Is “wellness” an unattainable construct? No matter how hard we try it’s always just out of reach. The trouble with a system that sets us up for failure.
(As indicated by the title, there’s a part one to my whining about wellness and you can find it here.)
So I’m still suckered in by wellness, and trying to work out why I suck at it.
This is especially present in my mind today because I woke up an hour earlier than necessary this morning to whip up a batch of baked apple, maple and almond steel-cut oats, imagining this would set me up for a week of smug breakfasts (#nourished #blessed). Instead, the recipe yielded super-rich pudding-flavoured oats, so heavy on the vanilla it made me dizzy. I made accidental dessert. Which is not the nutritional cornerstone that productive days are based upon.
I don’t know what got into me. Who gets up before 7am on a Monday to make an untested recipe for breakfast? I don’t even like oatmeal. I grew up eating dinner leftovers for breakfast, and I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve ordered something sweet when getting brunch out. Why didn’t I just make a frittata or even some goddamn toast? If I’m honest about the reasoning behind it, it probably boils down to seeing enough pictures of buoyantly healthy people eating fancy oatmeal on Instagram that my subconscious gets all “I should be the kind of person who eats hot cereal with at least three kinds of topping”.
Failure through a concerted effort towards wellness is a recurring theme. I sleep well, but if I challenge myself to get eight hours a night, I’ll get insomnia for two weeks. I exercise regularly, but recently tried to build it into a rigid schedule and got bursitis in my hip and the doctors say I’ll never dance again (or rather that I am out of action for three weeks). I have no problems getting my five serves of vegetables a day, but put me on a diet and it’s like I suffer temporary brain damage and forget what to eat. I gave myself heart palpitations eating kippers every day during a Whole 30, because I figured they were an excellent source of protein and I didn’t bother checking the salt content. On the same program, I burst into tears when, after six days of anxiously reading labels and meal planning, I accidentally put non-compliant balsamic vinegar on my salad. It was ridiculous.
All of this exists alongside the fact that by normal benchmarks for health, I’m all good. I should be happy. But in my head, there remains a Super Well Cheney, an image finely honed by other people’s social media highlights and my own ideas of perfection. And that’s why wellness is so good at selling diets, exercise programs, lifestyle changes, whatever – you can always be better and whenever you achieve a goal, there’s a newer, shinier one just up ahead. Super Well Cheney is always just out of reach, and in trying to be her, I get crippled by the weight of my expectations.
It would help if I was a bit kinder to myself and honest about how my mind works. To know rules and programs bring out the anxious perfectionist in me, and I should ease up and trust I’m informed enough to make the healthy choice more often than not. And that it’s not a moral failing to hate chia seeds and intermittent fasting, or to be the kind of person who’s only able to get out of bed at 6am when they’re going on holiday.
Moderation doesn’t get a lot of press, because it’s terrible at getting people to buy things and doesn’t tend to inspire envy or admiration (prove me wrong by liking my status update of “going out for a sensibly-paced walk” or “thinking about having a single chocolate biscuit with my tea”). But it’s probably going to be a winner for me, once I finally get it through my thick skull that bettering myself is an often slow, ongoing process where not hitting all your goals on all of the days doesn’t mean automatic failure. Some days you eat kale and go to the gym, and on others you have a nice lie down, a good read of the internet and a bit of dessert. Some days you do all of those things and maybe even fold your laundry too. That’s a bonus.
At least I’m covered on the dessert front, since I now have at least a week’s worth of pudding oats in the fridge.