Break the rules,
or break yourself.
Wanna be healthy in an unhealthy world?
Stop complying with the crazy that passes for "normal."
Welcome to the Way of the Healthy Deviant
The word “deviant” might sound naughty, even dangerous, but its dictionary definition is pretty straightforward:
n. One that differs from a norm, especially a person whose behavior and attitudes differ from accepted social standards. — American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Ed.
So what is a Healthy Deviant?
n. One who willingly defies unhealthy norms and conventions in order to achieve a high level of vitality, resilience, and autonomy. — Pilar Gerasimo, 1st Ed.
My name is Pilar Gerasimo, and I’m currently writing a book about Healthy Deviance — what it means, what it takes, and why it matters.
Part manifesto, part new-era survival guide, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Being a Healthy Person in an Unhealthy World will be be published in January 2020 by North Atlantic books.
What Is Healthy Deviance?
Healthy Deviance is the renegade act of being energized, radiant, and resilient in a society where, sadly, most people are either stuck in a downward spiral or just getting by.
Becoming a Healthy Deviant requires outwitting the so-called "normal" status-quo and evading the vitality-sapping grip of what I call our Unhealthy Default Reality — the combination of automatic choices, convenience-and-cost-driven incentives, pervasive beliefs and attitudes, and dominant social norms that make unhealthy choices much easier to make than healthy ones.
Outsmarting the Unhealthy Default Reality is (like most things) easier said than done, but it is also wildly worth doing. Because going along with what currently passes for "normal" in our society is a one-way ticket to degraded health and wellbeing.
Death by Status Quo
The numbers tell a stark story: We currently live in a culture that produces more unhealthy, unhappy people than healthy, happy ones.
In fact, right now, the unhealthy-to-healthy ratio is arguably running about a hundred to one. Check it out …
50 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with at least one chronic illness
At least two thirds are overweight or obese
An estimated seventy percent take pharmaceutical drugs daily
80 percent aren’t thriving mentally and emotionally
More than 97 percent aren’t managing even four basic health habits (eating a reasonably healthy diet, getting moderate amounts of exercise, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy body composition) considered essential to longterm wellbeing
Even fewer, arguably less than 1 percent, are regularly practicing those four habits and also practicing other equally important habits (including getting enough sleep, managing stress, and maintaining strong social connections) considered to be equally or even more critical to longterm wellbeing.
Bottom line: If you are currently a healthy and happy person in today’s United States of America (or in any one of a growing number of countries now following our lead), you represent a tiny and shrinking minority.
Facing Down Funky Odds
Beating those discouraging odds (and the oppressive systems that produced them) starts with understanding one basic, disturbing fact:
If you aren’t breaking the rules, you’re probably breaking yourself.
Over the past 50 years or so, breaking ourselves is exactly what most of us have been doing. We’ve either been following our culture’s paths of least resistance (processed foods, sedentary screen time, reliance on symptom-suppressing drugs), or we’ve been getting dragged along by its punishing health-improvement prescriptions (unachievable perfect-body ideals, fussy diets, overwhelming exercise routines). Or, worse, we’ve been staggering around, exhausted and inflamed, doing all of the above.
In the process, we have been inadvertently playing into the hands of the very systems that are breaking us down.
Clearly, we have to stop doing that.
But rescinding our complicity with the Unhealthy Default Reality is easier said than done. Moving away from our society’s pre-programmed defaults requires busting out of well-worn ruts, swimming against powerful tides. All of which requires energy, attention, and resilience that most busy, exhausted, chronically overwhelmed people simply do not have to spare.
All forms of social deviance — even the healthy, positive kind — carry unspoken costs and risks. And that’s one big, wildly under-appreciated reason that, despite their best efforts, the vast majority of people who chase health and happiness in our culture don’t ever attain them.
Yet somehow, against all odds, a few healthy oddballs manage to pull it off. Some of them even make it look easy.
The question is: How?
The Healthy Deviant strives to answer that question in a practical way, revealing the unlikely means by which a small number of bright-spot outliers are managing to pull off the seemingly impossible — and how you can, too.
Slipping the Depletion Trap
The Healthy Deviant approach is based on a simple, science-supported thesis:
Faced with a serious, high-stress challenge, an aware, energized, and resilient person stands a much better chance of coping than a distracted, depleted, fragile one.
Research experiments into a phenomenon known as “ego-depletion” have repeatedly demonstrated that under conditions that require us to exert a great deal of self-control or endure a significant level of stress, humans experience a rapid depletion of attention, cognitive capacity, and what we think of as our “willpower.”
Translation: No matter how healthy your intentions, confronted with a long enough stream of pressures, frustrations and temptations, eventually you’re going to cave and take the path of least resistance. And every time that happens, you’re probably going to feel like a failure, a weakling, a disappointment to yourself. You may be inclined to stop trying, at least take a break until you get your mojo back.
This is a phenomenon that virtually all of us have experienced firsthand. And no wonder: For most of us, “conditions that require us to exert a great deal of self-control or endure a significant level of stress” pretty much describes the bulk of our everyday lives.
Right, so here’s the deal: Before you embark on any health-motivated diet, exercise, or self-help program, it helps to first understand the challenging, real-world context in which that effort is taking place.
It helps to instill the practices, perspectives, and skills that give you the best possible advantage in dealing with our crazy-culture dynamics, and that empower you to operate successfully within them.
That, in essence, is the strategy behind The Healthy Deviant solution. Many of its tactics (including Nonconformist Competencies and Renegade Rituals) amount to ju-jitsu moves — the use of artful, subtle, low-effort shifts that achieve big leverage, and some surprisingly big results. Its larger promise lies in making the whole process of getting healthier more fun, easeful and rewarding than whatever you’ve been doing (or dreading doing) for ages.
Rejecting the notion that health improvement is all about diet and exercise, The Healthy Deviant reframes the act of being healthy in an unhealthy world as a creative, heroic, and profoundly exciting act of social rebellion. It demonstrates how we can leave tired, counterproductive health-improvement models behind, and instead carve out more direct and rewarding paths toward our own ideals of resilience and vitality. Starting now.
Wondering if you are a Healthy Deviant? Take this quiz and find out. Then read on to learn more. And sign up for my mailing list to get Healthy Deviant tips, updates, and sneak previews from my book.