Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Health is a living process, not an achievement. It is a privilege, not a badge of worth. For most of us, our health is not about our choices; it’s often about our circumstances, past and present.
This is worth saying, especially because advertising and social media, like Instagram — with its perfect smoothie bowls and glowing selfies — might have us believe otherwise. But this denies so many important factors that determine our health and our lifestyle options. Having a medical condition, a particular bodyweight or health challenge is not a sign of weakness or moral failing, and it’s never an invitation to be judged on your lifestyle choices.
Yes, your health-promoting behaviours may be about empowerment or an expression of self love. But they do not give you a moral advantage; they do not make you a Good Person! Self love or ‘healthy behaviour’ can look like chocolate cake or kale, a run or a rest, taking your meds or taking a walk, or it might look like finding the positives or tending your grief – or anything in between! None of these define your worth as a person.
I do not tell you eating sugar makes you bad, or choosing blueberries makes you a better person. I can however give you information on what foods feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut so you can enlist them to reduce inflammation, reduce sugar cravings or encourage more comfortable bowel movements. And together we can look at ways you might like to include those foods in your week, at a pace that suits you and allows you to find pleasure in what you eat.
I am not here to judge your path of health and healing; I am here to support you in your learning journey and to encourage you to decide what’s right for you; with your body size, your health status, your unique microbiome profile, your background and life story, and with your aspirations.
Truly holistic healthcare also considers social justice. There are so many factors that determine an individual’s health status and lifestyle options, such as traumatic experiences and structural oppression (including racism, homophobia, ableism or fat shaming), family history and intergenerational trauma, or poverty. Ignoring these health inequities and promoting a belief that health is determined by individual responsibility is the dark side of holistic healthcare known as healthism.
Healthism sees illness as badness and gives a moral imperative to healthy behaviours, while shaming anyone who has a health condition, or who doesn’t work out, or even those who have certain food preferences. It is a form of ableism, where disability is seen as bad or shameful, and wellness something that is earned, rather than good fortune. Have you internalised any healthist or ableist messages? Do you feel bad for enjoying a pack of crisps, or opting for a lie-in instead of a morning run?
Remember you are worthy of love, respect, understanding and support whatever your health status, lifestyle, background or body shape, whatever your lifestyle choices or options, and wherever you are on your path to self love and learning ...and whether or not you eat kale or cake — or both for breakfast! Make sure those you love know this too.
Viola Sampson BSc is a Microbiome Analyst and Wellbeing Coach based in London UK, and practising online. To explore how you can nourish a more diverse microbiome to benefit your health, please book a coaching session, or for more detailed recommendations tailored to your unique gut bacteria profile, you can book a course of microbiome analysis. You can expect an open-minded, nonjudgmental, inclusive and individualised approach to supporting you to reach your health goals.