Why wellness isn’t helping our health, and what we can focus on instead

If you search #wellness on Instagram or Facebook, you’re bound to find unlimited pictures of green juice, yogis wearing Lululemon athletic wear, smoothie bowls out the ass, and home brewed kombucha. And it’s not to say these things aren’t great and enjoyable-I enjoy drinking kombucha and have made my own before; I also find yoga really grounding. But is the message that wellness is simply eating certain “super-foods” and posing in downward facing dog really improving our health?

Let’s unpack the concept of wellness and its problems. First, everyone on this planet deserves to feel well and take care of themselves-if they want to of course; society often forgets health is not a moral obligation. But the way “wellness” is portrayed is very much exclusive. The message of wellness is represented by people who are 1. Thin  2. White. 3. Have a shit ton of money and 4. Immense privilege. This exclusiveness makes people who do not fit the wellness mold (thin, white, money, privilege) feel like they don’t belong, that wellness is not for them, and that their body is wrong. It makes wellness seem unattainable.

The idea that a certain body type represents wellness is superficial and harmful. We simply cannot know if someone is well by looking at them. Just because someone lives in a smaller body does not mean they are well.  When someone exists in a larger body, it doesn’t mean they are unwell. WEIGHT DOES NOT DETERMINE IF SOMEONE IS WELL. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities, and genders deserve to feel well; but the media does not portray this, considering every wellness magazine or ad has a thin white woman in frame. The truth is, many of these women on the wellness forefront who are promoting green juice and “wellness” are likely struggling with orthorexia, obsessive thoughts around food, eating disorders, and mental illness. A better indication of wellness rather than what someone looks like, or how close they look to the “wellness” message, is someone's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

It's undeniable that society’s idea of wellness is classist. It’s not in most people's budget to be able to afford all organic produce and meat, or green juice once/day every day. Not everyone can afford to shop at lululemon, or pay a monthly membership for yoga, or to get a weekly massage. Not everyone has the time to make their own hummus or cook from scratch every single meal. Most people will likely not be able to afford the seventeen grain wholesome, ridiculously pricey glorified Doritos. And honestly? A lot of this is very unnecessary. This may be controversial, but I 100% do not buy organic produce unless it’s on sale. I rinse my fruits and vegetables, and am grateful that my produce doesn’t rot after a day aka my experience with organic. Sometimes I go a day without eating a vegetable, which doesn’t make me malnourished.I also am a huge fan of using my microwave and heating up a three minute meal after a long day at work. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive-what’s important with food is variety, balance, and your relationship with food.

Needless to say, wellness has been watered down in our society by messaging in the media. True wellness, what I refer to as wellbeing, takes social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual and physical health into consideration. Wellbeing does not compromise one aspect of wellness at the expense of another. For example, we know human bodies like movement. But obsessive exercise compromises physical and mental health. If you drink green juice instead of eating food, this can be damaging to your emotional and physical health, as restriction can lead to disordered eating and only drinking juice leaves out so many important nutrients we need, plus the satisfaction of chewing food.

Wellbeing will look different for everyone, and it's far more complex than what we eat and how we move our bodies. Some questions to ask yourself is-am I really feeling well? What is my intention behind “wellness” I choose to engage in? Its it for self care, or to fit a societal mold of wellness? What can I do to take care of myself intuitively?

Hannah Turnbull is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified group fitness instructor. Her work empowers people to nourish and accept their bodies with intuitive eating and health at every size. Her philosophy is all foods fit, all bodies are good bodies, and that people deserve to live their most fulfilling lives without the noise of diet culture and body hatred bringing them down. Click here to work with Hannah