Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Does it Mean to be Healthy?

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My clients often talk about how they perceive health and what classifies them or someone else as healthy or unhealthy. More often than not, when my clients describe health, they describe a state of physical health (or anything that has to do with our physical entity or our bodies). As they continue their explanation, they typically describe physical health as a state in which the body and the organs are functioning normally with an absence from sickness and disease. They mention factors including nutrition, exercise, sleep, and drug, alcohol, or tobacco use as components that affect our physical health.

Although I never argue that my clients are correct in describing physical health, I do often dispute their definition that health is only that of physical health. Since 1946, the World Health Organization has defined health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. I prefer to use the term “wellness” to describe health. There are eight dimensions of wellness as described by SAMSHA: emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, physical, intellectual, and environmental. Each dimension is inter-related with the other. Balance is important within each dimension and a lacking of sufficient attention to any one dimension will result in less-than-optimal development of a person and may lead to chronic unhappiness. Fulfillment and balance in each dimension relies on us to author our own life. This means that we must take responsibility for the causes and consequences of our behavior and that we must approach life with a positive attitude and with values and morals to which we wish to live by.

When my clients try to tell me that eating a piece of cake at a birthday party isn’t healthy because it contains “empty calories,” I first remind them that there are no good and bad foods and that whether something is nutritious or not depends on the frequency and context within which it is eaten. I then remind them that that continually declining a piece of cake at a birthday party for fear of how that food may detract from their health, can often cause feelings of awkwardness and may eventually lead to social isolation (ex: maybe people stop inviting you to certain events or maybe you decline invitations so you don’t have to deal with questions and comments about your food intake). This impact on their social health may actually cause a more negative impact on their well being and may lead to chronic unhappiness and less-than-optimal development as a person (as mentioned above). So, although you declined that piece of birthday cake for fear of what it might do to your physical health, remember life is much, much more than this and you don’t actually need to be “perfect” in one area to be a successful, happy, and beautiful person (inside and out).

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