I’d like to ask you an essential life question.
Which do you think is more important – mental or physical health?
It’s a bit of a trick question because I think most people would answer physical health, but I don’t think that’s the right answer.
My view might suprise you. I’m hoping to be able to convince you that mental health is most important.
Our society is obsessed with physical health and wellness. It’s everywhere you look. This, in part, is why diet culture is so insidious: because in Western culture, thinness is equated with physical health.
People in our country are expected to either be thin or continually work hard to become thin – regardless of how much that pursuit may hurt people’s mental health. And believe me, it does.
We fear gaining weight worse than almost anything because of how fatness is viewed in this country – but trust me when I say being fat is not the enemy. The enemy is diet culture and fat phobia, both things that contribute to poor mental health in so many people.
Mental health has only recently become something we talk about or acknowledge. There is still a ton of stigma, ignorance and lack of knowledge around mental health.
For example, people often call in sick to work for a cold or flu, but can you imagine if someone was honest and called in sick for anxiety or depression? There would likely be negative repercussions.
People hide their mental health struggles and keep them secret out of fear of rejection or worse. And that, in turn, hurts their mental health even more.
But I can prove to you that physical health is meaningless unless mental health is in a good place. Are you ready?
- Exhibit 1: Olympic athletes in prime physical health with perfect bodies have struggled with depression and died by suicide.
- Exhibit 2: college athletes in prime physical health with perfect bodies have also struggled with depression and died by suicide.
Those young, healthy and physically strong athletes looked like they had everything going for them on the outside… but on the inside, they never felt like they were enough or could measure up to the heavy weight of expectations.
It’s utterly tragic that these young people kept their mental health struggles inside and were not able to get help before their pain become unbearable.
Bottom line: if your mind isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what your body looks like. Physical health and thinness are meaningless if your mental health is in shambles.
If your brain won’t allow you to appreciate and take joy in your physical health and body – or even tells you that they are not enough – then you are lost.
This is why mental health is so incredibly critical. It is the most important thing. Because without your mind in a good place, nothing else matters.
I have experienced body shame, poor body image and poor self-esteem both at a heavier weight AND while appearing “skinny” or at my goal weight. I have felt bad about myself at a heavy weight and at a much lower, supposedly desirable weight. This proves that being thinner or losing weight are NOT the answer.
On the contrary, the answer is working on our inner selves and mental health – on learning to truly love ourselves. The secret to life is learning to love and embrace ourselves exactly as we are and learning to free our minds from the external pressures and messages that tear us down.
Do I wish I had learned these essential life lessons while I was still in a smaller body? Sometimes, yes. But for the most part, I’m just happy to have learned them at all. I am more than willing to love and accept the body I’m in.
Gaining weight is a normal part of getting older. The clothing size and weight you happen to be are meaningless compared to what’s on the inside. Focus on what matters most. Love and accept yourself right now, this minute!
When in doubt, listen to En Vogue: free your mind and the rest will follow.