Is your definition of “health” healthy?

by Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES

What is your definition of “health”?  At Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition, we believe that the definition of health is multi-faceted.  It not only includes physical health, but also mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.  We are more than our physical bodies and we have needs beyond our physical needs.  Consuming ourselves with the pursuit of only physical health often does more damage to our overall well-being. 

When receiving treatment for an eating disorder or disordered eating, it can be difficult to see yourself as more than a body.  It may seem that the only way to pursue health is to be strict with your eating and exercise routine.  I challenge you to question some of those thoughts.  Do you ever skip social events because you’re worried about what you will eat?  Do you exercise even if you’re too tired?  Does the thought of not having control over a meal give you anxiety?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may mean that it is time to redefine what “health” means to you. 

To help my clients redefine “health”, I do the following exercise.  Grab a piece of paper and a pen and follow along.

  • First, write down your definition of health.  You may notice a relatively narrow definition consisting of elements relating to food, exercise, and body. 
  • Think about some other parts of your life and your values.  What else is important to you?  What else do you enjoy doing?  Maybe thoughts around family, friends, school or work, travel, and hobbies come up.
  • Draw a circle and place these elements of your life on the circle in a pie chart.  Think about what percentage of your brain space these elements take up and draw them on the pie chart.  For example, if the time, energy, and thought devoted to your job consumes 50% of your brain, draw it as 50% on the pie chart.

  • Notice what your pie chart looks like.  How much space does food and nutrition consume?  Or exercise?  Ask yourself if the amount of brain space you devote to certain activities serves you.  How can your pie chart be more balanced and include all elements of health?

  • Redo your pie chart in a way that feels more balanced to you and that reflects your values.  What parts do you increase and decrease? 

  • Rewrite your definition of health. 

With this exercise, hopefully you have noticed where you currently put the most energy and how distributing it differently will help you create more balance.  “Health” is fluid and flexible and you may prioritize different aspects at different times in your life.  You may revisit this pie chart every so often when you feel out of balance or your values change.  The ability to be flexible with your definition is a good sign that your definition of “health” is truly healthy. 


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