To succeed at anything, we need to have a clear definition of success. To arrive at a destination called health, we must have a very clear and specific answer to the question: What is health?  

My experience is that when we talk about taking care of our health, we immediately think of taking care of our physical bodies. We have been programmed to see health as somewhat limited to our bodies.

The Four Dimensions of Health

Yet it is obvious that:

– We are material beings,

– We are emotional and mental beings,

– We are social beings, and

– We are spiritual beings

Four Dimensions of Health

To be completely healthy, we must be healthy in four dimensions.

These four dimensions are:

  • Material (physical) body
  • Emotional and Mental
  • Social
  • Spiritual

Related Article: Body, Mind, Spirit: Biopsychosocial-Spiritual model of Health

Over half a century ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) minted a definition of health that has stood the test of time. It defined health in the preamble to its constitution in 1946 by saying that, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The American Academy of Family Physicians promotes a biopsychosocial model of healthcare that embodies the spirit of the WHO’s definition. Human beings are not simply biological machines. We are physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual beings. As such, complete health care must address the different dimensions of the human experience.

Why is an accurate definition of health important?

An accurate definition of health is crucial. Without it, we cannot actually take care of our health. The way we take care of our health depends on how we define health. If our definition is wrong, then our outcomes will also be wrong.

Also, when we understand the definition of health and its four dimensions, we immediately understand why we cannot solve our spiritual, social, emotional and mental problems through physical means such as eating. Some people do emotional eating. They eat when they are stressed, feel lonely, when their faith is challenged or brought into doubt, etc. Physical food feeds the physical body, not the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of the person. For that, you need food that is appropriate for those aspects of our lives.

Dr. Lissa Rankin, a physician, did an excellent TED talk on her personal experience with health care that I recommend if you would like to understand further how important holistic health care is.

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