If I asked you what would it look like to get healthier, what would you say? For the vast majority of people today, weight loss would be their first and maybe only answer to that question.
But the truth of the matter is that the relationship between weight loss and health is murky. Long term research studies (2 years or more) show that intentional weight loss attempts often result in weight regain, and weight cycling which may increase rates of morbidity and mortality.
All-in-all our weight is not completely under our control, as much as we'd like to think it is. Further, by focusing on weight loss during our health efforts, we may be doing ourselves a disservice. When we begin to make health improvements, but use changes in weight as our sole indicator, we set ourselves up for disappointment and a return to unhealthy habits if and when the scale doesn't do what we want it to do.
However, when we broaden our view of well-being beyond just weight, we're better able to notice and enjoy the fruits of our healthy behavior changes. This is why I'm passionate about helping my clients clarify their values and deeper health goals. For example, If we know that having more energy to play with your toddler is a priority, then we can monitor changes in your energy levels throughout the day rather than weight loss. Additionally, if improving your half marathon time is your goal, we can look at the quality of your workouts, time to recovery and race performance as direct indicators of health improvement, instead of obsessing over body composition changes.
Focusing on things that can and do change with healthy behaviors is far more motivating and far more helpful than looking at weight loss alone. So to answer the question, "what does it look like to get healthier" here are 10 possible signs of improved health that don't have to do with weight:
1. Higher Energy Levels
Are you noticing that you no longer feel tired every day at 2 o'clock? Do you have more energy to spend time with your friends and family in the evenings? You might notice you are more motivated to get laundry and dishes done and knock things off your to-do list. These are all signs of improving energy levels. Energy is our source of life, and that's why it's number one.
2. Better Mental Focus
When you take care of your body with adequate nutrition, hydration, rest and stress relief measures, you might begin to notice an increased ability to focus. Maybe you're able to paint, draw or write again with increased zeal. Maybe improved mental focus is allowing you to learn new concepts and retain them. The brain runs on energy (specifically carbohydrates) when we are under-fueled it becomes harder and harder to focus for long periods of time.
3. Improved Mood
Health improvements may influence your hormonal cascades and neurotransmitter uptake and production, improving your overall mood and making you a better person to be around.
4. Decreased Perceived Stress
Did you know just the thought of going on a diet increases levels of perceived stress? And perceived stress may be the key to stress management. If we perceive something as stressful and harmful it's more likely to make us sick than if we have a positive mindset on life stressors. Watch this Ted Talk for more on this!
5. Improved Sex Drive
Yep. This is a thing. A well-nourished, well-rested body is far more likely to produce the hormones that regulate our sex drive. For my couples, where one or both has restored their weight and decreased the amount of stress and anxiety around food, this is often a pleasantly surprising effect.
6. Lower Blood Pressure
Healthy habits like reducing stress, increasing hydration, including potassium rich foods and incorporating gentle movement may go a long way to lower high blood pressure and thus disease risk regardless of changes in weight.
7. Decreased body aches & pain
Hydration, gentle movement, and fueling with nutrient rich foods can have immediate effects in reducing pain and body aches, read more about that here.
8. Improved Digestion
The reported rate of digestive disturbances among people with eating disorders and disordered eating is anywhere from 70-99%. Beyond that, chronic dieters and stressed out folks are likely to suffer from digestive ailments too. Hydration, sleep, movement, stress reduction and a diet adequate in calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein go a loooong way in improving digestive woes. That being said, if you are recovering from an eating disorder or under eating in general it is normal to experience excess bloating, constipation and other forms of indigestion as your body begins to get used to eating larger quantities of food.
9. Improved Endurance & Strength
Are you noticing that you can walk further without getting out of breath? Is it easier to lift your child up and down? Can you run further, swim faster or jump higher without feeling terrible the next day? These are all health improvements!!
10. Happier family & friends
Finally, improving energy levels, mood, mental function and overall quality of life is sure to impact how you interact with your loved ones. Unfortunately, it's often the people closest to us that take the brunt of our pain. Likewise, when your health starts improving, what you are able to offer to your loved ones improves, leading to happier, healthier relationships.