This might sound like an odd title, but I am becoming increasingly aware of how the health and wellbeing industry can cause obsession, denial and restriction. In a nutshell…an unhealthy obsession with health.
Something I’ve talked about a lot in previous posts is the balance between ‘mental health’ and ‘physical health’. If physical health is achieved at the cost of your mental health and in turn, a lack of balance, you are not at all physically healthy.
I’ve been there. Looking full of ‘health’ on the outside, fit and strong, but on the inside, wracked with guilt and fear and using both as a means of control.
I feel justified in discussing this topic. I am 46 years old, have been training consistently since I was a child, have tried and tested nearly every ‘food fad’ to hit the market in the last 35 years and experienced a major health trauma. I also wore leg warmers, shell suits and g-string leotards in the 80’s, so I am no stranger to suffering!!! 🙊
Replacing addiction with addiction is the first control tool ‘getting healthy’ can provide us with. Don’t get me wrong – an addiction to healthy eating and exercise is certainly a safer option than alcohol or drugs, but it’s the ‘addiction’ piece you need to be careful of. If breaking addictive behaviour is the goal, then it’s critical an addiction to healthy eating and exercise doesn’t become mentally corrosive.
I have seen this first hand with someone from my past. An alcoholic. A very bad alcoholic. A period ( and only a period!) of abstaining from alcohol was replaced with a meticulous obsession with starting an exercise programme and eating healthily, which invariably resulted in near on starvation. Once the weight started to come off and the muscles started showing, the new addiction became OCD with a vengeance. And the denial and restriction caused a similar level of aggression to the alcohol. Scary, controlling and obsessive. Anything but ‘healthy’.
Orthorexia, according to Wiki, is characterised by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food. The term was apparently penned by an American physician in 1997. He suggested that some people’s dietary restrictions, intended to promote health, may conversely lead to unhealthy consequences, including social isolation, anxiety, loss of ability to eat in a natural, intuitive manner and a reduced interest in the full range of other healthy human activities.
This is sadly becoming too common and is so detrimental to a persons wellbeing and everyone’s around them.
I do speak from experience, as much earlier in my life, I had my issues around an obsession with healthy eating. But my obsessions were replaced with reality through the sheer necessity of life. I was a full time working, single parent living in an enormous city trying to balance life. There wasn’t time for any preoccupations except survival!
Then came a brain tumour diagnosis …and with the resulting surgery, true survival. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there is nothing like critical illness to highlight the need for balance in your life. It made me realise how destructive any kind of obsession was. When you are faced with ‘life or death’, you suddenly understand how meaningless restriction and denial are to anyone’s existence … what a waste of life… and how precious life is. Perspective is so vital.
If food and exercise are all you can think about – you are not mentally healthy, no matter how good you look in the mirror, on Instagram, in the gym or on the beach. This is obsession and it is not healthy.
If you live in fear of going on a holiday, as you might gain weight from the food or lack of exercise, this is wrong. If you dread dinner invites to friends houses or to restaurants as you are afraid of what’s on the menu and spend 2 hours in the gym the next day to burn it off – this is not normal and not healthy either. If you do go to a restaurant and spend hours asking the waiter to deconstruct the dishes, to rid them of half of their contents – you are becoming socially dysfunctional, not to mention seriously bloody annoying!
It is not possible to live in this extreme cycle for the longterm without serious consequences. It’s likely to lead to a binge/purge pattern, or a very unhappy human who is masking much deeper issues through a control of their ‘health’.
The binge/purge cycle is very dangerous and I’ve seen this a lot with diet. To live in a continuous cycle of ‘punishment and denial’, is not only damaging – it’s impossible. As a consequence, it usually means someone binges and puts their body under dreadful pressure when they do so. But not only is the body under pressure – so is the mind. Much like all eating disorders – the guilt that comes with the binge causes that person to punish even more, post the episode…and each time their mental health and emotional wellbeing is destroyed a little more.
This is not the same as following a healthy lifestyle and benefitting greatly from it. One of the issues with the psychological issues that accompany someone who is ‘obsessive’, is that, often, only they know they have the issue and only they can help themselves. Only they will know why they need the control.
The health industry is not our greatest ally on this matter. Why? Because it is a multi-billion dollar industry that uses marketing and people’s weaknesses to sell products and concepts. Add social media to traditional press and you have a plethora of mediums to entice and entrap consumers. These days there seems to be a new fad, or new obsession every week!
As well as this, there is a human need for belonging and a kind of ‘commitment’ to a cause that drives some people to cover their insecurities with a cult like following of a practice.
I am such an advocate of ‘being healthy’. As you know, its given me the strength to fight many of my battles and come through them a winner.
However, I have learnt to be ‘light’ with my approach. I have a more relaxed attitude than I’ve ever had in my life and I think my mind and body are the healthiest they have ever been.
Don’t let a focus on health and wellbeing become an obsession that rules your life and mean you are missing out on all life has to offer.