Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
23 Jul

Are You As Healthy As You Think You Are?

Are You As Healthy As You Think You Are?Like it or not, we’re in this whole life thing together. Whether you admit this or deny it, the people who surround you influence you. Rugged individualists, angtsy teens shopping at Hot Topic and blasting Linkin Park out of headphones permanently affixed to their ears, and everyone else may think they’re blazing a completely unique path and forging their own destiny without external input, but everyone is a product of their environment. Our identities aren’t even created in a vacuum; they are formed based on what the people around us are doing and how they’re living. We are reactions to the actions, circumstances, and personalities of other people, particularly those to whom we’re most frequently exposed.

Why do we feel compelled to upgrade to a new car when new cars start showing up in our neighbors’ driveways?

Why do we go from feeling pretty darn content with our lives to feeling like losers just because we saw a Facebook post from an old classmate who’s backpacking through South America?

How do we suddenly become unhappy with our otherwise sufficient salaries once we hear what that guy over there makes in a year?

Why does the high school valedictorian often feel average once they get to college?

We’re constantly comparing ourselves to other people. Sizing them up. Sizing ourselves up (or down). That’s what we do. How we perceive others to be doing informs our perception of how we’re doing in life. So, if the people around us – or even the people we read about and see on TV and in movies – are good looking, rich, and charismatic, we might end up comparing our circumstances to theirs and feeling like failures if we don’t measure up.

No aspect of our lives is immune to this, not even our sense of physical health. In fact, I’d say that our ideas about our own health are profoundly informed by the health of people around us. Some of us can accurately gauge our health based on how we feel, look, and perform, but not all, or even most of us. Most of us (even the ones who say otherwise) determine our own healthfulness by comparing ourselves to others. We check out what the guy on the next bench over is lifting in the gym. We sneak a peek at what shirt size the other man or woman just returned to the rack to see how we compare. We smugly note that our officemates have all come down with the flu this season, while we’ve made it through unscathed.

And, by and large, we get it totally wrong when we try to estimate our own health. We think we’re healthier than we actually are, have less weight to lose than we actually should, and are more physically fit than the previous generations. America’s weight problem? That’s “everyone else.” “That’s not me”, you say. “I’ve got a few pounds to lose, sure, but I’m definitely better off than most everyone else.” No one is immune. Even overweight and obese kids are underestimating their weight. It’s like we have a rough idea of a weight constituting “overweight,” but because most people around us are hitting that weight, and because whatever most people do appears normal, we don’t realize it’s an issue.

That probably explains why obesity is contagious among friends and communities. If your peers are overweight or obese, you are more likely to be overweight or obese. You’re more likely to be overweight because overweight has become the norm. It may not be healthy, and you may intellectually “know” that it’s unhealthy, but if everyone around you is overweight and it’s just “how things are,” you’re more likely to fall into it.

Even seemingly objective health measurements taken by a doctor are subject to this community effect. They determine our health, as represented by objective blood markers and BMI readings and blood pressure measurements, by comparing our numbers to the numbers of rest of the population. That’s why when you get a lab result you have a reference range. The reference range purports to tell you whether you’re healthy (within range) or unhealthy (out of range, either too high or too low), but often, what it’s really doing is telling you how your numbers compare to everyone else’s numbers. They try to use only “healthy people” to determine the reference ranges, but each lab has a different range and uses a different sample population, and you can’t really be certain that the healthy people are actually healthy and thus have numbers worth pursuing. What is “healthy,” anyway, since we just established that a perception of health is subjective and susceptible to influence? The overworked stressed-out 35 year old manager, the skeletal 35 year old shuffling down the street in floppy running shorts, the fit 35 year old CrossFitter, the dumpy 35 year old dad of three – these people could be “healthy” enough to qualify for the test establishing the reference range for a given lab result.

Are You Normal or Just Common?

With all that in mind, are you normal or are you just common? Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal. For humans in the United States and other developed nations, being overweight and on pills is common. For the human animal given access to sunlight, good food, regular movement, and a healthy happy community life, leanness and effortless metabolic health are normal. That’s the normal we should be aiming for, not the common state of health we see on a daily basis.

You may not be as healthy as you think you are. I think you can do better. Don’t compare yourself to the sick and the overweight. Don’t use them as your baseline measure of health. Instead, compare yourself to the normal human, who is not and should not be riddled with degenerative diseases, carrying 23 pounds of extra unwanted weight, nor filling a dozen prescriptions per year.

Are you eating well, are you just eating better than most people around you? It’s not that hard to do better than bastardized tacos made from Dorito shells, frozen french fries that you toss in the oven, iceberg lettuce salads, and Lean Cuisine. Doing better than that doesn’t mean you’re actually eating as healthily as you could.

Are you truly active enough, or are you just more active than the couch potatoes around you? It’s pretty easy to exercise more and walk more steps than people who’ll circle the parking lot for ten minutes searching for that perfect spot right next to the disabled parking.

Are you feeling less than awesome, even though your lab numbers are “within range”?

Are you living up to your incredible heritage as a human? Are you getting fresh air and some semblance of sunlight everyday? Are you moving frequently at a slow pace? Are you lifting heavy things? Do you have a community, a tribe, even a small but loyal one?

We’ve got a lot of hurdles standing in our path toward optimal health, hurdles that Grok never had to face. Though we’ve got modern medicine on our side, and the masterful mechanics of the human body known as surgeons are sure nice to have around, we’ve also got sedentary jobs, countless hours of passive entertainment at our fingertips, delicious industrialized food practically designed to disrupt our endocrine systems and override our satiety mechanisms, and an agricultural system that places profit over human, environmental, and animal health all working against us. And yet we can still be healthier than we are. We don’t have to settle for what we see around us.

Be honest when you answer these questions. You may very well be as healthy as you think you are and want to be – from what I can tell from Primal meetups and the emails I get, you all are a healthy bunch – but I think even many of us can do better.

Thanks for reading, folks. I’d love to get your thoughts. How do your surroundings affect your perception of your own health?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great article Mark! After over 3 years following the PB, I can definitely attest that one mustn’t “rest on one’s laurels”. I’m learning this every day. Your opening comment about how “… Our identities are influenced heavily by people around us…” really struck a chord!

    Being an avid Weighlifter and having diet and stress fairly reined-in, I know there are aspects of life – Like stronger social ties and other small things that I can always improve on.

    The PB should never be a static lifestyle – But one that evolves through constant refinement and experimentation within a biologically logical framework.

    Rocky Dean-Shoji wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  2. My husband and I were discussing this today. He has recently increased carbs and gained a few, however he actually blamed his pants this morning, .. LOL I almost wish I was as ignorant sometimes.
    Even if I have a bit of bloating due to lady issues I beat myself up the whole week about how I could have done better, eaten better etc.. every month without fail even though I know why I am bloating..
    The truth is noone is perfect and I do agree with Mark, it is important to strive to better yourself but sometimes its good to be reminded that you still are doing better than most around you and that comparison between you and the average Joe may actually give you the motivation to keep going rather than have you settle at where you are.

    Bribri wrote on July 23rd, 2013
    • +1, that made me laugh “he actually blamed his pants.” Pants are the great truth-tellers aren’t they? Famous quote from college roommate “If you have to ask, ‘do I look fat in these pants?’ you already know the answer.” Yet did Grok wear pants? Discuss.

      Agree totally with the rest of your post. A good balanced POV.

      Juli wrote on July 24th, 2013
  3. So tied up in myself and my own issues I forgot to wish you a happy 60. Suppose You’re as excited as I am about my 50’th coming up. What’s age? To me it is wisdom, knowledge and …..scrap all that. I have daughter 16 months old and I am NOT her grandpa. Starting all over again. Wisdom? Yeah try that one…

    Play! That’s today’s menu. And the next. And the next. And…….

    Peter Asp wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  4. I wish the paleo/primal community focused less on losing weight and viewed weight loss as a lovely benefit of a healthy lifestyle. There is enough pressure to be thin as it is, from internal and external sources, as well as the media at large.

    Amy wrote on July 23rd, 2013
    • I think that happens as you go along the path. Initially weight loss is the big deal and later when you start understanding your body better it becomes more about health and the lifestyle.

      Aloka wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  5. I love this post. I have been thinking about this lately. Though I have been primal for three plus years I am definitely no longer as healthy as I was for the first toe years and I have to start doing better soon as I have given in to a lot of stuff around me.
    Thanks for this food for thought! I’m glad there are a lot of us whoa re not as healthy as we think we are so there is scope for doing better.

    Aloka wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  6. I, for one, am one of those that can “do better”. Thanks for the reminder, Mark.

    Melissa wrote on July 24th, 2013
  7. The medical model is that bodies WILL go wrong along the way, and only wise medically trained professionals can fix them – the reality is that every body is a self-righting mechanism capable of repairing itself from most things, given the right foods, environment and so on.

    This difference matters, because in the medical model, you’re doing great to be on meds so long as they’re the RIGHT meds, whereas the reaiity is very different.

    Patrick wrote on July 24th, 2013
  8. About 4 years ago I was miserable, living in a tiny country town and working in my in laws’ roadhouse… and eating crap daily. I managed to get in the obese category, and was pretty darn disgusted with myself. However, I still fit in Australian size 14-16 clothes.

    I remember having a conversation with someone where I mentioned that I was obese, and she looked very shocked and said “you’re not OBESE you’re just a little chubby!” and I realised that to many people what I was WAS “chubby” or maybe “overweight”, but wasn’t what they considered “obese”. When someone thinks of obese they tend to imagine someone really, really big. Size 20+ big.

    I’m still overweight according to BMI although now I’m pretty fit and active. Most people would probably think of me as “normal”. *I* know I’m not. I know my weight could be a lot better. But the fact is, I’m still leaner than a LOT of people out there, and people’s perceptions of overweight and obese are skewed. As it is, I tend not to mention my weight much in front of people, or bemoan that I’m struggling to lose it, because I get the old “YOU don’t need to lose weight!” off them.

    My personal goal is to be as fit and healthy as it’s possible for ME to genetically be. And honestly, I think that’s pretty darn fit and healthy, although I’m never going to look like a model or athlete. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had any major health issues, but I do know I can always be better (my diet hasn’t always been great, and I haven’t always got enough healthy exercise).

    I just find that it’s best if I do my thing, though, and not discuss it with everyone else… most people don’t get it. Even my husband doesn’t get it. He seems to understand what it takes to eat healthily, but will still talk about “moderation” and thinks I’m too extreme.

    Fiona wrote on July 24th, 2013
  9. LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS.
    Im married to a man who is definitely not as healthy as he thinks given your (and my) definitions….

    MizFit wrote on July 24th, 2013
  10. Mark

    An awsome and timley post as I was just sitting in the office feeling like a looser as people around me were talking about there time trecking in south america whereas I chose to go strait to uni (UK based) do masters then get qualified in my profession. I was wondering if you or anybody else had some thoughts about how getting in to optimum shape (something I have been struggling with for the last 15 years (found this site two weeks ago and begining to go primal) can help the mind deal with all those negative thoughts and self esteem issues. Sorry if I have gone off topic but was just struck by the timing and content of this post.

    Tom wrote on July 24th, 2013
    • What worked for me was to swap the concept of “self-esteem” for a more solid idea of “self-respect” – esteem is a nebulous concept, respect is something I can grasp better – then I set out to do things, every day, that I would respect if I heard about someone else doing them, with my own particular challenges, strengths, weaknesses etc.

      There have been days for me in the past when simply getting through the day was a battle, and I’d respect someone in my shoes who managed it – instead of trying to feel great about myself as the main goal, which then would have just caused me to feel bad, for feeling bad!

      May sound like semantics but working to become someone you’d respect means putting the actions first, having high standards for yourself, and so on, and I found it more motivational because it meant I could score with solid actions, and not get too bogged down in introversion, brooding and so on.

      YMMV and all that. ;)

      Patrick wrote on July 29th, 2013
  11. I know I can do better, its just so tough when I work at a desk all day,mostly I am doing well.

    Shirley wrote on July 24th, 2013
    • Are you able to use a standing desk, Shirley?

      Amy wrote on July 24th, 2013
  12. Thank you for this post. I know that I have never really been healthy. Always “thin”, always running and feeling awful. Now life is my treadmill (with 2 little boys and a huge garden who needs a gym?) I am definitely on the right path to health on paleo autoimmune protocol and exercise is always about how I feel that day. Losing the sugar and grains has rid me of anxiety. Anxiety that used to cause constant comparisons. Who cares??!! I’m happy.

    Stephanie wrote on July 24th, 2013
  13. July 2009- my 19th birthday, I was 20 lbs overweight and miserable. However, looking around I was pretty common in terms of body composition. 2 years later I had reduced my calories (NOT my carbs), upped my cardio in the form of half marathon training and lost 20 lbs. I felt better and I looked better but I hated feeling like I was always dieting. “Dieting” is not sustainable and obsessive calorie counting is not living! September 2013 I went 90% primal (with 10% whatever I want!) and since then I have dropped 10 lbs of pure fat. I sit at a fit but maintainable 18% body fat and I lift heavy 3x a week and play hockey 1x a week. Running is now an occasional event for FUN (Colour Me Rad anyone?) and not a mundane chore. I feel fantastic and even better I feel I have achieved balance! Looking back I don’t think even I understood how out of shape and unhealthy I felt until I realized what I had been missing out on, it’s so easy to look at statistics and tell yourself you are fine because you’re “not that bad”.

    I always look forward to my daily MDA fix- it really keeps me going.

    Love from Canada, Mark!

    Carnivorous Sarah wrote on July 24th, 2013
    • September 2012* I am not posting from the future..haha OOPS!

      Carnivorous Sarah wrote on July 24th, 2013
  14. I really enjoyed reading that article – In the last few years I’ve come to understand the value of SELF awareness to my life. Focusing on self rather than other has been a fundamental contributor to where I find myself today – in an incredible state of fulfillment. Thank you Mark for your thought provoking and inspiring posts… I ordered your book the other day and I am really looking forward to reading it :)

    Victoria wrote on July 24th, 2013
  15. I am so guilty of this. I live in an area where it is very easy to be baseline healthy and be lapping everyone around you. We eat well, move frequently, and lift stuff. But we could totally work on getting more sleep and we do lack a tribe of our own. It’s hard to have a support system when no one in your geographical area shares your interests.

    Primal Hippie wrote on July 24th, 2013
  16. Great, timely post. To the point that I am breaking up with my boyfriend of 5 years (for a laundry list of items) one of the reasons being is that I do not see a healthy future with him. Whether intentionally or not, he is sabotaging me and my hardwork of changing my life towards healthy habits. Thank you, paleo lifestyle, for allowing the fog to clear so that I can make the right decisions for myself and my future. I got up before 6:00am today to do my sprints and got the bonus of watching the sun rise. I used to struggle out of bed 40 minutes before I had to be at work… I juiced my breakfast, made salmon and veggies for lunch, and will be moving out Aug 1. Wish me luck, and best of luck to you too.

    Katie C. wrote on July 25th, 2013
  17. Love this post! It’s funny…I actually LOOK healthier than ever before. Svelte, thin with good muscle tone BUT I’ve never been more unhealthy. 7 years of heavy life and work stress coupled with ‘coping’ by engaging in stressful exercise has wrecked my adrenals and my bloodwork/labs has never been worse! It’s time to dial back, heal and rest…it may mean I put a few pounds on and I am curious to see what the people around me will say? Will they perceive me as more or less vital and healthy? Interesting social experiment!

    Meghanne wrote on July 25th, 2013
  18. I don’t know how I came across this website or how I was linked, but its interesting to notice that I finally feel like I’m not the only one that thinks that “our mind” is not this in-effective tool that contributes more than any other part of your body to your well-being. Hoping that my context shouldn’t be taken lightly or introverted in any way to obscure your own mind. Usually, in my open-minded experiences and free-will, I have encountered to many people that have no capability of expressing an emotion or making a connection with another human being, not animal (sorry “pet lovers”). I often wonder why it has become so prevelant around me, and I have to admit, at times I always wondered if I was the “bad apple” and everyone else was the normal and “good apple”. So I often became supressed and going through these “talking in my head” experiences and overtime it gave me a level of cockiness and sarchastic attitude. I think the more you stay by yourself, you can become dangerously “different” if you stray off into your own little world. I think I engaged social life around the time I decided to leave home at the age 16 and junior year of high school. I knew I had to leave because I felt like I needed to take responsiblity of my own life and not let myself become a factor of someone else’s bad life, my other members of family. The adoloscent period in anyones life is a very crucial and complicated time for that individuals “state of mind”. During this time you are experiencing things for the first time and you are connecting your own emotion with it, that will then alter your mind what maybe your last peak in life before death. Though, you do go through a peak of self-guidance during later years and you know your rearing death. Both incidences in our lives share a common factor, and its at those times were we become predictable and thus susepticle to altercations that might carry a negative impact on our whole life experience. Our most fragile moments in our lives are the most revealing to ourselves and each other. But whats even more compeling to me is the amount of people that are being ignored as not part of a contributing factor in society, and not note-worthy at all. The persuaders of this appropriated agenda is usually driven and maintained by that of the people who are seeded with only the illusions of happiness, and not real happiness. Thus, they become more addictive in nature and less aggressive toward an invader. I sit and wonder about the fears more than happiness, but I also wonder if fear is the culprit in everyones scenario in regards to how we act, play, or interact with one another and now it has come to change how an individual carrys on their everyday life. This culprit of fear will continue on and on until there is nothing left but fear and no happiness. Which I think is very obvious at the present time in all societies due to the complexity of everything and irresponsive behavior in taking care of ourselves not each other. Furthermore, being truely happy and healthy doesn’t just come to you in a packaged box at your front door step or with a money-back guarantee. Happiness and health will happen together only when you know exactly what it is that makes you happy and healthy. And when you get there, never stop and always continue to work towards your happiness and health. I would personally suggest for someone who is in the midst of becoming a happier person to stop and ask yourself; Am I able to have my personality and happiness? Is this behavior contribute to a healthy lifestyle? Does your happiness and health coexist in the loved ones around you ? If you answer no, to any of those questions then something is there that your not addressing and partly ignoring your committment.

    Hope K. wrote on July 26th, 2013
    • “I would personally suggest for someone who is in the midst of becoming a happier person to stop and ask yourself; Am I able to have my personality and happiness?”

      Interesting point: I’ve changed aspects of my personality to become more happy, I’ve let go of ways of thinking, acting etc., that messed me up, I think that’s the work of adulthood, to leave behind the stuff that doesn’t work for you, that holds you back etc., and become a more powerful person, with fewer hangups, bad habits or self-doubt.

      Patrick wrote on July 29th, 2013
  19. didn’t like the comparison between ‘normal’ and ‘common’. it’s a little confusing, maybe the terms should have been coined differently

    Asif wrote on July 28th, 2013
  20. I do agree that pushing yourself is important, but there is a flip side too. I love this website, and this is in no way a legitimate criticism, but in this particular post I felt a little unsettled. If we focus so much on becoming better, and better, doing more and more, where is the stopping point. I know our society isn’t the best of role models at times, but it is our society. The reason many are how they are is the way of life we have today. Becoming the best you is the most important, which I think is the point of this article (not basing your “healthy” on the populations “normal”) but there is also a time when we have to balance healthy with the world we are in today. If that means sitting to watch my favorite TV shows, or simply having a slightly-more nutritious meal than some, I think I’m being as healthy as I can while staying sane in our society. I’m not trying to take it out of context, I love the emphasis of being better than yourself, but I still want to find pride in myself for doing better than I theoretically could be.
    -That being said, thank you so much for spending your time supporting all of us, it’s such a great thing you do to help people you’ve never met to change their lives! Bless you!

    Ellie wrote on July 29th, 2013
    • The danger with a stopping point is it calls for absolutes, so we end up with concepts like the USDA food pyramid, whereby if you’re eating those 11 portions of grains per day you’re doing golden, and never mind the IBS, arthritis, digestive problems etc – in other words anyone who tries to give you a stopping point, an “If you’ve attained THIS, you are good enough” is really giving you a thought-stopper, an external goal which you’re supposed to substitute for your own experiences, and by doing that, encouraging you to stop noticing your own reactions to any food, exercise routine, or whatever else they’re addressing.

      Better to always look at yourself and do the best you can do, be tuned into your own inner resources, in my opinion, because any stopping point, be it portions of fruit & veg per day, time spent exercising, whatever the hell, is set by someone else and will never be tailor-made for you.

      Any time you know you’re doing better than you could, that’s a win, so think of it as an ongoing thing, a race or game or battle against your own weaknesses that are unique to you, rather than being like scoring a qualification, where you could then sit on your laurels and go badly wrong.

      Well, that’s my opinion anyway! :)

      Patrick wrote on July 29th, 2013
  21. Bravo. Great point. The bar is embarrassingly low these days.

    GHEE wrote on July 30th, 2013

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