When your ‘healthy lifestyle’ becomes a disorder.

When I first started to be vocal about my disordered eating, I kept hearing one common phrase from those around me: “I had no idea! I just thought you were being healthy.”

To which I would reply: “It’s easy to disguise disordered eating when it’s become standard to mask a binge as a ‘cheat meal,’ orthorexia as a ‘lifestyle,’ and exercise addiction as ‘beast mode.’”

The people who were with me the most had no idea that with each meal or workout I was inching further and further down the black hole of disorder, obsession, and self-hatred.

How would they, though? According to the standards of the health and fitness industry, I was doing everything “right.”

I was eating “clean” meals, exercising regularly, and losing weight. All three of these actions have now become the yardstick for health and fitness.

And those of us who have disordered eating will stand by those concepts no matter how miserable they are making us mentally (and perhaps physically), all the while insisting: It’s a lifestyle!

What happens when your motivating factor to move is the fact that you cannot stand what you see looking back at you in the mirror, and every morning you are filled with disgust and shame about your size and shape?

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This was the phrase that masked my disorder for years. It wasn’t just a smokescreen; I fully believed it.

I thought that a “healthy lifestyle” entailed binging (cheat meals), the constant quest for leanness (perfection), and beating myself up in the gym until I reached pure exhaustion (exercise addiction).

After all, that is what we so commonly see with the hashtags #beastmode, #cheatmeal, and similar social media catchphrases.

At their most benign, they’re self-righteous and a little ridiculous.

But what happens when the “lifestyle” they stand for becomes severely unhealthy?

What happens when that meal plan/macro breakdown/whatever other scientific equation is being used by the cool kids these days has so many impossible rules that you end up feeling monumentally shitty about yourself if you mess up?

These celebs appear to be the picture of health and fitness. (Post continues after gallery).


<h2 style=”text-align: center;”>5. Change it up.</h2>
Just do something fun. If you tend to take your workouts really seriously and they’ve been providing little joy for you recent, then maybe it’s time to just have a little fun with your session.

What happens when your motivating factor to move is the fact that you cannot stand what you see looking back at you in the mirror, and every morning you are filled with disgust and shame about your size and shape?

Or when that movement is based off of either allowing yourself to eat or trying to undo the previous night, when you were so hungry that you ended up face-planting in the peanut butter jar, before remembering your secret stash of cookies that you hid from yourself (the cookies are gone now, but the aftertaste of guilt still lingers)?

What about the injuries, fatigue, and metabolic issues caused by exercising way past the moment your body starts screaming, STOP?

You never stop, though. As soon as you attempt to rest, you see that damn meme flash through your memory, taunting: “Your body isn’t quitting, but your mind.” Telling you it’s totally cool if you break a bone, bleed, or can’t walk.

Since when did physical pain, severe restriction, disordered behaviors, and lack of respect for one’s whole self become normal — even glorified and celebrated?

Or maybe a better question is, WHY is this “OK”?!

As an individual who has worn many hats in the health and fitness industry, from being a nurse for years, a personal trainer, a fitness model, a bikini competitor, and now a body image coach, I have seen the havoc this mentality is wreaking on the general public.

And as an individual who has also overcome orthorexia, disordered eating, and severe body image issues — I have experienced and lived it firsthand.

I lived in the moments in which I would laugh and chalk my very real binges up to a “cheat day.” Which, of course, would be followed up with all sorts of disordered behaviors such as severe restriction, excessive exercising, or straight-up not eating.

All part of this “healthy lifestyle.”

The irony isn’t lost on me: Back at those moments when I tried to defend my lifestyle as healthy, I was actually the unhealthiest I had ever been — mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I may have looked like an ideal of health, with my Tupperware food and regimented training sessions, but on closer examination… I was far from it.

How is “healthy” having your hair fall out or your periods stop? How is bouncing between extremes of binging and restriction “healthy”? How is it “healthy” to be working out an injured body?

And let’s not even get into the mental and emotional anguish that occurred on a regular basis, wrapped up with a nice little bow of anxiety, stress, and body-hate.

What if your “healthy” lifestyle was no longer born out of shame, guilt, fear, and body-hate, but self-love, compassion, and respect for your whole self?

But I convinced myself it was a healthy lifestyle, and maybe you have too. Maybe you’ve bought into this conventional concept of health and fitness — but that doesn’t mean you have to continue to do so if that same lifestyle is making you miserable.

The day I sat down and became real with myself, I actually used the same phrase that was once my mantra.

This time, though, I dared to pose it as an open question: Is this really worth it?

Is chasing this physical idea of health and fitness really worth it when it is driving my mental, emotional, and physical health into the gutter?

Is all of this health and fitness advice actually accurate and true?

Is this really how I see my life playing out in the future?

Those questions hit me like a ton of bricks.

The truth was, it wasn’t worth it to me. The body I was chasing wasn’t worth it. This “lifestyle” wasn’t worth it.

Not because I didn’t see the importance of health, but because it was literally my life.

Many of us have overcomplicated and misconstrued “health.” We believe that health is directly related to body size, is completely in our control, has some moral value, and must be done in a cookie cutter fashion.

We have used the term “health” to mask the underlying issues of body-hate. We have chosen extremes, but still try to call it “moderation” and “balance.”

I am not saying that making attempts to live healthily is bad. It’s your body and your rules. If “health” — however you define it — is something you truly value, then go for it.

What I am saying is that if your “healthy lifestyle” is bulldozing over your life, it may be worth reevaluating.

If you are feeling shame and guilt around food, are overwhelmed with body-hate, and neglecting your mental and emotional health, then maybe that lifestyle isn’t so healthy after all.

What if your “healthy” lifestyle was no longer born out of shame, guilt, fear, and body-hate, but self-love, compassion, and respect for your whole self?

Now that’s a lifestyle I would like to see become more celebrated and normalized. That is also the lifestyle I choose to live myself.

I will never go back to defending my old “healthy” ways.

Looking back, it’s clear that my motivations were anything but.

This story by Sarah Vance originally appeared on Ravishly, a feminist news+culture website.

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