I Was Borderline Orthorexic. Here's What I Learned.

How many superfoods did you eat today? How much time did you spend meditating? What about just being present? Be honest: did you really get at least eight hours of sleep last night?

A number of years ago, when I was in college, these were the metrics by which I judged my life.

I gobbled up antioxidant-rich berries. I journaled to my heart’s content. I went for long walks around a nearby lake. I got more than adequate sleep each night.

So much of my time in high school was spent ignoring my own well being in service of school work and sports and friends. When I reached college I swung way over to the other side of the spectrum, deciding for once I would just focus on myself and what I wanted.

I attended classes and participated in a few extracurriculars, but honestly, my main goal in life at the time was to reach some pinnacle of physical health and well being. I aspired to feel good, the way a well-fed, tuckered out toddler feels good as they’re being snuggled into cozy bedding.

There was only one problem. I didn’t really feel that good.

In fact, I felt lonely. Unfulfilled. Lost. Bored.

Like Hugh Grant’s character in About A Boy, my connections to other people and missions were lacking. My plans to fill my days with fun, hobby-like activities such as going for bike rides, attending yoga classes, learning a language, and playing piano weren’t turning out to be as fun as I’d imagined.

Sleeping more didn’t help, and no superfood could cure me.

What I didn’t understand at the time, and what took me a few years to figure out, was that I needed to connect to a purpose for my life beyond my own well-being. We are healthiest when we are connected to others, supporting them in their goals and receiving support for our own.

After graduation, I let go of my ultimate health dreams in favor of spending time on relationships that mattered and work that meant something to me. There were nights when I slept enough and nights when I didn’t. Days when I ate well and days when I didn’t. Yet, on the whole, I felt so much more complete than I ever felt in college. I was thriving by adding back in the obligations that I had initially set out to strip away.

Today my metrics for well-being encompass a much broader range of questions than the set I used in college. Questions like:

  • Am I being a good partner, friend, and family member?
  • Am I contributing to the world and being of service to others?
  • Am I challenging myself, pursuing dreams, and growing?

It’s important to take care of ourselves and to do our best to be healthy. But the reason why it’s important is not because doing so is an end goal. It’s important because feeling well and having plenty of energy enables us do a better job of making a positive contribution to the world.

Strive for health so that you can accomplish what you most want to do with your life.

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