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  • Writer's pictureThe Health Lab

Health Is Not Binary

Updated: May 16, 2022

It’s sometimes hard to realize how the culture that you live in influences your daily life. When someone is deeply focused on a particular hobby or subject of study, you often hear the expression, “it’s hard to see the forest through the trees”. In some aspect, we all struggle to see the bigger picture of health because of the cultural forest that we live in today. The biggest misconception our culture places on health (and a lot of other things) is that it's binary. You’re either healthy or you’re not. Each and every one of us places a high emphasis on a particular category of health as the ultimate sign of health. Some categories of health could be; aesthetics, weight, stomach circumference, body fat %, muscle mass, fitness, lack of medication, blood sugar value, triglycerides blood value, social relationships, or even just lack of disease. When we, based on a multitude of factors, place a singular emphasis on any one of these things in regards to the definition of our specific binary health then we will do anything to uphold it. Typically, when we do this, we make lifestyle decisions that keep this one factor optimal even at the expense of the other components of health. Even worse, we usually have self selected our own definition of what it means for this factor to be deemed “healthy”. Do you feel like you’re in the forest yet? Let me give an example. 

Let’s choose weight as an example. Say I believe that I’m healthy if I weigh 185lbs. Now because I have placed this factor on the pseudo pedestal of health, I will do nearly anything to keep it. I will make decisions about how I workout, what I eat, or don’t eat or drink, based on that one singular value. I will make decisions about hobbies, social outings, or even my night time routine in order to keep this binary scale within my self determined index of healthy. Sound crazy? Nearly everyone of us does this in some way or another in regards to health. 

Now here is the crazy thing, usually actual health is negatively impacted by the decisions we make in order to maintain this singular binary self selected belief of health. When someone makes decisions to maintain their weight at a certain value, it can cost muscle mass, fitness, community, social/mental health, blood panel values and even increase body fat %. The person trying to be at a particular weight (for example) doesn’t really care how they got there or even how they stay there, they just know that they’re there and therefore they must be healthy. The optimization of health is really on a continuum in which all the categories are interconnected. Change one factor and it influences the others either in a positive or a negative way. Change the way you eat for the better and your body composition will change, you may be more effective in your workouts and you might even feel more valued in your social relationships. This, of course, is an extremely over simplistic view of the interconnected nature of each of these components. If an individual tried to keep track of each category and  then attempted to see the interdependence of each piece, they likely would go mad. 

So how do we approach this complicated thing? Focus on the habits of life, make small changes that are sustainable over time. Don’t overvalue any one particular thing at the expense of the others. Slowly but surely over months and years you will start to see all the categories of health being pushed into the positive direction. Health is an outcome of lifestyle that is always changing, it's not a single marker to be held in the closed fist of your hand while you walk through the forest. 

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