Obsessing Our Way to Distress
Everywhere we turn today there is a message encouraging us to get more, do more, be more, use more. But, at what cost? Now it's not just about being thin, it's about being the thinnest. It's not about being muscular, it's about being the most muscular. This has always been the premise in sport, though. Obviously in sport, the goal is to be the champion. Having just finished watching the Olympics this very sentiment was echoed throughout the games. How often do we remember the champion, but have barely heard of the rest of the competitors?
Though it is not an issue to want to be the best at what you do or be the best version of yourself, it can become one with a few "red flags" as I will refer to them. In fact, in sport you want your athletes to want to be the best they can be or the best there is. However, it is to what extent are people willing to go to transform themselves into the best, prettiest, strongest, biggest, smallest, fastest, etc that is the problem. We must be self-aware of our thoughts and actions as we set out on these endeavors of change. Why? Because it is easy to become obsessive. People with Type A personality are often susceptible to becoming obsessive. I am using this term obsessive in a negative light in this situation. This is because I am referring to becoming obsessive in the sense that upon developing an unhealthy obsession, other responsibilities seem to get overshadowed, emotional happiness and satisfaction become solely rooted in the end product, and self-worth is near entirely dependent on the perception of others or compliance with social standards.
How do I know? I've lived it.
My struggle with orthorexia, as I discussed in my first blog post, was the by-product of obsession. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be the fastest. I had dreams of competing on the national stage. How was I going to get there? I was going to micro-manage my diet to eat healthy enough to be the best. Major oversight: my attempt to eat healthy did quite the opposite; I was eating unhealthily for my activity level. Not only that I felt my self-worth begin to change. My worth was determined on how "successfully" I ate that day or that week, how fast I ran that practice or that race, or how much praise and acknowledgement I got from others on my looks or performance. My obsession led to distress. Distress led to a fragmented life and performance.
Working as a trainer and coach for over 9 years now, one of the most alarming areas of concern is in regards to supplement use. As human beings not only do we want to achieve high standards and comply with social expectations, we also want to achieve these in the easiest way possible. On the market today there are countless products advertised to "decrease body fat", "build muscle", "increase stamina", "jump higher", etc. So we have created a world where counting calories or macronutrients is not enough. People feel the need to invest a pretty penny in these supplements with the hopes of reaching their goals even faster. What's the problem?
First off, most people do not know what they are actually ingesting. Supplements do not have to be regulated by the FDA so there is always room for potential contamination. And even if there isn't contamination, still few understand the process by which the supplement is acting upon the body or what the resulting effects are, either short term or long term. Second, people think if one supplement will make me good; another will make me great. There is risk of cross-effect between supplements. On top of that, people often end up consuming far more of certain supplements than their body can reasonably process anyways. For example, the human body can only digest about 20-30g of protein at a time. The rest is stored as fat in the body. How often do you see someone dump two scoops of protein into their drink. At nearly 50-60g of protein a pop, they are quite literally drinking their money away. Thirdly, people take products because they want to emulate people they want to be. If one of their idols takes a product, they are likely to take it as well even if that product serves as no benefit to them. This is often the case with products such as creatine supplements. Creatine is taken to increase creatine-phosphate stores, which impact performance on explosive, short-burst, power movements. Due to the increasing popularity of creatine use, you end up even having endurance athletes wanting to hop on the bandwagon even though this is not of particular benefit to them. An actually, one of the side effects can be increased weight with creatine, something that could negatively impact an endurance athlete.
Ultimately, the wanting change, wanting change now, wanting it to come easily mentality has resulted in a shift towards investing in external means of achieving desired outcomes. By external means, I am referring to supplement use, obsessive calorie counting, or over-exercising. All three result in an increased demand on the physical, mental and emotional capacity of an individual. This mentality is resulting in the I'm not doing enough feeling. Don't let obsession lead to distress. Not for you, not for your friends, not for your athletes. Look for the "red flags" - 1) Rooting self-worth in physical or appearance outcomes, 2) Social withdrawal, 3) Type-A personality combined with high-reaching goals, 4) Frivolous spending on supplements or diet drugs, 5) Expression of not feeling good enough.
How do we combat this? BALANCE!
It is important to stress that moderation and balance is the key to living a healthy and fit lifestyle. With balance and consistency can come steady, gradual progress. This type of progress and achievement is more easily sustainable in the long term and allows room for mistakes or relapses along the way without having to beat yourself up over it. Balance is not just in the weight room or the kitchen - balance is in all areas of life. Social balance, emotional balance, mental balance, physical balance. Remember, success shouldn't come easy. It is something to work for and there is no pill you can take to replace hard work. Much like building a skyscraper you must start with the blueprint (i.e., the program design), construct the framework (i.e., perfecting functional movement and eating habits), and then you can begin to assemble the building (i.e., heart of the training and dietary plan), before you are left with a beautiful skyscraper (i.e., your goals being achieved). Patience, balance, and consistency is the magical formula to dispersing obsession.
Take today to discover your balance.