Discover more from Well Well Well with Rosamund Dean
What even is wellness now?
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When Goop’s former chief content officer, Elise Loehnen, promoted her recent book with a series of scathing interviews about life at Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, it was heralded as the end of a wellness era. ‘My interests were moving out of this idea of self-optimisation,’ she told the New York Times, adding that ‘the wellness world' has ‘this desire for control and certainty.’
It made me think about my own approach to good health. I wear an Oura ring to track my sleep, I log my runs on Strava, I monitor my alcohol intake with Try Dry, I use the Zero app to help me stick to time-restricted eating, I’ve worn a blood glucose monitor and learned about my HRV. I’ve done the Zoe plan and still scan some foods into the app to check how well I’m eating. Is all this tracking and monitoring actually bad for me?
Am I attempting to create some form of ‘control and certainty’ around my health - when a completely random cancer diagnosis two years ago should really have taught me that there is no such thing?
First, let’s address this anti-wellness vibe shift. ‘Wellness culture’ has been blamed for everything from eating disorders to anti-vaxxers. But picking on ‘wellness’ in this way is unhelpful because, clearly, it’s not one thing. It would be like saying you hate ‘music’ because you’ve heard an album you don’t like, or saying ‘food’ is gross because you hate mushrooms. Wellness is different things to different people. Some of which are great, and some of which are not.
I’d certainly be happy to see the back of any form of wellness that takes advantage of vulnerable, unwell people by offering a miracle cure, or that suggests you can somehow ‘cheat’ your way around an unhealthy lifestyle - perhaps with supplements or a sauna (although both of those things have their place alongside the basics). That caveat in brackets is important because, when writing about health and wellness, there is often a need for a caveat in brackets.
Nothing works for everyone, and lots of things work for at least someone.
I’m not saying that I have all the answers, and you should be very wary of anyone who claims they do. I change my mind about things all the time. One day I’ll read that the World Health Organisation is looking at how practices like yoga and acupuncture can complement conventional medicine and I’ll think ‘how great that they’re being open-minded about such things, which do seem to help many people.’ The next, I’ll read an eviscerating takedown of the WHO for exactly this, and see a lot of sense in that, too.
An open-minded approach is important. I’m getting a bit tired of the trend for podcasts and books around the idea of ‘taking down’ wellness culture. I get it; it’s a response to peak biohacking rip-off ridiculousness, which is fair. Of course, there is a toxic side to wellness, just as there can be a toxic side to almost anything. It doesn’t mean that you should give up on the idea making an effort to be healthier.
In a world that encourages us to be sedentary, where going to bed at a reasonable time involves a concerted effort to drag ourselves away from our screens, and where the most convenient food is the least nutritious - we actually do have to make conscious choices to do things that are good for our bodies and minds. Particularly those of us who have been through a shock to the system such as cancer treatment.
I recently had a call with an NHS menopause doctor, who talked me through ways to handle the symptoms, with hormone replacement therapy not an option for me after breast cancer. She told me to limit alcohol and caffeine, and explained that sleep, exercise and good nutrition are vital because of my early diagnosis of osteoporosis. Not to mention an increased risk of heart disease and dementia (oestrogen has a protective effect so early menopause + no HRT = bad news for your heart, brain and bones). ‘Most women in their early 40s can still get away with a few unhealthy habits, but you…’ dramatic pause here because these were her actual words, ‘you have to be perfect.’
My whole vibe has never been perfection. Regular readers might know that I value progress over perfection and strongly feel that stressing out over ‘perfect health’ is counterproductive to actual good health. I’m with Elise Loehnen on that one.
Although I don’t think that she has all the answers either. She says that when she left Goop, she swore ‘never to do another cleanse again’. But then realised that eating ‘whatever my young kids want’ wasn’t making her feel very well. She now does a ‘five-day reset of broths, smoothies and lattes’ that she considers a ‘compromise’. Hmm. I don’t personally believe that five days on a liquid diet is a healthy approach to eating. I’d rather make healthy choices as a family most of the time but, in the spirit of open-mindedness that I’ve just asked you to adopt, I’m going to say: you do you.
Despite all of my apps and wearables, I actually don’t think that I ‘obsess’ over any of it. During the summer, I barely looked at them. I slacked off running; I didn’t tell Zoe about any of the food that I ate on holiday. And I certainly didn’t worry about eating a bag of Minstrels on a joyful cinema trip to see Blue Beetle with my son (as superhero films go, I highly recommend it).
So I’m going to continue to keep learning, doing my best to find things that help me stay healthy and feel good, and I hope that you’ll come along with me.
This summer I’ve been…
To Austria ☀️ with its lakes, cycling, sauerkraut and yoga, it felt like the most joyful form of wellness (with a side of kaiserschmarrn).
Doing some life planning, since September is the other January and feels like a fresh start. I even bought Rupi Kaur’s 2024 agenda, which is going to sort my life right out.
Attempting to train for a half marathon that, I must admit, I slightly regret signing up for 😬 Please send running tips, and help support Maggie’s by sponsoring me.
Quite taken aback that an Americano from Starbucks in Belfast airport cost £4.30, but it made me realise what an absolute bargain the paid-for version of this newsletter is. Paid subscribers receive Well Well Well every single week for just £4 a month or £40 a year. And there’s a new thing where, if you refer friends who sign up (either free or paid), you get free access. Use the referral link here, or the ‘share’ button on any post. Simply send the link to a friend directly, or share it on social media. Thank you!