The Myth of the Healthy Lifestyle

We all know them: those robotic men and women who are about nothing else in the world than “a healthy lifestyle” and they take advantage of every opportunity to proselytize to anyone within earshot how what they’re eating or drinking is better than anything anyone else is eating or drinking, and how their new yoga/Pilates/meditation regimen is superior to anyone else’s, and how their workout schedule achieves better results than yours ever will, and you should do what they’re doing because if you did, you would–like them– feel so much better!

That’s their catchphrase, and every sentence ends with it. Ever since they stopped drinking soda, they feel so much better! Ever since they stopped eating red meat, they feel so much better! Ever since they started eating unprocessed, hand harvested sea urchin placenta every morning before their workout, they feel so much better!

According to these people, they were basically dead before they started doing whatever it is they’re doing now, be it exercising, dieting, drinking their own urine, or hanging upside down from the rafters in their barn while they sleep at night. They no longer drink mere bottled water, no; now they drink gallons of alkaline water every day and they feel–you guessed it–so much better! They can’t join you for brunch, sorry, because they stopped eating eggs, and they feel so much better! No, they haven’t watched Lost In Space on Netflix, because since they took a sledgehammer to their television, they feel so much better!

It sounds good, too, this constant assertion that they feel so good now that they’ve given up everything that ever tasted good or smelled good or brought them joy. Like all those positive thinking exercises from the 80s and 90s, where you were expected to repeat aloud or write down a goal that you wanted to achieve, and eventually it would reprogram your thinking and the goal would manifest itself in your life somehow. Like, you know, if you stood in front of a mirror and repeated that you would meet Donnie Wahlberg and he would fall in love with you and the two of you would marry enough times, how could it not happen?

Only now, we have social media to remind us daily how much better Beth Anne feels since she stopped drinking water from a bottle and now extracts water from her family’s urine using a simple filtration system that her husband built in the back yard from repurposed barn wood and old socks she couldn’t find the mate to. Or how much better Natalie feels since she wakes up at 2 am and runs 75 miles before she goes into the office. Or how much more energy Craig has since he stopped eating food from supermarkets and now adheres to a strictly bovine diet of grass and fresh hay, with an occasional carrot proffered by a passing child.

And we see this stuff clogging our feeds every day and it starts to really get in our heads. Maybe if I ate the grass in my back yard instead of mowing it, I could have as much energy as Craig has. Maybe if I ran 75 miles a day, my cheekbones would look like Natalie’s. And I have all those orphan socks in that box in the laundry room… maybe I should recycle my urine, too!

Or maybe something less extreme. Maybe I should start small and build up to the conviction of Craig and Beth Anne and Natalie. So, I started working out, and let me be perfectly clear: I do not feel so much better! I started working out on April 2, and I started going to a personal trainer two days a week on April 9. I have lost 17 pounds total and I look fabulous and my cheekbones rival Natalie’s, but I have been in some kind of pain every second of every minute of every hour of every day since April 2. My shins hurt. My calves are sore. My butt hurts. I can’t lift my arms. I’m exhausted all the time. Yet people, when they hear that I have started working out and eating better, light up and immediately ask, “Don’t you just feel so much better?” And when I say, “No, actually, it fucking sucks,” they react as if I just shot their grandmother in front of them.

So, no. I don’t feel so much better since I started working out and eating right. That is a myth. It’s something that someone said might happen, and people now cling to it as if it’s a fact. The same way that ancient people used to watch the sun rise in the morning and climb through the sky and set in the evening, and they wondered what that big ball of fire in the sky could be and someone said it might be a guy in a golden chariot and that sounded like a really cool story and the mental image of that was a lot better than the mental image of a giant ball of hydrogen and other gases hanging in space, so the people locked onto the golden chariot story and it took millennia to change their minds.

The healthy lifestyle is also a myth. Or, rather, the idea that you will feel so much better once you embark upon that path is. You may live longer, and your skin may clear up, and you probably won’t have bags or dark circles under your eyes. Your doctor won’t be such a kvetch when you go in for your checkup, because you will have quit smoking and drinking. Your clothes will fit better, then they’ll start falling off you and you’ll have to buy new ones, and that’s fun and shopping will make you feel better, because that’s what shopping does. But will you physically feel better? No. Will you feel like dancing? No. Will you be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? No.

Because every single, solitary muscle in your body will ache every day of your life and neither acetaminophen nor ibuprofen nor naproxen sodium are strong enough to actually relieve the pain. It will hurt to sit and it will hurt to stand and it will hurt to lie down. Going to the bathroom may result in tears. Showering certainly will.

Then there is the hunger that never really goes away. I eat constantly, but because carbohydrates are now verboten, I’m hungry again by the time I’ve taken the last bite of whatever I’ve eaten. “Eat fiber!” the Craigs and Beth Annes and Natalies instruct me. “It helps you feel full and you’ll feel so much better!” So I increase my intake of fiber and I shit like a goose for two straight days, and I lose a pound or two, and that’s encouraging. But I’m still hungry. So I eat a single serving pizza and finally (FINALLY!) I am full and it’s glorious! Then I weigh myself the next morning and I’ve gained four pounds–even though the pizza weighed only 8 ounces–and my body fat percent has increased 2%. It takes me a week to work that single pizza off, and I regret ever starting this whole health and fitness thing in the first damned place!

But I keep going. I work out or I run daily because I’m STILL waiting to feel so much betterI imagine it will be like an epiphany on a biblical scale: the clouds will part and that God light will beam down and illuminate my face and I will hear a voice say to me that now, now I can start feeling better. Now the pain will disappear and I’ll be able to do a few back flips and at long last, like Craig and Beth Anne and Natalie, I, too, will feel  so much better. And I will go forth and tell other people that they, too, can feel the way I feel if they just do exactly what I do, only I won’t tell them that it takes months, maybe even years, before it gets to that point, no. Because that isn’t how mythology works.

The point of myth is to give an explanation to something that makes no sense to us, or that we couldn’t understand if we were given the facts. Why does my body ache when I exercise? Well, there is science and science says there is the tearing of muscle and lactic acid and the muscles need protein to heal and as they heal themselves, they will be sore, but they will grow and that’s how you get the body of a Calvin Klein underwear model… and all that sounds horrible and bloody and painful. Because it is. But if Craig and Beth Anne and Natalie walked around telling people that, we would all weight 800 pounds and die in our early 30s because no one would work out or eat right.

So we lie and tell people if they do it, they’ll feel so much better! And we all just want to feel better, don’t we? So we keep doing it. Feeling better is just over the horizon, or just around the corner. Just keep doing it. You’ll feel so much better!!

Me, waiting to feel so much better!

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