There is no question that health, fitness, and anti-aging issues dominate our culture and have risen to a cult level of obsession for millions of people who have turned the simple task of feeding and taking care of themselves into a religious obsession.
As an example, consider the following.
“Health is the new religion.” – Phys.Org
“The cult of healthy eating has more in common with religion than science.” – Quartz
“The Consumerist Church of Fitness Classes” - The Atlantic
There is no argument that the appropriate attention should be given to one’s health for all the standard reasons, but where do we draw the line between a common-sense approach to a healthy functional life and longevity and an unhealthy narcissistic obsession?
On the one hand, we have the growing obesity acceptance movement, even though the health consequences are worse than smoking, drinking, or poverty. On the other hand, we have those who pursue physiques unattainable for most without cosmetic surgery, daily exercise regimes lasting hours in the gym, often requiring steroid use to obtain them, and an endless list of dos and don’ts dietary protocol.
Years ago, in my introductory college nutrition science course, I had an adult daughter and son of a family acquaintance whose mother was an extreme fitness fanatic; ruling the house with absurd lifestyle regimes and dietary dos and don’ts, most of which she picked up from your standard misguided media guru’s. She embraced the classic misinformation on the purported benefits of organic foods and held many chemophobia issues, such as diet drinks were the equivalent of drinking rat poison, superfoods, etc. Her zeal was so strong that towards the end of the course, and clearly experiencing some lifestyle challenges from her adult children as they became better informed, she could no longer contain her composure.
One afternoon, she came into the physical rehabilitation clinic where I worked and wanted to give me her two cents worth of what I should be teaching vs. what I was teaching. Now at this stage of my career, spotting someone misinformed but educatable versus hopelessly entrenched in stupid is relatively easy; any inclination to change entrenched stupid passed long ago, so I gave her a moment to vent, suggested she take the course to become better informed, and returned to patient care. There was no chance of success. Stupid came in, and stupid left.
Eleven sectors make up the wellness economy, anticipated to reach a value of $7 trillion by 2025. The largest sub-sector is healthy-labeled foods & beverages ($680 billion in 2020), followed by vitamins & supplements ($137 billion) and weight loss products & services ($128 billion).
With this much revenue at stake, it is clear why we are inundated, in every possible media format, with the myriad of lifestyle habits and products, all designed to presumably make us healthier and happier. However, I will argue that a contented life requires a balance, not extremes. I certainly need to exercise, which I do, and it is as intense as I can make it for my age. But I also must have the time and energy to maintain family relationships, work, household chores, hobbies, etc. I certainly agree with being very aware of what I eat. As sedentary as our culture has become, most of us do not require much caloric input to maintain our daily physical requirements. The current rates of obesity make it clear that this is a significant issue that needs to be addressed early in life.
However, things become a bit absurd to me when someone attempts to chime in on the purported negative aspects of the hot dog or homemade chocolate chip cookies I may be eating at the moment. Their fear always reflects typical misunderstandings they embrace.
- There is nothing in the hot dog or the chocolate chip cookie that my body does not know how to metabolize or excrete if need be. There is also nothing in either one which would have any long-term adverse health effects. Likely quite the opposite. There is the considerable palate and mental pleasure associated with eating, both of which certainly equates to a happier life.
- My body weight has been stable for decades so that the calories will have no negative impact.
- The lack of nutrients per the caloric content is a moot point. Due to the wise food choices I make most of the time, there are mechanisms that support my necessary nutrient-specific physiological functions, as I explained here. Nutrient density is irrelevant to me; the pleasure density is.
- Being so narcissistic as to physical appearance is your problem, not mine. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror with your birthday suit on, get a smaller mirror or get over it.
- If you think your lifestyle will prevent aging, your degree of stupid is untenable, or you have not tried sprinting lately.