The Darker Pursuit of Health

The Dark Side of Health Pursuit

What is often neglected in the health conversation is when the pursuit of it leads us to dangerous waters. Anything that can benefit us, also has the ability to harm us.

Water, known for its’ life sustaining properties can be toxic when consumed in excessive quantities. Perhaps a simpler example is food, where an excess has led to ubiquitous lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type two diabetes and hyperlipidaemia.

Can the same be applied to the action of pursuing a healthier life? I believe it can, but allow me to explain why. The best definition we have for health at the moment is the biopsychosocial model. This model describes ‘optimal health’ as the intersection of biological, psychological and social factors.

Biological health could be simply defined as our physical, measurable parameters. These could include blood tests, weight and absence of injury.

Psychological health would be a bit more complex, but would include our general thoughts and feelings.

Social health could include our education, income and interconnectedness with family and the community.

The benefit of this model is that it demonstrates how each factor is not mutually exclusive to the other. That is, improving in one domain could assist with the other two. For example, if you were to begin running, you would improve your cardiovascular system, but the hormonal effects from activity would increase your mood. Perhaps you may join a running club in the future, which will add a social network for you.

Additionally, if you possess higher disposable income, you might be more inclined to purchase foods that are of higher nutritional value. This would then impact your biological health in a positive way.

It is this very nature of interconnectedness that can also lead to negative outcomes. As much as improving one domain may improve the other two, excessive pursuit of any one can lead to regression. Using the biological domain, perhaps you spend a lot of time training and watching your food. When you choose to prioritise your training over spending time nurturing good relationships, you might be running into a problem. Like most things in life, balance is required.

Similarly, how many times have you heard of the ‘ideal’ client who rejects social gatherings because they want to stay on top of their food? The question I posit is this – does the pursuit of biological health outweigh the benefit of social health, knowing that to be fully human is to be connected with those that matter to us?

Another application can also be true. Perhaps the social aspect of your life has taken away from your biological health. Look no further than the use of alcohol (which is a great social drink in the right quantities), and food adventures. After an accumulative amount of time, these will start to take a toll on your biological systems.

To simplify, when does the pursuit of health become disadvantageous, or… dark?

If in the pursuit of health, our actions lead to a decrease in one, two, or all factors in the biopsychosocial model, then your pursuit of health is likely not very healthy at all.