Resisting the concept of wellness and all of its marketing, yet feeling like I’m workin’ on my wellness at the same time.
I’m not a paragon of wellness. I go to bed late sometimes, I’d eat nothing but eggs or cereal or veggie purée for every meal of the day, I don’t work out nearly enough for my heart health, and I’m notoriously forgetful when it comes to putting sunscreen on my calves.
Yet, in 2017, I am so much healthier, and more ‘well’ than I was in 2014. My mental health has improved since I moved to France and my physical health has followed.
In resisting the wellness economy, I refuse to believe that I, an able-bodied young person with access to clean water and affordable fruits and vegetables, am not generally healthy or able to be generally healthy. Sure, I have to watch my abdominal fat concentration, do my monthly breast exams, and pay attention to the general state of my body. Life comes at you fast, and being young and able-bodied doesn’t mean I’m immune to disease.
Yet people stand to make money off of me, and other women, by convincing us that we are unwell. The idea that women are somehow unwell in ways we aren’t even aware of seems to have entered the cultural zeitgeist. One of the examples that connects with me is the idea that being tired or fatigued is an internal problem to be solved with a supplement, as opposed to a function of our work-stress/financial-stress/relationship-stress.
There are obvious markers of health and wellness that I display in 2017 that were not evident in 2014.
I’ve lost 25 pounds.
My skin is clear.
I can breathe easier through my nose (the deviated septum is still there, however!)
I regularly exert a surprising amount of energy at a moment’s notice when I’m climbing up the stairs to a friend’s apartment, biking down the river, or racing three blocks to meet a bus.
I walk about 15,000 steps per day, over the 6 or 7,000 that I managed in mid-2014.
But beyond these measurable or physical markers, how has my lifestyle changed to better support my health?
Now, I prioritise sleep. I’ve been sleeping between 7.5-9 hours per night, and I feel amazing. While I could probably plan my sleep schedule to get about 7.5 hours per night without noticing a huge difference, I need at least 7.5 hours to maintain the benefits to my mood.
Now, I eat more vegetables. It sounds ridiculous, but when I compare what I used to eat at my desk job in the US compared to what I now eat at my French desk job, it’s striking. I’ll buy a salad without thinking about it, whereas in the US, I almost always went for a sandwich.
Now, I walk more when taking care of my day-to-day duties. It’s a clearly measurable change, thanks to my FitBit, but I’m more willing to walk or incorporate some kind of physical labor into my chores. For example, while I would shop for groceries in my neighbourhood in the US, I would often take my car to visit other grocery stores or shop on the way home from work. While I was driving to the store largely so that I could save on the cost of my groceries, there are so many grocery stores in my neighbourhood in France that I am able to walk myself to the best prices, and simply haul everything home in my trolley.
Commuting is also more physically demanding, as the Metro requires a bit of walking even within a station, and it is often quicker to walk from the Metro to a final destination than to get off the train and wait for a bus.
Now, I walk more for entertainment. Paris is obviously a gorgeous city, but most of the development in the Ile de France is mixed-purpose, so walking even in a residential area reveals beautiful parks, interesting restaurants and cafés, delicious smells from local bakeries, and little window-licking opportunities at small boutiques. Instead of spending an hour on Netflix or sitting on the porch (I miss my porch!!), I will walk around my neighbourhood and admire all of the beautiful flowers!
Now, I stick to the, “less is more” approach when it comes to everything from skincare, to relationships, and social involvement. That is not to say that I don’t have friends or that I’m not engaged in my community. By sticking to, “less is more,” I’m able to put intentional work into my relationships, and give more time to a smaller number of community organisations. Skincare works a little differently than friends or volunteering, but nonetheless, I find that with my diet, my sleep, and my lowered stress, my skin has cleared and cooperates with fewer and fewer products.
I’m not steadily losing weight at the moment, and I don’t think I’m building muscle, but ‘wellness’ is so much bigger than numbers and size. I feel better, I act better, I look better, and I dream bigger. I wish I could speak to myself in 2012 or 2013 : I don’t need pills and powders to feel good in my body, but if I pay attention to stress, veggies, and sleep, I can radically change how I feel.