I started planning this post while on a run which is ironic in an Alanis-Morissette-doesn’t-understand-irony kind of way because we’re going to talk about fitness.
If you follow me on Instagram or know me in real life, you probably know that I like to exercise. I'm an avid biker, runner, and yogi. I adore boxing classes. I teach indoor cycling. In addition, I'm known for sharing the things that make me happy, aka those activities, with the world, particularly those who are close to me. However, I (try my best) to do so with extreme caution and intention…
because while exercise and fitness have the power to bring joy and growth to my life, it can also create sadness inflict pain on others. The way we talk about and use exercise can be extremely harmful, whether we're aware of that harm or not. Society and the fitness and food industries present "wellness" in a way that creates a rigid moral code around the things we deem fitting into the term "wellness." This code, in its most pithy form, says: if you exercise, you are good. If you eat this green leaf, you are good. If you don’t do those things, you are bad.
But your exercise habits are not a moral issue. Working out does not make you a better or a worse person. Subscribing to the idea of “wellness” doesn’t make you a more existence more worthy than the net person’s. It is just a choice you are making. It is an action, a habit.
Sure, it's an action or a habit that you might feel strongly influences who you are and it might bring great things to your life. It certainly does for me and I'd be a hypocrite if I said otherwise. However, the same may not true for others and that is okay.
It breaks my heart how often I have to sit through conversations where people assign themselves to one category or the other based on their ability get to the gym that week, or that month, or that lifetime. It breaks my heart to see people lessen themselves because someone else told them they should have been going to an exercise class instead of working a second job to make that mortgage payment. How often have you heard someone joke about being "a lazy piece of s***" or "so bad" while out to dinner? This kind of self-talk builds up overtime and we deserve better.
Sure, I know it feels like almost anything can be subjected to this weird moralization, from our choice of dish soap to the travel apps we download. However, the long arm of fitness and “wellness” (yes, I'll be putting quotes around this word because what does it even mean any more?) seems to reach into everybody’s corner at some point or the other.
As I said earlier, I love to exercise and I get paid to share that love with others so trust me, I’m not knocking it. This conversation is not about whether someone should or should not exercise. That choice is up to each individual.
The problem, for me, does not start with the choice to exercise or subscribe to certain food beliefs but when folks start demonizing others for not making the same choices. Whether it is a blatant comment about someone’s appearance, unsolicited medical advice, or jokes about food habits or activity levels – a lot of us probably experience (and even engage in) this weird value ascription more than we’d like to admit.
Our bodies, what we do with them and what we choose to put inside of them is a personal and sovereign choice. When we use that freedom as a way to build ourselves up at the expense of other humans, it becomes problematic. When folks who are uninterested in exercise (that’s a thing and that’s okay) or unable to exercise feeling like they are worth less than someone who is.
The truth is that many people, including myself more often than I’d care to admit, use the veil of “wellness” to hide what equally harmful habits and issues revolving around insecurities, or eating/exercising disorders.
I read about this topic quite a bit and the best way I can sum it up is that quite a bit of dogma has been created around and applied to the idea of "wellness," including often restricts eating habits and a hyper-focus on physical fitness. And seeing as the definition of dogma is a set of rules that someone rules “incontrovertibly” true, there’s bound to be issues. Food, our bodies, and their ability to function properly are a part of life – and life changes. There is very little about life that is inconvertible.
I once read an article about the food-focused part of this issue, and the author, Dr. Rafael Euba, closed the piece with the truth that “ultimately, nature does not really care much about our moral choices. Even the nutritionally virtuous will die one day, just like the rest of us.” That might sound a bit dark but the point is that in end, everything has a way of evening out. And even if you or I believe that exercising a certain amount or eating a certain way might extend that life or improve the quality of the time we do have, it’s not up to us to push that belief on others.
If we’re all here for an unknown amount of time, why not do our best to make that time good for everyone. Read: minimize the harm. Stop making folks feel like they're less than. Or as the hip kids say: ”you do you & I’ll do me."