healthy is relative

[cw: health talk, food talk, diet talk, weight-adjacent talk]

People keep using “healthy” to mean “something you (general you) should do,” and so I feel compelled to keep talking about this.

“Healthiness” isn’t some kind of inherent trait, some innate Platonic value, embedded in a thing and applicable to all.  And what I mean by that is, it’s frequently possible that what may be healthy for some may not be healthy for others, and what may not be healthy for some may yet be healthy for others.

Here’s an explanation of what I mean.

I have a recently-discovered intestinal infection that will get worse (or be impossible to get rid of) if I consume too much sugar.  Unfortunately, the threshold for “too much” is very low, and unfortunately, by “sugar” I don’t just mean refined processed sugar like in cookies and ice cream.  You know what also has a lot of sugar?  Fruit.  So fruit’s not on the list of things I’m allowing myself to eat right now.

Obviously (?) fruit is not “unhealthy” point blank.  Fruit has beneficial things in it.  And it just so happens that I’ve decided it’s more detrimental to my goals right now and will avoid it, because the cost matters more to me right now than the benefits.

The diet I’ve put myself on, as part of an effort to get my insides back in order, is very… rigid and narrow, and because of my own taste preferences, it’s unpleasant for me to abide by.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  I wouldn’t promote it as universally “healthy” in a generic sense (my god do I miss fruit).  And although it’s costly to me, it just so happens that I’ve decided the benefits are worth it to me, and that I want those more than I want to revert to previous eating habits.  That’s my choice to make.  And I’m content with the results so far.

You want to hear something funny?  Not too long ago, I contacted my doctor about some strange episodes I was having where I’d get excessively fatigued, dizzy, slow, etc. just out of the blue sometimes, and you know what she told me?  Basically: you need to eat more.  Eat more carbs.


Because this plan involves such vast changes from the way I’m used to doing grocery shopping, I’ve had to research what kind of things to introduce into my meal rotation.  And sometimes google results are not exactly helpful, or if they are, clearly not in the way the original authors intended.  For example, after learning I needed to eat more carbs?  One of the search terms I used was “high-carb vegetables” and got primary results saying “Avoid these vegetables — they’re high in carbs!”


I’m not saying much here, but it seems like an awful lot of people have never considered the idea before: different people have different kinds of problems, different kinds of imbalances, different kinds of deficiencies, different kinds of overages, different kinds of needs.  What some people may be better off with less of, others may be better off with more of, and vice versa.

Health, that abstract concept so often invoked, is, if anything, complex and situational.  Just because most people could do better with more hydration doesn’t mean you can’t hurt yourself by drinking too much water.

And the “healthy” choice isn’t always clear-cut, either.  To deal with one problem (too much sugar), I worsened another (not eating enough), and I’m still working out what sacrifices I’m willing to make and in which directions.

And one more thing, to reiterate again:

This regimen I’m trying is restrictive, and expensive, and time-consuming.  It is, in many senses of the word, costly.  I’ve decided to pay it for a while because it’s worth it to me, because I like the effects more than I hate the restrictions.  And guess what?  There are lots of other costly things I could be doing for my “health” that I’m not doing because they’re not worth it to me.  I don’t subscribe to the idea of top-down imperatives from above when it comes to health.  In cases where an individual both bears the costs and reaps the benefits, it should, ceteris paribus, lie with them to decide which is greater and what to do.

That’s what I mean when I say I’m opposed to healthism.  It isn’t a character flaw to be “unhealthy.”  It isn’t a moral imperative to always, always prioritize “health.”


3 responses to “healthy is relative

  • Libris

    ‘I’m not saying much here, but it seems like an awful lot of people have never considered the idea before: different people have different kinds of problems, different kinds of imbalances, different kinds of deficiencies, different kinds of overages, different kinds of needs.’

    So much this. Everyone thinks that they have the One True Answer for how to be healthy and – no, people are too individual for that. (And pushing their idea of ‘healthy’ onto someone else can be unhealthy *in and of itself*.)

    One of my issues is that my blood sugar plummets really easily, and trying to just suffer through that is pointless and unhelpful. So a lot of my food searches are finding high-carb and high-immediate-sugar foods – and yet people go on and on about how carbs and sugars are evil and you should cut them out of your diet. I have tried this – but for me, that’s ridiculously unhealthy.

    (Another fun one is anaemia and high protein needs. ‘Eat less meat, save the environment, meat is unhealthy!’. Uh, do you want me fainting all over you, or no?)

    And furthermore – quoting Ozy (thingofthings) here, but calories are the most important nutrient. If it is hard to eat things, then fuck people telling you *how* you should eat things. Eating *something* is always the most important.

    (Also, many sympathies if you would like them; that sounds like a really awkward set of dietary requirements to deal with, and I hope it gets easier to manage.)

  • Sara K.

    This makes me think of the Fat Nutritionist blog. She has been blogging about the perceived ‘morality’ of food choices for years – a relatively recent post there is:

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