… I am however very much an adept of optimal health.
This third post in my return to optimal health is about the power of words in relation to health. I have this friend who is a fellow gorgeous mama, who has put everyone else first for quite a while, and the extra weight that goes with it. It’s not much and she looks stunning, but like me she doesn’t recognise herself and wants to change that. Something she said triggered this post, language especially self talk plays a big part in our wellbeing.
See the first instalment of this blog series if you want to know why I’m on a return to optimal health journey. In short, I’ve had the wake up call and I’m more cuddly than is comfortable with, and I am taking action to get back to my normal.
There’s so much science research and evidence on the subject, so please take this as a generalised intro (note to self: set up a reference page for website). Let’s cover the meaning of health and a few key words before going onto the power of words in relation to health.
The power of words
A few years back I undertook a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I did it to learn to function better as a human, and because I love learning various subjects in an academic way. This topic is amazing for anyone who has anxiety and depression issues and is keen to take action in getting better; personally i have found its application the most useful in my role as a team leader and as a manager of people.
What CBT teaches you is that your thoughts and words influence your behaviour and vice-versa. (This is not a white paper on CBT, please google the term to find the links to the science behind it all). To simplify, how we frame our language frames how we feel and behave.
An example: picture someone cutting right in front of you as you’re going along your way. Your reaction may be:
1. Oh dear, they must be in a hurry, I hope they’re not rushing to a loved one’s last breath.
2. How dare they?! I’m minding my own business and they do this, to me?! (Insert chosen swear words, and have a field day)
How does that make you feel?
In the first case, you’re not even affected and you have sent compassion in the air (it’s all good karma, the world needs this, well done you). The second reaction, if you chose it, turns you in an instant victim, persecuted by complete strangers, and quite possibly snowballs in ruining your whole day. See what I’m getting at?
How does this relate to health then? The words we chose about ourselves impact greatly on how we define ourselves and behave. You know, the self talk in front of the mirror? The justification for “wine o’clock”? These words lead us different behavioural path depending on how empowered we feel or whether we’ve decided we’re a “lost cause” anyway.
How do words impact on all areas of health?
Looking at a few recurring ones on my Facebook wall…
“Losing weight” – this implies you’re going to lose it, and as it’s yours, and you’re not giving it away, well… it’s bound to come back. Whether you go and look for it again or for the less aware, it’ll come back out of “nowhere” (I’d suggest the biscuit tin or the wine bottle)
Make it worse by “trying to lose weight” – oh heck, the half hearted attempt at it, usually filled with guilt and deprivation. If successful in dropping a size, watch it fly back and body tackle you with gusto.
“Going on a diet” – sounds like the worst holiday ever. What does that mean anyway? Diet used to be defined (and still is when used as the technical term) by “the kind of food that an animal habitually eats”. It commonly implies restrictions and there’s a second definition “a course of food to which a person restricts themselves for a specific reason”.
Without paying attention to our language, we are very much at risk to sabotaging our best endeavour at improving our health. It’s essential to reframe, as much for body health than mental health.
Reframing for optimal health – these set out objectives and mindset.
“Functional body” – beauty is in the eyes of the beholder (and their points of reference) – by focusing on optimising the body for its functionality, the focus is more on nourishment (fuelling) than stocking up on food. Even with deeper issues than cosmetics, your body is your vehicle for life, whatever abilities it has, be grateful for it and honour it as such. Recognise what you can and can’t do with it. There are so many things that can be optimised to function better, if you so desire. To do this we aim for balance, we are honest as to what healthy looks like for us and what we want out of life. Some people are ok “plodding along” – they don’t mind the brain fog, be out of breath coming up the stairs-, some can only relax when their energy levels are right up there. It goes way beyond size and shape. More importantly it has to be realistic for the individual.
“Health and optimal health” – what does health look like, feel like? That’s such an interesting one, the spectrum of health. There’s being healthy, i.e. Being ok, within the “standard” guidelines, being able to function. Then there’s optimal health, like this lady in my network who climbed Mt Everest at 81, she’s 90 and a business woman, still active. Like being so healthy that your skin reflects it (in three weeks of returning to practicing what I’m preaching, people have been commenting on how beautiful my skin is. Someone asked if I had Botox!!! Hell no, my skin care is largely homemade, but that’s another story for another post)
Putting it simply, what is optimal for one person largely depends on how committed they are to their objectives. What I see as optimal health is the daily actions I take to prevent what is preventable and as a result, the absence of disease. Because I am tuned in with how my body functions when I am taking those actions (and what it looks like), it is easy for me to identify what I need doing and take action accordingly.
What you see as optimal health may very well vary greatly, what you decide to commit to will define how far you take it.
“Diet” objectively, this really is the way you eat daily, it does not involve restrictions of this, that or the other. It is not the latest fad. It’s a way of life, based on nutritional science and very much on what doesn’t cause inflammation in your body. This is why I run those health challenges, and since my nutritionist friend has set up her 28 day programme as an automated system, I recommend this and focus on supporting people through it. Learning a new way of life takes a whole community behind you.
“Health science” vs “Bro science” one is researched and evidence, the other one is unverified words of so called wisdom you read in the papers, hear at the gym and/or from the overweight colleague who has “tried it all, but nothing works” (she says as she has a biscuit and a latte)
My favourite resource for health science is the http://www.askthescientists.com website, where you can find the links to the papers and research that advance nutrition.
So, Sarah, what do you do if you don’t “go on a diet”?
I’m glad you ask!
First, I’m honest with myself and I ask the questions:
– has my husband boiled my jeans so they shrunk?! (No, he’s way too meticulous with the washing for that)
– have I been managing my stress?
– how often have I had the “1-2 glasses a week” this week?
– did I really not snack?! (Huh oh to the nut bar wrapper in my handbag)
Then I turn to those people whom I know support the healthy lifestyle I enjoy. Those who will provide encouragement, celebrate my successes with me. That community took some time to find and it’s proving an invaluable network of support and knowledge.
Finally I commit to respect my body, my health, my wellbeing, and I implement all I learned over the years.
I’ll write up about those good habits and the achievements of my first month’s results for the next post. In the meantime if you are looking for that supportive network, get in touch.
PS: when you work on optimal health, the weight/size regulates naturally.