Many people think of optimizng their health as a physical struggle of exercise, waking up earlier, cooking more and adding activity to their day. However, there are mental challenges involved in embracing a healthier lifestyle as well.
A tendency to connect health with weight loss can lead to a mental obsession with metrics that has far-reaching side effects. Calorie counting, measuring and constant weight checks take a psychological toll and can lead to disordered eating. If you have children, they can pick up on these habits and anxieties. A columnist from Fit and Well Magazine who weighed herself every day reported a high level of negativity and anxiety about her body she didn’t have before she started the constant weigh-ins.
Three Flawed Ways of Measuring Health With a Number
It’s impossible to look at one number and understand a person’s overall health — even if that person is yourself. Here are three health numbers to stop obsessing over:
1. Body Mass Index
A BMI is a measurement you may see at a doctor’s office, so many people are unaware that it’s not really a measure of individual health or fitness on its own. It’s more often used on large-scale populations or in conjunction with a full set of physical data such as blood pressure and resting heart rate.
BMI often takes the form of a chart plotting a person’s height against their weight. There are different charts for men and women, and sometimes the measurement takes age into consideration. It doesn’t take into consideration muscle mass, genetics, natural build or any of the other factors that influence a person’s body size.
The truth is that fitness comes in more than one default size and shape. For example, look at the variety of USANA Athletes. Each of these athletes is at the forefront of their sport, in great physical condition, and yet they’re all unique. As long as you’re physically active and keeping an eye on eating a balanced and complete diet, there’s no need to constantly calculate your BMI at home.
2. Waist Circumference
Swapping out the scale for a measuring tape isn’t necessarily an improvement. While it’s true that the more dangerous fat in the body is fat in the abdominal area, or “visceral fat” according to WebMD, a waist size measurement isn’t going to tell you much about your overall health, either. Each person’s body distributes weight differently, so your waist circumference may have little to do with your lifestyle choices.
3. Hours of Exercise
Exercising more is a great health goal, but don’t get too caught up on hitting a certain number of hours a week. Instead, focus on the experience of exercise and finding an activity you can enjoy in the moment. This makes you more likely to continue the habit over years and decades.
Alternative Ways To Assess Your Health
Instead of using raw numbers, it helps to pay attention to how you feel in evaluating your health and the effectiveness of any new lifestyle choices. A health journal can be a useful tool in this regard.
By making incremental choices, you should see an uptick in your average mood, daily energy levels and amounts of uninterrupted sleep. It may also be easier to complete everyday tasks like grocery shopping, laundry and yard work. Focusing on your experience in your body instead of numbers is a more mentally sound way to get in touch with your health.
It can be difficult to separate raw numbers from your view of your health since that’s the common societal mode of measurement. It’s important to understand that the prevalence of number-obsessed health isn’t because it’s the best way to measure progress, but because it’s the easiest.
Going beyond the scale to truly appreciate the way lifestyle changes affect your body can help get your mind as healthy as your muscles. Health changes should be a lifelong endeavor, so try to embark on a journey rather than obsessing over a result.