The Fit Student—Tame That Fanatic

Would you read an unknown author’s essay on finding fame?  A homeless guy’s article on making millions?  A sickly woman’s writeup on health and fitness?

Not long ago, my health dropped so drastically I feared dying before my 50th birthday.  I felt nauseated most days, so tired I could barely open my eyes to read.  So, my doc warned, “Change your diet and get fit!”

Within four months of weightlifting, I felt fitter and looked younger.  I started running short distances.  Now, seven months later, I can muster five-mile bicycle commutes.

After each workout, I review my calorie app, ogling whether to gulp one more stalk of kale, scoop of natural peanut butter, or cup of coconut milk.  I then vet my wish-list of veggies, studying which ones give the most nutritional gain.  Just today, I swallowed over ten servings fruits and vegetables.

But then, last week, my tiny suits got looser.  Worried about anorexia, I filled out an online test for eating disorders.  To my surprise, I had little need to be concerned about anorexia.  Instead, I scored high for binge eating, compulsive eating, and obesity disorders, all blameworthy for my obsessions with health.

So, what do health obsessions look like?  When I gobble more calories than burned, my legs go wild on stationary bikes.  My muscles swell lifting man-sized dumbbells.  If I don’t burn every calorie, I add calisthenics.

Yesterday, a friend groaned, “Stop weighing food.  Stop recording every calorie.  Stop rereading top ten benefits of every vegetable you desire.” Flustered, I picked up a book on eating disorders.  To my shock, the book verified her views.

My goal now?  Tame the fanaticism.  But health obsessions offer some benefits, don’t they? Of course! One year from now, I’ll have the stamina to cycle marathons.

Want more benefits from health and fitness?  Daniel G.  Amen, MD, argues for exercise in his book Change Your Brain Change Your Body.

  • If you feel sickly, start exercising: “Stop using excuses to avoid exercise. In many cases, exercise will help eliminate or minimize the source of your excuse, such as pain or health conditions” (p.  125).
  • Even if not sickly, exercise snowballs health gains: “When you are physically active, you are more likely to eat foods that are good for you, to get more sleep, and to take better care of your health in general” (p. 117).
  • And exercise fuels fun: “When you make exercise a habit, it also pumps up your energy levels and keeps you from feeling lethargic …. That makes you more likely to go out and do the things you love to do, which burns even more calories and keeps you looking and feeling good” (p.  116).
  • Exercise can make all your New Year’s resolutions true: “If you want to quit smoking, stop drinking, calm stress, or eat a healthier diet, exercising can help you achieve these goals” (p. 117).
  • Exercise raises GPA’s, too: “Students in the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades with the highest fitness levels also scored highest on standardized reading and math tests …. On the other end of the scale, the students in these grades who were least physically fit had the lowest academic scores” (p.  111).
  • Exercise keeps you out of jail: “Compared to teens who watch a lot of TV, those who take part in a wide variety of physical activities are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking, smoking drugs, violence, sex, and delinquency” (p. 118).
  • Best of all, when you get healthy, your loved ones often do, too: “Health-conscious friends improve their health and their friends’ health as well … [You] can influence your whole network of friends and family” (p. 79).

A common belief says health is 80% food and 20% exercise.  So, do health obsessions birth Olympians?  Centenarians?  Or merely self-conscious egos?

Well, if you never push aside beets for treats, you may need treatment.  A better answer?  Indulge some days in your deepest desired dish.

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