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Buying into ‘Wellness’ and ‘Self Care’: More harm than good?

By Gillian Ferrier, Nutritional Therapist

Feb 7, 2019

Welcome to February! We’re 5 weeks into 2019 - did you make a resolution this year? How is it going? Chances are, it has already gone out the window. And no, it’s not because you’re a failure. It’s not because you weren’t sincere about your goals, and it’s not because you’re stupid. Even our best intentions can implode straight out of the gate, in a week when you hit a speed bump, or can completely unravel a month in when it became too hard to sustain. Or maybe, quite simply, you didn’t know where to start on Jan 1.

At the end of a holiday season, after weeks of eating or drinking too much, it’s reasonable to be eager to make change. If you follow wellness gurus or tap into the latest health trends, headlines were abundant with self care tips to shift mindset for 2019. In the midst of all the encouraging messages, backlash was also poignantly directed to health & wellness industries: Is the idea of self care a selfish and self serving premise? Is all this advice just a ploy to sell the idea of wellness?

A recent opinion piece published by The Globe and Mail written by Scottish doctor Margaret McCartney titled “Don’t fall prey to the cult of wellness” really struck me. As someone who promotes wellness everyday in my work, I was immediately put off. However, the author made some valid points.

Now more than ever, promoters of wellness on social media are touting trendy and at times evidence-lacking recommendations to common health concerns, all in the sake of helping you achieve well-being. But is it fair to all those who promote wellness to be painted with the same brush? Toss in tracking apps and devices (which carry their own broad recommendations), new tech to promote and track wellness can cause considerable anxiety, feelings of guilt and low self worth when goals are not met

Dr. McCartney signs off by stating: “The truth is that well-being is simple, if not straightforward. Don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, do exercise you enjoy, eat a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, interact with people, work at a job and hobbies you like, and don’t be poor. The latter, of course, is not a choice. Yet the wellness cult implies that you are responsible for buying your own.”

Is it that easy?

If it were so simple, why do so many find it hard to consistently eat and feel well? What’s with all this stress and chronic illness? Why are we still searching for solutions, for a quick app, for a magic supplement to cure what ails us?

It’s short sighted and condescending to think everyone can achieve important personal goals with regard to their own wellness without help and guidance. Habits are hard to change. Time is limited. Priorities alter on the daily. Social and media influences are real. Emotional triggers run deep. Fresh health foods are more expensive and time intensive than processed. Daily health-forward decisions can become overwhelming.

Consider just how many decisions you face throughout the day that directly relate to what you eat and how you feel. The magnitude of choice at the grocery store or at a restaurant, when you open the fridge or when you’re sitting at your desk. You’ll maybe wonder: How hungry am I? What do I crave? How do I feel? Do I have the energy to cook? Can I afford this? How will this food make me feel?

Then, feelings of what you should be eating might creep in. Societal pressures, your current health status, knowledge of nutrition (or lack thereof), or confusion about what’s healthy or not - these small but significant decisions become even more complicated.

Ultimately, this is the fundamental focus of my work as a Holistic Nutritionist: identify patterns that do not promote health, find simple evidence-based solutions, make small sustainable changes, drown out the noise of what you should be doing, provide support, education and encouragement.

Wellness might take work, some financial investment, and some honest and healthy goal setting. It doesn’t need to be cool, trendy or be tracked on your phone. It doesn’t require an app or input from influencers. If these everyday healthy choices become habitual, if you’re able to tap into what your body needs, your own personal experience of wellness will prevail.

And if you decide you need support around your goals, know there is a plethora of wellness practitioners here to help you personalize a solution that works for you.

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