Being Healthy Is Better Than Looking Healthy

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  By Julia Gumm

Garcinia CambogiaHow did you get interested in health? I can tell you that for me, it wasn’t on purpose. No, it came about by accident, the by-product of my insatiable need to have reading material present at all times. By the time I was in elementary school, breakfast was just as much about the mental digestion of the nutrition label as it was about the physical digestion of the malted corn puffs themselves. That habit, coupled with my natural curiosity, led me down the rabbit hole. And here I am. Ta-da!

I also need reading material on the shitter. Hey, who doesn’t. To me, there are few fates worse than finding myself seated comfortably on the bowl with nary a shampoo bottle in reach. I’ve combed the labels of toiletry bottles so thoroughly that although I am solidly monolingual, I have words like “wash,” “rinse,” and “shower” memorized in at least three languages. I will say, it took me quite awhile to figure out why the French were imploring me to “douche” with my shower gel. Yikes.

But I’ll tell you what really sticks out to me about these toiletry labels. You’d be hard pressed to find a product, any product, that truly believes in its ability to improve the actual health of its targeted body part. Oh sure, they all make bold claims like “whiter teeth” and “lustrous hair” and “radiant skin”- all good stuff, no doubt. But the word “healthy” is always qualified with a “looking.” Toothpastes, face wash, moisturizer, hair conditioner, it’ll all make for healthy LOOKING results. Whether or not your teeth, skin or hair IS healthy, well that’s a whole ‘nother matter. But do we really care?Healthy Looking Hair

I realize that this may in part have to do with the legality of their claims. Maybe if some company that fills its products with carcinogens responsible for the deaths of innumerable baby seals once leached into the waterways makes some great claim about their shampoo being “healthy,” someone would sue them. Or whatever. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe we’re a shallow, vain society that is perfectly satisfied with achieving the mere appearance of good health. All else matters not. Because really, what is health besides a means to look good? And if we have to do things that are in truth, not so healthy, in order to achieve the illusion of a sound constitution, won’t most folks go ahead and do it anyway? The word “healthy” becomes a shadow of its former self, an adjective hinting at the illusion of something it once meant. In turn, we coat our hair with polymers, weaken the (now blindingly white) enamel on our teeth, and dust our cheeks with chemical laden powders that deliver the glow of robust health. It’s pretty hilarious when you think about it.

What made me think of this topic was the constant onslaught of garcinia cambogia ads in my Facebook feed. The accompanying video showing Dr. Oz popping a (metaphorical?) boner over it has been my first introduction to the man, and I gotta tell you, I am less than impressed. After watching his rave reviews of various miracle weight loss cures, the good doctor appears to be little more than an enthusiastic pill pusher with a penchant for totally uncritical thinking. Maybe that’s not all he is, but frankly, I don’t have the wherewithal to watch enough of his show to make a fair assessment. After watching his mind get blown over the shrinking balloons that represent fat cells on raspberry ketones in his veritable middle school science project, followed by his “stay tuned for fat slimming fashion secrets” hawk, I had seen quite enough.

I have a point somewhere…ah right, the lengths we go to to appear healthy, at the cost of our actual health. So in all these garcinia cambogia ads, there are before and after pictures. The “before” picture generally shows a woman with a perfectly average body. Yes, there’s some visible fat, but that’s kind of the human condition, Perfect Teethespecially on this side of the gender equation. And then the “after” reveals a supremely ripped, thin woman whose bosoms have miraculously swelled in inverse proportions to the shrinkage of her now perfectly cut abs. The comments are divided. Some people are befuddled: What was wrong with her in the before picture? But those people are just lazy haters, or you would be led to believe by the comments left by those who favor the “after” picture. The defense is that she looks so much “healthier” after having used the diet pills and possibly gotten plastic surgery (or at least, a really amazing push-up bra.) Some people say what they really mean, which is just that she looks hotter. But most people can’t be that bald-faced about their shallowness.

Sometimes, people are applauded for how “healthy” they look when eating a restricted-calorie diet that can’t possibly meet the RDA’s of vitamins and minerals without resorting to supplementation.

Some folks are praised for losing weight quickly, even though we all know that fast weight loss almost always results in rebound weight gain. Sooner or later, admit it. It does.

Often, teenagers with self-esteem issues are patted on the back for losing weight without any consideration or inquiry into how they did it.

Maybe you enviously look at your coworker’s salad lunch and wish you could eat as “healthy” as she does, even though a dainty pile of roughage wouldn’t so much as shave the edge off of your genuinely healthy appetite.

I think we have a problem here.

Looking healthy and being healthy are two completely different things. But what do you expect from us, huh? We’re the kind of people who’ll judge whether or not a couple goes well together by how cute they look with each other. Or we won’t purchase knotted, blemished apples because they look gross…which drives producers to use pesticides and wax on them, which I’m sure we can all agree, is actually gross. Or hey, how about the crap they put in beef in grocery stores? You know, to make it look red and fresh? People love that shit. Until they realize it’s in there.Healthy Looking

In recent years, consumers have become more informed about the ick in their food, toiletries and household products. When they find out that they’ve been duped into buying sundries laden with harmful chemicals and additives, they’re outraged. They want to know why a company would do such a thing, and they want natural alternatives. But if that alternative is a steak lacking the marbling you can find it’s feedlot counterpart, or a conditioner that doesn’t quite leave the hair feeling as pliably soft as their Pantene, they’re just as pissed off as before. And sometimes, when adopting a truly balanced, healthy lifestyle, people can be disappointed that their bodies don’t end up looking as perfect as the airbrushed  projections of the starlets on the magazines.

So here’s the deal: What we think of as healthy looking isn’t always healthy. Sometimes healthy things come in less than aesthetically perfect packages. Sometimes what’s good for you is what you’ve been led to believe is bad for you. Perfect appearances and perfect health are not the same thing. Make your choice, but you can’t serve two masters. Good health will result in better looks than the kind you’d get from atrophying on the couch, away from all daylight and green vegetables, yes. But don’t expect the kind of visual miracles your tooth bleach and restrictive diet can deliver. Do expect a wholeness of self and a natural self-confidence. And some good ass apples, if you can handle the knots.


  1. Oh man. Not only is this post spot on, but it includes a healthy dose of Oz-bashing which is an automatic +50 points in my score book.

  2. Off topic – does anyone else get chest pain from butter consumption?
    I have been eating mostly tallow and coconut oil for fats for the past year, but just had a lot of homemade cookies with lots of butter and my chest hurts. Also, I got pretty bad heartburn. I don’t have problems with other dairy as I drink milk and eat ice cream. But the butter…

    • I have noticed over the past several years that the heavier my diet gets in fat and protein, the more pain I feel in the center of my chest, and also the more indigestion I suffer from. Although the two pains aren’t related and don’t occur at the same time. Indigestion isn’t the cause of the chest pain is what I’m saying. So no, you wouldn’t be the only one who has noticed this. Pork fat gets me the worst though. 10 times worse than a lot of butter or coconut oil.

      • Me too. Pork kills me, although I don’t have problems with butter. Sometimes lamb can be heartburny for me too.

    • Ah thanks for sharing! Interesting the pain is more in the left center of my chest.
      Oh that’s strange that pork does that.

      It might be butter for me because my body built up a resistance to it since I was shoveling down butter during my Paleo stint and would go through 2 sticks (one kerrygold block) a week. I would eat butter slices when hungry. Gross.

      Didn’t you eat a lot of pork Matt before your feet became sore and had chest pain?
      Is it a thing that people built resistances to one food they eat too much?

      • I ate a lot of meat/fat and pork for about a year before I started having chronic pain in the center of my chest. I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative “reaction” to pork as much as it is cumulative damage from eating so much inflammatory fat (Arachidonic acid).

  3. Julia as you know, this is spot on!

    Nice read, thanks.

  4. Xavi, chest pain commonly accompanies more severe heartburn, which can be made worse by many carbs and high fats. That may be your problem with butter. Try to stay higher protein and vegetables, lower fat and carbs. The Fast Tract diet by Robilard is a good education in foods that cause fewer problems.

    • Julie BW there is more than one solution to such problems. I think mixing high protein and fat (esp pufas or Trans fats) is the problem. I have seen chest pain a couple times after eating lots of fat and meat. I can eat fat and carbs all day with perfect digestion, no heartburn or pain. I’m not totally sure what causes it, but I’m five with while milk, sugar soda, white potatoes minus skin, organic white rice or butter cookies. There are other variables. Lean meat and vegetables is what Dr. Mercola eats and he looked like a bald skeleton. No thanks. I will stay away from his diet advice and Dr. Oz (pay no attention to the facts behind the curtain).

      • Thanks Mercury. It was eating both fat and carbs that finally ended my multi-year battle with heartburn.

        • Can you please explain exactly what you changed in your diet that stopped your heartburn,Matt ? Do you mean you added carbs and fat to your diet and that stopped your heartburn? I have constant heartburn after anything I eat and am desperate to find the source.

          • All I did was eat large amounts of all the macronutrients to fullness like I had basically done all my life before the heartburn issue started. When the heartburn problem was there I was always trying to omit things and figure it out but never could.

          • I solved heartburn, by reducing liquids. If I drink lots of water, instant heartburn. Also extra salt can help.

          • I wrote a post back in 2007 about how water was the greatest aggravator of my heartburn at the time. Doesn’t bother me now though.

      • Good point about Dr Mercola… I do get his newsletter and always like what he has to say but I don’t think he looks so great/healthy… and Dr Andrew Weil is gray and fat so I wonder if their stressing out about every little toxin and vitamin deficiency hasn’t caused chronic stress that ages them and makes them not appear so healthy. Every time i see them I ask, ” if you’re so healthy than how come you sure don’t look so great…?

    • Julie thanks for sharing. I like carbs and high sat fat stuff though, although in moderation. It’s just butter that has been tough on me. I tried high protein and veg combo at one point and I didn’t like the food and the food cravings I got (although it may be more psychological rather than being nutrient-deprived.)

      Mercury thanks for sharing too. Good points. I’ll keep in mind about how you noticed the chest pain with certain foods.

  5. Excellent post! Spot on.

  6. Awesome, spot on, all that. Totally! Especially the lettuce part. When I was healthy I ate so much GD Lettuce, Apples, Shredded carrot that now I just have absolutely no interest in those kinds of foods, except VERY sparingly I need something raw-ish so I make myself some fresh orange juice with bee pollen and honey or just delicious sugary lemonade if it’s hot out. Oh and also, I’m 30 pounds heavier after having a baby and living through some stressful times, but I can run 30 min at 11min/mile literally without a single puff, just feel good sweat, and some heart rate elevation, which I COULDN’T do when I was healthy and 30 pounds less. I’m also experiencing for the first time since I was 15 years old, exercising because I want to and my body begs me too.

    • Yeah Emily, I think a lot of people would be surprised to see how much better they’d feel if they put on a few pounds. The “healthy” look, I’ve found, doesn’t make for long-term well being. At least not for this gal. When my body fat goes below a certain percentage, the whole system goes “Whoa, hey, what exactly are you sprinting for? We’re running on limited resources here, sister, Slow it down.” And then I do, or in the past, I’d have to start pounding stimulants. No thanks.

  7. Julia I’m guessing you’ll read phone books if there’s nothing else, also car manuals and mapbooks. Yes, me too! Also instruction leaflets in Chinese ;-)

    • Right you are, my friend. I miss getting print magazines like Time and Newsweek because they forced me to be a well-rounded person as I’d read them cover to cover out of compulsion. Even the articles on subjects I cared nothing about. Now I can choose what I read about on the Internet, which explains how I’ve been shielded from Dr. Oz until recently…

    • And BTW, maps and atlases are some of my absolute favorite reading material! Endless engagement!

  8. I love maps! The original armchair travel. Also escapist heaven!

  9. This is one of your best posts, Julia. <3 I love it.

  10. What is it with reading on the toilet? I go when I feel the urge and never even sit on the toilet, I prefer to squat and not touch the toilet, esp in public. When I’m healthy I don’t need to sit. A few times when I had constipation (by eating hospital food and drugs), I sat on the toilet and strained, but it’s better to squat, IMO, or use something like “nature’s platform.” Why sit on the toilet at all?

    • Yeah, I think you have to be pretty plugged to be on the toilet long enough to reach for reading material. I never got much reading in during the 10-20 second poops I’ve taken since I learned how to read.

      • I think of the shitter as a time out. Kinda like a smoke break. I get to go in a room by myself and no one is gonna bother me. I like to hang out and take my time, get a little reading done, ponder the quandries of existence, stare slack-jawed at toiletry labels. You know.

  11. Oh man, I am the product of this mentality.

    Adderall + any other stimulant I could get my hands on = 15 pounds gone and friends asking me for my workout regime.

    If you get skinny enough as a female who spent a childhood in competitive sports, lifting, attending sports acceleration programs, I guess you can fake everyone into thinking you’re running 5 miles a day with biceps that readily peak through.

    Unfortunately, my stimulant abuse was very short-lived, about a year and a half, but don’t worry, that was enough to start the beginning of a journey with adrenal problems, panic attacks, and inability to tolerate even *less serious stimulants* like coffee.

    Young ladies/men thinking popping addy’s will give you that beautiful buzz in your head and too skinny legs forever–think again, my friends.


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