Staring hard at her absolutely delectable burger, juicy with melted cheese coming off the sides and a toasted bun, my friend looked up at me with a crease in her forehead and eyes full of shame. “What’s the matter? Is it not cooked enough?” I asked her. “It’s just that, I’m going to have to exercise so long tomorrow to work off this cheat meal,” she told me. Surprised, I told her if she’s going to eat it anyway, she should at least try to enjoy it.

But, in reality, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. The idea of wellness has gone from something that is supposed to make us feel good, to something that makes us feel ashamed if we don’t follow all the rules.

Since when did a meal at a restaurant become a “cheat meal” rather than just a normal meal?

Youtubers like Sarah’s Day, who calls herself a “holistic health princess,” promote an extreme diet of clean eating and exercise. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with nourishing your body with healthy foods and exercise, it is worrisome to see how far influencers seem to take it at times. The powders, seeds, nuts, smoothies and cutting out carbs, all fats, gluten, dairy, and sugar. Promoting these types of extreme diets in the name of wellness is at its core a way for people to lose weight, and become obsessive to the point where it can turn into an eating disorder.

Women strutting their stuff in front of mirrors while wearing pastel leggings and a matching sports bra, smiling with pearly white teeth, the picture of utter happiness makes one think, “Why don’t I look that happy? I’m sitting at my desk drinking coffee, and eating a sad looking salad. Perhaps I need to cut out caffeine, sugar, and add some chia seeds to my meal. Then my body will be as thin as hers, and my skin will look just as glowing.”

Ruby Tandoh writes in an article for Vice, “When I found ‘wellness,’ I thought I’d found a way out of the storm. What I was looking for was someone to say that there were things that weren’t just OK to eat, but that they would actually be good for me. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to float untethered from my world of food neuroses. Wellness was alluring precisely because of the restriction it promised. There’s nothing left to be fearful of when the bad food is labeled “bad food,” and when what’s left is a miracle cure.”

What IS Wellness, Anyway?

Wellness isn’t just about clean eating and nutrition. It combines a whole myriad of things, from massages at the spa to yoga and writing retreats. I’ve cultivated a morning routine that consists of 10 minutes meditation, exercise (a brisk walk, yoga or pilates,) free writing, a hot cup of tea, and a soothing face mask if there is time. Most of these habits fall under the umbrella of “wellness,” and I took up most of them because I watched a whole lot of morning routine videos on Youtube.

The word seems to pop up everywhere these days with Youtubers sharing their “wellness routines,” albeit usually peddling a product at the same time, whether it be healing crystals, protein powder for your green smoothie, or a facial cleanser guaranteed to improve your skin. All too often we’re being sold products on Instagram that are supposed to be for self care, yet all they really do is empty our bank accounts.

We’ve become obsessed with the idea of wellness to the point where we’re just trying to be perfect, and companies wanting to sell things have taken notice. The Global Wellness Institute states that the global health and wellness industry is now worth 4.2 trillion dollars, and it now represents 5.3% of global economic output.

For every influencer that clears up their acne or achieves that perfect six pack all while doing yoga at a retreat in Thailand, we’re convinced we need to buy exactly what they did if we want to achieve the same health and happiness (though that health and happiness is shown through the perfect filter of Instagram.)

Our daily lives are filled with a multitude of things that stress us out. Work, money, terrorism, the divorce rate, Tinder, hipster cafes, political debates, and the comeback of 90’s fashion. The world’s problems are at our fingertips, with the internet being one of the biggest parts of our lives now. We’re updated on Twitter every time someone decides they need a break from social media, somewhat defeating the purpose. The wellness industry tells us to take a “digital detox” every now and then, but how long does that ever really last?

It seems at times that wellness is becoming just another way to show off on Instagram, and prove how perfect our lives are. We compete with each other to prove who spiritually cares the least about comparison, all while showing our followers that we ate an acai bowl this morning.

The pressure to be 100% grounded, happy, and healthy 24/7 takes away from the purpose of what being truly well is. Gwyneth Paltrow’s website “Goop” has become quite a point of contention for a lot of people, either you love it, hate it, or you’re done talking about it. In 2018, a consumer protection lawsuit was filed by California state prosecutors because Goop was selling vagina eggs, apparently. Women were told to insert the jade or quartz egg shaped stones into their vaginas, and they were promised “increase vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy in general.” However, none of those claims were based in scientific fact. So, the moral of that story is, just because a celebrity tells you to do or buy something, doesn’t mean they’re right.

Is ‘Wellness’ Really to our Benefit?

So, is wellness really for our own health and happiness anymore or is it just another way to prove our worth on Instagram, and for companies to promote their products?

It all depends on how you go about it. Feeling guilty about eating a cheeseburger is not wellness, and neither is stuffing your face with junk food everyday to push down your emotions. A bag of chips everyday isn’t going to bring out your best self. But, that bag of chips and some sweets while watching a movie on Netflix, cuddled up with your partner, definitely can.

Going back to my morning routine, I’ve taken a hard look at it and cut it back to the things that actually make me feel good, the things that lift my energy and spirit, rather than meditating just because I feel like I’m “supposed to” in order to fit a wellness ideal. What we really need to focus on in terms of wellness is what makes us truly feel good.

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