What is Health?

One of the ambiguities we face today is a crisis in the definition of health. What is health, anyway?

Many people describe it as the absence of disease. No germs, I’m healthy. Germs, I’m unhealthy. Concern for health is relegated to times of sickness.

Others judge health by looking. If I am overweight, I’m unhealthy. If I’m thin, I’m healthy. If my skin is breaking out: not healthy. Health is relegated to the realm of appearance.

Still others define health by movement. If I have worked out today, I’m healthy. If I haven’t worked out in a while, boo me. I’m unhealthy. Health is determined by how much I’ve exercised.

There are even more ways that we can define health. There are many more factors that indicate health. Here’s what’s revolutionary:

Focusing on any one of these things alone does not truly lead to “health.”

Health is everything. Health is how you look, but health is also how you see yourself. Health is what you eat, but health is also why, how and when you eat. Health is about how much you exercise, but it’s also about why and how you exercise and even whether or not you’re enjoying it.

There are so many articles coming out these days about how we define health. There are articles claiming that certain things are healthy or unhealthy. There is writing in defense of anything we want to defend and writing attacking everything that others are defending, too. It’s nearly impossible to figure out what is “objectively” healthy or not.

Here’s a radical idea:

You already know.

You know what feels healthy in your own life and what doesn’t. By that I mean: you know what brings you joy, what causes you pain, what obscures and distracts from your feelings. You know, somewhere, why you do things and how you could change the way you do them to be “healthier.” What’s hardest is to listen.

Some people, instead of listening, opt for control. They opt for rules that say what’s healthy and what’s not healthy so that they don’t have to think about it. I did this; the Whole30 and other programs like it are one of many ways to do this. It can be a good way to break yourself out of a rut. It is not the only way to live life in the day-to-day.

We are already our own best critics. Most of us have no end to the judgments we can place on ourselves, especially when it comes to our health. We are not, however, our own best friends or listeners. 

Maybe health is actually just….

…being friends with yourself.

Assuming our friendships are healthy, those are often the places where we shine in our treatment of others. We are willing to be there, to listen, to pick each other up when we aren’t feeling good. We encourage each other to rest when we’re tired or sick, and to cry and wallow when we break up with someone or suffer a loss.

Wouldn’t we be healthier if we treated ourselves this way, too?


What is Health?

Paying Attention

This is a followup to my post on self-love.

How can you be loving to yourself? 

My answer is:

Develop your capacity for attention and intention


In my article on self-love, I talked about the strategy of taking a moment before making a choice to ask do I really want to do this? This does a few different things. Firstly, it makes you feel like you’re making a choice

It’s easy (and I’ve done it) to say yes to so many things that suddenly you have no time, energy, or other resources to make choices. My schedule has been so full of obligatory commitments that there’s no room to breathe anymore. It’s easy to say that I have to do all of these things that I’ve signed up for. A commitment is a commitment, right?

I realized, in taking many moments of pause, that all the things I “have” to do are actually my choice. I currently have to go to graduate school, because I signed up and paid for it. I have to go to work so that I have money to pay for what I need. I have to eat a certain way if I really want to heal my autoimmune disease. I also, as a human, need to make time for friends, family, exercise, and fun.

In other words, I am “busy.” But, wasn’t that my choice? 

I could be a prisoner to all these things, slaving away and blaming them for my lack of energy and time. Or, I could admit to myself that I chose this

I chose graduate school because I want to learn how to help people as a therapist. I want to keep working because I like my job and I want to be able to live the lifestyle I like living. I want to heal my autoimmune disease, and along the way I want to feel my best and have the most energy possible so I can stay happy and healthy.

In short, instead of paying attention to the bad things, I am paying attention to my why. I am consistently taking moments to appreciate that the choices are made are contributing to the life I want for myself – in the big picture.

Once I realized that everything I’m doing is a choice, it became possible to “choose” intentionally. 

All the momentary, attentive choices add up to create the life you’re living

My emotional-eating binges of the past occurred because I felt something, failed to realize it, and reached for food instead, consuming it mindlessly until some craving was satisfied. That describes most of my life of eating. Only recently have I brought my attention toward myself, to both my feelings and my cravings.

It only consists of gently asking myself, What am I doing right now, and why? And it has gone from the food I eat to what I wear, what I do with my 10-minute breaks, how I plan my days…everything.

Once I realized what I was doing and why, I could start making decisions about whether or not I want to keep doing it. 

Before change, we need awareness. Awareness is paying attention, and meaningful change comes from making a decision. Ideally, that decision is aligned with some bigger-picture vision: it’s a positive vision of what you want your life to look like, given that everything is a choice. 

A Case Study

I’ve had a suspicion for some time that “sugar is the devil” (my naturopath’s eloquent words), for me in particular. I’ve become increasingly aware of the negative ramifications it has for me, but I had yet to do anything about it. I didn’t really want to do anything about it, because…well…it’s pretty much the most difficult thing to cut out, and also I’m addicted. 

So, this New Year, I set an intention: I don’t want to eat sugar for 2 months. I want to see what happens.

I journaled for a while about why I wanted to do this and also what I would need in order to be able to accomplish it. Those needs included: craving-busting foods like coconut cream and other healthy fats, a self-care practice that would ground me when I was feeling emotional, a support system, and a plan & prepared food so I wouldn’t be in a food emergency situation. With all those needs in mind (attention, again), I set out to live two months sugar-free.

And then, I didn’t. 2 weeks into January, I began eating sugar again.

Here’s where attention comes into play again. Without paying attention to my thoughts, it would have been easy to spiral into feelings of failure. I know from past experience: that would have triggered a full-scale rebellion against all my food intentions, just because I failed at one thing.

I surprised myself, though: I didn’t believe I failed. I thought to myself, “okay – I hear you, Anne. Maybe this was too much to undertake right now. Maybe it was harder than you thought. Maybe this isn’t quite what you need.” And I let myself be less strict, keeping in mind my intention of reducing overall inflammation in my body.

I’ve found that I eat considerably less sugar than I used to. I’ve gone from a sweet thing after every meal to a sweet thing maybe once a day. Sugar tastes sweeter, and I’m satisfied by it more quickly. Strict adherence to a deprivation plan did not work. Attention paired with intention did.

I pay attention to how I feel when I eat it. I pay attention to why I am craving it in the first place. I pay attention to my emotional needs, my self-care needs, how my energy is. All of these moments of mindful attention have worked together to help me keep my intention, to reduce inflammation in my body, strong. This stuff is powerful.

Try it! What do you think?

Paying Attention

How to Develop “Self-Love”

I am surrounded by people who run themselves ragged.

Sometimes, I am even one of them.

I and everyone else need the message that I’m writing about today.

One morning last week, as I was driving to school in the rain, I felt frenetically energetic. I was writing this message in my head. It is so important. It is life or death.

Be loving toward yourself.


There are so many reasons that this is important that I could go into a whole series of posts about it. But, here’s the main one:

You can neither serve others nor yourself unless you are able to be loving.

Let’s look at what it means to take care of something or someone. We use this term for work, we use it for friendship and romantic relationships, and we use it for the things on our to-do lists. But what does it really mean? What do we need in order to be able to take care of the things and the people in our lives?

We need care.

The existentialists that I’m reading in my coursework are concerned with the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human? In an article we read recently, human beings were contrasted with animals, rocks, and objects in that we are beings that are fundamentally concerned with what it means to be. We are constantly, whether intentionally or not, trying to make sense of our lives and the things that happen to us, and we are writing narratives in our heads about the meanings of these circumstances that we encounter.

If we aren’t doing that intentionally (and no one is, 100% of the time), we are doing it automatically: we take in what we see hear, smell, taste, and experience and we incorporate it into our vast and deeply-rooted perception of ourselves. This perception of ourselves shapes what we do, feel, believe, and think.

Therefore, as humans, we care about being human. Maybe not in the day-to-day, language-world that we live in, but in a deep “existential” sense. How we treat ourselves and how we interpret the world affect our way of being in everyday life: how we think and feel about ourselves MATTERS.

This philosophical idea means that we all naturally have the instinct to care, however far it is shoved down in the living out of our daily lives. Everything affects us, whether we wish it would or not. Every daily practice shapes the way we think, feel and write our own stories.

The primary person that we need to care for is ourselves. In caring for ourselves, we learn how to care. It’s difficult to care for ourselves when we’ve never learned how, or we’ve learned ways of being that actively work against this natural caring. It’s difficult when we never pause to think about our own needs.

Caring for ourselves, in practice, is self-care. Self-love.

I was watching an Instagram live last night by one of my favorite wellness coach inspirations who I don’t actually know in real life (the power of technology)*, and she said something really important. Someone had written her a hate message, saying that nobody could realistically be “healthy” like she is if they actually have a real, 9-5 job. Lauren’s response stuck with me, because it struck me as so actionable and so important. Her first point was this:

If you truly want to be healthy, you must learn to put your needs first.

Her concrete suggestion for this was what she called “take a beat.” When someone asks you if you want to do something, take a moment and think/feel to yourself, do I really want to do that?

When you come home after a long day, and all you want is a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate, take a moment and ask yourself, what am I really looking for right now? What do I really need? 

Even if the answer is that you don’t know, it’s worth asking. One day, you might know.

In order to do this, you must become convinced that:

You are important.

You know what you need better than anyone else does.

I’m currently taking an ethics class, in which we’re discussing Levinas and his idea that being truly ethical is to serve others. In order to serve others, we must be ready and waiting to hear what they need and to respond to their call. Responding rests on our responsibility, or our ability to respond.

Now I’m thinking that the ability to respond relies on our ability to be loving.

We cannot be loving if we are preoccupied.

We cannot be loving if we are anxious.

We cannot be loving if we are mean to ourselves.

We cannot be loving if we do not recognize that there are people around us with needs, because we are so absorbed in our own unmet ones.

We cannot be loving if we are agreeing to things willy-nilly and are not saving time for ourselves.

If we are worried, preoccupied, victimized, and unloving toward ourselves, we can only be obligated. It’s true that there are some things we just have to do. With a little awareness, we can decide which things are in that category and which things really aren’t. We can save room in our lives for the practice of loving, and that practice will make us more invested in our own lives and the lives of others.

Being loving is not a permanent state. We can’t expect to be our full, loving, careful selves all the time. Sometimes, we really will be anxious and preoccupied. We will have stressors come into our lives that make many things obligatory. We can still come back to loving ourselves through it all. That might look like patience. That might look like taking a tiny break. That might look like trying to imagine a life where nothing is troubling. That might look like sleeping and eating, drinking water: doing things to keep yourself alive.

Being loving is a practice. We practice every day, with every small decision that we make. When we “take a beat,” what we are really doing is learning how to really look deeply into ourselves and care about our own needs.

Being loving is where true, holistic health comes from. My wellness coach “friend” was right: we can’t do anything about our health if we aren’t willing to think seriously about our needs and take seriously the fulfillment of them. It’s a serious business, being loving, and it is hard.

I’ve come up with a couple more posts about this, which I’ll release later.

The important thing to realize is that being loving does not come with the fixing of all the problems or the addressing of all the life stuff.

Being loving comes first.




*Lauren’s website is here, her Instagram is pretty great too.



How to Develop “Self-Love”

You Have Everything You Need

This past week, I’ve been thinking about how difficult I currently find it to dive into something without knowing what will happen. I feel like I have a million ideas that are stopped before they even have a chance to progress. And it’s entirely me that’s stopping them.

I also have persistent fears that I’m not going to be “successful” at whatever I’m trying to do. I fear that nobody will give me a chance to show who I am and how I contribute to the world. I fear that I’ll try and set foot (or my ideas) into the world and people won’t respond in a positive way.

I am a lucky one – I have no evidence for these fears, no rational argument for why I should be afraid. I even have compelling evidence that I shouldn’t fear leaping into the world with reckless abandon. Yet I do.

I was standing on the corner of two streets that I walk literally three times a week on my way to school and back. I was listening to music, and the song “Midnight City” by M83 came on. It’s not really a remarkable song, but it pulled me so hard I stopped walking – suddenly, I felt like I was back in Paris.

I noticed the color of the trees. I stood up straighter. I filled up with a magical feeling of strength and opportunity. I used to listen to that song all the time as I was strutting the streets of Paris, in a pair of black boots I wore completely through, heading to unknown new destinations and recently familiar ones. It filled me then, and now, with a sense of possibility and adventure. A sense that the world is my oyster.

Even more than that, I had the sense that I was safe in the world. It wasn’t that nothing could go wrong (many things did in Paris, and they do now), but it was a feeling that I could handle whatever went. Whatever happened.

Somehow, in the past few years, that feeling disappeared. What replaced it? Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, doubt. An obsessive focus on the future and past but not on the present. I think I had those before, too. But I also had the other stuff.

Here’s what I wrote, June 1st 2013, as I was about to head back from my first adventure abroad, tired but feeling: successful, nostalgic, sad, optimistic, strong, free, hopeful.

“What I was most worried about bringing back was Paris Anne. I thought about whether or not Paris Anne could exist in a different environment, especially one that another Anne was so comfortable in. It’s absurd to think that spending 5 months in a foreign country would not change the way I look at what once was the only thing I really knew in the world- America. Redmond. Whitman. And I want to look at these things differently. I know I’ve changed, and I want to stay changed; the confidence, the new and improved language skills, the way I think about my social relationships…all of these feel different in Paris Anne, and I think I have grown more certain of who I am through my encounters with uncertainty.

But, in the midst of worrying about whether or not I would feel frustrated about no longer being in Paris, I realized that the self I’ve formed here is actually the only thing I will be able to bring back with me. I can’t bring back the city, the French ubiquity, the freedom, and I can’t bring back the same experiences. But my more evolved processes of thinking and learning and living will always be with me, and I can use them anywhere I want to. My new goal is to approach life at home like I approached life in Paris: return with the attitude that the best experiences of my life can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone.

So, my conclusion (in cliché form): even if you take the Anne out of Paris, you won’t be taking Paris out of the Anne.”

I think that moment on the street reminded me of something important, just at the right moment.

That thing was:

I can keep learning, I can keep growing, I can keep making sense of my experiences, but I also, always, already have everything that I need.

Certainty, predictability, more degrees, more education, experience that comes with age – all are helpful. All are comforting.

But in an uncomfortable time, I find that what I need most is what I already had. What I need most is a reminder that the world is a huge, beautiful, safe and exciting place. Opportunities are everywhere. Not being certain is what enables learning, discovery, and growth. And above all, I can’t wait for my version of “success” to happen to me – I have to try things even if I don’t feel ready, prepared, or certain, at all.

Because we never know what will happen when we dive into the world wholeheartedly and embrace the adventure.


You Have Everything You Need

The Morning Pages

Every morning, I get up and write three pages.

I’ve been doing this for – maybe 6 weeks? I’ve lost count. And even if some mornings I forget or don’t have time, I keep coming back.

I started doing this because I was struggling with my inner creative spirit. I am an artist (and everyone is), and I wasn’t letting myself create.

More than that, I wasn’t letting myself out. There are many reasons why we don’t let ourselves out into the world. My personal reasons include fear, perfectionism, boredom, obligation, lack of time, lack of money, lack of energy, worry and uncertainty about “the point.”

One of the wonderful things about working with kids is relearning how to play.

All day every day:

  • I exchange jokes with them
  • I hear about something exciting
  • I listen to a long monologue about a favorite [game, sport, activity, food, restaurant, etc.]
  • I watch them learn new things
  • I see them explore and share what they’re passionate about

I have kids who are really into basketball, horses, guinea pigs, video games, books, baseball, art, and farming equipment. No matter what it is, they are really into it.

Where does all of that enthusiasm and passion and playful spirit go, as we get older? It seems like learning to be in society means learning how not to bore others with our interests, how to talk about things everybody likes, how to please the people around us. We get filters and walls and limits that we didn’t have as babies, kids, or teenagers. There’s an open minded beauty to a child’s explorations of the world, if they feel safe and welcome to explore it.

My morning pages are my space to be a child. Or maybe they’re my space to be an adult. I write down all my dreams and worries, what I’m looking forward to and what I’m dreading. When I’m finished, three pages later, I breathe a sigh of relief and let it go.

Part of my becoming process is learning how to tap into my inner child. As a kid, I used to spend hours on my favorite activities. I had an urgent need to keep doing them. I wrote stories – novels – I played with dolls, I created entire worlds in my head. And they were real and vivid and beautiful works of art.

We all did it. We all must do it again. We have an even greater capacity as adults to imagine, dream, plan, and create.

That’s what will make the world more beautiful, one person at a time.

The Morning Pages

The Secret of Happiness

I discovered the secret of true and deep and lasting happiness.

Aren’t we all looking for happiness? Aren’t there images everywhere, all around us, of ways that we could be happier? Don’t we, in almost all of our conversations, assume that happiness is the ideal state of being?

In my nutrition school last week, we had a lecture video by Gretchen Rubin, who researches habits and habit formation.

She gave us 7 keys to happiness. Here they are:

  1. Sleep 7+ hours every night.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Cultivate good smells. (my favorite)
  4. Organize possessions and declutter your space.
  5. Make your bed every morning.
  6. Establish and deepen relationships.
  7. Build self-knowledge.

These are phenomenal suggestions, some of which you and I probably already knew. I have invested significant amounts of time in all of these areas since beginning my year of intention, as I’m now calling it. And, they work. If all of us do just these seven things, I think we’d see a significant improvement in happiness.

This led me to a conclusion of my very own. The secret to happiness.

Here’s my equation:

Health > Happiness

The sign in the middle is a greater than sign, maybe. It might also be an arrow. We could read this as “health is greater than happiness,” or “health leads to happiness.”

What kind of health? All kinds of health. A healthy body, a healthy brain, a healthy spirit. In R.A. training in college we called the health areas “SMELPS” – Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, Lifestyle, Physical, and Social.

News flash:

These areas of health still matter in adulthood. Maybe more than ever.

Let me pose you a question:

Is there one thing that you know, if you did it right now, it would make you healthier? At this very moment?

Maybe it’s brushing your teeth. Maybe it’s having a glass of water. Maybe it’s reading a great book before bed. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite  music, burning a favorite candle, remembering your favorite childhood bedtime story.

Do one of these things in the next 24 hours. Do one thing that makes you healthier. Maybe more than that. If you do a thing anyway, without meaning to, pause and recognize it. Like: “hey, healthy thing. Thanks for making me feel better!”

Odds are, it’s also something that makes you happier.

Both happiness and health live in the inconsequential corners of our lives. They reside in the minutia of our mundane daily rhythms. Health and happiness are both achieved by making small, intentional choices about how we spend the next moment.

Neither are things we “achieve.” Neither are permanent, nor are they a given. They take diligence and work, but not the hard or tasking or monumental kind.

Health, and therefore happiness, take the kind of work that begins with mindful attention to what we need or want, and ends with following through to get it for ourselves. Moment by moment.

Happy moments add up to make happy lives.



The Secret of Happiness

Be Who You Wanna Be!

One of the things that’s been most helpful to me in life, but especially in my health journey, is the idea of a growth mindset.

Here’s a little exercise: write down one “negative” thing that you believe to be true about yourself.

Mine was something along the lines of: “I’m not an athlete.”

In junior high, I was on the softball field, up to bat, and I hit a foul ball. The boys behind me said, “well, at least she hit it.” I laughed it off. But I learned, gradually, that I was bad at sports. Not a natural athlete. Not a runner. Not able to be active without feeling defeated and comparing myself to the “natural athletes” I thought I wasn’t. I failed all the P.E. “tests” on various sports rules – football, basketball, etc. I was picked last for teams. I focused entirely on my intellectual self, because my physical self was the source of such hard feelings.

Of course, if you think you’re bad at something, you aren’t going to want to do it in your free time. So, rather than getting “better” at sports, I just avoided them. This reinforced my identity as a non-sports person, and I became what I thought I was: bad at sportsNot athletic. Not active.

This was cemented for me a decade ago, and I didn’t really question it until this year. When my energy and physical well-being started improving in January and February, I started craving movement. I felt like I had so much energy to burn. I started Barre classes, running, and swing dance lessons. I would go home and take a walk. These new behaviors were both cause and consequence of a new attitude that I was forming: If I move, I will get better at moving.

Obvious, right? But it was not obvious until I challenged my own beliefs about exercise. I believed that exercise wasn’t “worth it” if I didn’t go hard, and when I felt like I couldn’t go hard I just wouldn’t go. I thought exercise was all about losing weight, and when that didn’t happen (see: thyroid problems), I stopped. I set a lot of goals and couldn’t fulfill them, partly because I was handicapped by my own attitude, my own identity as someone who doesn’t exercise. Who’s not a natural athlete.

Now, instead, I describe myself like this:

I enjoy movement. Moving makes me feel good. Moving gives me energy. No matter how much movement I do, it’s beneficial to my health. The goal of my movement is to have fun and feel strong and flexible.

Everyone is a “natural athlete.” It is natural for us to move! Humans did nothing but move for hundreds of years, and it was pretty healthy for them. Another thing I’ve learned is that you get better at whatever you want to practice. If I do yoga, I’ll get stronger and bendier. Running will make me better at running. If I do barre, I’ll get stronger and more stable. If I swing dance, I’ll get better at swing dancing. And, as long as I’m enjoying myself, I will keep moving! I don’t have to worry about when my next workout is, because I’ll know when I need to move next.

There are people who are “natural athletes” who have similar, fixed beliefs about themselves. In fact, everybody probably has fixed beliefs about themselves. Your belief about yourself could be in a totally different area than mine. The point is, psychologically, beliefs have a tremendous impact on behaviors. In fact, beliefs cause behaviors. But, behaviors also cause beliefs. Liberation from these fixed beliefs is totally possible, if we are able to challenge the attitude as we change the behavior.

And, when that happens, we can literally change our identities.

I think the world will be a happier place if everyone is exactly who they want to be, don’t you? 🙂



Be Who You Wanna Be!