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How can something meant to help you hurt you so much?

We recently released an ad on that received a little critique.

The text on the ad was as follows:

‘”It’s easy to use and gives me complete control over what I’m eating.” Download the Lifesum app free’

I thought it was harmless. It was not.

The phrase ‘complete control’ was the problem, and the argument was that it was perpetuating unhealthy behavior akin to that in eating disorders, which of course, is as far as you can get from our intention.

But it made me think: At what point does something healthy become something unhealthy?

What is that takes something that is technically good for you, and turns it into something that’s actually harmful?

I think it’s when it stops being a discipline that you have and becomes something that controls you. When you ‘must‘, ‘can’t help it‘, or ‘have to‘.

Always thinking about the food you put into your body is unhealthy. Never thinking about it is also unhealthy. Always exercising is unhealthy. So is never exercising. Only seeing food as fuel is unhealthy, but so is never thinking about the effect food has on your body.

The big question is how can you stop unhealthy obsessions developing and becoming harmful?

1) Learn to have healthy dialog with others.
Staying open with trusted people is key for making sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Judgement-free discussion about food, exercise and overall health should be commonplace – especially at home with your partner, mom, dad, or siblings. Ask questions like ‘Is it bad for me to do X?’ ‘How much of ‘X’ do you usually eat?’ ‘Do you also do X often?’ Friends and close family will always be honest with you if they think you’ve got an issue.

2) Try not to eat/exercise in secret.
This ties into the first point, but it’s worth highlighting on it’s own. I’d essentially say, if you feel the need to hide any of your eating or exercising habits from people, then there may be a problem. Eating and exercising together with other people keeps you accountable and exposes you to what ‘normal people do’ so that you can see what’s normal, what’s healthy, and what’s unhealthy, and benchmark yourself to see where you’re at. For me, this is achieved through the Friends tab on the Lifesum app, and by sharing my workout data (steps, time, distance) on Facebook. There are other ways too. If it’s exercise, you can grab a workout buddy or work out with a personal trainer. If it’s food, you can eat your meals together with your family, colleagues, roommates, or partner.

3) Be honest with yourself.
Sometimes the hardest thing isn’t telling other people but admitting things to yourself. One good way of doing this is to think: ‘Would I feed this to my children?’ When I did 21 days junk food-free (which isn’t for everyone), it was because I had finally realised that I had a problem saying ‘enough’. I found myself always buying and immediately finishing share-size packs of everything, if I bought a pack of cookies I ate them all, 10 chips would turn into an entire jumbo-size packet disappearing. I had the ‘just one more’ mentality, but one more always turned into ‘what happened to all the chips?’ When I realised that it was a problem, and stopped excusing my behavior saying things like ‘I can’t help myself!’, I was in a better position to do something about it.

4) Educate yourself.
What do certified nutritionists say (not to be confused with what the cute fitness fanatic says)? What does the FDA say? Is there a recommended portion size? How much exercise should you be doing? What’s the recommended intake for sugar? Different sources will say different things, so it’s key to make sure you go to the right sources for reliable information. Working in Health-Tech and alongside nutritionists means I’m constantly seeing what healthy diet and exercise look like. It helps steer me towards the right way of doing things, but I don’t make it my be all or end all (see points 5 and 6).

5) Give yourself room to do things differently.
Recommendations are complex for several reasons. A daily recommendation for chips might be that you eat 0.7 oz, but let’s be real, who eats 0.7 oz of chips? Nobody. And even if you did, is the recommendation based on the idea that you eat chips everyday? Essentially what I’m saying is, while the way you eat and exercise should be disciplined, it should not be dictated. Yes there are recommendations and guidelines, but they’re called recommendations and guidelines for a reason. What I’m saying is – the recommendations are there to help you to be aware of how you eat and exercise, not to make you self-conscious about how you eat and exercise.

6) Listen to your body.
No two people are the same. Your body is unlikely to respond to gluten and alcohol the way your friend’s does. You need to learn to know what different things feel like to you. When I skipped junk food for 21 days something shifted. I didn’t achieve food nirvana or some kind of enlightenment, but I learned to say no. And now, even months later, if I don’t want something I don’t eat it. I’ve learned the difference between a craving and real hunger, and I’ve learned the difference between eating because something is presented to me and eating because I actually want to eat something. I don’t eat junk or salad because I ‘have to’, and I don’t ever have feelings of guilt because when I eat it’s something that I know I want.

7) Lastly, ask for help.
When it comes to dealing with cultivating a healthy relationship to food and exercise, it’s more ongoing than quick-fix. If it seems to be overwhelming, talk to a trusted friend or family member, or meet with a therapist or nutritionist. It’s easiest to tackle this with others by your side.

In summary, have fun with it. If you feel trapped by your eating habits or exercise regime, switch it up. They should empower you and make you happier, not strip you of your rights.

/Femi, The Girl Who Hates Working Out

RELATED: The Thing About Goal-Setting

With Lifesum, tracking your healthy habits (and the not so healthy ones) becomes a breeze. We’ll help you pick the right food, and eat the right portion sizes, to reach your personal health goals.

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