May 2014

Line in The Sand: What is the concept of “healthy”?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Barry Kaufman

Sometimes these things just write themselves… To set the stage, Courtney and I had decided, through our usual exchange of expletive-riddled e-mails, that this month’s installment would showcase our respective views on what “healthy” is. This makes sense for two reasons. First, this is the medical issue (meaning the fact that you’re getting this issue free makes cable news people very angry).

Second, Courtney and I could not be further apart on what the concept of “healthy” is. She is a member of the cult of CrossFit, which is like going to the gym, only your cool-down involves immediately jumping on Facebook to annoy your friends about how you just did CrossFit. She eats from the paleo diet, which means you deep-fry and beer-batter foods that cavemen used to eat. (You may know this concept from its previous name: “eating food.”) She runs marathons, which is super smart seeing as the first guy who ever ran a marathon died from it.

I, on the other hand, have gained no small notoriety in certain circles for the development of the quesandwich, i.e. the sandwich which uses an entire cheese quesadilla as bread. My one concession to the concept of fitness is my ownership of the game Wii Fit, purchased because the mini-game where you flap your arms like a bird is really fun to play while drinking.

I am, and my photo will no doubt bear me out on this, not a healthy man. But I know what BS is.

The fact is, none of us know what healthy is. Anyone who says otherwise is a pop-up window you shouldn’t click on. You can’t eat eggs, right, because of the cholesterol? Wrong. They’re packed with Omega-3s: special oils found in fish and known to provide spleen health or something. You can’t eat saturated fats, right? Wrong. According to an article I started to read until I realized how many big words it contained, they’re not that bad for you. Just because I didn’t finish the article should not detract from its main point: it turns out the impact of saturated fats has been exaggerated when it comes to heart health.

And that’s one of the big ones. We all agreed long ago that saturated fats were bad for us. It’s not like it’s one of these flavor-of-the-month health risks we have now.

Trans fats? Carbs? Free Radicals? GMOs? Gluten? Nobody knows if any of this stuff is good or bad for you. Hell, gluten isn’t even a factor for most people. I had a friend who had a gluten allergy. She had to avoid gluten. The rest of you are just paying too much for bread.

Which brings me to why these things write themselves.

Shortly after we decided on a topic, Courtney shared an article on Facebook from renowned major serious news source about the eight beers you should stop drinking right now because they’re full of GMOs. The list contained such shocking entries as Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer that I would have sworn was full of vitamins and calcium until I saw it on this list.

I know anytime I see someone crack open a PBR, I say to myself, “There’s someone who cares about their health.” Not so, according to this list, because PBR contains GMOs. GMOs, as we all know, are unhealthy because… um. They have, like chemicals, or something? I don’t know; it’s basically like eating little bits of Frankenstein.

I didn’t know that much about GMOS, but fortunately in the “related links” that appeared below Courtney’s Facebook post was a story from barely accredited fringe blog Forbes showing “2000+ Reasons Why GMOs are Safe to Eat and Environmentally Sustainable.”

It was co-written by a member of the Genetic Literacy Project and documents a team of scientists who summarized 1,783 studies on the effects of GMOs and found that—get this—they don’t do anything. They are not harmful. They don’t hurt the environment. You can stop caring.

It turns out if you perform actual science instead of scaring people into buying more expensive food, you’ll find that GMOs have no impact on health. These are actual scientists using a lot more research tools than one assumes has at its disposal, and their actual science is relegated to the “related links” of our cultural attention span.

Look, I’m not saying to be unhealthy. Ride a bike, eat a carrot, I don’t care. But stop chasing down every miracle pill, stop planning your life around avoiding chemical boogeymen.

You want a healthy body? Do what Courtney does. Eat right. Work out. Drink more water. Try and keep it off Facebook.

You want a healthy life? Wrap a quesadilla around a half pound of pulled pork, crack open a beer and play a few games of Wii Fit.

Courtney Hampson

When Barry and I got together to discuss this potential monthly duet, we met for lunch. I ordered a salad. He ordered the Swine Crime burger/pulled pork duo—a “sandwich” so massive, that if you put it down, the tower of meat will lean and fall. We joked then that while we are both equals on the sarcastic meter, we are clearly opposites in other areas.

Then, I went to the doctor last week and the scale had me weighing 10 pounds more than the scale at home. Why am I eating salad if this is going to happen? Logically though, there was no way I gained 10 pounds on the five-minute drive there, so simply, the doctor’s scale is broken. And frankly, who cares what the scale says? Your health can’t be measured by a number alone. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“Healthy” is subjective, and it should be. It is about how you feel. Now, I measure my health with a dab of Mom’s advice. “There is nothing more important than your mental health,” she always says. The older I get, the more I agree. Mental health requires balance in all aspects of your life. If you feel like crap physically because all you do is sit on the couch eating Hot Pockets and playing video games, your mental health is likely suffering too. And, vice versa.

Everyone’s definition of healthy should be different because, well, we’re all different. You could tell me that I should lose 20 pounds, and I would tell you… I have, and then I gained it all back in muscle. If you feel good about yourself, you should determine your healthy-meter. (Yup, new term, coined by me, and I’ll be trademarking it henceforth.)

I feel healthy today. But, I didn’t always. Rewind six years and I was scowling at myself in the mirror and saying, “Self, you’re going to be 35 this year; get off your ass and get in shape.” And, I did—get off my ass. Slowly.

I started walking two to three miles every day with my dog. And I started to see results. About six months later, I added in some light weights and sit ups. Less than a year later, my husband left me, and that fueled a new fire. I started incorporating some short runs into my long walks. I wouldn’t recommend it, but divorce does a heck of a lot toward the effort to shrink your waistline.

A year later, I started attending a boot camp. I willed myself to make it through the first hour workout, and somehow I did. I continued to progress and was pretty proud of myself as I was typically leading the pack. But I knew that meant I really wasn’t being challenged, so I allowed myself to be talked into trying CrossFit. That was almost two years ago, and I am still waking up at 4:50 a.m. to drag myself there.

Do I feel healthy today? Absolutely. I am in better shape now than I was in my 20s. Part of maintaining my good health (mental and physical) is being challenged every stinking day. And I am. This morning, when I thought I had been so good, I was knocked down a peg when my trainer asked how many margaritas I had this weekend (damn Facebook!). Ten, I guessed, while taking off on my next sprint, to which he snorted. Okay, four, I corrected, as the guilt set in.

We all know we’re supposed to eat healthy, and exercise daily, avoid stress. Yada. Yada Do we always do it? No. But, once we start living our definition of a healthy lifestyle and feeling better—emotionally, physically, even spiritually—the results are profound.

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