Personal Health: It's the Climate, Not the Weather


In the field of ecology, one important lesson that every student learns early on is the difference between weather and climate.

Weather describes the current, temporary conditions in a given area, while climate defines the overall patterns of weather in that area over a long-term period – generally spanning decades.

Put another way, we sometimes say that climate is what you expect, while weather is what you get. This is a crucial distinction to make when discussing global climate disruption, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I’m more interested in here is how we might apply this concept of weather versus climate to personal health and wellness.

When we observe the state of our health, we must not ignore the weather – the current conditions – but we should be more concerned with the climate, or the overall patterns of our self-care. This involves taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of our habits beyond the day-to-day and week-to-week.

Sure, maybe last Wednesday you got plenty of exercise and ate only the healthiest foods; but if it followed weeks of bingeing on ice cream while sitting on the couch for hours on end, then that one day of good “weather” won’t do much to change the overall “climate” of your personal health.

Likewise, many of us who are especially health-conscious sometimes beat ourselves up for what we see as day-to-day failures, but again, this is mistaking the weather for the climate.

We know that eating a double cheeseburger from a fast food joint, no matter how delicious, is just not a good decision to make; but if that one burger is surrounded on all sides by carefully planned, nutrient-dense meals and proper exercise, it’s not going to have much of an impact on your overall picture of health.

As with all things, personal health is a matter of habitual behavior, which means that it can be shaped by your intentions. It also means that you must cultivate a state of mindfulness about what you consume, when you consume it, and why.

We humans eat and drink for myriad complicated reasons that don’t have anything to do with sustenance, so it’s up to us as individuals to gauge why we make the choices we do, and how to adjust those choices if they’re in need of change.

Untangling climate from weather also has implications for how we view the process of making changes to our diet or our level of fitness.

A “quick fix” crash diet can only lead to failure, because that one weather event, no matter its short-term effects, won’t make a dent in an overall climate of poor habits. And if it’s not sustainable, that means it’s probably detrimental over the long-term – and long-term improvement is what we are aiming for.

This isn’t simply a matter of physical health, either. We should also view our mental, emotional, and spiritual health in terms of climate rather than isolated weather events. It becomes much easier to forgive ourselves for actions that we regret when we can view them as wayward rain clouds momentarily ambling across an otherwise sunny sky.

When we cultivate a sunny-sky attitude towards our own personal health, we don’t let a chance of isolated thunderstorms discourage us from carrying out our work. If we are mindful enough, we can see the clouds approaching on the horizon and take appropriate action to mitigate their effects.

Most importantly, we don’t blame ourselves for failing to keep the rain at bay – we simply allow the clouds to pass, not dwelling on their potentially negative impact but soberly assessing the situation and moving on. This is how we become resilient in our personal health – it’s not always easy, but it is within our reach.