A heart surgeon and TV star investigates why our health is declining despite our obsession with fitspiration and the image of health.
How have we messed up our relationship with food and exercise so badly? Despite an explosion in the number of gyms, health foods and activewear, we are more obese, less active, more stressed than ever before.
We obsess over looking healthy, but our health is getting worse. Why did we start equating beauty with health? And is it possible to be fit and fat?
Equipped with Instagram accounts and blogs, online 'wellness experts' lead an army of followers towards what is labelled 'health' but might actually be far from it. We photograph ourselves and our food, but aren't sure whether we like the images until someone else 'likes' them first. It seems all this health and wellness is making us unhappy, poor and pretty unhealthy instead.
Heart surgeon and health commentator Dr Nikki Stamp unpicks the web of online pseudoscience and urges us to take back our health from the people who don't value it as much as we do. She explores the secret of long-term motivation for healthy diet and exercise, and shares the scientific value of self-kindness for true physical and mental health.
Dr Nikki Stamp FRACS is a cardiothoracic surgeon, one of only 11 female heart surgeons in Australia. Her clinical work is at the forefront of cardiothoracic surgery, including transplants and congenital heart disease. She has a particular interest in women's heart disease and how the medical system can better serve female patients. Nikki has hosted heart health episodes for Australia's flagship science TV programme, Catalyst, as well as Operation Live, in which she commentated a live caesarean birth. Her first book, Can You Die of a Broken Heart?, has been translated into seven languages.
Author: Dr Nikki Stamp
Question: What inspired you to write Pretty Unhealthy?
Dr Nikki Stamp: The idea came to me when I started to notice so many magazines or books pushing diets or exercises to look a certain way then sneakily say it would help you be healthier. It's hard to focus on actual health (which has nothing to do with looks) when it's wrongly and inextricably linked with being beautiful which is a narrow ideal that has nothing to do with our actual physical and mental health. Plus, in the pursuit of health/beauty, there are so many traps that can actually make us less healthy.
Question: How would you define healthy?
Dr Nikki Stamp: I think everyone probably has an individual definition and of course there are official definitions but for me, health is physical, emotional, social and environmental health. It's being able to do what you want and what you need, being free from illness, being able to bounce back from illness and living a life that makes you feel good.
Question: How can we find long-term motivation for a healthy diet and exercise?
Dr Nikki Stamp: Researchers in this area tend to rely on motivation coming from internally, such as health, enjoyment, accomplishment or socialisation. External motivators like looking attractive tend to fizzle out or result in behaviours that may not be healthy like dangerous dieting or exercise or even avoiding healthy behaviours altogether. The other thing is that our motivation and our decisions don't happen in a vacuum so our society needs to make it easy for us all to partake in healthy behaviours such as providing safe spaces to exercise or regulating food. Motivation is great but even it can't overcome some of these obstacles.
Question: What is the main message you'd hope readers take from Pretty Unhealthy?
Dr Nikki Stamp: I hope that people are able to be healthy for some of these internal reasons and unhook this message that beauty, or your appearance in anyway is an important indicator of health, or worse a motivator for health. I hope that people read into some of the messages we're sold on health with a bit of scepticism and reach a place where they are much healthier mind and body. I know writing the book did that for me so I'm encouraged!
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: Dr Nikki Stamp