Feeling Guilty About Being Healthy

5

June 2, 2013 by mybattlebuddyfitness

guilty
 

I love living in this country.  It is the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Women, minorities, disadvantaged, disabled individuals here live better than in a majority of countries around the world.  We have rights protected by the constitution and upheld by our sacred institutions.  Every day people are opening their minds and hearts to lifestyles that even mere decades ago were deemed ‘unacceptable’.  And I am proud to live in such a society.

 

And yet, in a country where we try to make just about everything ok, where we validate all sorts of lifestyles and choices, there is an odd feeling I get when I talk to people about getting and staying healthy.  Now, by healthy, I’m not talking about extremes (though we will come back to this later).  I mean working out, staying active, not eating processed foods or foods that are high in fats, sugars, and salts.  Basically, I am looking out for number one, treating this body as the temple it is designed to be and the only one I am going to have while I walk the Earth.  But when you tell people you workout for a couple of hours a day, you are labeled a fanatic.  And when you won’t eat processed foods, you are a ‘health nut’.  And I find this disconcerting.

 

If you haven’t ready Elisabeth’s post on her journey for the Emerald Cup, at least go back and read her last post, her lessons learned.  The thing I found most fascinating about it was people telling her how unhealthy she was being.  Now, I am not going to defend figure competitors as a lifestyle choice, I feel that is another debate for another blog.  But think about this: for 12 weeks, 3 of which I would deem as extreme, she was extremely thoughtful about what she put into her system.  She took in precise amounts of fats, carbs, and proteins, and doubled up on workouts to achieve a certain outcome.  And it was for ONLY 12 weeks.  That’s all.  Did you see those pictures?  She looked amazing, and she did it all in a very controlled, very deliberate fashion.

 

But a lot of people, some of my friends, some of her friends and family, thought it was ridiculous, it was unhealthy.  She was in the best shape of her life and it was UNHEALTHY.  And yet, when she was overweight, no one stopped her.  No one said hey, maybe you shouldn’t eat that or hey, maybe you should exercise a bit.  They just let it go and let her continue to do things that could have eventually led to heart disease and diabetes if left unchecked.

 

Extremes of any sort are bad.  And you can be too thin and you can do things to achieve a certain weight that are unhealthy.  I totally see that.  But when I think about society as a whole, we don’t bat an eye when we hear about folks eating out at fast food joints on a daily basis, or when we read studies that say the majority of Americans don’t exercise as much as they should (or we do feel upset about it in the moment but then we move onto the next news cycle and largely forget about it).  We don’t generally directly talk to someone when they are overweight.  I have never confronted a friend directly and said to them that I am worried about their weight nor asked what I can do to help.  When approached I am more than happy to help, but I would never call it out.  It seems . . . rude or indecent on some level.  Maybe they are trying or maybe they don’t care or any number of other reasons, it is the way it is.  I just consider it something they have to deal with and will talk to me when they are ready.

 

But when I flip the coin, I notice that people are pretty quick to talk about the person they think is too healthy, or the person that is in the gym too much, or the person that does too many sporting events (like marathons, triathlons, etc).  It isn’t always negative per se, it is just labeled in a way that I feel passes judgment.  Even some of my closest friends probably think I am now ‘extreme’ because I like to exercise so much or because I won’t eat certain things.  I actually try to hide the behavior so people don’t know about it, and I downplay weight loss or clothes fitting better.  I feel badly when I say I won’t eat in certain places because they don’t serve food I will eat.   Maybe it is because it forces us to turn the mirror upon ourselves and examine the choices we make in our lives.  And I self-sensor talking about exercise . . . and maybe I shouldn’t care, but when I sometimes get those looks (and I cannot put my finger on what those looks are trying to tell me), I decide it is just best not to talk about it at all.

 

This has been a hard blog post to write, mostly because I don’t think I have gotten to any sort of conclusion.  Maybe it isn’t a topic that can reach a conclusion.  Maybe it is something we all need to think about and reflect upon.  But I have been thinking about this ever since Elisabeth’s competition.  Since practically everyone I know told me that she looked too thin, that what she was doing wasn’t healthy, and that they hoped I would never encourage her to do anything like that again.  What is the right answer?  Or is there a right answer?

 
Written by Elisabeth Meany
 

I find it so fascinating that people are more than willing to reach out and tell someone that they think they are “too skinny” or work out “too much,” but we are all totally closed mouthed when it comes to telling our friends or loved ones that we are worried they are too large or unhealthy. I am constantly surprised by how quick people are to judge me for my lifestyle. I’ve heard that I’m extreme, obsessed, too hardcore, and over-the-top. None of these are true. On the flip side, when I was fat, I never once heard the words that I NEEDED to hear and the words that were most certainly true…No one ever told me that I was overweight, making excuses, and totally unhealthy.

 

I’m sure you’ve all been there before. You’re out with your friends and everyone in the group wants to hit up a Mexican joint for dinner—chips and salsa, margaritas, the works. Then your “fit friend” boldly pipes up and says that she would really appreciate going somewhere she can get a big salad. Rather than everyone looking at one another and agreeing that a salad is really a better choice for EVERYONE, a few people exchange side-glances with one another and then try and convince the fit friend why she needs to stuff her face with processed junk and sodium. Let me tell you people, I’ve been that “fit friend” in various similar scenarios. The side-glances didn’t go unnoticed, and the comments about how I don’t need to worry about it because “I’m not fat,” were equally unhelpful. If you don’t hear me complaining to you about the way you eat, what gives you carte blanche to give me your opinion on the way I eat? I don’t think it’s fair.

 

Admittedly, I am just like Melissa in that I wait until someone reaches out to me for help before I go preaching about my lifestyle to them—and maybe this isn’t a good thing. Maybe I should be more proactive…I have often thought about approaching total strangers in the grocery store and simply handing them my business card and telling them, “I’m here when you’re ready.” But I’ve never done it. I always convince myself that it’s not my place. I never want to make someone feel bad or ashamed for being overweight, I only want to help them change, and ultimately, I have convinced myself (possibly erroneously) that this is not the best way to go about helping people. But maybe I’m wrong. If I don’t reach out to them, maybe no one ever will. And maybe they’re just waiting for someone to give them the nudge they need in the right direction.

 

My conclusion is this: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE RIGHT ANSWER IS ON THIS ONE. I do, however, know that I refuse to feel badly for treating my body with the respect it deserves. I know that every time I skip the chips or pass on dessert, I am doing myself a favor. Every time I go for an extra run or squeeze in an afternoon weights session, I am improving my life. Keep the side-glances coming…Just don’t be surprised if I speak up with my own opinions on what you’re doing.

 

5 thoughts on “Feeling Guilty About Being Healthy

  1. Brook says:

    The look thats indescribable from people. I get that, they thinking ‘bitch please just be like the rest of us’ cause they know if you break they have won. If that makes sense?

  2. Leslie Beauchamp says:

    Here I am with answers! Just kidding, but this seems all a matter of perspective and perception. The problem is that the perception is still based more on what you look like vs. what you are doing. Elisabeth heard this loud and clear in the criticism she took, but it’s the same issue at both ends.

    I’ve always had to watch what I eat and my body shows me right away if I’m not exercising enough. However, I had this wonderful few months when I was extremely hyperthyroid. I felt like my dad and my husband all of a sudden; I could eat whatever I wanted and I was still losing weight. I couldn’t possibly exercise; my resting heart rate was 188 and my pulse tickled my ankles as I could feel it course through my veins while sitting. I thought I had a parasite and was fine with that. I couldn’t remember things and my brain wasn’t working well. Even with the “side effects” I wanted to stay like that. I LOVED IT! It was so freeing. Yet, it was absolutely the least healthy I have ever been. Because I was losing weight and people were saying, “Oooh, you look great” I let myself eat and drink anything I wanted. Then I was diagnosed as being hyperthyroid, was put on medication and was gaining weight even while dieting and exercising. I was pissed. Though this is an extreme and is medication-related, the experience helped open my eyes to how often our actions and our current body shape don’t match. It also showed me how often people’s perception of health is based on how we look instead of our actions.

    I think we’ve all been conditioned to think that if you are active for about 30-60 minutes a day and eat between 1200-1800 calories a day (depending on gender, activity level, etc.), then you are “fairly healthy.” But other people’s judgement depends on what your body looks like and how much your choices affect mine.

    For those who are are not watching their calories or exercising AND are very overweight, they will be considered “unhealthy.” Those who are exercising more than 60 minutes a day, watching their calories and “macros” and are underweight might also be considered “unhealthy.” For those who are paying attention, exercising and within range of the USA’s perceived ideal bmi, you’ll be considered healthy. That is a SMALL group that you both happen to be members of!

    Then there is another group of folks out there are acting healthy but don’t look it and those who look healthy but don’t act healthy. You are working with some who are overweight, eating carefully, and exercising. There is a teacher at work who is probably about 250 who works out every day for 90 minutes and eats well (at least at school). If she has lost weight, I can’t even tell. She’s “healthier” than I am and probably still more likely to drop dead. There are also the ones like my husband who are thin without being active, while drinking, smoking, and eating chicharrón, candy, and steak. Nobody is going to come give him a card to see if he needs a trainer, but he is probably also more likely than me to get sick or drop dead.

    Anyone putting in extra effort to be fat or thin would be “extreme.” If you are curtailing the nation’s most fundamental belief in personal freedom to “do whatever you want” you are an extremist and people will judge you for it. If your actions are curtailing my rights to “do whatever I want,” people will judge you for it. This happens based on your actions not based on how big you are. However, size does matter. If you were fatter than the people you are talking to and wanted to go to a healthy restaurant, there is a good chance people would understand. If you’re not, you’ll be judged an extremist. If you were thinner than the people you were talking to, and wanted to go for ice cream, people would be lenient. If you’re the fat one and wanted to go for ice cream, damn straight your friends would judge you. This is a two-sided coin.

    The conversation about people being concerned about your health doesn’t happen based on your actions…those conversations are based on how you look. I’d guess that anyone with a bmi between 16-30 would be seen as fine for most people. When you get beyond that, children under 8, drunks, and the senile might comment. Others still won’t… too fat or too thin unless they think you’ve lost control and aren’t thinking clearly anymore.

    I think it is just as difficult for people to go to someone who is too thin. Elisabeth, you received criticism because you put yourself out there. It’s your industry. You write a blog. It was part of a temporary goal. You said it was a little crazy to not be able to eat a carrot. It was a competition where you were judged. You gave everyone permission to judge you whether you meant to or not. It’s not usually that easy to say something to someone. I know that the two people in my life who have had eating/exercise disorders, nobody would talk to about the concerns. Friends and coworkers would talk with everyone else and then MAYBE figure out if someone will approach them. For one of them, I was “elected” at work because I was the supervisor. Her husband thanked me because he couldn’t even approach his wife about it. She thanked me because she knew it had become a problem but couldn’t help herself at that point. For those of us who knew her, we knew her brain wasn’t working either. She hadn’t menstruated in years and wanted to get pregnant. She is a trainer. She was around people concerned with their health all of the time. It went on way too long before someone went to her.

    In this country, it is taboo (on either end) to intervene when it comes to weight (and most mental health concerns as well). We pretty much have to have talked with everyone you know and all agree that you are out of control for someone to say something. We have to believe that your teeth are about to fall out, your heart is about to stop, or that your next bite will cause you to not be able to get out of your bedroom to go the bathroom.

    The good news is that people who are wanting get healthy already know they want to change. They just don’t know how. Be friendly and open and you’ll get a good base going. Part of coaching is asking the right reflective questions so that you don’t have to be the judge! They will reflect on their own and probably arrive at the conclusion you also had.

    Yikes! That was longer than expected.

  3. Some good comments thus far, which is definitely what I (Melissa) was hoping for. Leslie, it is interesting that you went directly to looks and overweight. I don’t think I actually wrote about looking fat (though I think I did say looking too thin). Appearances are the worst thing to judge by (though in fairness we do it all the time, I certainly know that I am guilty of it from time to time). Weight and appearances are tough, I am probably at my healthiest, and I still have a tummy and some thighs, and I only recently came in at ‘normal’ weight from a BMI standpoint at 24 (BTW – hate BMI, not a good measure). I really do think of it as healthy or not healthy. You talked about Fitz, who is a skinny ‘fat’ person – he makes horrible decisions when it comes to food and drink, and he never works out. He’s for sure unhealthy. And for sure, looking at my mother, who eats less than 1000 calories a day (I would say she averages out at 800), who is a size 0 at best, is also at an unhealthy weight.

    It is about taking care of yourself, about being thoughtful about what you eat and how active you are. And it is talking to people, honestly, when they are on the extremes of the spectrum. It is also about extreme for a person. Given where I am at right now, a couple hours of working out is not extreme . . . FOR ME. It might not be for other folks. If I were anorexic right now or if I were having health issues, then yes, probably extreme. But my body is happy. And it is not feeling bad when you do take care of yourself. I’m actually lucky – I’m not Elisabeth or some of the other trainers I know, I don’t look ‘thin’ – I look average. Which means when I suggest going somewhere healthy for food, people get it. I am also vegan / vegetarian (most of the time) which also gets me a pass. People are willing to accept weird food and restaurant suggestions when people have dietary restrictions, much more so than for people who just want to be healthy.

    More thoughts?

    • Leslie Beauchamp says:

      Agreed, but I didn’t think I went directly to looks. I think we are on the same page. I think health has very little to do with how you look. However, I think those judgmental glances and the decision of when to intervene IS influenced by how one looks more than how healthy one might be overall.

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