Reclaim Health at the 5Cs

Marcia Hutchinson, author of Transforming Body Image: Learning To Love the Body You Have, said, “If you talked to your friends the way you talk to your body, you’d have no friends left at all.”  

She’s right, and yet we do it anyway.  

It’s more common to hear people critiquing their appearances than celebrating them. Body hatred is more socially acceptable than body love.  

Too fat, thin, short, tall, out-of-shape—the list goes on. But it’s time to question the validity of the beauty and health standards behind these judgments. By what standards am I too this or too that, and is it really worth paying attention to them?

Prevailing health culture encourages this negative self-talk. Health is narrowly defined by external measures—things that others can see. Being healthy means looking a particular way, weighing a prescribed amount, eating certain foods in certain quantities, and burning a specific number of calories when exercising. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if these health standards actually work for you?  Do they make you feel good about your body?

As author Kim Brittingham writes in Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large, “Every weight loss program, no matter how positively it’s packaged, whispers to you that you’re not right. You’re not good enough. You’re unacceptable and you need to be fixed.”

Feeling good and feeling healthy are no longer compatible. The never-ending quest for health means eating less and exercising more without ever actually listening to our bodies. It’s a numbers game and it’s impossible to win, but we’re playing it here at the 5Cs.

It was within the first few days back from winter break that I saw the nutrition facts and caloric values posted above the food options at Malott Commons dining hall at Scripps College. I noticed some of my friends and myself choosing to eat differently upon seeing the caloric content of the food that we would otherwise have picked. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it most definitely isn’t a good thing either.

While the signs could be beneficial in helping people know what exactly they are consuming, they could also contribute to a calorie-counting obsession. It’s important to know what is in the food we put into our bodies, especially if we have food allergies or sensitivities, but we don’t need calories to help us do this. The fact is that calorie counting can become an obsession, and it often does.

“It stresses control by numbers and theoretical health ideals rather than paying attention to your body and mind’s needs and desires. Each person’s calorie needs are different, and calorie counting encourages people to prescribe to one set of non-universal health norms,” Zoey Martin-Lockhart PZ ’15 said when asked about the recently posted nutrition facts.

We’re not teaching our students healthy living; we’re encouraging them to live by the numbers—numbers that may not even work for them.

Dr. David L. Katz of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center said, “We eat to feel satisfied. A tally of the calories in a given menu item does not change whether or not that item satisfies you. If it doesn’t, you may have to eat two. Eating better is better than eating less.”

He’s right. We should eat for our own satisfaction, but prevailing beliefs around health imply that there is a tradeoff between personal satisfaction and health. You’re either healthy or you’re self-indulgent.

But maybe self-indulgence is good thing. At the end of the day, you know yourself best. Eating and exercising intuitively is a good way to start. By listening to ourselves, we can meet our individual health needs and enjoy food instead of fighting with and regulating it.

It’s time for us to let go of all of the health dos and don’ts and redefine health for ourselves. Let’s start with small changes. We can list the ingredients of the food prepared by our dining halls without listing the calories. The signs that have appeared at Scripps, Harvey Mudd College, and Claremont McKenna College are well-intentioned, but too number-focused. It’s time for us to realize health comes in all shapes and sizes.

True health means loving who you are and listening to your body and what it needs. Let’s reclaim health here at the 5Cs.

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