People typically don’t brag about their dedication to cocaine, or their disciplined daily alcohol consumption. These behaviors (excessive drug use or drinking) can bring upon bona fide addictions, and literally destroy health, happiness, and quality of life.
But what about other addictions—unhealthy obsessions that masquerade as conscientiousness, dedication, devotion to something “healthy?” How often do you hear people proudly telling others about their obsession with the gym, their ever-progressively restrictive dietary protocols, or the fact that they’re tied to their Blackberries 24/7?
“It’s called discipline.”
“I’m more driven than the average person.”
“Obsessed is a word used by the lazy to describe the dedicated.”
Stress and Justification
These are the things people will tell themselves when their behaviors around food, exercise, or work creep from healthy dedication to unhealthy obsession—and even addiction. They may use these pithy statements or pieces of “fitspiration” to justify their behavior—behavior you suspect has crossed the line from healthy to damaging. They do so because the stress levels they have created feel so good they can’t fathom not continuing this behavior at this pace. (These are the people who would never voluntarily take a week off from exercise, take a vacation without their laptop, or indulge in a slice of cake at their sister’s wedding.)
You may even fall into the trap of admiring these people—looking up to them, because their actions and justifications suggest that you should.
“Jenny is amazing—she’s had a cold all week, and still shows up for the 5 a.m. workout.”
“Chris has worked every single weekend for the last three months straight—he’s such a superstar.”
“Jessica is so committed to her diet—she’s not even eating fruit anymore, because of the sugar. I wish I had her willpower.”
Don’t Be Fooled
What you have to understand is that this behavior is not healthy, it’s not admirable, and it doesn’t make you stronger/better/more dedicated. It makes you sick. It makes you a stress addict, with disrupted hormonal and inflammatory feedback loops. (We’ll explain exactly how this works in future articles.)
This is not healthy behavior.
And don’t be fooled by the smoke-and-mirrors these folks will use to make you feel bad for even questioning whether their behavior is healthy or not.
“You’re just jealous. You wish you could stick to your diet like I can.”
“Days off are for lazy people with no drive.”
“You sleep nine hours a night? Imagine how productive you could be if you weren’t sleeping in so much!”
Because chances are, if you’re in the middle of this cycle, you’re not willing to admit it. At all. In fact, you’re probably pretty angry just reading this article. You probably think we just don’t understand how truly dedicated/devoted/motivated/tough you really are. You probably think that because you’re getting fitter, losing weight, getting promoted, that all your hard work is paying off—and normal people just can’t comprehend what it’s like to have the discipline to work as hard as you.
The Vicious Loop of Stress Addiction
Of course, you’d be wrong. You’re not super-human, or elite, or gifted with an uncommon amount of willpower. You’re just stuck in the vicious cycle of a stress addiction loop. Because for a really long time, the stress you are creating for yourself feels really good. Which makes you think that what you’re doing is good for you. But it’s not, because your behavior is creating inflammation in your brain and disrupting your brain chemistry, adrenals, thyroid, and probably sex hormones, too. And pretty soon, you’ll be in a position where the only way you can feel normal (not even happy, just normal) is to create just a little more stress for yourself. And then more. And then even more. (Does this sound like an addiction concept called “tolerance?”) And the more you perpetuate this behavior, the more your health, happiness, and quality of life take a sharp decline.
You’ll be depressed, or barely keeping the depression at bay. You’ll be anxious. You’ll be irritable and irrational. You’ll start feeling like things are moving too fast, that you’re barely keeping up, that it’s all unraveling quickly. You’ll feel more isolated, so you’ll be less social. And the only thing that will keep you feeling even remotely like yourself is more of the same stress-inducing behavior.
Because at this point, you need it.
Practice Real Dedication
We’re not saying that everyone who exercises, works hard at their job, or tries to eat healthy is obsessed. Just like not everyone who has a glass of wine is an alcoholic, there’s a line that some people cross and others do not. But we do take serious issue with these “fitspiration” gems that suggest that addiction or obsession is to be admired—and that those who don’t push themselves to that extreme are simply not dedicated, motivated, or tough enough.
Real dedication is taking time to rest and recover when you need it. It’s creating a healthy relationship with food, such that you are able to enjoy a night out or a special meal without guilt, remorse, or punishment. It’s finding a balance between furthering your career, and enjoying the quality of life that your job affords you and your family. Real dedication is knowing when to ask for help, acknowledging when you’re in over your head, and admitting when you need a break. That’s real dedication—and the kind of behavior that we all should be encouraged to emulate.
Do you fear your own behavior has gone from healthy dedication to unhealthy obsession? Do you know someone who needs to slow down and change their behaviors, but hides behind a curtain of “dedication” and “devotion?” Share your thoughts in comments.