opinion

‘Wellness’ is a completely made up industry and it’s making women sick.

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This post deals with eating disorders and might be triggering for some readers. 

I don’t think many people are going to like my opinion on the wellness industry. I mean, how could anyone not like wellness? It’s about being healthy and happy and who doesn’t want that? We all do.

Except it’s not making us well.

It’s making us insecure, overwhelmed and obsessed.

Watch: 10 scientifically proven ways to be a happier person. Post continues below.

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First, let’s look at the word ‘wellness’. We could argue it’s not a proper word, but it’s in the dictionary so I won’t fight you on it. The definition is ‘the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal’.

That second bit is the important part. An actively pursued goal. Something you work towards, strive for and aspire to… but for many, never quite feel like you’ve got there. Where is the finish line?

Sure, if you’re unhealthy, or certainly sick, being more well than you are is a good thing. It could probably save your life. And, of course, there are qualified doctors who can help you with that.

But the wellness industry isn’t backed by doctors. It’s mostly driven by thin white celebrities and influencers with no qualifications, and your friend Suzy who did a homeopathy course on the weekend, and Beth at school drop off who’s an expert in essential oils.

It’s about taking expensive vitamins without first having a professional determine if you’re deficient. About drinking celery juice because it’s ‘magic’. About eliminating food groups and wearing the right brand leggings and cutting out gluten.

Actively pursuing a goal is excellent. Although, when it comes to ‘wellness’ most people will never reach it, because the more into it people get, the more the world opens up to being more well. How well is well enough? According to the wellness industry you can always be ‘more well’. We’re looking for a bullseye when in reality we’ve been dragged into Alice’s Wonderland.

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Count how many times you’ve seen a dietitian use the term ‘clean eating’. Now count how many fitness experts or gym enthusiasts with no qualifications in nutrition talk about clean diets and cheat meals.

Orthorexia is the condition of obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet. Although a relatively new notion it’s already becoming an epidemic. Sure, it affects men, but it’s overwhelming women who are buying into clean eating as a lifestyle (nay, a prison).

According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, the term ‘orthorexia’ was coined in 1998 and means an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating. Being aware of the nutritional quality of the food we eat isn’t a problem in itself, though people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being. Ironic, huh?

Some of the symptoms include compulsive checking of nutrition labels, cutting out entire food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat), showing high levels of distress when ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available and the obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ accounts on social media. Did you picture someone you know when you read that? Maybe even yourself?

Unless you dropped your chicken schnitzel on the pavement then it’s clean. A Tim Tam is not bad. A medium Hawaiian from Dominos isn’t a cheat meal. It’s all just stuff to eat in moderation, but assigning emotions to food is making women feel guilt and shame and hate themselves. Common sense tells us it’s about balance but clean eating isn’t about balance, it’s about an iron will and an inevitable fall from an unobtainable pedestal we put our self worth on. Clean eating is simply a socially acceptable term for disordered eating.

Listen to Mamamia’s podcast for your face, You Beauty, where author, Leigh Campbell discusses her new mum beauty tricks. Post continues below.

Besides making us feel insecure and like we’re failing, it’s also making us broke.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, the wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion. The industry has grown 12.8 percent between 2015 and 2017 and represents 5.3 percent of global economic output.

So to be well we must be spending all that money on seeing doctors, no? No.

We are spending it on maca powder and acai bowls and infrared saunas and kinesiology and lavender oil and herbal teas and detoxes and alkaline water.

We know detoxes are pure marketing. You don’t need to pay for one in the form of tablets or a juice cleanse because your liver does it for free. Infrared saunas are no better for you than the traditional type, but of course they are far more trendy and look cooler on Instagram. Everyone blindly followed The Blood Type Diet, and many still do, even know the author’s claims have been proven unfounded by hundreds of scientists. Alkaline water is a complete sham, as is an alkaline diet – if your body was alkaline you’d be dead. And yet we throw our pay and our self-esteem at these expensive and pointless endeavours.

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I’m waiting for someone to point out that I recommend serums and mascaras as a job, so I’m a part of it. And you’re not wrong. But my argument to that is simple. While the beauty industry certainly has its flaws, and while it is about what you look like on the outside, beauty isn’t about size.

You don’t have to be a size four in Lululemon to enjoy a face cream. And beauty has a clear end goal. Want longer lashes? This mascara is good for that, this one isn’t. Want a nice red lipstick? Here’s a great one. The results you can see. Wellness is often about an illusive change ‘inside’ us and because we can’t see it we’re always striving to be more well, more woke, more enlightened.

The same can be said for fitness. Fitness is about being able to run 100 metres a little less out of breath than when you did it last week. It’s measurable. It’s not about the coolest trainers to wear to bootcamp. That’s the wellness industry’s fault.

There’s almost always a dichotomy between science and wellness. Because so much of the wellness marketed to us is unfounded. Scaremongering sells stuff, it’s that simple. So I’m pretty bloody thankful there’s a bunch of truth tellers fighting the pseudoscience, with the education to do so.

Dr Jen Gunter is an American gynaecologist who is unapologetically going head to head with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and her wellness empire, Goop, to provide and promote facts around women’s health trends that are founded on nothing more than woowoo.

“I… started to notice overlap between the language,” Gunter told The Guardian, referring to the wellness industry borrowing language from medicine to sound more legitimate. “The anti-science views of wellness and the anti-science of the religious right. Themes like ‘purity’ and ‘cleanliness’ with their similar rituals. It’s predatory. It’s the patriarchy by another name. And it keeps women back by telling them lies about their body. They might be different lies, but the effect is the same.”

 

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#JensplainingWellness Day 9 Health hint: celery juice is a scam. Scam, scam, scam, scam, scam. What is the origin of this hot mess? Gwyneth Paltrow’s pal, the “Medical Medium.” He was born with an ability to communicate with a *checks notes* higher level spirit named, wait for it, Spirit. Too bad Spirit (one name, capitalized like Cher I guess, but not) didn’t go to medical school. These pages are from his book and contain all kinds of made up bullshit that reads like medical mad libs written by someone trying to be ridiculous. But this information is for sale! And of course he writes posts for goop. And people believe it, as last years “rush” on celery was traced to this disinformation. Celery doesn’t have an undiscovered cluster salt. Your organs are not crusty with crystallized toxic salt residue (how does the undiscovered cluster salt in celery remove this other imaginary salt? OMG so many questions that it makes my head hurt ????). Celery juice does not have an undiscovered plant hormone. What does that even mean? So if you like celery, great. Have some. I find it adds a nice crunch to salads. I’m not a Bloody Mary or Caesar fan, but if you are, hey, you do you. Just don’t believe this garbage about celery juice and don’t take any second hand health advice from a ghost or from anyone who recommends second hand advice from a ghost.

A post shared by Jen Gunter (@drjengunter) on

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Dr Joshua Wolrich, a NHS surgical doctor from the UK, has built up an impressive Instagram following by ‘fighting weight stigma and nutribollocks’, as he puts it. He takes wellness trends and dissects them with sensible facts that are both reaffirming and reassuring. Reaffirming because when you take the cloud of marketing out of the picture your common sense tells you the truth.

 

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This is going to be a relatively brief caption, as this lot is honestly quite ridiculous. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The short version? All of these are just water. Please do not waste your hard-earned money falling for these scams like many do. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Alkaline water (note: ‘Kangen’ is essentially just a stupidly expensive device to make it at home) is completely and utterly pointless. Your body is incredibly clever and has a complex mechanism called homeostasis. This regulates the pH of our blood/tissues to make sure that life is possible. What the pH goes outside that tightly controlled range we know about it, and it requires pretty invasive medical treatment to correct. Alkaline water will do zilch, and definitely not cure cancer. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Chlorophyll water at least has vitamins in it. However, you eat food right? Cool. You don’t need it then. Not only that but the pseudoscientific claims about it being able to cure cancer (why always cancer?!) makes it something to vehemently avoid. Don’t put money in the pockets of those capitalising off the vulnerable. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Homeopathy? It’s just water. If it did anything then by its own logic tap water would be a cure all. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ So… to summarise… ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Water is water is water is water. If you’re privileged enough to live in a country with a safe water system, tap water is free and just as healthy than the plastic bottles with the snow-covered mountains on them.

A post shared by Dr Joshua Wolrich MBBS MRCS (@drjoshuawolrich) on

Closer to home, Jonathan Steedman, an Australian dietitian, makes light of ‘health halo marketing’, highlighting misleading claims on food packaging and giving honest and comical reviews of foods to eat lots of and foods to maybe eat a little less of.

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We need more of these legitimate experts speaking out against the fearmongering and false claims a large portion of the wellness industry makes… because our health literally relies on it.

Are you free from any diagnosed diseases? Do you love your Monday night yoga class, binge-watching MAFS on Wednesdays and going for a walk with Sally from next door on Saturday mornings because it’s a 45-minute reprieve from the kids? Do you take homemade stir fry to work on Tuesday and get Uber Eats on Friday night and inhale a block of Top Deck the day before your period? Guess what? You’re well.

You haven’t failed. In fact, you haven’t let a made-up industry make you feel like you’re not doing enough or you’re simply not enough as you are. And that should be the end goal.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here

Feature Image: Instagram / @leighacampbell

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