Some thoughts on being 'healthy'
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Dieting has been around forever, and there is always a new bandwagon to jump on. You've got the atkins, keto, low fat, low carb, no-sugar, plant-based, raw food diets, the grapefruit diet, juice cleanses, intermittent fasting, brands like Weight Watchers, Jane Plan, Slimfast, Special K - all claiming to be the best of the rest, miracle weight-loss diets. The options are endless, and if you're trying to lose weight or are on a health-kick the diet world can be a minefield that can end up making you more confused than you were to begin with.
With the current body-positivity movement, I am happily seeing far more people promoting a healthy, balanced lifestyle, one that doesn't involve crazy long cardio or gym sessions, and doesn't cut out entire food groups. The movement promotes a healthy lifestyle not by using touched-up images of skinny-minny models, but images of actual humans whose bodies are varied and normal. After all, there is not one uniform version of 'healthy' - it looks different for everyone. But, I hear you ask, what actually is a balanced diet, and how does one lead a truly healthy lifestyle?
Well, in my mind there is a pretty simple answer. It is exercising as regularly as you can, and doing exercise that suits you and your routine, as well as eating food that nourishes your body and your soul. A balanced diet means eating a wide range of foods from day to day, from each of the key food groups, getting in as much fruit and veg as you can, and still eating the foods you like (in moderation).
Society and media send us so many mixed messages on a daily basis making what should be a simple task, literally the most intuitive and human thing ever, so incredibly complicated.
I was brought up on the belief that no food is 'bad'. I was fed home cooked meals, and was encouraged to eat lots of fruit and veg. Occasionally we had pizza, and chips, and cake, and it was great. We didn't need to feel guilty about it, because it is normal to indulge sometimes, and perfectly possible to stay healthy whilst doing so.
Dive into the real world and all of a sudden I hear all too often that certain foods are 'naughty', and that if you have a piece of cake you need to have 'earned' it, or you should feel guilty for eating it. Is it really necessary to doubt ourselves and overthink every time we decide what to eat? Food is fuel, sustenance, and nutrition, it literally gives us life, so why do we spend so much time feeling bad about our choices?
Since being diagnosed with sarcoma, I have had many, many, (unsolicited) suggestions about what I should be eating or drinking or doing in order to fight it off. One lady mansplained (or should I say womansplained) to me about how her friend beat her cancer by doing a juice cleanse. She gave me all the wild conspiracy theories about how they're making loads of money by selling us terrible drugs that don't work (like the common lifesaving treatment also known as chemotherapy). Apparently, consuming nothing but water for a week is the way forward. Good to know. Other people have tried to convince me that I should go vegan - because eggs and meat are carcinogenic and are causing my cancer to grow (which is funny, because it's not growing...)
On just the tad of research I have done today, I have found hundreds of articles claiming that they know how to fight cancer, what foods prevent cancer, and what foods stop it from spreading. I have found articles encouraging people to not have chemotherapy, because chemotherapy actually GROWS cancer cells, not kills them! Duh! That's why they've been using it to treat cancer successfully for nearly 100 years!
Now, there are some proven links between cancer and diet. An unhealthy lifestyle has been linked to some types of cancer. Cancer Research UK say that 'healthier diets could prevent around 1 in 20 cancers'. They recommend we cut down on alcohol, processed and red meats, and foods high in sugar, (nb cut down, not cut out), and they say that being a healthy weight can reduce your risk of cancer. However, they are not saying that unhealthy eating is a risk factor in every type of cancer. Moreover, smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer, a risk factor in 15 types in cancer and the cause of 7 in 10 lung cancer diagnoses.
What I would love for people to know is that no matter how hard you try - you can never totally protect yourself from cancer. I also wish people knew that telling a cancer patient what they should eat or do to 'beat' their cancer is not helpful, and more than that, can be very hurtful (implying that our choices have caused our disease). I can assure you that most cancer patients have heard it all before, and have most definitely done their own research on how to fight their cancer, so unless you are a cancer expert - stop it with the unwarranted advice!!*
A person could cut out meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol, smoking, exercise every day, drink lots of water, maintain a healthy weight, stay out of the sun, never get stressed - and still get cancer. It's sometimes just the luck of the draw. Nevertheless, leading a healthy lifestyle is incredibly important. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are great for your mental health, as well as being extremely helpful in the case where you find yourself with a disease like cancer, and being as fit and strong as you can be will help you through treatment.
Everybody's journey with their health is very different, and remember that you never know what's going on beneath the surface - they may be suffering with an illness, physical or mental, that means they have to eat a certain diet, that affects the amount or kind of exercise they do. If you are worried about your own health, try not to listen to the media, or follow a random diet off the TV, visit your GP and seek advice from a qualified professional.
I am not a qualified health professional, hence I have not and cannot give any real advice about what you should be eating or what exercise you should be doing.
Thanks for reading this blog, which was basically a complete rant and mind-dump! I've listed some accounts I like below in line with the topic, and I would love to start a conversation about this as I find other peoples' experiences so interesting! If you want to get even more involved, I've got a few polls going on on my instagram story about healthy eating.
* For more advice on what NOT to say to cancer patients read this article by my amazing friend Danna. It's just perfect.
If you're interested in the things discussed in today's blog, here are some no-nonsense fitness/healthy lifestyle/body positive accounts I recommend:
- Lucy Mountain, @lucymountain - constantly shutting down dumb diet fads and toogoodtobetrue weightloss miracles.
- Melanie Murphy, @melaniiemurphy - encourages intuitive eating and women lifting weights!
- Megan Jaybe Crabbe, @bodyposipanda - frequently jiggles her bits on camera to promote curves. Great public speaker on overcoming eating disorders!
- Joe Wicks, @thebodycoach - promotes regular exercise and shares great, simple recipes. Very very motivating and big on keeping fit for your mind.
- Zaire (Professional Eater), @zaire_zaire - just unapologetically eats whatever she wants. Great for foodie recommendations around London.
p.s. This year I am going to be taking on lots of random challenges, on top of running/swimming/cycling 500k over the year! This is all in support of Sarcoma UK, the national sarcoma charity that funds vital research and support for patients and their families affected by the rare cancer. If you want to support me, then you can donate whatever you can through this link. Even £1 would be greatly appreciated, and you can donate completely anonymously!! Thank you!