“…the term John Henryism now symbolizes the coping strategy characterized by aggressive tenacity, determination, and hard work while unconsciously sacrificing health issues in reaching the goal of meeting an environmental demand.”
John Henry not only represents the archetypal powerhouse/time bomb response to stress, but he also provides an example of failing to identify external limits. John Henry worked with only his internal sense of limits, meaning that he was convinced everything was within his power to change.
The lesson of John Henry can apply to both diet, what we do for health, work and life. Many people interested in improving their health through natural diet follow very austere diets which cut out elements of nutrition that are really proven to be healthy. The list is long including all sugars, meats and animal foods, carbohydrates, fats, foods that taste delicious, and calories.
After more than 40 years teaching, counseling and observing people in natural health approaches; I’ve seen that people take these restrictions too far, keep pushing themselves beyond what their body is saying is healthy and coming up with concepts as to why they should keep going in a direction that doesn’t make them feel well.
It can be confusing because during healing more often than not people feel worse at first. There is an idea that healing is all roses and rainbows. The reality that I’ve gained from counseling thousands of people is that there can be a lot of uncomfortable symptoms during healing. These do abate after a period of time.
My definition of knowing that you are following John Henryism in your diet is if your current natural diet is overly restrictive cutting out and demonizing calories and the major food groups: protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
If your diet has no animal proteins and you are not compensating for this with protein powders and supplements, and you are feeling poorly, the diet needs to change. If you are taking protein powders and supplements and feeling poorly on a vegan diet, you need to consider if this is right for you.
If your low carb diet is making you feel lousy, it is not a healing phase. The body needs carbohydrates.
With your diet, it is important not to be a John Henry. This is also a good rule of thumb for life and work. According to traditional eastern medicine’s teachings and the teachings of stress pioneer, Hans Selye, we only have a certain amount of adaptive energy to deal with stress. It is important in your diet and lifestyle to be aware of this and understand one’s limits in order to create a healthy longevity.
John Henryism: CL Edwards, G Bennett, Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology, [ed.] Y Jackson, 2006