At What Point Does Wellness Become an Unhealthy Obsession?
Here are four signs that a focus on health has become unhealthy.
Nobody begins an obsession with the knowledge that they’re going to become obsessed. In fact, obsessions often sneak up on us—and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require having a “Type A personality” or an “obsessive personality” to become unhealthfully attached to something.
An obsession is characterized by any interest that dominates our lives to an unhealthy extent—where one “thing” begins to permeate everything that we do and think, and because it usually originates so gradually, we don’t even realize it’s happening.
When Health Becomes an Obsession
It seems ironic and perhaps even humorous that health could become an obsession, and yet, it can.
We can become consumed with counting every calorie, measuring our body weight or size ritualistically, controlling the quality of our food compulsively, and viewing our health as an indicator of our worth and value.
What constitutes health is actually balance—nothing can be healthy in the extreme, and even medicinal, holistic, or pleasant medicines, foods, habits and thoughts can become toxic and unbalancing in extreme quantities.
Below are four indications that an interest in health, fitness, and well-being has reached an unhealthy extreme—and what to do about it.
1. Fitness, health, & well-being have become more than just a part of your identity.
It’s very easy for us to identify with the things we like or spend a lot of time practicing.
Many people identify with their careers (“I’m a teacher”), with their familial roles (“I’m a father”), with their religion and politics (“I’m a Christian-Conservative”), with their team (“I’m a Saints fan”), and with their hobbies (“I’m a golfer”). Using these words to describe ourselves, however, is worlds away from actually being obsessed.
Individuals who are obsessed with health don’t casually describe themselves as athletes, gym-rats, health-nuts, or foodies. No, individuals who have developed an obsession live & breathe their obsession—they are beyond self-description, because they are too busy being immersed in whatever that thing is. You may find that they don’t call themselves a fitness guru in their social media profile, but if you scroll through their posts, there is little that doesn’t revolve around their diets, work-out regimens, and health practices.
When we are able to recognize that something is a part of our identity, that suggests self-awareness, which is a very healthy measure against obsession. The trouble begins when we are lacking self-awareness, and have very little conscious recognition of just how deeply invested we are in controlling and thinking about our health.
2. Every activity somehow connects back to fitness, health, and well-being objectives.
It’s one thing to be mindful about the ways we spend our time, for example, noticing how, when and what we eat, as well as how much physical activity we engage in on any given day. Being mindful of these things can help us understand the full picture of our habits and give us insight into the psychological motivators behind our behaviors and routines.
That being said, when every activity becomes a metric for achieving our wellness goals, then we may find ourselves dipping toward the unhealthy end of obsession.
Examples of this can be observed when every single thing we do, from leisure to work, is connected back to a health-objective and micro-managed to meet certain health and wellness goals. What started as high levels of motivation can evolve into a single-sighted focus that begins to make other aspects of our lives fall along the wayside, with only our health becoming the main focus of our life.
While good health is an extremely important part of life, focusing on it to the exclusion of all else suggests that there may be an underlying psychological factor that needs to be addressed.
3. Ignoring body cues for rest or indulgence.
Many individuals discover the power of their will through their health and fitness journey—I know I did.
Realizing that you are able to say no to certain foods and activities and say yes to things that you previously couldn’t summon the desire to do (like hiking, working out, or endurance training) is extremely empowering. But sometimes we can take that ability too far, and our desire to exercise our will can actually deafen us to the cues and needs of our bodies and minds.
If you find that you are pushing yourself past your body or mind’s limit into extreme discomfort for the purpose of ticking off certain health and fitness “non-negotiables,” it may be time to re-examine your objectives and ensure that they are actually aligned with your health.
All too often, we develop an idea of what we believe ideal health “looks like” (including an on-paper ideal based on a series of goals or routines) and we forget that equally important is how health feels. Paying attention to psychological and physical cues is critical to thriving in health and wellness, and this means allowing ourselves to break our own “rules” from time to time, guilt-free.
4. Hemorrhaging money for your wellness habit.
If you find that you are compulsively spending money on diet programs, fitness tools, athletic gear, wellness items, or any other activity/thing that fuels your health and wellness habit, it may be time to revisit your health goals.
It’s easy to buy new health and fitness related things in an attempt to get hyped about a wellness plan, just as it is fun to reward ourselves for work well done by leveling up our equipment occasionally.
If, however, you find yourself making regular impulse-purchases on health and wellness items, this is a red-flag worth noticing. Where our money goes indicates our priorities. If we continue to spend money aimlessly and compulsively in the same area of our lives, this indicates that a certain priority may be taking more room in our life than it should, creating its own imbalance.
I think I may have an unhealthy obsession—now what?
If you suspect that the pursuit of perfect health has become more than an enjoyable hobby for you, I applaud you for your self-awareness. This can be a very difficult thing to realize, but moving beyond an obsession is one of the most loving and healing things we can do for ourselves.
When it comes to obsession, there’s often a psychological underpinning for how and why this focus originated. Many of us externalize our value and our worth based on how we look, how we are perceived, and how we “rank,” and fitness and wellness can become a guise for controlling all of those factors in a “healthy” way.
One of the most powerful practices I’ve ever found for breaking through psychological barriers is getting help. Therapists are wonderful advocates for helping maintain boundaries and accountability, while also monitoring habits and ensuring that there is no worsening of certain flagged behavior. A therapist will be able to assist you in evaluating what need an obsession is currently filling, and replace it with other, more balanced enterprises.
In addition to a professional therapist, self-care practices unrelated to your current health and fitness activities can be very valuable, particularly if they are done in a group setting. Obsessions often thrive in the context of loneliness, whereas group interactions can encourage camaraderie, sharing, community and collaboration, all while fostering feelings of togetherness.
The end goal is balance.
Ultimately, anything can become unhealthful—even the pursuit of health and wellness. The key is to maintain balance in all things, and trust your gut enough to ask for help if you suspect that you may have lost that balance.
Many support systems are in place to help restore and fulfill every aspect of our lives in healthy ways. Life is better together, and where there is wholeness, there is a significant decrease in stress. The ideal wellness practice will create less stress, more community, and more joy in your life—and you deserve it.
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