Is There Really Such a Thing as "Too" Healthy?

Healthy is used to describe so many things. “I’m trying to be healthier”, “that salad is super healthy”, “how do you stay so healthy?”, “I run to stay healthy” all commonly used phrases for the adjective. I think we all have a general understanding of what healthy means; doing something that is perceived beneficial for your physical, mental, or emotional well-being. Can we agree? When we hear the word healthy, we think of something that is good for us, something that will better us in some way. Even though this includes spiritual and mental health, more than not, when we talk about “being healthy” it’s usually being used in reference to physical health. Not only have we confined the word to mere physical health, I’m afraid a lot of us have gotten to a place in our pursuit of healthy that is actually very, very unhealthy.

Unfortunately, since it is such a vague and broadly used term, it’s thrown at the front of just about any food, exercise, weight loss plan, diet, ext. that someone is promoting or selling in the nutrition and fitness industries. We as consumers and honestly, just people living in this 21st century, whether particularly interested in health or not—hear these messages and ultimately, take some in along the way. Consciously and subconsciously.

Messages about a number of times we need to work out, foods that cause cancer, food groups to avoid, food groups you need to include, certain exercises that will burn fat--- the list could go on and on. Basically, all with the same conclusion that because it is healthy, it is better for you than what you are currently doing. Such an appealing argument because we all want to be healthier, but we HAVE TO start being better informed and more aware consumers when it comes to our personal health journey.

Not everything that is considered healthy is healthy for you and by being hyper-focused on being perfectly healthy can lead you down a very unhealthy path.

I say this and have a strong urgency to bring light to this issue because I see it all the time!! By highly influential health and fitness celebrities, my friends, and my own healthy journey has been heavily marked by this as well. This obsessive focus on being exceptionally healthy.

It’s a fine line and rarely noticed or seen as an issue, but can be crossed so easily. How could eating clean and sticking to an exercise routine be unhealthy? Aren’t those good things? Shouldn’t you, as a future dietitian, want people to be healthy Kait? Of course, I do! But when I see girls spending 2 hours on the elliptical or deathly afraid of consuming refined sugar or unable to eating out with friends unless they can check the nutrition info page from the restaurant’s website in the name of “health”—THAT is no longer healthy!! No, I do not condone that.

If your pursuit of health takes you farther away from your pursuit of a full, purposeful life then it is no longer a healthy pursuit.

The scariest part for me is how acceptable our obsession with health and fitness is. When a friend tells us they ran 5 miles this morning or have eaten super clean the past week, or lost 10 pounds we give them praise. However, if that same friend said they laid in bed a little longer this morning, had a really satisfying dinner with friends last night, or looks generally the same as the last time you saw them- no praise or recognition at all. Further, implying that because you are pursuing health you are considered more worthy. So why wouldn’t we choose to pursue healthy? You see how this can be misconstrued? Pursing health for the sake of acceptance and worthiness cannot be your goal for health. Because when that’s the motivation- there will always be another 5 pounds to lose, more superfoods to include, and more “bad” foods to exclude. If pursued too long and persistently, can eventually leave you underweight, eating nothing 15 “safe” organic foods and terrified of missing a workout. Doesn’t sound like a very happy or healthy life does it? Praise and acceptance from others is addictive, yet so fleeting. External validation will always leave you empty and craving more.

Instead of looking externally for joy and acceptance, dare yourself to look inward and upward.

To our souls and to the Creator of our souls. If our focus is on satisfying the needs of those, I have a feeling our healthy values and practices will look drastically different. Your “why” of becoming healthier will change. For example, wanting to eat better for the sake of having more energy to help out with the youth ministry at your church, is a much better “why” then being able to hashtag #cleaneating on your Instagram bio ya know?

I say all this to really challenge you to think about your reason for pursuing health. Is it for praise and acceptance or because you want to live a longer, better life and be a good steward of the body God has given you? Asking myself those questions has completely changed my life and if this obsession with health resonates with you, I really think it could change yours too.

I used to choose the gym over going out with friends and eating a “safe” meal before I went to lunch with my family, so I didn’t accidently blow my calorie-goal for that day. I missed out on a lot in high-school and college in the pursuit of being the fit girl and I sacrificed deep connections with others and memories I will never get back. All for what? Being 5 pounds lighter or having abs? Things that mean nothing really in the big picture of our eternity. Getting out of that mindset once you’re in it, although possible to do, is so hard to get out of. So I write this really as a word of caution out of compassion for fellow people-pleasing, perfectionists like myself. To challenge your “why” for health and to take a step back when you feel the urge to fall into the next “healthiest” trend. Does it align with your values and beliefs?

If obsession with health and exercise is something you struggle with, your health routine is something you feel like you can’t go a day without missing, or you don’t really know your identity apart from the healthy guy/girl- I ask that you please consider reaching out for help. Either to a family member, mentor, counselor, even online. If you think that could be you, I have a wonderful online resources for what an unhealthy obsession with health might look like at the end of this article!

If nothing else, I am always just an email, direct message, or a comment away if you have questions. Hope this resonated with someone today. Peace and love peeps!

Helpful resources:

https://www.thereallife-rd.com/2014/09/healthy-eating-is-unhealthy/

https://greatist.com/health/orthorexia-when-healthy-eating-turns-obsessive

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia