Healthism: the modern religion

- POSTED ON: Nov 15, 2017

“Healthism,” is the moral righteousness we attribute to a lifestyle that prioritizes health and fitness over anything else.

Put bluntly, healthism involves seeing health as an individual matter, a primary value, and a moral index: basically, "if you get sick, it’s your fault."
Health-related social stigma, … unfairly judging the character of ourselves or others based on health status or health choices, … has become a problem within our present culture.
“I’m doing this for my health” has become the standard new-age bullshit excuse for whatever dieting or eating behaviors we choose for ourselves.   Like, no matter how bizarre that behavior might be, how could any reasonable person ever object to such a Noble Purpose?

We make judgment calls based on what we assume health is.  We condemn and bless and decide who is with us and who is against us. We cast out the sinners,  embrace the saints of Healthism, and preach it on every street corner.

In our culture human beings now have the duty to be perceived as “Healthy” individuals.  Healthy is the new good. Unhealthy is bad.  Celebrities, athletes, and nutrition gurus are our idols and preachers. Fast food places and fat or unhealthy people are our outcasts and enemies.

There is nothing wrong with desiring to be healthy.  That is a normal wish for a happy life.  However, it becomes a problem when we turn being healthy into an obligation … making it a standard that applies to everyone in our culture.

Turning health into an obligation, or a standard of morality, belittles people who fail to measure up to the standard of whatever might be considered healthy. Whether or not a person is healthy is NOT something that each of us gets to decide.  Some of us are born with disabilities, others with chronic illnesses, others fall sick later in life or have trauma or mental health issues.

Most of the people who suffer from these conditions would rather have them gone, but the fact is that many people are forced to live with the fact that … for them  … poor health is here to stay. 
An unhealthy person isn’t always the fat person in a wheelchair that you saw go into McDonalds. Even if it was, how do you KNOW if they are unhealthy because they are fat or if they were born unable to walk and became fat because of it?

WHY a person is unhealthy should not matter. THAT a person is unhealthy should not matter. WHAT should matter is that unhealthy people want to live their life just like everyone else, without the added difficulty of having to prove that they are not to blame for their condition.

Nowadays, even people born with disabilities are told that they would be better if they just think positive, exercise more or eat differently. Millions of dollars are being made by milking ‘cures’ for conditions like Autism, Down Syndrome etc, even though they are known to be genetic conditions. A diet won’t change a genetic condition. By shifting our focus toward the Behavior of the disabled, we make them responsible for their condition. We tell ourselves that if the disabled really wanted to be healthy they would change.

Our culture has an obsession with weight loss and thinness.

People are told they should attempt weight loss “for health reasons”.  Why?  Since there is no actual scientific proof that weight actually CAUSES any health issues, exactly how would losing weight be a way to CURE health issues?

There is no level of “unhealthy” that requires anyone to diet or to hate their body, and there’s also no reason to believe that either dieting or self-hatred will help them become healthier or happier. 

The fact is that most dieters are NOT successful at losing a lot of weight, ... and more than 95% of those few dieters who ARE successful at losing a lot of weight ... cannot keep that weight off long-term.

This means that weight loss fails almost all the time.  When a prescription fails almost all the time, … consistently for more than 50 years, … the solution is not to keep prescribing it as a “healthy” intervention.  The solution is not to tell people to try harder, or to rename that prescription by changing its name from “Diet” to “Lifestyle change”.

No one has a duty to be fit and lean; to become thin; or to have a BMI inside the “normal” range

People get to prioritize their own health.  That means they are allowed to drink like a fish, jump out of helicopters wearing skis, take stressful jobs, not get enough sleep, eat what they choose, and be sedentary at whatever weight they happen to be. 

There are many people of very different weights that have the very same diet and exercise routines, as well as people of the same weight who have very different diet and exercise routines. 

Acting as if all fat people are unhealthy because they engage in unhealthy behaviors, and that all thin people are healthy because they have healthy habits, is not supported by the evidence.  It is stereotyping and bigotry, pure and simple.

In our culture, Health has become the holy grail. Everyone is chasing it, but few hold it, and even those who hold it only have it for a short while.  Every human being will experience death, and people who live long enough will eventually fall into the darkness and ‘sin’ of ill health. 

Health is the modern religion.

People convert to different sects in droves … committing fervently to a dietary path of choice … and truly believing that "this way of eating" will save them.

People cling steadfastly to the beliefs...

.....that they can make themselves “pure” or even immortal...

....that they can outsmart disease and death by making “correct” food choices …

.....spending hours studying the literature and listening to gurus in their search for that golden key.

The idea that we can outsmart disease and death … that we can effectively prevent “bad things” from happening to us if we make the “right” food choices … is particularly interesting, considering how incredibly faith-based, and un-scientific, this sentiment really is.

Food isn’t even close to the top of the list of things that will likely kill us. 

Genetics, environment, age, and various factors outside of our control are far better predictors of illness or death … yet we cling desperately to the delusion that food is the primary determinant of our fate, frantically trying to “play God” through our food choices.

Of course, this belief puts an enormous amount of pressure on our food choices, which inevitably leads to anxiety, frustration, and guilt whenever we “slip,” eat the “wrong” thing, or even when we become ill.

We might be able to avoid these anxieties if we embraced the Uncertainty of Life. If we remembered that the human body is Designed to break down over time; that Death is an inevitability, not a punishment that can be avoided through righteousness.

Here is the Truth:  Health is not an obligation; a barometer of our worthiness; entirely within our control; or guaranteed under any circumstances.

We don’t have to make our self-confidence, our self-esteem, or our self-worth contingent on our health.   We are worthy, no matter what.

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