Why I fail at being healthy

Today I absentmindedly scanned the almond milk container at my local coffee joint. There in the second position on the list: sugar. “What the f^%@?” I may have bleeted out as I started fuming and wondering how many drinks I had errantly ingested with sugar in them. I remembered checking the cafe’s almond milk container probably a year ago, and at the time, it had been sugar and other-nasties-free. Sigh. Total health fail.

But it got me to thinking about the urge to avoid nasty stuff and how that positive drive can sometimes steer us wrong.

Healthy replacements and swaps for typical food items can be  amazing, but this whole swapping process has been taken over by companies looking to profit off our keen consumer motivations to avoid whatever food substances have become the offending item du jour. A glut of items labelled health foods are now in the market, and the vast majority of them aren’t all that great.

The problem comes when we confuse the act of swapping or stopping with the main thing we are trying to achieve. Sure, we need to make a change, and let me just say that making a change deserves huge kudos. But… we also need to put more attention on the new habit itself, rather than simply the stopping of the old one.

My almond milk story above is a case in point. I was trying to avoid milk. But I confused the act of “not-having-milk” with health. The item I swapped in to replace the milk needed to be scrutinised just as much as the milk was. In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the milk itself was healthier than the sugary almond milk I ended up ingesting! Despite the fact it was a sugar-laden, health-traitor,  the almond milk container practically smiled up at me, decorated with loads of colourful health starbursts and shouty labels proclaiming it as a superior health food: “Low in fat! Low calories! Source of calcium! Non GMO!”

The swap is often worse than the original offender:  margarine is far worse than butter, almost anything in a store labelled low-fat is terrible for you, most gluten-free products are full of disease-causing sugar, many vegetarian soy products are full of dangerous GMO’s and fats. The point I’m making here is not to avoid making the swap. It is amazing to reduce wheat, sugar, meats, and many other food-like-packaged-substances and replace them with awesome whole foods. When we do the replacement however, we simply need to prioritise our health as the main outcome, and not rely on a food label as a short-hand way of making decisions.

This is all part of the beautiful process of walking the path towards health in baby steps. I love stuff like this that reminds me to harness the power of mistakes and failure along the way.