"A halo only has to fall a couple of inches to become a noose."
If there were an organization called Healthaholics Anonymous, it would probably be immensely popular. A growing number of people are becoming more than concerned about their health; they are becoming obsessed with it. These people are not just interested in exploring specific health strategies -- they are "into" them. They are "into" macrobiotics, "into" massage or "into" yoga. Such people can become neurotic or needy kneaders and being "into" yogic postures can create special problems, because it may be difficult to get out of them.
There is a real difference between concern about health and obsession with it. Some people obsess about nutrition but oversimplify the subject and believe that there are only two types of food: those that cure almost everything and those that cause slow, painful death. Some people obsess over stress management strategies, but spend so much energy managing their lives that they neglect to live them. Some people obsess with vitamins, but turn useful supplements into potentially dangerous substances by taking huge doses of them. And some people obsess with meditation but end up sitting on all of their other needs.
The most common obsession in the health area is with food. Anyone who starts to research the various theories about nutrition ultimately discovers that almost any food is thought to be poison according one school of thought or another. Meat is poison to vegetarians, milk products are poisons to vegans, tomatoes and eggplant are poisons to macrobiotics, cooked foods are poisons to the raw foodists, and on and on.
Anyone can think of one reason or another that any food may not be good for you, but one can also consider ways that most food provides certain benefits. Meats may have too much fat, but they are also a densely packed with numerous nutrients. Eggs may have cholesterol in them, but they have lecithin in them that helps digest cholesterol and other fats more effectively. Cooked foods may lose certain nutrients, but such heating of food can make some of its nutrients more easily assimilated. Ice cream may have a lot of fat, but it can be an important "mental health food."
Perhaps most dangerous for people obsessed with nutrition is the amount of fear that they ingest with their meals. Fears of pesticides, hormones, fluoridation, chlorination, radiation and heavy metals are ingested with every meal. While the negative effects of these toxic ingredients are very real, one can only wonder if the state of fear experienced by some people is poisoning them more than the foods and drinks that they ingest.
Obsession with exercise is also common. Although this obsession may seem more beneficial than harmful, the dark side of exercise fanaticism is evident when exercise dominates a person's life. When you begin to live for the gym or your 50 miles a week, when your personal relationships begin to suffer because your exercise routine always comes first, when you exercise in spite of injury or start climbing the walls when you can't work out, you may wake up one morning to discover that the only thing left in your life is exercise. And this is seriously unhealthy. I believe that the purpose of good health and exercise is to enrich your life -- not for exercise to become your life.
Exercise addiction is particularly problematic when you become obsessed solely with workouts and neglect other valuable ways to build and maintain health. The athlete who eats junk food and the bodybuilder who can't relax are two stereotypical examples of this obsession. Although there are certainly worse addictions than exercise, any action that limits a person's freedom diminishes his or her health.
One way to detect if you are obsessed with health is if you are passionate about a single health discipline -- be it nutrition, exercise, homeopathy, herbs or yoga -- but ignore other health strategies. Health is feeling whole; it is a balance of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being.
It is certainly healthy to be concerned about your health, but obsessions and addictions fragment the wholeness of health and ultimately disrupt the quality of your life. As members of Healthaholics Anonymous might some day say, "May God grant me the serenity to accept the health conditions I cannot change, the courage to heal myself of the ones I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
Dana Ullman, M.P.H., is America's leading spokesperson for homeopathy and is the founder of www.homeopathic.com . He is the author of 10 books, including his bestseller, Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. His most recent book is, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (the Foreword to this book was written by Dr. Peter Fisher, the Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Dana lives, practices, and writes from Berkeley, California.