Health is not a physical characteristic

Danielle Shorr, junior creative writing major

Guest column by Danielle Shorr, junior creative writing major

My freshman year of college was the year of Domino’s Pizza deliveries, In-N-Out Burger and endless rounds of chocolate chip cookies from the cafeteria. With those extra calories came some extra weight, but certainly not an ounce of regret. I had no shame in flaunting my belly in a crop top at parties, and I maintained a sense of confidence that 14-year-old me didn’t think was possible. I did what every college freshman should be able to do: I lived and enjoyed.

The following summer, I devoted myself to making a lifestyle change. I joined a gym and embarked on a fitness and health journey in an attempt to get in shape. While I ultimately did what I had set out to do, I also created some unintended obstacles for myself in addition to my successes. Because I lacked any nutritional knowledge, the majority of my diet became restricted, influenced by popular notions of what it meant to eat healthy. I favored green juices and salads over processed foods because I assumed that they were automatically better for me.

Later into that summer, I began tracking macronutrients, a process that is incredibly beneficial to finding out what your body needs in terms of daily values. Even though this process helped me understand nutrition in a new way, my fascination with healthy eating quickly became a borderline obsession.

My commitment to meeting my so-called nutritional requirements turned into a habit of avoiding any social outings that had to do with food. I stopped going out to dinner with my roommates, and eventually they stopped asking. I was overwhelmed with anxiety at the restaurant recommendations of my parents. Although this obsession wasn’t directly impacting my physical health, it started taking a toll on my mental health.

I can’t say exactly how I learned to find balance again, but I did. Possibly through connecting with others and partially on my own. I consider myself lucky to have acknowledged my need for help when I did, for my habits could have easily taken over my life.

My deeper understanding of nutrition (thanks to my human nutrition course) has helped me get to a place of comfort while still striving to reach new fitness and health goals. And even though my physique is something I’m proud to have worked hard for, I know that it’s not the direct indicator of my health.

Physical appearance is not synonymous with health. Having abs does not mean that your body is working at its best; it simply means that you are at a low enough body fat percentage to see them. I am aware that at my current weight and height, I meet the physical standards of what health looks like.

While there is certainly privilege in that, my reality is that my actual health is not depicted by my appearance. Along with a neurological condition, I have irregular autoimmune function and chronic physical pain. Because of these issues, finding balance has played roles in more than just a nutritional aspect.

I have made listening to my body a priority, as well as trying to help others to do the same. Working in the fitness industry is often a challenge, and balancing meeting expectations with self-care can be difficult at times. As a certified personal trainer, I’ve made it my goal to share what I’ve learned while helping people transition their lifestyles in a healthy way. Fitness does not have to be all discipline and no freedom.

Improving physical appearance, while certainly desirable, is not the basis of health. Learning how to love your body and all it does for you, is the true key to what it means to live a healthy life.

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