Hailey Middlebrook: ‘Healthonism,’ working (out) hard to play hard

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - 4:56pm

Last August, on the last weekend of my summer internship, I entered a four-mile race in Bethlehem, PA. Though the town was typically quiet that summer, empty of neighboring Lehigh University students, this particular weekend marked the grand opening of Musikfest: a 10-day extravaganza of bands, beer and every form of fried food you can imagine, attended by more than a million people each year. Luckily, not every visitor entered the race that morning, and I was able to snag the first place prize: two tickets to a concert of my choice (the options were O.A.R., Snoop Dogg and 3 Doors Down; I chose O.A.R.) and a refillable beer mug the size of a small child.

I was thrilled. Sticking my swag behind a tree, I ran a few cool-down miles to shake out my stiffening muscles, but I could hear music swelling over the distant festival tents and gurgles of beer from a tap, willing me to join the fun. Later, regrouped at last with my summer roommates, I posed for a picture in my race bib, a banana in one hand and a complimentary can of Coors Light in the other. My caption on Instagram read, “Post-race carbo load at its finest.”

It’s no secret that working out hard tends to warrant celebration. My race was just one among thousands of running events that offer drinks at the finish line — and I’m not just talking Gatorade. Disney’s Wine-and-Dine Half Marathon ends at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival; a new 10K race in the U.K. offers wine instead of water at rest stops, with full bottles available for purchase at the finish. And then there’s the Marathon du Médoc in French wine country, the mackdaddy of party races, in which participants are encouraged to drink 23 different glasses of wine and sample cheese, oysters, foie gras and ice cream — all while somehow finishing 26.2 miles.

Marathon du Médoc’s goal? To make a running event that combines “wine, sports, fun and health.” And if trend predictions are accurate, this unlikely combination of health and indulgence may soon be more common than you think.  

“Healthonism,” a term coined by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, was featured in December on The Future 100, a list of top trends to watch for in 2016. Fox News describes the healthonism trend as such: “health-conscious millennials are offsetting consumption of alcohol with antioxidants and healthy mixers — mashing up exercise with hedonism, and flocking to a growing number of exercise-meets-drinking events.”

Hedonism, a lifestyle most associated with the wealthy men of leisure in 17th century England (think Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray”), isn’t as antiquated as it sounds: hedonists simply pursue a life of pleasure and experiences, rather than obeying structured rules of society. So a modern hedonist may be a high school student who chooses to travel indefinitely instead of going to college, or a celebrity who spends a fortune on plastic surgery but donates nothing to charity. “Healthonism” is similar in that healthonists also seek out the good life — refusing to miss out on a party or pass up a drink — but they do so in a health-conscious way. Healthonists don’t just party; they get crunk after completing a marathon, a group bike ride or a Bikram yoga session. Similarly, healthonists don’t just drink; they imbibe on cocktails with cold-pressed organic juices, like Hotamelon Tequila Cleanse and RaspberryAddict Vodka Cleanse from the brand CleanDrinking.

Healthonists eat well, work out hard and play even harder. Basically, good health is their utmost priority — until they’re undermining it.

Mixing alcohol and an active lifestyle, or really any healthy lifestyle, has been an obvious no-no for years. Though there are reported benefits of drinking moderately — the Mediterranean Diet, recommended for Americans by the 2016 Dietary Guidelines, includes a daily glass of wine — most doctors and exercise scientists agree that if you must drink, one to two glasses is the maximum you should have. Going past this limit, especially for active people, can wreak havoc on your health. Alcohol lowers your blood sugar, making you crave sweet and fatty foods; disrupts sleep patterns, impeding recovery; and it packs on pounds, as boozy calories have zero nutritional value.

Despite these negative consequences, athletes still drink. And they drink even more on days when they exercise the most, according to a recent article in CNN. Scientists have speculated a few reasons why particularly strenuous workouts (or races) inspire people to drink: there’s the “celebration factor,” when teams to want celebrate after a big win or runners regroup at a bar for post-long run beers; there’s also the guilt factor, perhaps more common, when athletes plan an intense workout before a big night out with friends.

Case in point: New Year’s Eve at the gym. I was there with the rest of my hometown this past December, getting my weight lifting in before the big night, when our family friend shouted up to me from his elliptical: “Gotta burn off all those beer calories!”

I’d like to say that I don’t do this, that I’m not a healthonist. Yet I find myself planning my longest run of the week the morning before going out that night; and if you asked whether I stick to lean chicken, veggies and water as a post-race recovery meal, I’d probably laugh. (For the record, my go-tos are ice cream and wine.)

Am I hurting my health by celebrating occasionally? Maybe a little. But you can bet that if I didn’t have a concert ticket and beer mug calling my name in the Musikfest race this summer, I wouldn’t have ran as hard or as fast as I did. A little motivation never hurt anybody, as long as the celebration is kept in moderation. Let’s raise a cold-pressed juice cocktail to that.