It has officially been a week since arriving in Copenhagen and I only went the wrong way on the train once! Last week was filled with orientation seminars and tours of the city, and I successfully survived my first day of classes on Thursday. So far, I am enjoying all of my classes with Danish definitely being the most difficult. Thanks to my host family, I’ve got built in tutors for that!
My core class in the Public Health program is Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe. Our class discussion on Thursday and our homework for the weekend revolved around the definition of health. Think about it… health can be a hard word to define. After reading this excerpt from Stephen Holland’s book Public Health Ethics, I was reminded of a new meaning of health that is often overlooked.
“…raised blood pressure is a risk factor for all kinds of disease. Reducing alcohol intake can be expected to lower the patient’s blood pressure and therefore reduce the risk of disease. So, the doctor ought to persuade the patient to drink less. But, on a conception of health as well-being, things look different. Given the patient’s circumstances, it might well be that going to the pub or bar to drink beer is vital to maintaining the levels of well-being. Stopping drinking – even compromising the pleasure of drinking by harping on about its detrimental effects – might well be disastrous for the patient’s well-being. So, on this account of health it would be dubious of the doctor to persuade the patient to drink less.”
The World Health Organization defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Coming from a nutrition perspective, I am always focused on physical health and preventing disease and often forget about the mental and social well-being part of health.
So what is the point?
What I am trying to say is that it is important that we enjoy what we are eating and have a positive relationship with food. Eating lots of fiber, vegetables, and lean meats is great for our physical health but sometimes it can be overwhelming and interfere with out mental and social well-being.
For example, if you are at a dinner party or a restaurant trying to eat only “healthy” foods, the “unhealthy” foods around you can be very tempting. This can cause anxiety and an unpleasant, stressful night for you. You might be proud of yourself at the end of the night for not having a single French fry, but was it worth all of the anxiety? Would it have been better for your mental and social well-being to have a few fries or a bit of ice cream?
Not only is your diet about balance, but so is your overall health. Every person is different so I am not going to tell you when and where you should be eating what, but keep in mind that your overall health is determined by a lot more factors that just the food that goes into your mouth. Making “healthy” choices doesn’t just mean eating salad for every meal. “Healthy” choices can also include having a piece of cake in honor of a celebration or having chips and salsa at the dinner party so you don’t feel isolated and hungry.