why the language of wellness matters

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HEALTH is something that’s yours. it is not the adjective that describes it; it is what your body needs and does, the aggregate of certain measurable markers (like blood pressure, liver & kidney function or blood sugar regulation) with how you feel in your body and about your lived experience.

HEALTHFUL has traditionally applied to things that promote health, like hydration, stress management and eating nutrient-rich foods. but over time, “healthful” has been replaced with the term “healthy” — and here’s why that’s a problem.

on its own, HEALTHY technically means to possess good health. but in practice, it gets assigned based on an unclear set of standards, by anyone with an opinion. and “healthy” & “unhealthy” don’t stop at describing a state of health; they’re also used to refer to how we and others look, feel & eat and what we do.

many of the assumed indicators of health we label as healthy (or not) don’t come from medicine, but from diet culture & beauty culture, adopted into a wellness shorthand. moreover, the average person has been taught to feel empowered and entitled to do this labelling, not only of themselves but of others — which is a product of diet culture as well.

because health is so multifaceted and what is healthful is so individualized, the terms HEALTHY and UNHEALTHY don’t mean anything concrete. at best, they are unhelpful and at worst they are harmful.

we need to push back on the normalization of categorizing people in ways that we are neither qualified to nor should be concerned with. stopping and thinking about what we actually mean when our instinct is to use the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy” is how we start challenging this programming.

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