To eat healthy or not to eat healthy? Is that the question?

Drink enough water

‘To eat healthy’, gets far more gravity in these days of confinement. That is because to sit at home all day comes with the imminent risk of over-eating and under-exercising.

It takes quite some self-discipline to eat healthy and to stay in motion when locked up inside four walls.

But what is ‘to eat healthy’? Does this mean that you eat healthy food and drink healthy? Most eat-professionals suggest certain food consumption behaviors. For example:

  • Chew your food well
  • Take and mark your time to eat
  • Drink enough water
  • Eat fresh produce 
  • Vary what you eat from one day to the other

What is your ‘eating lifestyle’?

Of course, most of us already try to balance our intake of calories, vitamins, carbohydrates and proteins. Some of us follow specific eating patterns. Such as the ketogenic and paleolithic diet. We think it’s worthwhile to study those patterns and to try them out. 

Take your time to choose an eating pattern that suits you best. But be lenient on yourself, it’s not a problem to incorporate a ‘cheat day’ in your eating pattern.

What is healthy?

What is healthy food?

However, in this article I would like to focus less on food. Because what signifies health exactly in ‘healthy food’. There are many people who inform you of what food and drinks can be called healthy. But do they also indicate how you can experience that you’re healthy?

Take for instance companies that pre-produce food, such as pizza’s or cereals. They are not allowed to claim that their food is healthy. Since probably no food-processing company will state that their food is unhealthy, you have to figure it out yourself from the mandatory information on the packaging.

That is quite time-consuming. Besides, you often need a looking glass to be able to read the usually very small texts. Even when you’re able to decipher the ingredient-codes, the overall question remains: is this healthy? So, at the end, you must draw your own conclusions.

Health dimensions

An old WHO definition describes health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ This definition was formulated in 1948. The last 20 years it caused some discussion amongst professionals. 

The discussion centers on 2 issues. ‘Complete wellbeing’ is a rather ambitious goal. It opens the risk of ‘complete’ dependency of the healthcare system. However, this was probably never implied in 1948. The healthcare industry was not so sophisticated as at present. Besides, ‘wellbeing’ is a subjective, personal state of feeling.

From ‘acute’ to ‘chronic’ diseases


The second issue is that the WHO-definition does not take the demographic change of disease into account. In 1948 you died of ‘acute’ illnesses. In our days, you survive with one, but mostly more, ‘chronic’ diseases. But this idea is based on shaky grounds. The average life-expectancy in the Western World already started to rise way ahead of 1948. Mostly due to better food. Later on, but far less, also due to sanitary provisions.

The contribution of our healthcare system to our live-expectancy has always been relatively small. Although, I admit, it’s nice to be able to visit a doctor when you feel ill. You should be aware though that this does not by itself contribute to a higher life-expectancy or more health. Besides, the WHO at present uses a totally different model of disease and health: ‘an integrated biopsychosocial model of human functioning and disability’.

Is our health sacred?

However, this new model is so complicated that only professionals understand it. The model also very much focuses on the ‘disease’-side of health. Which could still accentuate the idea that health is ‘the absence of disease’. Do you think that health is ‘merely the absence of disease’?

I don’t think so. So this again raises the question: what is ‘health’? This question is even more important, because you want to know whether all the efforts you take to ‘eat healthy’ will pay-off. 

Perhaps our subjective feelings of wellbeing should be considered as a good health standard? This could be concluded from the commonly used modern, professional definition of health: ‘the ability to adapt and self manage’.

This also opens a Box of Pandora. Extensive and longitudinal research shows that we connect our health with all of life’s domains, such as personal, social, work, and leisure. Does this mean that we declared our health the most important goal of our lives? Do we think our health to be sacred? 

Healthier lifestyles

To eat healthy or not to eat healthy?

Moreover, this modern definition opens a totally other discussion about health. Obesity, which is in most cases directly linked to food consumption, has a significant class dimension. 

The problem is that obese people are often reproached for their lack of ‘ability to adapt and self manage’. A lack of knowledge and self-discipline are indeed human flaws and quite literally cause obesity. However, reproaches don’t help because they make obese people feel patronized, humiliated and powerless.

The suggestion often made to solve the problem of obesity, is that first should be analyzed which habits and institutions cause lifestyle differences. Such an analysis could secure small and large changes to support healthier lifestyles.

For instance, food-producing companies must be coerced in using less salt, sugar and saturated fats. And supermarkets can be totally rearranged to prevent binge buying of fast and so-called cheap food.

To eat healthy is in fact simple and cheap

From our own experiences I must say that to eat healthy is something that you are able to manage yourself. If you take small steps it is not too complicated. For us it economized our budget. And we feel much better. We also took our time. After each step we monitored how we felt.

It helps your monitoring process when you keep a diary. Nothing fancy, just write down in your own words what you eat and drink, what your first observations are and a couple of hours later, try to explain how it made you feel then.

Slowly you will notice changes in your attitude and your budget. Besides, at least that is what we experience everyday, by for instance leaving out salt and sugar from our food it tastes so much better. And we feel really good about it. Just give it a try.

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