Unless you're replacing your morning coffee with kale juice, dragging yourself out of bed at 5am for another punishing workout and spending your entire Sunday afternoon preparing food for the week, these days it can feel like you're just not trying hard enough to be healthy. It seems that being healthy has become a full-time job, with overtime.
We can mostly blame social media for this, with 'healthy lifestyles' now paraded all over Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and basically anywhere you look. Impressive as these displays of dedication are, I don't really blame people for feeling like they just can't quite be bothered with it all. Witnessing the endless stream of health and fitness routines is exhausting enough, let alone actually trying to do any of this stuff yourself.
But looking after yourself doesn't have to mean a lifetime of abstinence and self-flagellation. Here are just a few of the many things you don't actually need to do to be healthy.
There's no doubt that a smoothie full of fresh fruit and vegetables is indeed very nutritious, particularly those of the green variety, which explains the explosive popularity of 'green smoothies' in the past few years. But if you believed the hype, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's actually not possible to function as a human being without them. So what do you do if you're just not a fan or simply can't be bothered spending precious time in the morning deribbing kale leaves? Fear not, you can actually have a perfectly healthy diet without them. In fact, people have managed to do so for centuries without having ever heard of a green smoothie.
If we simply eat more fruit and veg, there is really no need for such extreme measures as drinking five different vegetables before 7am. If you genuinely like green smoothies, then by all means go for it, but don't force them down your throat each morning if you don't. Just make sure you get your two fruit and five veg per day, whether that's in a smoothie or just the good old fashioned way of chewing on them consistently at regular intervals throughout the day (a.k.a meals).
Instagram may have you believe that 'failing to prepare is preparing to fail', but the reality is that being healthy doesn't require military level organisation and planning. If making all your food for the week on a Sunday afternoon or a Monday night works for you, great. If you'd rather be out enjoying the sunshine or even semi-comatose on the couch watching re-runs of Friends, then that's fine too.
Yes, a little bit of planning can go a long way to making sure you have healthy food for the week, but this could just be a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on a few essentials.
The truth is, there are plenty of foods which are just as 'super' as the ones which get all the glory, they just aren't marketed as well. Just because Beyonce isn't wearing a 'spinach' jumper in her video clips doesn't mean it's any less healthy than the much-overhyped kale. Putting your time, money and effort into getting your two fruit and five veg, plus some whole grains, protein and healthy fats, will have much greater health benefits overall than rushing out to stock up on the latest superfood.
We are constantly being told about how we need to 'detox' or 'cleanse' our systems to get rid of all the 'toxins'. But our livers don't actually need to be 'detoxed'. That's their job and they are perfectly happy to do it and capable of doing it well.
But why do they seem to work then? A detox may indeed result in you looking and feeling better initially, but this isn't because of any miraculous ingredients in the prescribed juices/diet/outrageously expensive supplements. It's simply due to the fact that you're eating far more fruit and vegetables than you normally do and you've automatically cut out highly processed foods, alcohol, saturated fat and added sugars from your diet. So the initial feelings of enhanced wellbeing are, in fact, hardly miraculous. Ultimately, it's our all-or-nothing attitudes and lack of a consistently healthy diet that are the real problem, not 'toxins'.
Hardcore boot camps, intense gym sessions and brutal fitness classes that cost the equivalent of a week's rent and rob you of the will to live appear to have become the norm. We seem to have developed a mentality that unless it hurts, it doesn't count (and the more it hurts your hip pocket the better the results will be too).
But exercise doesn't actually need to be punishing to be good for you, and at the end of the day, if you hate doing it you're probably not going to stick to it. So instead of gritting your teeth through your masochistic exercise of choice in the pursuit of fitness, find something you actually like doing. In the end, a less intense but consistent exercise routine will be much more beneficial than six weeks of painful workouts followed by a burn out and six weeks of doing nothing.
The bottom line...
Focus on getting back to basics, eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, eat more fruit and vegetables, ditch the highly processed stuff, cook more, take time to sit down and enjoy meals without distractions, find exercise you actually like and embrace the unfollow button on Instagram. Healthy doesn't have to be so hard.
This post first appeared on July 22, 2016.