On definitions of health

Tank Green/ April 2, 2023/ COVID-19, Health

I read something the other day which I thought was arresting in its simplicity: ‘there’s no such thing as a healthy weight, only a healthy person.’ It gets at what I often struggle with when talking to people about whatever diet tweak I am doing at that moment. People often assume I am doing it to maintain my weight, when my weight has barely anything to do with why I dick about with my diet so much. I do it to try to control the various symptoms of ill health I have: IBS, eczema, asthma, allergies, mood, etc.

It also points to the erroneous assumption that if you are generally slim, or have a healthy BMI, then you don’t need to worry about your health. That somehow you are genetically predisposed to health, unlike overweight others. From my own experience, I always knew this was bollocks. People have always remarked on my slimness as if it meant that I was super healthy, when I knew for a fact that it didn’t mean any such thing. This is why I find the concepts of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome so interesting, as they seem to explain much of the chronic ill health conditions most people–thin and fat–have nowadays.

I have, then, been reading the emerging scandal around the ‘slimming drug’ Wegovy with interest, as it points to two things which have baffled me consistently since the beginning of the pandemic. Firstly, why would anyone prefer to take a drug with a litany of horrific side-effects than just eat real, healthy food with a litany of positive, healthy side-effects, including the desired weight loss? The answer to that is as simple as it is incomprehensible, and is what the opening quote points to: an underlying ethos of superficiality. People’s primary motive in life is looking or being visually desirable, whether that be by ensuring they are slim or by celebrating their thickness. They don’t actually want to be healthy, they simply want to appear so.

Secondly, as the Wegovy scandal shows, the pharmaceutical industry will go to any lengths to make a profit from people’s insecurities, including buying the endorsements of ‘expert’ academics and health professionals. It’s not just Wegovy though, is it? For instance, Liz Tucker’s What Your GP Doesn’t Tell You podcast does a good job in exposing other pharmaceutical corruption, such as around SSRIs, deferiprone, neurontin, and propulsid. Given my own decisions, I have to ask how it can be that we can commonly and unreservedly acknowledge such widespread pharmaceutical corruption and the existence of dangerous side effects, but the minute it comes to raising questions around the safety or efficacy of the covid vaccines it’s all: OHMYGODYOUTINFOILHATCONSPIRACYTHEORYSTUPIDRACISTDEATHWISHINGEVILDOER?

I know that for a great many people, the pandemic was a sui generis moment. Something unlike other moments, when the usual profit and control motives of people, corporations, and states were suddenly suspended, and those industries and authorities became beacons of health providing altruism. But like, really? Really? Do you really believe that? Deep down? In your heart cockles and bone marrows? Or is it that you simply need to believe that because you still don’t want to do the hard work of actually being healthy, and would rather pop a pill / inject a vaccine and hope for the best?

During peak covid, I remember being in the outdoors callisthenics gym in the local park, and this young man and I struck up small talk about health, mainly because he was surprised by my age and fitness levels. He asked me if I was vaccinated and I explained that the reason I chose not to take the vaccine is because I view health as something you practice each and every day, rather than some vaccine you take. I said that being there in the park working out was health to me, as was what I ate for breakfast, and what I eat for tea. Both that young man and I know that health is hard work; it is every-day-ness; it is a lifestyle. Or, to use a contemporary metaphor, health is an operating system, not an app.