Wellness: Healthy Habits or Fashion Fad?

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Is it just me or has everyone been feeling a little confused by the recent obsession with wellness? Every magazine, advert, lifestyle page and blog is telling me all the things I need to do to feel ‘healthy, energetic and beautiful’ on the path to an elusive level of well-being  that I still can’t get my head around. In the past few years health as a topic has become one of the nation’s favourite past times. Cookbooks have shifted from full-bodied flavour to lightened up clean-eating. You only need to check Amazon’s  top 10 cookery books and only Nigella bucks the dieting trend. Spiralisers, gluten-free, sirtfoods, devilish carbs, 5:2’s, paleo, raw and juice diets. I can’t say I’ve ever attempted them. When I was stressed and wanted an outlet I just stopped eating but I don’t recommend that either!

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I say all this but I’ll admit to being completely sucked in, as well as many of my friends. I endeavour to eat healthily, I’ve had my own eating problems, I proudly own a spiralizer and my favourite book is Ottolenghi’s Plenty. But equally I ask: Is this a marketing pushed fad aiming to up the sales of superfoods and niche gym memberships or are these articles really leading ladies towards the ultimate lifestyle?

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But hang on again…what is wellness? “Wellness”, as style.com recently put it, is “the new luxury status symbol… If five years ago it was a Céline bag, today’s ultimate status symbol might just be a SoulCycle hoodie and a green juice.” So it’s a fashion? Hmm…its even described as “a sense of moral superiority”. Supposedly it “lifts us above this food chaos”. This is the salvation that wellness promises: no overexercising, no new science, no cutting edge technology, no fads (UMM?), but a look backwards to a simpler time. Chuck the gluten first, then the sugar, then this, then that…where does the fun-killing end!? Surely this isn’t designed to aid our mental well being when we can’t satisfy the occasional mocha frappe craving for fear of losing social status?

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Backtracking, there are certain things we all know are good for us, tried, tested and proved  – exercise, a healthy, balanced diet and the appropriate level of sleep, but which of the latest trends could really help? Also I’d like to know which are worth the trade off for the time, effort, level of discomfort or deprivation it takes to fulfil the task and reap the benefits. Maybe there is a scale and a sweet spot at which the payoff is greater than the payment? I’ve found a list of the key aspects of this lifestyle researched to figure out this confusing and often misinformed  culture of ‘wellness’. Many of the following have been taken from Wellness Mama, the top Google result for ‘wellness diet‘.

‘Stop Dieting and Just be Healthy!’ – Easier said than done. Stop calorie counting seems to be the main lesson to be taken here, but we should know the exact calorie content of fats and carbs, and we need to eat a very specific amount of carbs, fats and proteins each day. I see a discrepancy in these statements. But of course we need to take into account that everyone is different. I’m lost.

Fat is not the enemy, Processed foods are – I can get behind this and the associated emphasis on eating more fruits and vegetables. Only whole foods (as some stress) seems a bit extreme but encouraging people to actively cut back on over-processed foods, low in vitamins and minerals, eat more fibre and less sugar sounds good. As does the idea that fat can be your friend. It took me a long time to get used to this idea, having bought whole-heartedly into the ‘low fat everything’ trend, but without it we get tired, hungry and reach for the sugar to revitalise.

Drink Pure Water? – Yes, okay I’m terrible at this but YES! It doesn’t need to be lemon or cucumber infused, I’ve learnt that just water is key. According to a 2005 article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, getting an adequate intake of vitamin C helps the body burn 30 percent more fat during exercise. Most importantly, people who carry more body weight tend to have lower levels of vitamin C. But really any vitamin C will do and you’ll gain a a lot more eating said lemon or orange, lemon makes water taste nice and it’s the hydration we need.

Exercise, just the right amount – No real guidelines, just do enough…okay. But as mentioned above, most magazines will usually encourage the most expensive latest fashionable class that burns more of your wallet than it does calories. I love exercise and I think the best advice out there is to try everything, forget the calories and find something you love to do. If you’re enjoying yourself, you will also reduce stress, spend more time doing it  and hence go more often. Even low intensity exercise like yoga takes time and builds muscle, increasing your basal metabolic rate.

In conclusion, having researched for this article I do like many of the ideas regarding wellness but I don’t agree with how far fashion and marketing can take them. The wellness theory has real grounding; worry less, eat less processed food, drink water and exercise to keep a good level of fitness and maintain a lower blood pressure. But every healthy lifestyle idea can be taken too far, twisted and intensified to an obsessive level and many magazines love to encourage this with celeb trends and advertising. but it works, and makes a lot of money!

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