The headlines are nonstop: “I gave up sugar and you should too!” and “20 benefits to saying goodbye to coffee!” and, of course, “I quit drinking and it saved my life!” Careful, life-coach Linda, don’t come for my margaritas.
There’s a big, glaring hole in these cold-turkey articles: too much health and wellness can actually be unhealthy.
Health as a Revenue Generating Machine
To state the obvious, there’s a major health & wellness trend taking over and millennials are driving the cause. It’s a $3.7 trillion industry slowly seeping into your lifestyle from your morning workout to your lunchtime smoothie to the meditation app you listen to before bed. CB Insights created this helpful snapshot of a day-in-the-life of the average wellness-minded millennial and, to us, it’s spot on.
The World Health Organization, a.k.a WHO, defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Comparatively, the National Wellness Institute considers wellness to be “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” In essence, your health is your well-being and your wellness is the lifestyle you live to maintain that health.
Speaking from Personal Experience
For the first three months of 2019, in a “new year, new you” mindset, I went all in on this health and wellness kick. I cold turkey-ed all the things: alcohol, coffee, gluten, sugar, carbs, meat. I exercised every day. I washed my face every night. I even flossed like my dentist thinks I do.
Ultimately, the healthier my body became, the unhappier I was with my wellness. I was missing out on so many positive life experiences: no sugar meant I couldn’t share cake with my daughter on her 5th birthday; no alcohol meant I couldn’t toast my husband on our yearly ritual to another year of parenting; no carbs meant I couldn’t eat my favorite pasta dinner on my own birthday.
From another perspective, we heard from Jessica, a Molly Jones follower, whose friend is deep into the extremely clean, fully holistic lifestyle. In addition to cutting out all food groups not considered one hundred percent healthy, her friend has a strict schedule of eating only two times per day at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. She exercises at 8 a.m. on-the-dot and refuses to schedule any plans over her meditation hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Jessica, shaking her head sadly, admits that she can no longer connect with her friend as they have little in common now and, even if they did, it’s a nightmare to find time to spend together.
When Too Much Wellness Becomes Unhealthy
It’s true — a healthy lifestyle is paramount for a healthy body, mind, and soul. The culprit here isn’t the strive for wellness, it’s the all-or-nothing attitude that so many bloggers, influencers, and life-coaches are adopting these days, pressuring readers and followers to completely give up anything that doesn’t fall into this very narrow category of holistic health.
We’d like to change the narrative. Instead of cold turkey, we believe in moderation and balance. One cookie, one coffee, one glass of wine here and there certainly won’t plunge our health and wellness into chaos and it may boost the health of our soul and spirit. Declining that treat will obviously keep the “days since my last unhealthy accident” timer rolling, but it might also take a small hit at our general well-being, causing us to feel momentarily left out, disappointed, or unfulfilled. Repeated small hits like this can turn into a death-by-papercuts process, affecting our mental health in a major way.
The Case for Moderation
The mindset of “everything in moderation” seems to be at risk to this new cold-turkey trend, and we’re fully convinced it’s because moderation is harder to achieve. Stopping at one coffee per day, eating one cookie today and refraining tomorrow, tasting one spoonful of your son’s Kraft macaroni-and-cheese without finishing the whole bowl (just me?) – these take restraint, a mature understanding of personal control, and a positive confidence in decision making.
Unfortunately, this restraint isn’t innate but learned. My husband, for example, was raised in a house where junk food was completely prohibited. When visiting the homes of friends whose parents did allow it, he’d binge eat until he had to go home sick to his stomach. It took years for him to rebound from this extreme and find his comfort zone where he could enjoy one bag of chips, not five. As we consider our own lifestyle choices for a healthy, balanced life, it’s important to remember the standards we’re setting for the rest of the family. Teaching our children how to navigate these choices in a responsible way is far more rewarding than removing the choice altogether. After all, they won’t be protected from candy forever.
Here’s where we include our disclaimer: While we believe in moderation and balance for a healthy lifestyle, we fully understand that specific situations vary and that some vices, including alcohol and tobacco, are addictive. If you’re battling a more serious addiction issue, please consult your doctor or a trained professional.
The Cheerleader Versus the Drill Sergeant
When the founders of Soulcycle recount how they came up with their $122 million business, they point out that there were plenty of indoor spin classes at local gyms all over the country. Their idea, they say, wasn’t the class itself, but rather the mindset of how the instructor treated cyclists in the class. While competitors adopted a drill sergeant mentality, the instructors at SoulCycle acted as cheerleaders, empowering cyclists by reminding them they had control over how healthy they wanted to be, as supported by the very fact that they made the decision to show up in the first place.
The culture of modern day America is of abundance – we have no shortage of options for everything under the sun. The modern day American, then, has a choice of how to manage this abundance: they can swear off certain elements completely like a drill sergeant with strict rules, or they can learn how to manage them responsibly as a personal cheerleader. The former creates an internal daily counter that tallies up perfect choices like a jenga tower — one “slip-up,” however small, can bring the whole thing crashing down catastrophically.
Instead of this all-or-nothing, love-hate mentality, the women behind Soulcycle understood that a person feels more powerful when they can make a healthy decision right after making an unhealthy one…and feel great about both.
It begs the question, as your own personal health and wellness instructor, how do you speak to yourself? Do you ride yourself hard, scrutinizing every calorie and banning yourself from small pleasures? Or do you speak to yourself with compassion, taking each “slip-up” as a well-earned treat and confidently showing back up to your healthy routine the next day?
Taking the Harder Path
Next time another cold-turkey headline appears in the feed, just say no. [Editor’s note: the irony of a cannabis brand saying that is not lost on us.] We’re strong, resilient, and fully capable of making smart, responsible decisions that add up to a healthier lifestyle without depriving us of our own well-deserved happiness. And for the sake of everyone around you, eat the damn cookie already.