Our culture nowadays is not one always conducive to supporting “balance”, but rather one promoting the extreme ends of the spectrum on a given subject. Unfortunately, these extremes tend to be the voices most heard and people less experienced in said subject may not realize that what these personalities are portraying is not “normal”, balanced or indeed safe most of the time.
One issue which is certainly out of sync with normality, thanks to an ever-increasing pressure from social media to look a certain way, train a certain way, act a certain way etc., is the balance between gym and social life and juggling our physical and mental health around these seemingly conflicting activities.
In this article we’re going to cover the risks of going to the extreme end of the gym / social life spectrum and why / how finding a balanced approach is so, so important.
Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Seems a strange question to ask but genuinely speaking, why are you behaving how you are behaving? Why do you train to the point of overtraining? Why do you spend your weekends perpetually drunk / hungover? Instead of balance, why do you binge? Why do you feel the need to constantly be on a diet?
Many of us act without thought; we do something and simply judge the behaviour rather than ever rationalize the driver for said behaviour. For instance, the perpetual dieter; they feel like a failure because they never “complete the diet”, but how can you complete that which isn’t sustainable?
How do you achieve goals which don’t exist? I mean, you can’t lose weight forever right? And why aren’t you happy with your body? You’d like to lose weight to be happy yet you’ve diet multiple times, lost weight multiple times yet remain unhappy, so is weight change the issue?
There are many more questions that can be asked around this given issue but here is just one such example of a behaviour which we’ll judge without ever wondering why we do what we do.
The impact of media on our health
One of the major drivers of behavioural change is how we perceive ourselves in society. With the rapid rise in social media within the last decade we are bombarded with more and more images of people with extreme physiques, diets and or lifestyles. It is estimated that users will spend several hours each day exposed to social media and up to and beyond eight hours a day of exposure to all forms of media (irrespective of whether they are actively choosing to engage in it or not).
Our perception of normality has shifted towards some false, and often warped, sense of perfection. We see snapshots of lives we know little about and assume that ours is worth less and means less because it isn’t achieving the same degree of notoriety through likes and follows.
Consider the personalities you currently follow now and the realities of their actual lives. Realistically, do you want to find romance on an Island game show and go on to sell herbal teas for money on your social media network? Do you want to have a super low bodyfat percentage and lose your period, sex drive, ability to function in day to day life and or run the risk of severely injuring yourself? Is it worth living a life that requires you to be perfect in every instance or criticized for it? And what is perfect? An ever-evolving set of undefinable, unrealistic and unachievable standards set by who? When you take a step back and see what media has become and what we now assume is “normal” is any wonder that we’re struggling to strike that balance between physical and mental health around gym and social life?
The reality of the situation
To be balanced in life is to live a life with purpose but also one packed with experience.
Prioritizing our health and wanting to pursue a fitness goal, physique goal and or whatever other related gym goal is important but it should never be your life, but simply another part of it. When we become engulfed in the extreme end of the fitness spectrum we run the risk of; developing orthorexia and or other eating disorders / disordered eating patterns, having a poor body image and or body dysmorphia, having low self-esteem and mood disorders, running the risk of in becoming injured and becoming generally physically and mentally unhealthy.
Having a social life is an important aspect of health, and not one to be undermined. Health is more than just how you look, feel, function, do and eat. Health is the experiences you have, the social connections you make and the meaningful relationships in your life. Whilst the gym can be a social hub, exploring other ventures, hobbies and social activities outside of the gym walls can do you a world of good.
Again, be mindful that there is an extreme end to the social life spectrum too and one that can be quite destructive given our cultures use of alcohol and the possible exposure to other drugs. It’s important to note that living at either of the extreme ends of the social life spectrum (as a shut-in or extreme socialite who engages in destructive behaviours) can have an equally detrimental impact on your relationships, social network, physical and mental health.
The balance lies somewhere between a life focused around health and a life focused around experience, and this “balance” looks different on everyone (just as being healthy and happy looks different on everyone too).
For those of you who are more health conscious, we’ve written articles previously on the topics of how much bodyfat can you realistically gain in one day (if this is an aspect of socializing you are worried about when it comes to food and alcohol intake) or how long it actually takes for muscle mass and performance to change (which, again, may be something you’re worried about in relation to have a social life).
Rest days packed with more focus on your social life can be a great way to recharge both your mental and physical batteries. It doesn’t have to be an alcohol fuelled bender; go see a movie, have a date night, go out for dinner, go for a hike, there is literally a million and one things to do that don’t involve you breaking yourself down again in the gym in a rush to attain a physical standard which likely doesn’t realistically exist (and won’t make anyone that is worth knowing like you any more than they already do!).
Happiness in life isn’t found in the black and white; it’s found in the grey area in-between. If we’ve been taught anything recently it’s the importance and fragility of life and why we shouldn’t waste it.
Do things you love and do it because it makes you happy, not because you’re trying to change for someone else or appeal to people you ultimately don’t like.
Health is more than just a gym membership. It’s more than just a diet.
It’s about having a meaningful, happy and full life; one full of experiences and one that can only be achieved when you start to truly value yourself.
Balance is Northern Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietician coaching team. We work with everyone from Olympians to office workers to help them achieve their nutrition and diet related goals.
Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you;
- Beat binge eating
- Lose weight and keep it off
- Take your sports performance to the next level and reach your full potential