Taking take of your body through what you eat and drink and how you exercise is important. But sometimes, caring about your health can veer into an obsession. How do you know if you are too concerned about your health? Could your obsession with your health actually be harming you?
Nutrition and Exercise Are Important
To be clear, leading a healthy lifestyle can have a beneficial impact on your well-being. For example, the food choices that you make affect your health and how you feel on a daily basis. According to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, when good nutrition is “combined with physical activity, your diet can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote your overall health.”
By the same token, unhealthy eating habits contribute to obesity and major health risks, such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, certain types of cancer, and even death.
So being active and being conscious about the food you put in your body is important. But can you become too obsessed with your diet and exercise regimens? Absolutely, and these obsessions can cause damage in their own ways.
Worrying Too Much About Your Diet
Abby Langer, a registered dietician, wants people to stop obsessing over eating a “clean” diet. Instead of constantly obsessing over every bite you eat – wondering if it’s healthy, if it’s clean, if it’s locally sourced, if it’s loaded with antioxidants and vitamins and minerals – she encourages people to engage in what she calls a “healthy-ish” diet. In Self Magazine, she says, “Healthy-ish is around a 7 or 8 out of 10 on a healthy-eating scale. In an ideal world, that would be people’s status quo: eating well most of the time – then some of the time, eating those less-than-healthy foods you need to stay sane.”
Why? Because obsession with clean eating and nutritious eating can lead to eating disorders. 30 million people (of all ages and genders) in America suffer from eating disorders, and “every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.”
As Langer says, “Being healthy-ish isn’t just about treating yourself to a brownie – it’s knowing that if you eat a brownie one day, nothing bad is going to happen to you.”
Worrying Too Much About Exercise
Just like caring about diet can turn from a good thing into a harmful obsession, so too can caring too much about exercise.
Getting regular exercise as part of your routine, or because you enjoy it, is a great thing. But do you regularly work out when you’re sick or injured? Do you cancel social events just to fit in more gym time? Do you punish yourself for overeating by obsessively exercising afterwards? If so, then you may be engaging in over-exercising, and it’s a compulsive behavior that is not healthy.
Ilene Fishman, a founding member of the National Eating Disorders Association, cautions that while behaviors like this may seem to be healthy and disciplined, there’s actually “a lot of pathology hiding under those behaviors.”
Compulsive exercising can be a symptom of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating, but it can also be a stand-alone problem. Among other things, over-exercising can cause and worsen injuries.
Everything in Moderation
When it comes to nutrition and exercise, practice everything in moderation. Eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but let yourself indulge in a brownie. Take your vitamins and supplements, but don’t sweat it if you also have a greasy burger one evening. Get your heart rate going a little bit each day, but don’t push yourself to exercise through injury or sickness (and definitely don’t cancel plans with friends just to get in a little more time on the treadmill).
How do you stay healthy and fit without making it into an obsession?