As an advocate for nutrition and health, I spend a lot of time reading and researching how to care for these bodies we occupy on this earth-bound leg of our journey. And as a steward of all God gives me, I believe I can best love and serve God and others when my health is more asset than liability.
But, health maintenance can become an unhealthy obsession.
You Can’t Control Your Health
I can make many choices which affect my fitness – for good or for ill, but I do not have 100% control over the state of my health. This was brought home for me in dramatic fashion when an arterial venous malformation (a tangle of veins present at birth) burst in my brain many years ago. My prognosis was grim, and many in the same shoes have suffered permanent damage and disability. One of the main take-aways from that experience was an appreciation for the sovereignty of God (and my lack of control) over my well-being.
Yes, statistically the top four causes of death in America are between 60% and 90% preventable, but that 10% – 40% is still out of our control. Peace with that fact may be as important as our decisions regarding the 60% – 90%.
I lock my car when unattended. It’s a simple and effective deterrent to theft. But, locked cars are broken into and/or stolen every day. I know this is a risk involved with car ownership. I do what I can – but I won’t spend my time, money, or emotional energy trying to ensure the absolute safety of my vehicle.
I put more effort into my health than my car, but with the same understanding. Life is risky.
Obsession Isn’t Good for Health
Wise lifestyle choices, especially difficult ones, can lead to a feeling of entitlement. We start to believe we are owed perfect health all the time. Health obsession is not far behind.
Chris Traeger from Parks and Rec is a humorous example of how a fixation on health can become unhealthy. His extreme goals of living to be 150, running to the moon, and having 0% body fat are amusing, but cause anxiety, interfere in relationships, and reduce his overall quality of life (discoveries he makes over the course of the show, for those who don’t watch).
Of course, Chris Traeger is an exaggeration, but I believe the point is true.
Sometimes I eat too much sugar. Occasionally I eat fast food. I even drink soda a few times a year. I really struggle to get enough exercise, but I am not stressed out about it. I keep trying and I am at a healthy weight, I try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and I take several supplements to help shore up my diet.
Balance is important to me.
Information Works for Me. Not the Other Way Around.
We live in a wonderful age of information. But there is a dark side. Every piece of knowledge feels like an imperative. It is not. Our lives are not some cosmic exam where we must get at least 60% of the answers correct to pass. And competition is imaginary. The people who are getting A’s and B’s are not happier and more successful than the C’s and D’s . . . if grades were even a thing.
Anxiety and panic are on the rise – coinciding with the avalanche of data. The internet seems to breed overbearing lectures, predictions of doom, and outraged judgments.
Again, information is great, but it is not the boss of me. Jumping on and off bandwagons and zigging and zagging with every nutritional fad is exhausting. I just don’t participate. For much of my adult life I did not have the time, energy, or desire to research and fact check every scrap of news. And you know what? I am not going to waste any energy fretting over advice not taken or guidelines not followed.
Years ago, someone told me low-fat milk was unhealthy because it contained more sugar than whole milk. I was skeptical and way too busy to look into the claim. I continued drinking low-fat milk. When I began my blogging research I came across the fact that powdered milk and other unhealthy ingredients are added to low-fat and non-fat milks to make them more palatable. Am I going to develop disease because of all the low-fat milk I drank? Maybe, but considering the whole of my nutritional choices, I don’t think it will have much impact.
As it turns out, I have decided that my cholesterol levels are more significant to me than the additives, so I still drink low-fat milk! I acknowledge I may be wrong. But I’ve considered the information and made my choice, which is the purpose of information.
Over the years I have swapped out some household food and cleaning staples for others I believe to be healthier. But I don’t fret about having been exposed to less healthy items previously, or what other bad stuff I might be unwittingly using. I do the best I can for my family’s health, but we live in a toxic world inundated by fake food. The goal of preventing all contamination is unrealistic and – ultimately – our lives and health are in God’s hands.
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psa 139:16
Worry and Stress Are Unhealthy
Stress does more damage to our health and quality of life than most of the things we get stressed about. Obviously, I’m not talking about extreme life and death traumas – that is an entirely separate topic. But, out of control worry causes all kinds of illness from simple aches and pains to frequent colds, infections, and rashes, to serious gastrointestinal problems and increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer.
All this to say, once again, can we just chill out about our health and nutrition decisions? Sure, health is important to our quality of life. And it makes sense for reasonable grown-ups to consider sound scientific research as they make choices for themselves and their families. But let’s give everyone a collective break from the stress-filled messages of death and disease if we follow the “wrong” data interpreter.
One of the frustrating assumptions about some nutrition-related headlines is that everyone hearing the news has the same opportunity to make the suggested choices. Economics, availability, and sometimes even social structures prevent many people, even here in the United States, from taking advantage of known health and nutrition guidelines.
No-one needs to be accused of bad parenting because they can’t provide adequate produce for their children, when they are doing their best to simply feed their kids.
It’s great to give people sound advice and facts they need to make informed choices, but with the grace and understanding that some people just don’t care and other people are really unable to take advantage of the information, for whatever reason. And it’s okay. We are all doing the best we can.
Let’s give information with compassion. Let’s receive information with leniency.