Students can be seen clutching their kale, acai bowls and Kombucha almost anywhere on campus. Healthy food trends continue to increase in popularity around D.C. and have become a national craze in recent years. But the health trend hasn’t only skyrocketed because of nutritious foods. The success of alternative workout facilities like SoulCycle, which seem to populate every other block in D.C., have also contributed to this phenomenon of healthy living. Even though it’s generally a positive movement, there are overwhelming negative impacts.
The trend has produced a perfectionist atmosphere which, at times, can be more detrimental than productive. This is especially true for college-age students – particularly young women – in their teens and 20s. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a student say they feel like a cow for having a burger and milkshake from Burger Tap & Shake and not working out that day, or – conversely – that they feel so proud of themselves for only eating a salad from sweetgreen in the last 24 hours. Most students are probably familiar with these kinds of statements on campuses across the country, and as a 19-year-old college female, I’m guilty of saying these things myself, too. This talk is especially relevant to GW, which is populated by ambitious students who hold themselves to high standards in every aspect of their lives. It’s not enough to just get good grades. We also want vibrant social lives, active involvement in our extracurriculars, an internship on the Hill and a perfect body. We want to have it all, and this can lead to an unhealthy level of perfectionism.
But this shouldn’t be how we think about healthy eating and exercise. This type of conversation, where people shame themselves for not sticking to a rigid routine, is harmful because it promotes extreme perfectionism that can lead to eating disorders or other kinds of unhealthy behavior. Being healthy shouldn’t be about shaming ourselves for not working out every day, or priding ourselves for eating a minimum amount of food. We need to work to change the conversation around health and wellness so that it’s more focused on the ways in which it improves our mental and physical strength, rather than how it makes us look in a mirror.