By Grace Coughlan
Nowadays, it’s easy to ask Google to define wellness for you. Quickly you learn that it is a “state or condition of being in good physical and mental health”. But what does that really tell you? And how does it relate to your own life? In order to truly understand its meaning one has to look beyond the words.
With my educational background in Human Nutrition many people would assume that my definition of wellness would focus around food. The same as they would consider a personal trainer’s focus to be around physical activity and a physician’s to be around disease management. It’s true that each of these health care professionals is a trained expert in their area. But in reality achieving a state of wellness goes far beyond the number we see on a scale, how physically fit we are or even how many times a year we visit a doctor.
My undergraduate program provided many opportunities to begin to piece together what wellness really means to me. I took a course that looked specifically at the area of Health in All Policy. This class became a real eye opening and I think a turning point toward beginning to understand the challenges that society faces when working toward achieving health and well-being for all.
Students were asked to participate in a team building activity. The students formed a circle around the professor, who stood in the centre holding a ball of yarn. The professor then said: “Lucy, a grade three student doesn’t have anything packed for her lunch today.” She then took hold of one part of the yarn and tossed the rest of the ball to a student asking, “But why?”
The student was then responsible for coming up with a possible answer, such as, “Lucy doesn’t have anything packed for lunch today because her mom couldn’t get to the grocery store last night.” This was followed by another toss to another student and the question was asked again, “But why?”
Soon our team building activity began to resemble a spider’s web. It was full of complex loops, intersecting areas, wide gaps and inconsistent lines. This is a true representation of wellness with each individual person standing at the centre of their very own web. Our fictional character, Lucy, had a web that intersected with many aspects of her parent’s lives, involved the school she attended, and the community she lived. What does your own personal spider web look like? Does it involve your family, friends, religion, doctor, the gym you attend, your work, or what you do for fun on your days off?
This representation allows us to see things in a whole new light. Achieving a state of wellness is a very complex and extremely personal process that requires the work of many different medical professionals, policy makers and community members coming together for its success.
I have seen this a lot in my practice as a Nutrition Consultant. Someone comes to my office looking to lose weight. They want the quick fix, for me to hand them a meal plan and send them on their merry way. But most times I spend not one, but several consultations examining all the external factors affecting that client’s current issues with their weight. I look at the many aspects of that client’s “web” and identify the areas where they need help the most. This can involve everything from knowing whether or not the client likes to cook to discovering they have a history of heart disease in their family.
What I enjoy most as a consultant is seeing clients begin to change how they think about their health, realizing that one area of their life does affect another. Wellness in its rightful meaning is a state of balance — mentally, nutritionally, physically and socially. It is a feeling that you aren’t deprived or lacking in any aspect of your life. Wellness cannot be achieved with medication. It is done through the act of giving people the tools, skills and connections they need so they can carry them through their life, share them with others and make them a part of who they are and the web they have.