Tom Caru looks at the potential effects of self-improvement, particularly among your family and friends.
My mum never had any problems with me when I was a borderline alcoholic, presumably because I still ate whatever she prepared for dinner. When I started my journey towards a healthier version of me, when I started saying “No, thank you” to the homemade lasagna…hell hath no fury (and my Mum isn’t even Italian).
Making healthier choices invariably involves, at some point, making less unhealthy choices. When we think about unhealthy choices we don’t think about poor posture, the repetitive diatribes of a close friend, or ruining our sleep by staring at our smartphone late at night. We think about food. About giving up some of the things in which we love to indulge. Although the spectrum of healthy eating vs. unhealthy eating is wide and varied and although the position of some particular food items on that spectrum might be debatable, there is enough of a popular consensus for people to start to notice when you make changes.
Especially the people who know you best.
When they do, they often seem to attack your choices as if in pre-emptive defence of their own, even if you never even whispered a murmur of criticism for the manner in which they’ve populated their plate.
As human beings, despite the growing interpersonal disconnect of the modern world, we are still tribal animals; members of a social network. Within that network, some degree of our self-worth is often generated by comparison. We consciously and, at other times, unconsciously insert ourselves into a pecking order of our own devising. We look out at the world and the people around us and place them above or below.
So suddenly a choice that on the surface is entirely your own (and should be); say the food on your plate suddenly becomes an untended and very often, imagined, jab at the self-esteem of those around you.
This is a hidden cost of your new health plan that your personal trainer or online nutritionist probably neglected to mention. If you’re lucky the majority of friends and family in your life will be able to step outside this dynamic and judge your choices based on how they benefit your lifestyle, not the ways in which those choices challenge theirs.
The only accurate way to decide whether the sacrifices that come with a healthier lifestyle (and/or a leaner physique) are worth it, is to know the why of the changes you are making, and keep it ever in the forefront of your mind. Too often we lose track of the specifics of our why – or the original reason is hijacked by the saturating influence of whatever latest version of beauty is being idolised by society.
Do you have more energy? Do you have more mobility? Does your partner think you look better naked? Do you have more confidence? Are you able to perform better at your chosen sport? Are you no longer less likely to die before you’re 50?
The reasons are many, but sometimes the reason is flawed from the very beginning.
We see people that we perceive as healthier or fitter and judge out own progress or self-worth based on how well we measure up. We see a leaner person and peg them as a healthier one, instead of just a leaner one. We inscribe a physical characteristic with a personal one; she is not just lean, she is disciplined. Our why, or the end point of our why becomes shaped by comparison.
The biggest flaw with basing your self-confidence or your lifestyle choices on comparison is that it is a lie. Despite the fact that we are all unique snowflakes, there are enough consistent characteristics between us that we fool ourselves into thinking that such comparisons are accurate.
Yes, comparisons can be accurate in the degree to which they show disparity, but it is the next leap of reason that fails us. We see the disparity and judge our success or failure based upon its greatness. Not only are we all biologically varied, we are socially, emotionally and environmentally varied, but the variation is too easily ignored.
Comparison is only valuable to the extent that it can provide information of practical application in your own life, to aid in the creation of lifestyle habits that allow you to create an environment where you and you alone determine the place your lifestyle falls on that infinitely varied spectrum between optimal aging and Keith Richards levels of toxicity.
With this in mind, it becomes far more important to eat “more appropriately” than to eat “more healthfully” because “appropriate” still implies a context. And without context, what’s the fucking point?