Is Your "Healthy Lifestyle" Damaging Your Well-Being?

Psychotherapist By Megan Bruneau, M.A.
Megan Bruneau, M.A., is a psychotherapist and wellness writer based in New York City. She received her bachelor of arts in psychology and family studies from the University of British Columbia and a masters of arts in counselling psychology from Simon Fraser University.

January. Even though resolutions are so 2007, many of us will still increase our gym time and explore the world of juices and chia seeds. The health industry tends to stress the importance of diet and exercise and for the majority of us, the outcome will likely be positive.

For others, though, committing to a rigorous program can actually have counterproductive effects which can creep up on us if we're not being mindful. Here are five ways your resolutions goals to reach "optimal health" might actually be damaging your well-being.

1. Your "Healthy Lifestyle" is isolating.

Find you're canceling plans to hit the gym or avoiding dinner parties because you know there'll be wine and carbs? Social connection is one of the most research-supported elements of mental and physical health. So it might actually be worth it to skip that workout for the dinner party.

Everyone has different needs when it comes to social support and connection, so try to look inside, be honest with yourself and ask what might serve you better (e.g. the gym or connection). If you find yourself at that dinner party wishing you were on the treadmill, you'll know better for next time. And vice versa.

2. Your "Healthy Lifestyle" is compromising your sleep.

Getting up at 5am to hit bootcamp before work is healthy, right? Not if you're going to bed at midnight, it's not. If you're regularly getting less than seven hours so you can exercise, you're letting a very important aspect of a healthy lifestyle slip in favor of something else.

Another way you might be affecting your quality of sleep is by overtraining. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and energy deficits can lead to pain, low blood sugar, hunger pangs and night sweats — all of which will disrupt your slumber. That being said, adding exercise to your day generally helps with sleep. Just make sure you're not overdoing it.

3. Your "Healthy Lifestyle" is causing you to beat up on yourself.

If having pizza or chocolate just ruined the rest of your day, you might be holding yourself to too high of a standard. For those of us who are self-punishing when we don't meet our expectations around diet and exercise, we can develop an emotionally abusive relationship with ourselves.

If you're constantly berating yourself for not maintaining a "perfect" diet and exercise program, you could be contributing to feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, underconfidence and negativity. Instead, try being self-compassionate — having realistic, flexible expectations and being supportive on your journey toward meeting them.

4. Your "Healthy Lifestyle" is creating anxiety (and therefore increasing cortisol).

In the back of your mind, are you constantly planning your next meal or trying to avoid the lunchroom because you know there's cake in there? Does finding out you can't make it to the gym for a couple of days send you into a state of panic? Anxiety pumps cortisol through our system, which has a ton of negative effects. If anxiety is an ever-present feeling, it could be a sign that you ought to give yourself a little more permission to be a human being.

5. If you're a woman, your "Healthy Lifestyle" has affected your menstrual cycle.

It's been five years since I was a slave to a clean diet and aggressive daily workouts, and to this day I still haven't had a natural, regular period. I've spent thousands of dollars on my naturopath and the supplements she's prescribed, and I'm still hypothyroid, oligomenorrheic, and insulin-resistant, with PCOS and adrenal fatigue.

I might not be putting my naturopath's future children through college if I hadn't done so much damage to my hormones through my restrictive dieting and overexercising patterns years ago. If your lifestyle has resulted in amenorrhea, it's a serious indicator your "healthy" lifestyle is doing more harm than good.

Megan Bruneau, M.A.
Megan Bruneau, M.A.
Megan Bruneau, M.A., is a psychotherapist and wellness writer based in New York City. She received...
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Megan Bruneau, M.A.
Megan Bruneau, M.A.
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