The age-old quest for good health and vitality presses on. It has enlisted many over the years, but today is more visible and alluring than ever before thanks in no small part to mainstream and social media where the exchange of image-rich information is overwhelming. This 'wellbeing' quest has become an industry - marketed, consumed, and ever-renewed - and has ironically created unhealthy patterns of addiction that feed on discontent and guilt in the process. But isn't it reasonable, amongst all the craze, to simply want to be well, to be fit, to be energetic? Doesn't it make sense to adjust our habits in the light of research, to eat better, to exercise our bodies, and to prolong our lifespan?
From a worldview that is heavily materialistic, the body takes on supreme importance. Good health becomes the main way we can feel vibrant and purposeful, and extend our mortal life. Indeed the search for truth, happiness and love that every human being unavoidably joins has made a god of good health. But if we look a little more broadly at the nature of life and all its complexities - beyond just the material - surely there is more to it than simple prolongation. We all feel the desire for more meaning, satisfaction and contentment - even to believe in something - but is it really rational to channel all this (or a good part of it) into the pursuit of an image of good health? I say image because that is often the driving force: bodies and food that look a certain way.
We are literally inundated with health programmes, youtube channels, food plans, and artfully snapped meals on social media that make us believe it is justifiable to expend vast amounts of time, money and energy on eating and exercising in a certain way. There is no doubt about it that certain choices are healthier and more sustainable than others (I for one am a firm believer in the benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet), and we should be mindful of what we eat. But why has everyone become so intensely preoccupied with it? Why does 'clean eating' have to be immoderate, almost hedonistic? Why do so many young people develop exercise addictions that actually make them unwell? I don't pose these questions in order to answer them all. We must all try and answer them, in time. But I do have some humble thoughts.
Perhaps, in Western society, we have become enslaved to an erroneous concept - that heath is not a means to an end, but the end in itself. According to this way of thinking, good health is the goal - around which a whole industry and following has been built. But once good health has been feverishly pursued, once it is maintained, then what? This 'then what?' is the real question - the question that obsession with food and exercise can distract from on a daily basis. Because, surely, good health has to have a purpose. It is not a static state. Rather it is a dynamic of many interrelated factors that make us feel energetic and capable - in order to do something. Being in a state of good heath allows us to live - to serve, to work, to contribute, to fulfil our purpose - it is not the purpose. If we spent some of the time we devote to food and exercise considering these other aspects of life, we may attain a more complete understanding of health, in body and mind.
But as it stands currently, it seems that the 'good health industry' in all its guises is profiting greatly from distorting our sense of purpose. In this quest it is legitimate to spend our time hunting for recipes, developing recipes, sharing recipes; filming and photographing ourselves consuming healthy food and working out; taking selfies of our nearly naked bodies; and feeling tremendous guilt and lethargy if we do anything less. In the process, so much human energy is wasted. And all this, sadly, makes us extremely unhealthy in other ways.
It is empowering to realise that we can think differently, however. We can consciously choose to eat well and exercise in order to be fit, but we can allocate this process its proper, proportional amount of head space. We needn't invest so much of ourselves into it. With the energy we have cultivated through making healthy choices, we can live, recognising that good health is a gift (not only a consequence) and has purpose. We just need to be conscious that amongst all the negative forces influencing us in society, the drive to look and eat a certain way - no matter how noble it may seem - can actually interfere with its proposed objective: true wellbeing.
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