Why Humanists Should Care About Healthy Living

As Thanksgiving approaches, Jason Torpy suggests that humanists consider opportunities to maintain a healthy life. 

By Jason Torpy

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’d like to address a topic that may be sensitive to readers—your health.

It is provocative and often hurtful to ask someone about their visible health or weight.  We as humanists have a vested interest in our personal health because, as we know, we only get one life to live.  Personal health is a key component in quality of life as well as quantity of life.  As social activists, which I hope we all are in some sense, I think we have an interest in promoting healthful attitudes and activities among our society.  When we ask after another’s health, we show positive concern for their well-being.  More often though, friends and family avoid the subject of health when it comes to weight, eating, and exercise. 

Now, I consider myself healthy, but when I left the military, I gained weight. I recognized the issue and drastically reduced the size of my meals to match the reduction in my exercise regimen and activity level. Alternatively, I could have exercised more to burn the calories from food. What I did not do was pop a diet pill, or write the problem off as ‘no big deal’, or hide behind advancing age. There are many healthy and fit people who can answer this question not by providing excuses about their weight or fitness, but by explaining the positive steps they have taken over the years to overcome changes in diet, exercise, and health or injuries. In this way, those who may be unhealthy can benefit from the answers of those they see as healthy. This invitation from the unhealthy to the healthy is a way to break down the “fat stigma” that keeps many people trapped in unhealthy bodies and lifestyles without the example and assistance of others who have found ways to live a healthy life.

There are several lessons here. Ask yourself and ask others how they overcame or did not overcome health challenges. Ten-percent weight gain* or a Body Mass Index** over 28 should be red flags for anyone. Also, recognize that “getting older” is a possible cause of weight gain, but it is most likely a red herring.  Over the longer term, maybe 20% or so gain weight from age 20 to 40 might account for metabolism and internal changes. Diet habits, exercise habits, or simple activity level are more likely causes, especially over the course of a year or so. Focusing on diet and exercise also puts the locus of control, the blame, on oneself instead of “fate” or “metabolism” or some other external cause. An attitude of self-determination on weight is the fastest way to health.

I hope that humanists, recognizing we have only our one life to live, will elevate the discussion of personal health and fitness habits.  We have a vested interest in improving and extending our lives, and it’s important we find a way around social stigma against difficult discussions about diet and exercise.

With Thanksgiving just days away, people will be feasting. But beware; it can be wasteful and bad for your health. Have fun in the moment, but keep your long-term health in mind and set a good example for others. Reward yourself with a happy and healthy Thanksgiving afternoon.


* The focus here is on weight gain and lack of exercise.  There are also serious physical, mental, and societal problems that contribute to unhealthy weight loss and excessive exercise.

** BMI calculator: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/ :  Note that the BMI calculator is a good reference, but does not distinguish between muscle mass and fat mass.

Jason Torpy is treasurer of the American Humanist Association and president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

All articles written in Humanist Network News are the author’s sole opinion and not official positions of the American Humanist Association unless otherwise explicitly noted.