a little sick. Tequila shots, for example. Some things we do make us feel better. A sweaty workout, for example. You can’t go up a down a list categorizing everything as healthy and unhealthy. Our reality isn’t organized this way.
Measuring something’s value to your health requires context.
A food, product, activity or practice becomes healthy when it’s put in a healthful context. Without the context, standing alone, very few things are healthy or unhealthy.
Think about an athletic 15-year-old boy. His body is growing. His hormones are raging. He’s burning calories like crazy. If he eats a grass-fed cheeseburger, he’s making a healthy choice. He’s fueling his body with macronutrients and energy he needs to grow.
Now think about a 65 year-old woman. Her body should not be growing. Her hormones are no longer raging. She’s not as active as she used to be and doesn’t burn the same amount of calories. For her, a grass fed cheeseburger is more a cardiovascular risk and metabolic challenge. She doesn’t need the same macronutrients at that stage in her life. She doesn’t need the density of calories. For her, those flavors just come with unnecessary risks and issues. She’s better off with a bean burger and smothered in a little bit of avocado.
Different people. Different bodies. Different choices. You strip the people away from the choices they make, and you have no way to measure the health impact.
In other words, labeling things healthy is lazy. It’s an oversimplification of reality. The abuse of this descriptor is polarizing people’s perception of the world.
Rise Above Marketing Messages
A lot of people want to improve their health. They want to make choices to nourish and will benefit their bodies. But marketers have created a false dichotomy that divides everything into healthy and not healthy.
The world isn’t black and white. It’s a gradient of greys. Your health is no different.
When people look at the world through a paradigm of healthy and unhealthy, they can quickly lose their damn mind. The perception fuels rampant confusion. Baseless arguments erupt with the passion and conviction – but no expertise. Time is wasted debating where to draw lines around healthy and unhealthy. It’s all so silly.
These days healthy is just an adverb for selling things at higher prices.
If you’re fat, you’re sick. You’re metabolically sick, and it’s a sickness that can lead to other sickness. So you’re not healthy. But eating healthy foods all day isn’t how you fix your problem. You fix your problem by eating less foods. Sure, it’s way easier to consume fewer calories when your diet is made of plant based whole foods, so in this context, whole foods are healthy for you.
A Few Rare Uses Of Healthy
There are a few universally healthy lifestyle choices and foods, but the majority of what is healthy depends on your medical history, physiology, age as well as your short-term and long-term needs.
Nutrition and health research is feverishly debated. People can cite both sides of many argument with equal quality studies, but there are a few things everyone agrees on. This is the short list of what can be called healthy.
- Daily Hydration
- Daily Restful Sleep
- Daily Movement
- Not Smoking
- Not Drinking Alcohol
- Unprocessed Whole Foods*
*Nutrition research is a cluster fuck, but within the dietary segment of health, everyone seems to agree processed foods are bad, and unprocessed whole foods are the way to go. But there’s not even enough consensus around that statement to put this in the universally healthy list.
Everything else depends on who you are and what you want for your life. The value of everything else in your life will largely depend on the dose too. You eat too much of anything, and you’ll get fat. You drink too much water, and you could die (see water intoxication).
Now, Say It With Me…
There you go. Breaking the cycle already. Didn’t that feel good?
Bottom line: what’s “healthy” for one person at one stage of their life could be toxic to another person at a different stage of their life. We need to stop asking ourselves if something is healthy.
We need to start thinking of our short-term and long-term health goals, and then we need to make choices to reach those goals. Ideally, we make those choices so often they become habits, and we enjoy these habits without the guilt or scrutiny of an arbitrary label.
Also published on Medium.