Earlier this week the NY Times ran an op-ed from Jessica Knoll called Smash the Wellness Industry: Why are so many smart women falling for its harmful pseudoscientific claims? I recommend you head over and read the full article, but I’m going to give it a quick summary here as well.
Ms. Knoll starts out talking about how she was recently at lunch with a number of highly successful women. During the meal the main topic of conversation was how they were restricting themselves in some sort of way. Whether it was the Whole30 or cutting out dairy or simply being “good” after a “bad” weekend. She was frustrated and embarrassed that this was what they chose to spend their time talking about and thought that this would never happen at a table of men. She then led into her own history with dieting, which ranged from bulimia to the more socially accepted cycling between intermittent fasting, low-carb, cleanses, counting macros and binge eating in between. Ultimately, she found intuitive eating, which changed her relationship with food and life. Her conclusion is that the wellness industry is a virus that promises health, energy and (of course) weight loss at the cost of continuous suffering. This suffering includes both the pain of staying on the diet and then shame and loathing when you can’t stick with it.
Again, that is an oversimplification so please read the full article!
Overall, there was a lot that I liked about Ms. Knoll’s article. As we have talked about in the past, I really do have a love/hate relationship with the wellness industry. This article really hit on the parts of it that I hate. It is full of fads and quick fixes that set us up for failure and then somehow get us to blame ourselves. Best case we just feel a little crappy, worst case it can cause us to distrust ourselves and plant the seeds for self-loathing and continuous punishment.
In addition, with the rise of the Influencer, the integrity of the wellness industry has become a bit murky. People are positioned as authorities based on number of followers and an infographic can be taken as fact because of an attractive font. Politics may have coined the term “fake news” but it’s been here in in the wellness industry well before 2016.
What has recently made it even more confusing is many Influencers are now using terms like vitality, energy, anti-inflammatory, body positive, mindfulness, etc. which used to be reserved for more sustainable balanced approaches. However, when you dig a little deeper it really is restriction in disguise.
One area that I disagree with is that this is strictly a women’s issue. That may have been true historically, but in the past few years I think that men are quickly catching up. Keto, Paleo, Bulletproof, Tim Ferris’s Slow Carb, etc. are typically marketed to men. They may use terms like optimize, level-up, 10X, shred, cut, etc. but the end game is the same.
So it sounds like wellness really sucks?
Before you think that this is all doom and gloom, let’s get to the part of the wellness industry that I really love.
When you begin to understand how different foods impact your individual body, it can be really empowering. It can be a relief to not have to worry all the time or understand that your uncontrollable sugar cravings were simply hunger. True nutrition education when done correctly and compassionately, should add to your life not take away.
I also believe (and this may be unpopular) that you can be a strong, confident, empowered woman and still have physical goals. I believe that feminism and the more surface goals can co-exist. The caveat here is that your goals need to be realistic, your methodology needs to be physically healthy and sustainable and it can never ever be at the expense of your mental health. That may seem like a tall order, but I see it achieved every day, so I know that it is possible.
What do you do with this information?
Give yourself a gut check
If any of this resonated with you, the place to start is to be really honest with yourself. Are you thinking about food/dieting all the time? Is it the main topic of conversation in your social circle? Do you find yourself doing extreme diets and then following it up with feeling out of control? Do you feel guilty when you eat certain food or classify it as good or bad? Do you feel anxious or upset around “unhealthy” foods? Do you tie your worth to the way that you are eating? Do you feel like you are good at so many things but ashamed that you struggle with this?
If the answer is yes to any of those, I’ll put some blogs below that you might find helpful. You can also contact me directly and share with me a little about what is going on. If I can help, I will! If not, I will do everything in my power to connect you with a resource that can. To be clear, even though the problem can feel big, sometimes the solution is simpler than you think.
Check your information
The other thing that I would do is really assess where your information is coming from. I know I gave influencers a hard time above, but I really do think that most of them have their hearts in the right place. They are just sharing what worked for them, which may not be helpful or relevant to you. It is important to ask yourself if you really believe it to be true or if you are being seduced by the pretty presentation on Instagram. And there is no shame in that! I caught myself just last week about to buy a $17 limited time plan with the secret to a better butt. Yup, I have the internet too?