What I Talk About When I Talk About Health

While I’m vegetarian, I’d like to note though that I didn’t become one purely for health reasons. However, being paranoid about my health (I guess you could say I am somewhat a self-diagnosing hypochondriac), I like the idea that being vegetarian means that,  more often than not, I get to eat healthier options than most people. (Yes, I indulge in the occasional vegan chocolate chip cookie or cupcake, and would have episodes when I would walk, zombie-like, to the nearest grocery just so I can have a pint of So Delicious’s coconut milk ice cream.)

My health obsession grew when my grandma from my dad’s side suffered a major stroke and was bedridden for two years. While it does not need to be said that a quadriplegic life is immensely difficult, I have to highlight that those were very agonizing times–not just for my grandmother, but to us, her immediate family, as well. 

It was then when I started to appreciate being able to move freely, without needing assistance. 

It was also then when I convinced myself that I needed to get my ass off the couch more often.

People think though that being healthy will mean a lifetime of misery, deprivation, and the occasional slapping of your fellow celebrities–which is possible. I know a friend who turned vegetarian and lost her hair. (I’d like to think it was a misguided effort though–eating salads day in and out, like what she did, does not a healthy diet make.) I try to strive for a somewhat well-balanced diet full of protein and complex carbohydrates…

Vegan afritada, by me. Made from tofu, chickpeas, carrots, and green peas.

…except when I go on a binge and eat stuff like this:

Kitchen Revolution’s absolutely delicious creation: vegan chocolate cupcake with strawberry frosting #thisishowvegansgetfat

and this:

Kitchen Revolution’s Don Papa rum and walnut vegan ice cream: Because there are times when you just want to get too drunk to care about the calories.

and this: 

Egg and Dairy-free Crack Cholocate Chip Cookies, also by Kitchen Revolution #thiscrackaintwhack

Anyway, I guess everyone has an idea that I do indulge at times–just like everybody else. 

The problem with conversations about health is that it is very tricky. It’s very difficult to make judgments about someone else’s overall well-being, and even when there are obvious markers that that person is going to grandly fuck their lives up with the way they’re living, you can’t just step in and ask them to stop. (Or you can, but it’s not going to be pretty.) The most you can probably do is educate them–but even that can go wrong sometimes. (Just recently, an article came out which accused some doctors–yes, medical professionals who are being paid to dispense health advice–of fat-shaming.)

It’s easy to say “do everything in moderation”. On face value, that is very sound advice, until you realize that you can make a lot of bad decisions in moderation, which then amounts to a very awful lifestyle. (It’s also amusing how corporations like Coca-Cola  are also trying to ride in and preach the importance of moderation, without actually addressing the issue that it might be ingredients in their products that are encouraging people to lead a lifestyle of excess.) 

Still, like what this Forbes article mentioned, we shouldn’t also discount the reasons behind why people tend to make poor decisions: “Anything that provides pleasure (or relieves stress) can be the focus of an addiction, the strength of which depends not on the inherent power of the stimulus but on the individual’s relationship with it, which in turn depends on various factors, including his personality, circumstances, values, tastes, and preferences…. the reality of addiction lies not in patterns of brain activity but in the lived experience of the addict.” 

In my earnest opinion (and to express my agreement to what the writer of the Forbes article said), I think that for a healthy lifestyle to be sustainable one should focus on grounding it strongly on one’s sense of self. If you don’t really see it as something which affects who you are or what you do, then it will just be an afterthought to most of the things in your life. 

For some, vanity comes to play; for others, it can be a really traumatic experience (like  sickness) that will push them to consider their health in their decision-making process–whether it’s freeing their schedule so they can squeeze time inside the gym, or choosing to walk or bike instead of riding a cab, or convincing themselves that eating meat is totally a horrible idea.  

Sometimes the promise of social bonding and/or the internalized pressure of being part of a community inclined to fitness can also be a strong motivation (especially for people who like being in groups.) While this only became my motivation lately (I really didn’t like being sociable in gyms, saying to myself that it’s a gym, not a social club!), it must be said: what I like about the gym I go to–360 Fitness Club–is the fact that it was totally unlike Fitness First, in the sense that I feel it’s a very tight-knit, friendly support group. 

I especially like that the gym pushes the concept that you can be fit even outside the gym, and that the club is just a preparation for activities that you will encounter in your daily life. It encourages members to do fun activities outside the club itself: from hiking mountains to playing dodgeball, it tries to make the whole idea of fitness as pleasurable and socially rewarding.


Run, Forrest, run. (During the recent 360 Olympics. Photo by Tetep Marasigan)

So what’s my point? 

Two things: 

One, at the end of the day, I think what we do is really to achieve one purpose: to live a better, happier life. 

Two, there’s no magic diet or exercise that can give you that. But being healthy–that is, being able to use all of our faculties at their optimum level, regardless/despite of our physical limitations–I think is a good place to start towards being happier…

…but then, this is just me. 

You can always approach things from the perspective that you’re just being deluded into believing that this is a template towards achieving an awesome life, but in reality you are being shaped as an optimal machine that is able to function well to serve your full potential in the service of a system of which you have utterly no control of.

In that case, welcome to the Matrix I guess? Hope that’s doing well for you? 

By Evan Tan

Evan Tan is a writer & communications professional from Manila, Philippines.

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