Why it’s hard to be healthy

Okay I have been a hypocrite.

For years I have advised patients on making lifestyle changes, all the while failing to make these changes myself.

I have never been capable of having a ‘balanced’ life. I have always been a potato. And even though I appear to be small in size, it is not at all a true reflection of my level of physical activity and eating habits. I have always been shockingly unfit. And I have always eaten to my heart’s content.

I also use my introversion as justification for lying on the couch for hours after work and on the weekend. I convince myself that it is necessary for healing and relaxation, when really I am just lazy.

Periodically I find myself mustering up newfound motivation to adopt a healthier lifestyle. It usually consists of me going to the gym for a few weeks, and using my increased level of physical activity as justification to eat more. But it never lasts.

My husband and I are also both enablers. We love food. And we haven’t lost the weight that we put on during our first holiday three years ago. This was a holiday where for ten days we basically would go out for lunch, lie down during the afternoon to recuperate, and go out for dinner afterwards. All the while snacking in between.

We were sick of having low energy all the time, and just feeling gross. So we decided enough was enough. No more making excuses. We were going to take this seriously. Well actually my husband had been taking it seriously… so the thing that was going to change was that I was going to take it seriously. We weren’t going to be able to have a healthy lifestyle if we didn’t do it together.

So over a month ago we started counting calories and going to the gym consistently. And looking back I don’t know why that was so hard. If an alien were to land on earth right now and witness my struggle adopting a healthy lifestyle I’m sure they would be so frustrated with me, see me as a sad reflection of humanity, decide humans are not worth engaging with and end up leaving and never coming back.

But in all seriousness, why is being healthy so hard? Healthy people will tell you it’s because people are lazy and make excuses. But actually, being healthy IS hard. Our society is such that the default way of life is the unhealthy one. And while at the end of the day, the choice to live a healthy lifestyle is dependent upon your mindset, there are a lot of other factors that are barriers that are really difficult to overcome no matter how strong-willed you are.

  1. Money: Everything costs money. And healthier food options tend to cost more money. Having a gym membership costs money. Living in a neighbourhood where you feel safe to go for a run costs money. Having a TV with youtube and internet where you can access home workouts costs money. Having enough space at home to exercise costs money.
  2. Time: Most people spend most of their day at work. Then they spend a long time after work sitting in traffic. Then when they get home they have to cook dinner and look after the kids and clean the house.
  3. Mental health: This is going to be an over-generalisation but I’m just going to say it- people have a lot of baggage that they’ve never addressed and never needed to because maybe food fills a void or numbs an emotional hurt. Eating releases good hormones that make us feel good, so why would we go through the difficulty of trying to be healthy?
  4. Education: A lot of people might think that it’s obvious what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy- but you are privileged if you are in this position. Actually, a lot of people will have no idea how many calories they consume. And if they are negatively affected by points 1, 2 and 3 – then they won’t have the time to educate themselves about it.

Okay that list was in no way exhaustive. But I hope you get the point. Now that I live in my own home, have a gym membership, have a job, I don’t have any kids to look after, and I am working on my mental-health; I literally have no excuses. But I realise that this is a position of privilege. So in fact, for me- living a healthy lifestyle isn’t that hard. The hardest part of the journey was starting in order to replace old habits with new ones.

But it wasn’t too long ago where we didn’t have these privileges, and I know how difficult it was to even contemplate starting. All the barriers were there and they decided for me… that I was going to remain a potato. I never overcame anything when those barriers were there. It is only now when those barriers are gone that I am able to be healthy.

So as a doctor now going through my own journey and losing 2kg so far… I feel like I am able to draw from my own experience to give practical advice about lifestyle changes, but I am still unable to give advice that can help patients overcome their barriers. And this is a sad realisation.

But if there’s anything positive to come out of this, my hope is that these realisations will help me better acknowledge a patient’s barriers… and while I don’t have solutions for them, I at least can see their struggles, validate them, and show empathy. And I think that’s probably the most important part of a therapeutic relationship.

2 thoughts on “Why it’s hard to be healthy

  1. It’s so cool that you’re being honest, and fitness is a tough habit to maintain, no matter if you’re rich, poor, tall, short, man or woman.

    Regarding the money issue though, I’m grateful that it has never been a problem for me, since all I need is a 6×6 piece of floor, and a kilogramme of chicken and broccoli costs as much (or even less) as one meal eaten out.

    The biggest fitness barrier for me is my mind, always negotiating with me to take the easy way out. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome that you’ve managed to keep up your healthy lifestyle and overcome some of these barriers! Totally agree the biggest barrier is the mind. Great to have these conversations so we keep ourselves accountable!

      Like

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