Doesn’t Everyone Want to be Healthy? (No)

Some assume that everyone wants to be healthy.  Well meaning customers will bring (drag) their family to Alive Juice Bar and ask them: “don’t you want to try something healthy?”  not realizing that they’re are terrified of anything branded as “healthy.”  (I’m not being melodramatic.  I’ve seen many act horror movie scared when someone asks them to try anything green).  That’s why we’re careful to not brand Alive Juice Bar as purveyor of “healthy” food (we prefer “guilt-free”).  We’ve asked customers to do the same.

If focus groups are to be trusted (most are not), most people want to be healthy, just as most want to be wealthy, admired, loved, smart, whatever it is nowadays that feeds the ever growing ego-beast.  But most people don’t want to do what it takes to become healthy…or wealthy, or admired, or loved, or smart.  Many don’t want to eat healthy food, or work 120 hours a week, or solve Math problems 12 hours a day 7 days a week, or constantly think about the needs and wants of others.  Take a look around you.  Self-destructive behavior, from drug abuse to narcissism, is everywhere.

Good news is that while it takes extraordinary amount of patience and mental toughness to become an NBA player or a Nobel winning scientist or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, it doesn’t take extraordinary effort to be healthy.  That’s the narrative we’re trying to sell.  Those who want to be healthy don’t have to play through a season with a sprained ankle and a broken finger, or experience years of poverty and obscurity working as a graduate student or post-doc mentored by a renown scientist, or work 120 hours a week throughout one’s career.  It’s relatively easy to be healthy.  Yet many find it hard to be so.

Some reasons why we may not want to be or find it difficult to be healthy:

1. Much of society rewards sickness. As children, many of us were rewarded for being sick.  For some, getting sick meant a desired day off from school and coddling from parents and friends, a day of special treatment. Those who, as children, were rewarded for being sick are probably more likely to carry the habit of getting sick into adulthood, especially if one is in an environment that rewards sickness (even if rewards are all short-term).  Annemarie Colbin, founder and CEO of The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts writes:

So what is your choice? What does society ask of you? What gets rewarded in your life, sickness or health? Are people nicer to you when you get sick? Do sick people take advantage of you because you’re healthy and you can do more work than they do? I think we should be mindful of the strange paradoxes we have created for ourselves around the issue of health. And if health is our choice, we need to make sure we are rewarded in some satisfaction or another, in addition to the fact that health is its own reward.

People are more likely to participate in behaviors that will make themselves sick if there’s an incentive to be sick.  (Never coddle and reward child for being sick.  In most cases, they can work through it and nurse themselves back to health).

2. An alarming number of people think that healthy living necessarily means sacrificing enjoyable diet.  People have confessed that they know that their diet is quickly killing them but prefer to “die happy than live miserably.”  I agree, not being able to enjoy food isn’t a good way to live life.  But ultimately, healthy food versus tasty food is a false choice.  Healthy food IS tasty and fun food as long as one’s palate is developed.

It’s like with music.  For most children, simple, predictable tunes are most pleasurable.  Some, as they get older, develop more sophisticated taste in music.   Maybe they begin to appreciate harmonic dissonance or unusual frequency ratios between successive notes.     They become intolerant of sappy, saccharine music.  Or at least they can’t listen to R. Kelley or Spice Girls for more than 10 minutes, just as some grow sick of ranch dressing after enjoying a taste or two.  Palates mature with experience, patience, and thought.  I can’t say that those with mature palates are happier than those with less developed palates, but for the former, eating is a healthy and enjoyable activity, while for the latter, eating is an either-or exercise that tests will and discipline.

There are many other reasons why many don’t want to be healthy.  The point is, healthy living isn’t universally desired.  Many public health policies fail because they don’t recognize this fact, they assume everyone wants to be healthy.  So they think that giving the poor “healthy” options will improve their health (nope).  Or that it’s just a matter of education (nope).  Or it’s a matter of money, affordability (nope).  They don’t realize that for many, it’s a matter of taste and habit.

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