How Letting Go of the "Health Nut" Mask Set Me Free
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
As human beings, it's only natural to develop identities out of what we do and the roles we take on during our time on earth.
I believe it's when we cling too tight to roles, accomplishments, behaviors and ways of being for worthiness that the concept of identity becomes fraught with problems. That's when holding too tight to our identities can take us away from who we actually are.
It's kind of like going to a costume party with a mask on but keeping the mask on well beyond the party is over. And as I write this blog, I can reflect on the last 15 or so years of my life and say that I have worn many masks longer than my soul (or truest self) really wanted me to. But for the purpose of this blog, I'll focus a bit on one of the masks I wore in my late teens to mid 20s and one that I am often working with my clients to take off - the mask of the "health nut."
The health nut identity is far too common in our culture. It's often actually an eating disorder in disguise: orthorexia, an obsession with "healthy" eating.
Mine certainly was. I was known as the person who was "so disciplined," "so healthy," and "so good." How that translates in our culture is the person who plans out every single meal and snack ahead of time, obsesses over nutrition labels, eats only unsaturated fats, avoids sweets at all costs, must only have complex carbs and probably wakes up at the crack of dawn to exercise (even if they didn't enough sleep). That was me for years. And you know what? I can't think of a time in my adult life where I felt more anxious, more insecure, more exhausted, more uncomfortable in my skin and more disconnected from myself and others, than when I wore my health nut mask. Isn't it interesting that being "so healthy" in our culture often is quite the opposite in reality?
But I look back on those years with compassion towards my younger self - while I was a privileged young woman, I also had a lot of hard experiences to navigate that I simply did not have the tools or emotional intelligence to do so in an actually healthy way. It makes sense. And like most clients I work with, it's hard to realize that what you're doing is harming yourself, your life and sometimes those around you when you are so fused with that identity which comes with certain behaviors and ways of thinking. For me, it took regular panic attacks to finally realize I couldn't go on that way and I found a really good therapist I saw super regularly.
It didn't take me long to understand the emotional function of the health nut mask and see how clinging to that identity was killing my soul.
Once I started slowly taking off that mask, I was scared, for sure. But I was able to begin stepping into the person who I am underneath all of the clinging. Of course, taking off the health nut mask meant fully healing my relationships to food, my body and exercise. It meant reclaiming my authentic love for ice cream, pizza, wine, cheese boards, cookies, brownies, French fries, burgers, muffins, scones, and so much more! It meant letting go of my gym membership. It meant letting go of clothes that no longer fit my naturally changing body. All of those things were crucial in my process.
Enjoying a free relationship to food is one of my favorite parts of being alive, but what really made all of the therapy and healing work really worth it is the fact that I didn't have to cling to the health nut mask anymore to feel worthy. It was not what I was known for and not what I wanted to be known for anymore. I was free to connect with my true values and be who I really am -- someone who loves words, big adventures, foreign travel, dance parties, writing poetry, being in the woods. Someone who feels deeply, enjoys taking rest days on the couch, sleeping in and slow mornings. Someone who needs meaningful and soulful work and deep connections with other humans. What a relief.
As I sit here now looking back on that process, I have never been more grateful for the freedom that I have today, and that I no longer feel the need or pressure to cling to the identity of the health nut.
Life is so much more pleasurable and I have never felt healthier (truly!) than I do today. But, in all honesty, now in my mid 30s, I still struggle with identity. Sometimes, I start to get carried away by the fear and overwhelm that comes with the question I started asking myself in my most recent years, "Who am I, outside of what I do for work, and my various roles of wife, daughter, sister, friend, etc.?" Lately, when I do go down that rabbit hole, I let the hard emotions move through me and remind myself that my soul is what's left when all the titles are peeled away. That is what helps me to avoid drowning in my own fear and brings me peace.
Whether you believe in souls or not, try reminding yourself that your identity is your essence. It's YOU at your core. It's your truest self. And that, my friend, is what makes you worthy.
Thanks for reading!
In true health,