What Does Healthy Even Mean?

What Does Healthy Mean

What does “healthy” mean? I see that word all the time with regard to food, exercise, body size. It’s been around for decades. Healthy has morphed as the government has grafted definitions of what it does and does not mean with regard to food packaging. Healthy is bantered around regardless of the size of the woman on the magazine cover. But what does it really mean?

Everyone seems to have a different idea of what “healthy” means. And many people feel that they should tell other people that their choices are or are not healthy. So much so that we’ve come to have words like “fat-shaming” and “pooh-sizing” and “big-boned” as part of frequent conversations.

Everywhere I turn I hear “advocates” yelling at brands that a brand’s attempt at “healthifying” are wrong. It’s gotten to the point that healthy means nothing and everything. Eat this, it’s healthy. No, it’s not, it has … sugar, fat, dairy, corn, soy, wheat, gluten, nuts, eggs, meat. Whatever it is that you don’t like seems to be the basis for “unhealthy”.

There’s talk about schools not allowing parents to pack lunch for their kids because they think parents aren’t sending in a “healthy” lunch. Healthy to whom? My daughter gets to buy lunch at school 2 times a month, if she wants. Usually she buys on chicken nugget day, even though she’s seen the Jamie Oliver chicken nugget video. But she also takes lunch because sometimes they run out of food and this way she has lunch.

But what’s “healthy”. Is it non-GMO mac & cheese? Or is mac & cheese not allowed? What if it’s non-GMO and gluten free? Is that better? What if it’s organic truffle mac & cheese made with cheese from a local boutique farm? That has to be healthy, after all it’s organic and the cheese is local. Perhaps, in this case, the level of deliciousness defines healthy?

I know what “healthy” and “healthier” mean for me, but I don’t know what it means for you. I want GMO foods labeled, not so we can kick all GMO food to the curb but because then I know what I’m eating. I make the choice. For me.

I know healthier means moving more and eating less “junk”. But how I define junk may be different than how someone else does. But that doesn’t give me the right to judge you or your choices. I have friends who are vegetarian who eat more cookies and candy than I do. Are they healthier because they’re vegetarian? Maybe. Then again, I have Paleo friends who won’t touch sugar or grains but think nothing of eating a 12-ounce grass-fed steak with a size of duck-fat fried sweet potato fries. Mmmmm, sweet potato fries! I’m so confused!

The USDA’s guidelines for foods served under the National School Lunch or Breakfast programs are over 50 pages long! Few people actually read them, unless it pertains to their job. It’s quite fascinating, though. Kids can have low-fat white milk but flavored milk must be non-fat. Canned fruit packed in light syrup is permitted. Reduced-fat cheese is exempt from the fat-content standards. What? This would explain why fruit cocktail is an acceptable fruit. Ugh! I guess it’s “healthy” by their standards, but not by mine.

Almost every discussion of healthy eating is about what we can’t eat. Get enough people in a room and pretty soon all that’s left is water (and I’m not even sure about that because I wouldn’t know if it should be bottled or from the tap). Is there really such thing, then, as a “healthy” snack or lunch or dinner or meal? Search “healthy snack” and you get everything from home-garden raised fruits and veggies to non-gmo/organic brand frozen yogurt. How can the healthy spectrum be so broad? But it’s proof that we don’t really know what healthy means yet we’re going to judge people by their choices because they’re different from ours.

Yes, I eat dark chocolate. I don’t need scientific studies to give me permission. I also don’t need studies to tell me or my friends that having a glass of red wine is good for me. Why? Because if I’m having a glass of wine it’s because I am with people I care about, who make me happy, who make me laugh and feel good. All those things together make my life better.

And you know what’s more? No amount of non-gmo, organic, dark chocolate, fat-free frozen yogurt will ever be “healthy”. Will it be a better alternative than the vat of full-fat organic 5-ingredient ice cream I made and feel the need to devour before it has a chance to take on any freezer smell? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. And I don’t need a Ph.D. to know that fat-free candy isn’t “healthier” than a full-fat candy.

I consider myself pretty smart. And you’re probably pretty smart too. If WE can’t come up with a definition of “healthy” why are we letting other people tell us that our choices are or aren’t “healthy”? As smart people we don’t need anyone to tell us we need to give up certain foods so we can be “healthy”. I guess what it comes down to is choice. Our own personal choice. And not looking at this idea of “healthy” eating in a vacuum. And not judging other people by their choice.

There are a lot of things I don’t think people should eat or do. And I’m pretty sure there are plenty of people judging me and my choice of what I eat and how I need to do certain things to be “healthy”. So what does healthy even mean? Your guess is as good as mine!