Happy Friday, friendlies! For those of you who new to the blog, my Fueled Up Friday series typically includes posts with things that are keeping me fueled up any given week--the featured items range from foods, to books, to podcasts, basically anything that I'm excited about. (Also, welcome! I'm so glad you're here!) But today is going to be a different type of Fueled Up Friday, because I want to focus on just one thing today. I realized recently, as I was listening to the new Living Experiment podcast (that I talked about in this post) that right now I am the healthiest that I have ever been. I'm going to say that again, because it is a BIG DEAL: right now, I am the healthiest that I have EVER been. At least, the healthiest I've ever been as an adult. I was probably an extraordinarily healthy infant. But that's beside the point. I want to write about this realization today because I want to celebrate it, and talk about what it means to me. This is a hallelujah post. Ready? Me, too.
I started thinking about being at my healthiest because the hosts of the Living Experiment podcast were talking about what it means to be healthy vs. what it means to be "hot" and a key part of that discussion was...what does it mean to be healthy? It seems like a simple question, but it's not. Healthy is not a metric--it's not a weight, it's not a body fat percentage, it's not cholesterol or blood pressure or anything else in your medical chart. Those things contribute to health--it's hard to say that you're really healthy if your indicators of health are all tanking, but you can't look to any one thing to tell you if you're healthy or not. So, what else counts? How about how well you're sleeping? What about how well your digestive system is working? How about how your joints and muscles feel when you move throughout your day? How about your ability to participate in the physical activities that you enjoy? What about your mindset--do you feel content? Happy? Challenged? Fulfilled? Stressed? Depressed? What about your diet--are you eating wholesome foods? How do you feel about your relationships?
Listen, the point is this: health is holistic because we are whole people. You can pull a bikini figure competitor off the stage with ripped muscles and minimal body fat and stand them next to a regular person, but you won't be able to tell who is healthier just by looking. Health isn't always visible from the outside. What does the competitive athlete eat to stay so thin? (Is it two twinkies per day and nothing else? I mean, it could be.) Is the stress of competing wearing away at them? Eating disorders are another great example of this--someone suffering with disordered eating can look outwardly healthy (especially because we assume thinner = healthier, until it gets to some dire extreme). But someone suffering from an eating disorder is struggling with some serious mental demons, and their body is struggling with malnutrition and not functioning healthily at all. Is this all painfully obvious to you? That you can't tell how healthy someone else is just by looking, and you can't really tell how healthy you are without thinking kind of hard about it? It wasn't to me.
So, what does it mean when I say I'm the healthiest I've ever been? I'll let you in on a very well-known secret: I'm a pretty Type A person. I like metrics. I like to be able to point to a objective fact, so I'm naturally inclined toward concrete measurements of health--how much do I weigh? How big is my waist? How fast can I run? How far? How many times do I work out in a week? These things are part of health for me. But none of them is the be-all or end-all, and when I started thinking about it I realized there are LOTS of things that go into my own assessment of my health, and there were definitely other times in my life when some of my objective measurements might have looked "healthier" but I know my overall health was not as good as it is now.
I'm not at my lowest weight or body fat percentage, for example--both of those would have been when I was a competitive swimmer in high school. I know I wasn't healthier at that time than I am now for a few reasons: first of all, my nutrition was really subpar. My parents always cooked healthy meals for us, but like most high school students my discretionary diet revolved around potato chips, ice cream (ok, sugar in any form), pasta, and other low-nutrient foods. Also, at the time that my weight and body fat were at their lowest, I was way too thin. My hair was falling out, I got lightheaded in the shower, and I looked pretty skeletal. I was swimming 25-30 hours a week and taking college-level courses, so my stress level was high and I couldn't eat enough to keep up with that level of activity. I mean, I was exercising a lot and my athleticism was off the charts. But it was definitely not my healthiest time.
What makes me the healthiest that I've ever been now is a combination of important factors: my fitness, my nutrition, and the overall composition of my life. My fitness is at a high level right now. I won't say I'm more fit than I was when I was a swimmer, because I think that's a stretch (although I also couldn't run a mile at that time, so how do I really decide?) but at this point in my life I am able to do active things that I enjoy, including running, hiking, and biking, I am strong (though I could and will be stronger in the future) and I exercise regularly. My nutrition is hands-down the best it's ever been in my life--first of all because I finally know what works best for my body, and second because it is just objectively more nutritious--I've never eaten more fruits, vegetables, and high-quality protein. And I enjoy the way I eat and move, which is another important piece of the puzzle. And finally, my life is in an overall good place. I don't work so many hours that I'm constantly stressed and frazzled, my husband no longer lives on the other side of the ocean, and both personally and as a family I can say things are pretty settled and happy these days. (Is it a bad idea to say that on the internet? This seems like asking for trouble.) Not to say that I don't struggle regularly in all of those areas--I do--but my point is that overall, this is a good place to be. And overall is exactly the way we need to look at our health.
For me, being healthy also means that I'm at peace with my body. As a perfectionist, I struggle with loving the parts of myself that aren't perfect. There have definitely been times in my life where I hated any inch of fat anywhere on my body. This self-criticism is so draining. It's exhausting to dislike yourself. My body doesn't look all that different now than it ever has--I've never gained or lost more than 15 pounds, so while things have grown and shrunk and shifted around throughout my adult life, it's never been a huge difference. The difference now is that I'm proud of how I feed myself, and how I move, and I'm at peace with how my body looks as a result of those behaviors. Even better than at peace, some days. The photo above is a funny example of something that's been happening to me a lot, lately--I see myself in the mirror and think, "hey! you look healthy and strong! good for you! take a selfie." And then I do, and I look at the picture and think, "umm, maybe you don't need to take a picture. You can delete that." But liking the reflection is good. And I didn't delete this one--I posted it to the interwebs. So that's something.
What this means to me going forward, and what I think it should mean to you, is this: when I think about my health, I want to look at myself as a whole being and think about factors outside of the simple "how much do I weigh?" or "what size jeans do I wear?" questions. And then, as I'm looking at my holistic health, I want to find areas to improve. Right now, I'm focusing on increasing strength. Part of this goal includes increasing my protein intake, which I'm happy to say is in a pretty good place thanks to the additions of collagen and Shakeology to my daily routine. I've also been focused on running faster this year, though my interest in that has wavered. A constant focus area for me is honing what foods work best for my stomach, though I'm happy to say that after nearly two years on that journey I've got it pretty figured out. A focus area that needs improvement but that I never choose to work on is flexibility. Because I hate stretching with a fiery passion. It's good for you, I just don't like it. Nobody's perfect.
So, what's your health area of improvement? Do you want to drink more water? Sleep more? Improve flexibility? Improve stamina? Get stronger? Get happier? You need to pick specific goals to work toward if you want to see results. And the good news is, there are unlimited goals to choose from. It's a never-ending journey, this wellness stuff. So happy to be on it with you.