The push for “total wellness”—often conflated with diet culture—is everywhere. It looks like Instagram captions about “no cheat days,” conversations about being “bad” for eating dessert, multi-hour-long skin-care routines, journaling every morning at 5 a.m., and more. From advertisements to daily interactions to TikToks, we’re bombarded with the idea we have to eat and exercise perfectly. In other words, there’s no room for half-assed wellness.
But life doesn’t (and shouldn’t) work that way. As Mikala Jamison wrote about in her “Body Type” newsletter, “we have to be okay with ‘half-assing’ wellness sometimes.” What a freeing and beautiful thought that is, you know? “Perfect” is no longer the everyday goal: “Half-assing” is.
Maybe you skip Zumba one Tuesday because your kid is sick, or you’re sick, or maybe just because you’d rather catch up on a TV show and eat takeout. Those are all totally valid reasons—and according to experts, they’re healthy, too.
How ‘half-assed’ wellness is good for you
The benefits of half-assed wellness reach far and wide, from your mindset to your physical well-being to your ability to achieve your goals and more. Some examples include…
Avoiding the risks associated with “perfection”
One of the main pros is fighting against diet culture’s harms. It encourages us to work toward health (if that’s a goal) without expecting too much. “Remember that the impossible quest for ‘perfect’ health could make us anything but well,” says Gabriela Cohen, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Equip Health. For starters, exercising when you’re sick, tired, or injured can lead to longer-lasting fatigue, worsened injuries, soreness, irritability, decreased sleep quality, and more. Another example: Not eating enough carbs can leave you feeling fatigued and shaky.
Setting an intention to half-ass wellness can also increase your motivation, believe it or not. “In my experience, all-or-nothing thinking is one of the biggest mindset barriers,” says Barb Puzanovova, a non-diet, HAES-aligned, certified personal trainer. “High standards may work when life is going according to plan, but they fail when life gets ‘lifey’—like illness, injury, fatigue, stress, work, or caretaker responsibilities that are all part of our human experience.” By taking a half-assed approach, you realize a 10-minute walk is better than no walk.
This mindset takes your whole self into account. Puzanovova shares the example of having a goal of X steps a day. If reaching that requires you to skip lunch or go to sleep late, it’s not as “healthy” as it seems.
On that note, Cohen encourages taking a critical look at what’s actually healthy. Maybe the behavior seems “good” on the outside, she says, but compromises your well-being in reality. Meditation, enough sleep, going on a walk, and journaling are pretty safe bets, she adds, while cutting out food groups, not taking rest days, and logging your calorie counts are more harmful.
Opening you up to opportunities that fit you better
Addressing one part of your health through “half-assing” another part allows for future opportunities. “Doing these ‘half-ass’ forms of wellness can not only give us some benefit in the moment, [but] these benefits [can also] be the boost we need to get to a place where whole-ass wellness is an option,” says Whitney McSparran, a licensed professional certified counselor with Thriveworks in Cleveland, who helps clients with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and more. If you don’t have other barriers in the way—which we’ll get to in a bit—switching your HIIT exercises for a walk, for example, may mean you have the energy for your favorite cycling class tomorrow.
This also keeps you in tune with your body’s needs rather than diet culture’s (inaccurate) demands. “When you give yourself permission to half-ass your wellness routine, you open up to an ‘inside out’ relationship with yourself,” says Breese Annable, PsyD, CEDS-S, a psychologist and the owner of Living Balance Psychotherapy. “In an ‘inside out’ relationship with yourself, you allow your body and intuition to guide you on how to best take care of yourself day to day.” This perspective can help you eliminate external shame and judgment, she adds.
What half-assed wellness can look like
Wellness, in general, entails something different for each person at each moment. It may be movement one day and watching Netflix the next. It may be going to a restaurant with friends for dinner one night, and eating a home-cooked meal with family another, Cohen suggests. There’s no formula. However, these experts do have tips on how you can envision what this could include for you.
Listening to your body each day
First, it’s important to note that half-assed energy looks different day to day, so while you may consider a certain workout to be a 50-percent effort one day, it might take all of your energy and time the next.
It’s all about what your gut says “yes” or “no” to. When Annable thought about doing downward dog in the midst of recovering from COVID, her body rejected the idea. But at the thought of doing stretches that allowed her to lie down and move the parts of her body that felt stiff, her brain said “green light,” she shares. “From the outside, it was a very ‘half-assed’ yoga practice,” she says. “But it was exactly what I had the capacity for in that moment.”
Focusing on what truly matters most
Given the weight loss industry is worth at least $72 billion, another “hack” is to consider how capitalism (versus true wellness, and the flexibility that comes with it) may be involved in the decisions your making or the advice other people are offering. “Consider who might be making money in this situation and whether they will actually help you take care of yourself,” Cohen says.
She and Puzanovova also encourage adding things to your life rather than taking away. With food, this could entail looking at the “intuitive eating” framework, and more specifically, the “gentle nutrition” tenet of adding a vegetable instead of subtracting a cookie. From a fitness standpoint, maybe stretching at home fits your needs better than attending a hot yoga class.
“Half-assing is actually an integral part of reaching our goals, not an antithesis,” Puzanovova says. “Start by checking in with how your body feels physically and emotionally.”
Does this mean we should never push ourselves?
According to McSparran, the answer depends on two things: scale and impact. Half-assing constantly may mean something in your life needs to change, like a too-busy schedule—especially if the consequences are more serious.
For example, skipping a night of journaling probably won’t affect you like skipping a day’s dose of medication will, she says. “When the scale or impact of half-assed wellness becomes too great, we may need to push ourselves,” she says. “Try to avoid seeing ‘half-ass’ as a failing, but rather an internal barometer to show you areas of your well-being you may be ignoring.”
First, take a look at your day (or week)
One important question is whether this practice will serve you right now. “Discontinuing a practice or routine that is no longer beneficial to your life doesn’t make you a failure,” Cohen says. And that will look different each day. When your body feels an urge to move, pushing yourself to engage in some form of exercise—whether that’s HIIT, stretching, dancing around the kitchen, or something else—may be a good idea. But if you’re feeling tired and just want to watch a comedy, that’s fair, too.
If you’re not sure, consider what else went on that day. “If you answered that you’re tired, kind of hungry, drank mostly coffee, and [are] super stressed, it’s time to half-ass,” Puzanovova says. “And if you’re somewhere in between—stressed but slept okay—then experiment with going with what’s planned and give yourself permission to back off [or] change the game plan.”
Along those lines, Cohen encourages identifying problems you’re facing and what would directly address them. If you’re constantly tired, going to bed earlier several nights is probably going to help you more than squeezing in a workout or restricting carbs. “I would consider avoiding behaviors that stem from the wrong ‘why,’ and putting your focus on something more positive,” she adds. Exercising with the intent of having fun is different from exercising because you hate your body.
What your choices can tell you about your life
If you never allow yourself to half-ass, ask why. “It’s likely that your values have been influenced culturally, by society, or even the family you grew up in, to value work, productivity, winning, perfection, and other ways of ‘doing the most,’” Puzanovova says. What altered mindset feels better to you and more true to your values?
On the other hand, if you feel like you’re always having to half-ass wellness when you don’t want to, Puzanovova suggests asking what you need, whether that’s a more sustainable workout, support, etc. Sometimes, it’ll be out of your hands, however. “Do you need to recognize that there are very real barriers in your life—disability, poverty, mental illness, etc.—that make mainstream wellness practices more difficult and less accessible to you?” she adds.
Acknowledging those barriers on a societal level is crucial, too. “If we approach wellness as ‘one size fits all’ or something that we should be able to easily obtain with little to no effort, we are setting ourselves up to feel shame and self-judgment that can lead to anxiety and/or depression,” says Ashlee Knight, LMHC, psychotherapist and chief program officer of Project HEAL. “We’re also set up to judge other people for not pursuing wellness when we have no idea what individual barriers they face in doing so.”
If you feel guilty, remember this
As unrelated as wellness is to morality, it’s understandable you may still deal with guilt and shame in regards to your half-assed approach to wellness. After all, they’ve been deeply entrenched into many of us, and are something many people still abide by. Despite those difficulties, you can live a happy, “half-assed” life by keeping a couple of tips in mind.
Allow the guilt *and* give yourself grace
First, try to not judge yourself for feeling guilty—it’s normal. “You’ll likely feel guilty when you practice doing less,” Puzanovova says. “Allow the emotion of guilt to be there while practicing honoring your body.” She encourages surrounding yourself with people who share these values. Annable agrees, encouraging you to do the half-assed workout in the midst of your guilt, realizing it won’t magically go away.
Cohen recommends giving yourself grace and changing your perspective. “Look at people you admire and what you admire about them,” she says. “I bet it has little to do with their ‘wellness’ and more to do with who they are as a person.” She adds curating your social media feeds to only seeing accounts that truly nourish your mind and soul can help, too.
Think about who profits off your guilt
Consider where that guilt comes from and who’s benefiting from it. “Ask yourself if you’ve really acted out of alignment with your values or if, instead, guilt is based on an unrealistic expectation of yourself or a rigid idea about what it means to be ‘healthy,” Annable says.
After all, when it comes down to it, “achieving wellness”—whatever that means—is much more complicated and a lot less accessible than companies try to make us believe. “The reality is that true wellness, thriving instead of just surviving, takes an incredible amount of time, self-awareness, and privilege, and is very individualized to each person in the context of their own life and circumstances,” Knight adds. And that’s not your fault or anything to feel bad about.
Lastly, keep in mind that wellness is not a moral issue. “Always remember there is no need to change anything,” Cohen says. “You are more than fine the way you are.”