Being Healthy is a Privilege, Not a Right
by: Gabrielle Leif
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, in an active and outdoorsy family, and surrounded by friends who came from active and outdoorsy families, I took health and fitness for granted. In my privileged and low-stress world, fresh foods and organic vegetables miraculously appeared in the refrigerator, and volleyball practice kept my body sleek and strong. But then, as for many people, I went off to college and realized that becoming personally responsible for what I ate and when and how my body got exercise was much more difficult than I thought. Around the middle of my junior year, and about 20-25 pounds heavier than when I began college, I decided I needed to make a serious change. I started working out more consistently and I started meal planning instead of buying junk food or eating out every day; I discovered just how difficult it is to sift through all of the diet and fitness information that is floating around on the internet.
When I first started paying more attention to my nutrition, I was of the mindset that “eating healthy” meant veggies, fruit, whole grains, dairy, and meat; basically no highly processed or high-sugar/fat foods. Which, to a certain extant, is completely valid! However, the more I dug into the issue of nutrition, I found that most of the information was very misleading. I tried eating the way I saw my very fit friends eating (small meals throughout the day) and spent several weeks feeling viciously hungry and grumpy. I tried eating the way the American Heart Association suggests, with low-fat and low-calorie meals…again I was grumpy and dissatisfied. Finally I tried eating paleo, felt great, and quickly went broke trying to keep organic produce and high quality meat as my primary nourishment. Which brought me back to realizing how much I took the low-stress and privileged world I was raised in for granted. If I wanted to be able to afford to eat extremely healthy and get enough nourishment for how much I was working out, it meant I couldn’t go out and eat with friends, it meant I couldn’t go out and buy coffee or clothes whenever I wanted. And this was just the food aspect! When it came to fitness, I often had to make choices between fitting a workout into my day and getting errands done. I started making more of an effort to do active things with my loved ones, such as going for walks, but it was hard. I realized that not only does our culture promote certain physical ideals, but we also urge people to live a lifestyle that not many can afford or have time for.
Produce is significantly more expensive than packaged and processed food. Working 40+ hours a week and having to take care of children or family members takes up the time that people are encouraged to be spending on exercising. Going for a nice walk with a friend requires safe neighborhoods, green spaces, and TIME. I happen to be blessed and live in a beautiful and nature-accessible place, but this is not the case for most people, and yet our culture tries to make it sound as easy as “take the stairs” and “just buy better food!” Clearly it isn’t that simple.
I don’t have a good solution and I am able to see that this issue is a deeply intricate web of economics, sustainability, industry, social norms, and culture. But I have at least learned to never judge a person for their appearance or apparent lifestyle, because sometimes people just don’t abundant options open to them.