When you think of “health”, what type of images come into your head?
For most people, the image of a thin, attractive person pops into their head. They’d think of someone they know that would fit that criteria– in a smaller body and in smaller sized, fashionable clothing. Perhaps healthy to them looks like someone who is glowing– their skin perfect, hair styled just right, with a youthful appearance.
As a society, we emphasize that the perfect image of health is exactly that. Someone who is at their “ideal body weight”, can fit into smaller size clothing, and eats “clean” or “watches what they eat”.
But, this so-called perfect image of health is none other than a list of false diet rules! There’s immense pressure to fit this image, when really, we are all SO different in wonderful ways. Did you know that plus size women are only represented in mainstream media 1-2% of the time, when 67% of American women qualify as plus size? Why is it that the majority of women are misrepresented in the media? How did our society get to this awful place of pushing the thin ideal?
Before we get sidetracked on that (that’s a whole other blog post), let’s take another look at the “perfect image” of health. Where is mental health on this list of healthy characteristics? Why is it that mental health is not a primary concern? Health is so strongly associated with physical appearance, the importance of mental health is forgotten. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses in the US, affecting 18% of the population. Anxiety and depression are highly treatable, but only one-third of those suffering get treated.
I know the importance of mental health all too well. From the outside, at first glance, you’d assume that I was a fairly healthy person. I seem to be at a normal weight for my height. If you know me on a more personal level ,you’d know that I eat generally “healthy”, I don’t smoke or drink too much, and try to stay active.
Deep down however, I’ve been battling anxiety my entire life. Anxiety that causes high blood pressure, panic attacks, shortness of breath, chest pain, all sorts of physical manifestations. The road to a healthy relationship with my body has started with healing my mind first. In order to become an intuitive eater, I’ve had to work on my emotions and anxiety first. Seeing a therapist, beginning a yoga routine, and learning how to meditate are all ways I’m trying to manage my anxiety. I’m also seeing a doctor and discussing anxiety medication — there’s no shame in being on medication. Anxiety is a disorder caused by a chemical imbalance in our brain — no reason to feel guilty or ashamed for needing the extra help of medication.
Health happens when mind and body come together in harmony, and are at peace with each other. And usually, a healthy mind is what needs to happen FIRST for people to even begin working on developing a healthy relationship with their body. If you’re anxious, depressed, or dealing with disordered eating, your mind is too busy dealing with that to even begin thinking about eating intuitively!
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If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, I encourage you to seek out a therapist that can help. Talkspace is a virtual counseling platform that I’ve been using for about six months and have really seen the benefits (I’m going to write a whole post about it soon!). Learn more about meditation and yoga. Meditation is not only proven to reduce stress and anxiety, it actually helps reshape the brain to help it function better! I wrote an article a couple years ago about how to start a meditation practice.
Let’s talk about this! Leave me a comment below if you or someone you know is currently struggling with anxiety. If you’re an intuitive eating dietitian, I would love to hear how you address anxiety with your clients!