If there’s one thing
that makes me a total nerd, I love, it’s words.
But lately I’ve been picking up on things that I say and write and I had a bit of an “I really need to address this” kind of realization this weekend.
In specific, I had a double dose of barbecues and a date with friends for a beer planned after a bike ride. Sounds like a good day, right?
My thoughts: “Well you can get away with a drink or two since you’ll be biking for a few hours this morning.”
I know I’m not the only one guilty of this—I see it all the time:
- Olympic athletes being able to “get away” with eating less than perfectly since they burn so many calories
- Young people saying they can “get away” with things like binge drinking, eating crap, and not exercising
- Articles about how you can “afford” to let loose if you’re an active person
- During my recovery from my eating disorder, being told I could “get away” with having extra treats given my circumstances
I wish someone would ask these people – and I wish I’d asked myself sooner – what are you getting away with? If you have to get away with it, should you be doing it? If you really want to do it, should you be making it into something you have to get away with?
I’m reading The Six Pillars of Self Esteem and funny enough (I’m starting to think coincidences don’t actually exist), something came up in the book that really relates to all of this. In the section on integrity, Branden discusses how little issues with integrity and the small choices we make are the ones that accumulate to really affect us. In short, when we act in a way that’s different then our values, we are damaging our self esteem and acting in contradiction to ourselves. That’s not good! We might say that “getting away” with stuff makes us feel badass (I got away with skipping school today! I’m so badass!), but I think we all know how we really feel when we go against what we know is right—bad (I got away with listening to my heart and did something I know is bad for me! Ew! OR I did what I really want to but I’m supposed to feel bad for it! I’m a bad person!).
All of this comes back to a thought that changed my life (big deal, I know!): you only go to bed with you. I have a yoga teacher friend who likes to tell us that you better start liking yourself because you’re always going to be with you. You can’t argue with that. When I heard this, I was just realizing how I really am in charge of how I operate in this world. I am the one who I have to answer to–not my parents, not my friends, not a doctor or a nutritionist or a dietitian or shrink–ME!
So if the goal is to be healthy, why do we use this kind of language?
I think it’s because we have a skewed idea of what health is, plain and simple. We’re confused about what it takes to be healthy and while it might not be entirely our fault, that’s not an excuse. News flash: being skinny isn’t being healthy–contrary to what the cover of most health magazines or newspaper headlines regarding health might suggest.
Not being sick, fat, or hurt doesn’t mean that you’re not doing harm to your body. In other words, if you put a bunch of chemicals in it (binge drink), load it up with crappy food (eat poorly because you think you can “afford” it as a big exerciser or an endurance athlete), neglect it (skip things like flexibility or mobility work because you have somehow evaded injury thus far)—you’re still doing bad things to your body and to yourself. The focus needs to be on the behavior and whether it in itself is actually beneficial—not on the outcome. In short, when you do something, we should be able to answer with confidence that it’s helping us achieve our goals and our values–or be prepared to pay the price of going against our own heart/will/intelligence (lowered self esteem, the actual detrimental effects of what it is we’re doing, etc.).
The biggest application of this to myself is in terms of health, so just to be clear on what I’m thinking: Health is simply the outcome of doing the healthy things that we all know are good for us – sleeping, eating good food, moving, drinking plenty of water, resting, loving — and it’s the way we’re supposed to be (health is your birthright, your natural state, and where your body wants to be). Where I think people get mixed up is forgetting that health is the natural state we want to be in OR thinking of a picture of healthy and then aiming for that instead of exploring what is actually healthy, doing those things, and letting the outcome (Health! Imagine that!) happen. In short, you can’t take a picture of health and then hammer yourself into it. For example: Thinking that people with a six pack and clear skin are healthy and then going on a crash diet and taking acne medication to get there would be this kind of end-focused, misguided approach. Personally, this matters: I got a lot of comments about how “healthy” and great I looked when I first lost weight during my dances with my eating disorder. Sure—I might have been healthy by the looks of things, but healthy can’t be judged by the looks of things. My behaviours were far from health-promoting and that’s where the real issue is (unless it’s in the fact that most people equate weight loss with health, but that health is more than weight is one of the points of my blog, in case you missed it).
What this all means to me: go eat your ice cream and be done with it. Don’t justify it, but shift the way you think about it (could eating ice cream every once in a while be part of your definition of health?). The minute you say “I can get away with this,” you contribute to that skewed idea about what it is to be healthy. Own your decision to do whatever it is you’re doing. Think about your definition of healthy. If you base your idea of health and wellness on deprivation, you’re going to be more tempted to try to “get away” with things—we want what we can’t have. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens if people based health on the positives instead of on all the things they’re trying to avoid? Or if more people started exercising because it’s good for us, not because it helps us avoid weight gain? If we ate more vegetables because they were healthy, not because they prevent ___________ (insert disease/condition of choice here)?I’m working on a definition of health that makes doing the things I used to think I was “getting away” with less appealing–and it’s working. Why would I want to go out and do things that bring me down when I actually care about myself and want to take care of myself? Alternatively, why would I pretend like I think something I’m doing is bad just because people think it’s bad, justify it to please them, and belittle my own intelligence and self esteem in the process? If you want to do something, do it. No apologies, no regrets.
This is a bigger issue than a blog post can take on, but I thought it was worth at least putting out there. Like I said before, the first step is to notice this kind of talk in yourself. Sure, if it’s a societal thing and people are focused on this notion of health as just not being sick or not being fat, that’s a problem that’s going to take a lot of work to change. But throwing up your hands and saying “that’s the way it is” and going on contributing to it if you’re aware isn’t helping anyone, least of all yourself.
If you got sick of reading and now here you are hoping for some cheesy quote, here’s the summary: If your goal is healthy, you don’t “get away” with things that are unhealthy.