My priority as a college student used to be to live a healthy lifestyle. I wanted to eat healthy foods, form healthy habits, maintain a healthy GPA, keep up a healthy social calendar and strengthen my mental health. Before I get pushback from an appalled reader, I should say that I’m still actively pursuing those goals.
However, a nagging question wouldn’t quiet down. What does “healthy” look like? I’m sure a handful of people don’t even need to take a breath before answering with some variation of the same basic list—balanced meals, regular exercise, robust social interactions, activities in mindfulness and good grades.
Though the answer came easily, execution proved a different story because of one little word… “and”. Healthy for many of us isn’t an either-or but an all of the above. The models of health we glorify on pedestals made of clean juices and washboard abs have it all.
We don’t see toned bodies who run on avocado toast and salads hovering over a table piled high with papers, writing utensils and snacks every which way at two in the morning. They instead maintain beautifully aesthetic workspaces and even more visually pleasing GPAs.
Similarly, nights out with the girls, game days, date nights and darties fill every nook and cranny that isn’t devoted to yoga, perfectly plated food, classes and gym times. Sarcastic as I may sound, it’s an unbelievable reality that many people practice and ascribe to such standards.
I have nothing but respect and amazement. Clearly, my parents weren’t paying attention during childcare classes and neglected to feed me the miraculous formula. When I try to push myself through all the “ands” in the formula, I get something that doesn’t equal healthy.
Ensuring balanced meals shared a razor-thin line with an obsession over calories. The perfect social robustness often meant a draining alternation between feeling isolated and burned out. Prerequisites for good grades included copious amounts of caffeine and many hours glued to a screen or deep textbooks thicker than The Rock’s neck. Regular exercise and mindfulness became reserved for occasional moments when an extra hour appeared in the day.
How was I meant to do all of it? The days simply didn’t have enough hours. Some goals even seem mutually exclusive. I’d be willing to bet my ailing post-spring break bank account that I’m not completely alone in my experiences or struggles.
Here’s the part in the “story” where I’d like to deliver a silver platter with a beautifully crafted and proven procedure on how to achieve all the “ands” of being healthy. Unfortunately, reality prevents me from doing so. The journey to defining and finding health requires a lifetime.
Something that I can offer, however, is a realization I’ve had that’s shifted the trajectory of my journey. Currently, the ideal of health we ascribe to remains impossible if we continue to view health as the end goal. I wasn’t ever able to get my equation to equal healthy because the obsession to repentantly possess a transitory thing prevented me from grasping for it at all.
Put in simpler terms, constant health remains impossible because it comes and goes. Reality requires us to make certain concessions. There’s nothing wrong with such a reality.
Some with a history of mental health struggles may need to sacrifice some academic success and social robustness to maintain their overall health. Others need to occasionally sacrifice some mental and physical health during exam weeks to gain the academic success required for their overall mental health. Too much social robustness can cause physical illness.
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Each scenario shows the different ways healthy people achieve their own health.
We each need different things. We’re operating within different limits and circumstances. We have different values. Those very differences give rise to the immense diversity that has allowed humans to grow and thrive on an individual and collective level.
Imposing a universal rubric of health punishes us for our individual needs and qualities while also ignoring how reality creates circumstances out of our control. The “ands” force us to squeeze into boxes we were never meant to fit into, and that’s perfectly okay!
Adopting a more holistic and state-like view of health may be the key to becoming healthy. Just as health isn’t limited to a body size or shape, specific food or workout routine, we shouldn’t limit our view of health to a static idea.
When we view individual aspects of health as states that come and go, our mentality can shift from an impossible pursuit of perfect health to one of perfectly attainable individual health. The very perfection we seek in health may prove to be the unhealthiest behavior we could adopt. The end goal isn’t perfect health, but rather an individually happy and healthy lifestyle.
Emily Maceda is a Trinity sophomore. Her column usually runs on alternate Thursdays.