"I know I should be motivated to eat healthy, but I am not, I can't seem to care enough to make it happen, I am so bad."
This is what a student said to me last week, as I was teaching a class for The Seattle Public Library on how to make weeknight meals healthy and balanced without spending much time in the kitchen and without breaking the bank.
This remark broke my heart. Not because this person can’t find enough motivation to care more about nourishing her body, but because she feels so ashamed of it.
It is not the first time I hear something along these lines. Yet, for some reason, it touched me more this time. This student was feeling so painfully guilty for her lack of commitment to a healthy lifestyle that I had to sit down and take the time to write about it in case some of you are feeling the same.
Because unfortunately, this type of guilt is very common.
I shouldn't eat ice-cream!
Often, I hear new clients say things like: "I should stop drinking wine, I should go to the gym, I shouldn't eat ice-cream, I should quit coffee, I should, I should, I should..."
And because they don't do it, they feel worthless, or at least, worth much less.
Part of my mission is to help them ditch the guilt and feel empowered to move towards healthier habits, but I believe that it is important to ask ourselves: since when has 'being healthy' become such a standard of quality? Since when has our society put so much value on wellness that anyone who is not fully committed to being fit or living a healthy lifestyle has to feel that they are "bad"?
You might wonder what got into me, since I am a Health and Wellness Coach and spend my days spreading the word about wellness and helping others establish healthier habits so that they can live a more fulfilling life, without being controlled by food, without Type 2 diabetes, and with a body that allows them to do what they want to do.
Yes, I personally want to be healthy. Wellness is very important to me. Yes, I want to support others in living a healthy lifestyle. But I want to state it loud and clear: not wanting to live a healthy lifestyle does not make someone any less worthy of love, respect, compassion, and admiration.
Eating chips, running a marathon, eating quinoa bowls, smoking cigarettes, watching tv, or going to the gym are all activities that don't change a person's worth!
I personally promote wellness because I want to provide solutions to people who are trying to live a healthier life and need support, accountability, or guidance. Because I want to make things easier for them, not because I believe that everyone should choose wellness as a rule of life. I provide strategies for weight loss because I want to provide tools for people who are trying to manage their weight, not because I believe that everyone should aspire to be skinnier.
Wellness and fitness can help improve our longevity, our ability to move well as we age, and often our quality of life. But not everyone is driven to living a 'healthy life' and I think it is key that we respect everyone's personal choices when it comes to wellness.
There are no right or wrong choices. There are only choices that contribute to certain goals and outcomes.
Would anyone have any kind of contempt for someone who practices white water rafting, high altitude climbing, or ultra-long distance running? Most likely not, right? And yet, these sports are known to be highly dangerous, can lead to life-threatening injuries, or to chronic issues when it comes to joints and tendons.
Many long-distance runners spend hours each week doing rehab and physical therapy to heal their injuries. Does society judge them for not being healthy? No we don't, and that's a good thing! By the same token, we should not judge the people whose lifestyle choices might lead to other types of chronic diseases and issues, as long as they are not putting anyone else in danger of course... This blog post is not about COVID.
I make unhealthy choices every day!
Even as a 'healthy person', we all make choices that are unhealthy. I don't know about you, but for me, it's most likely every day: going to bed too late, not wearing sunscreen, eating foods that I know will upset my stomach, not setting boundaries, drinking wine, and the list goes on and on...
The other day, the weather was smoky in Seattle. The air was of poor quality. Uncomfortably so. Recommendations were to stay indoors if possible. Yet, I decided to go on a bike ride. It was clearly an unhealthy choice. I still made that choice because I felt like it; I wanted to unplug after a long day at work, and I really wanted to see the sunset.
An acquaintance saw me from their car and told me "You are so dedicated, good for you!"
I wondered: dedicated to what? That was very kind of them to encourage me, but also very unfair to anyone who would have made the decision to smoke a cigarette from the comfort of their couch that night.
Riding my bike for 2 hours was probably the equivalent of smoking a bunch of cigarettes, but I know that the perception we have for people who workout often goes through a positive lens whereas anyone who is not exercising, or eating healthy, or looking skinny for that matter, is too often perceived as lazy.
As a society, we are in awe of someone who will wake up at 4 am to hit the gym despite being exhausted and stressed out. We will applaud their commitment and discipline. We will encourage them to keep at it. Chances are, we will have a very different reaction when someone cuts their sleep short to go party in a night club. Yet, are the results really that different when it comes to health?
Double standards hurt people
We use double standards all the time. It seems that any behavior that appears to be a 'healthy behavior' is admired and encouraged - even if it's actually not the case, like when we exercise instead of providing our body with the rest it needs, or when I ride my bike instead of staying home because air quality is so poor.
This is what I wanted to remind us all of, today.
Living a healthy lifestyle is a fantastic thing to experience, but not being committed to such a lifestyle is a choice that we should all respect --when it is even a choice at all.
Making unhealthy choices is not something we should ever feel guilty about. Unhealthy choices don't make us any less honorable and deserving of respect. Furthermore, feeling ashamed about them keeps us from acknowledging them matter-of-factly and often pushes us to find all kinds of excuses.
Let's embrace our choices, and if we wish to change them, let's focus on non-judgmental ways to do so.
I wish you a wonderful week, full of wellness if that's what you want, and completely guilt-free, no matter what you do!
And if you do want to improve your health but don't know where to start, feel free to apply for a Discovery Call and we can chat. Just click the button below and tell me a little more about your struggles and your goals. If it looks like I could provide you with support and guidance, we will hop on a 20-minute Zoom call at your earliest convenience.