The cult of wellness is on the rise. There are increasingly elaborate ways to stay fit and healthy, which is all well and good, but if you are a proponent of one and not the other, then watch out for the giveaway 12 free steak knives — in your back.
You can be cyberbullied for any contrary point of view, and God help you if you “objectively” evaluate the other. Thermomix critic Lana Hirschowitz was almost pulverised in her own blender by the trolling and cyber hate she received after she said she didn’t love the iconic appliance.
I seriously take my life in my hands writing this article — not to mention the fact I get my nutrients from normal food, cooked on a stove, which surely will lead to untimely death.
Wellness has become the new religion. Instead of Christianity, Judaism and Islam battling it out, there are caveman dieters (Paleos) protein powder people, 5:2 calorie-restriction diet people, superfood junkies, gluten-frees and alkaline-lovers. Instead of late-night preachers we have crusaders of the Nutribullet, Magic Bullet, blenders, juicers, soup makers, seeking your soul.
It’s nutra-proselytising: a world where evangelists cyber-doorknock. They text and twitter with religious zeal. Even Foreign Minster Julie Bishop was asked on national television about the $2000 Thermomix.
You know friends are well-ist when they sit on the couch and wait for the Magic Bullet ad to come on TV, then shout “boo” and throw tofu at the screen. Or yell: “Go back to 200,000BC you paleo-diet Neanderthal” before tucking into their burger.
As with any religion, there are breakaway groups. The Paleo diet subgroup Modified Paleo allows one to “consider” dreaded grains, diary and legumes as part of an 80 per cent-only Paleo. Flexitarians go even more heretical. In the shake world there are the soy-based protein powder people as a breakaway from the whey kings, and now pea/chickpea protein shakers are forming a small kingdom to the south.
But devotion to wellness is making us sick. A new disorder has been named, and it’s called orthorexia nervosa: being obsessed with wellbeing, health and diet to the point of illness, madness and chronic unhappiness, which means some people are excreting stress hormones that can cause disease.
Nutrition therapist Karin Kratina says on the US-based National Eating Disorders Association website that people who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may suffer from orthorexia, a term some psychologists and nutritionists are using for what appears to be a “fixation on righteous eating”.
“Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of the orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake,” says Kratina.
“Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers — an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. The obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.”
Wellness taken to an extreme can become like a cult, says psychologist and macrobiotic chef Jo-Anne Baker. “We all went through diet and fitness fads in the 80s and 90s. But it’s become worse, this is like brainwashing, as people look to identify with something outside of themselves. Because we get so anxious nowadays, it’s another way to artificially control our bodies and the world around us, but it’s an illusion.”
One powder-shake advocate told me with breathless enthusiasm recently that his regimen was the answer to the obesity crisis and illness: “Food has less nutritional value. The soil is depleted, chemical sprays and preservatives are destroying essential minerals, animals are fed hormones. Nutrient-enriched products and supplements are vital to replace what’s lacking.”
Yes, tragically, much of this is true. But vitamins and protein powder supplements are a poor second to fresh produce — locally grown in our rich Australian soil — line-caught fish, free-range animals that lead a happy life (or no meat), fruit and veggies only in season, washed well, not genetically modified, and unprocessed.
The debate still rages in the scientific community about the degree to which vitamins are excreted in the urine. Many vitamins need others in combination to work properly — and how long have they been sitting in shops and warehouses, how were they transported, under what temperature?
My passion is super-foods. I have them regularly in a smoothie including the much undervalued banana, with almonds, bee pollen, raw cacao (chocolate), and maca powder to boost hormones. But I strongly believe the “super-food” concept comes with hype and spin, and some manufacturers and shops raise their prices accordingly. They should be called “helpful foods”. Simply put, they’ll increase vitality, but you won’t fall off your mortal coil without them.
I was the subject of Paleo bullying recently when a friend tried to force me into eating pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer food.
“I don’t eat meat,” I said.
“But you have to. It’s who we are, it’s natural!” she argued.
“But I don’t eat it.”
“That is why you lack energy. We need to go back to nature.”
Yet I have survived all this time, with muscle mass to boot, as have gorillas, elephants and towering US life coach Anthony Robbins, who’s a high-profile vegetarian.
But it isn’t just food. Exercise groups have the same problem with well-ist behaviour: In the yoga world the Iyengars are not fond of the hathas who “move too quickly for proper alignment”; the purist ashtangas are not impressed with the faddish Bikrams. On the side, I teach a bit of yoga and woe betide you if you do a dog pose with toes spread or bent knees in the wrong class.
And don’t get a Pilates junkie in the same room as a yogini. “Where is the spiritual essence?” the yoga person will insist. But mat people are all united when it comes to gym people in their Lycra suits, who can hyperventilate and mess with their core strength.
Back to food, and according to leading social observers such as myself, the reason restrictive dieters are angry people boils down to one thing: they can’t eat cake.
Don’t take wellness crusaders on. Back away slowly and nod pleasantly if confronted — especially by a 5:2-er on their caloric restricted day. And follow my 80/20 per cent rule. Eat intelligent good, healthy, unprocessed food most of the time (your body will know) and on your days off follow the yummy French and Mediterranean diets. As Marie Antoinette said: “Let them eat cake.”
I just stopped drinking beer…. Lost 15kgs
I have an idea. This is definitely an area for government to be engaged in. First we should have a (national) converstation about this whole area of concern. We are told we have to have a converstation about everything else. We could have a committee appointed to report to the Federal Government (none of this pathetic, weak State government stuff) then a green paper and then a white paper. Then legislation and regulation. And a nice new big government department with offices in every state.
@Chris I believe Kevin is available……..
Bee pollen? Whatever floats your boat I suppose. I don’t eat chocolate because I don’t like it or red wine either as both of them trigger migraines severe enough to make me consider suicicide as a viable alternative to living at times. Fads come and go with ever increasing speed, but abusing people for their choices is nasty.
Incidentally Marie Antoinette never said: “let them eat cake” in the first place. That was said by someone else years before she was even born, and some of us don’t actually like cake
Food fights must have been a lot more fun when they involved kids actually throwing food at each other and that was pretty disgusting anyway. Adults abusing each other about what they eat need to get a better hobby. Some people really do have serious food allergies which can kill them.
The ability to transport food safely all over the world may have some drawbacks but at least we no longer need to fear the not too distant threat of death from famine do we?
Addendum I loathe olive oil mainly because at 16 I innocently went on a diet of hard boiled eggs and a quarter glass of ‘delicious ‘ oil. Without going into the full details I was rather sicnd have never been able to face the stuff since.
My thanks to today’s comment writers. The article, which made a good point badly, was so-so. But the responses were excellent reading. It’s comforting to know there are sensible people left in the world.
Some people want to look their maximum attractiveness to their partner, or prospective partner. Others don’t care. Some people like ’round’ people, or stick people. Some people expel gas all day and feel ill if they eat gluten or lactose. Some people’s digestion system suits meat, some don’t.
It’s lazy and insulting to generalise. Each to their own.
Oh, and I just bought a 200 horsepower Toyota Ute!. suck that up greenies.
@Margaret Bloody Hoon!
That diary would be hard to eat as part of the modified Paleo religion. Fibre perhaps?
@Geoffrey M Diary would probably be OK, maybe a bit dry on the pallet but I think Dairy for my money tastes way better!.
For those approached or criticised by the wellness bullies I suggest the immortal words – “Get lost!”
Great article that puts it all in perspective!
Hang on a minute… I thought Climate Change was the new religion … Can’t the spin doctors make up their minds?
@Mike True lunacy today is you eat, or don’t eat, all this rubbish while worshipping at the altar of Climate Change and leftist politics. Thank goodness I’m a plain, simple, conservative, non-gym-going, old-fashioned chicken, fish and veg type who still has time to enjoy the basics of life (while they still last). Young people need to take a powder and lie down.
What happened to the Pritikin Diet? It used to attract its fair share of crazies.
Loved your article. As the life expectancy in the paleolithic age was about 30 years, I don’t think there is a lot of incentive for me to eat as they did. As a medical specialist I am getting seriously tired of earnest, well-meaning but uninformed people telling me how their current fad is going to cure all their ills. Sadly, it very rarely does.
A sad corollary to the wellness obsession is the idea that cancer sufferers can somehow use positive thinking to defeat their disease, and if they are unsuccessful in doing so then they just haven’t tried hard enough.
@Kaye That’s just evolution killing off the stupid.
As long as I have a little of each of the three most important food groups each day, I am satisfied – red wine, coffee and chocolate!
I skip the chocolate and focus on the other two.
@Cathy Don’t forget that other essential food supplement – GUINNESS!
@David @Cathy I don’t bother with the coffee because I hate the taste.
Become a runner and you can eat anything you want. 🙂
@Steve I am a runner and I used to be able to eat anything I want but I had an injury about two years ago which put me out of action for about a month and I have struggled with weight ever since, even though I am now running 4 to 5 days per week, walking one or two days and doing weights and stationary rowing 3 to 4 days. I am 58. Still, I am not going on a special diet as I would hate to be like the food/health obsessed people that I unfortunately have to deal with on a regular basis. They p… me off so badly. I sort of watch what I eat but I don’t obsess over it. I just got back from a Friday hamburger and beer lunch. I actually think this modern obsession with food and health has some link to identity politics. Just look at the types who usually do it.
@Steve Run Forest Run…couldn’t agree more. Everything in moderation – Moderation that’s the key.
I think Micheal Pollan’s words of wisdom are germane to this subject. “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t ”
@Brian is KFC made in a plant? please don’t tell me it is.
Possibly one of the more sensible things I have ever read from Ruth Ostrow. Thanks!
SO sick of the Pete Evan’s of the world trying to sell shredded zucchini as pasta and guilt us not into eating bread. MODERATION people!!
Maybe we need Ego “wellness” classes for some of the junkies off on their fads.
The best bit is that most of the fads are just that and last five minutes.
Been around the block a few times and seen many fads come and go during my lifetime.
My husband and I used to own a vegetarian restaurant in the days of vegan diets. I always felt sorry for the kids that were forced to eat vegan, their mothers were over the top with controlling what their children ate. I think anxiety is worse since we owned the restaurant and I wish people would realise that worrying about yesterday brings on depression, worrying about tomorrow, brings on anxiety. Eat well and don’t get involved with crazy fads. That is how we live and we are very healthy.
“Righteous eating” is the clue. For some reason a great many people need to feel that they are somehow better than the rest, in possession of a wisdom that sets them apart from the majority and the mainstream.
A lot of the problem goes back to political correctness junkies and those who engage in social engineering to push dubious public health measures on the community at large. Children can no longer play – it might be dangerous. Lets over regulate and tax anything we can find. Fine people for choosing to ride without a helmet, even if it’s across the park or on a track to nowhere. There is no room left for common sense and personal responsibility. At the rate we are going, health and well being promotion by pseudo academics will kill us all.
@JackD I am concerned about mental health and the amount of people on anti depressants. If a major catastrophe happened in the world or just Australia, would all these people be able to cope. Probably not, we are all too needy and inexperienced in supporting ourselves, the majority would die.
The writer was ok until towards the end when she herself dictated “follow my 80:20 rule”…. Sounds like a wellness mantra..
I’ve noticed this too. Discussions of diet has become like religion and politics. It’s not just anger at what they can’t eat though… it’s something more – like they have to throw themselves fully into what they’re doing. Funny that this article was written by a vegetarian though – not that long ago, they were the biggest zealots of them all (a mantle now held by paleo-extremists, with organic vegans nipping at their heels).
You just don’t get this rubbish out in the suburbs. You can still have your friends round for a good ol’ BBQ or dinner party and serve just about whatever you want. A few of us carry some extra pounds and others can still fit into their wedding tuxes, but without the stress of living up to someone else’s expectations we’re probably much happier and likely to live a lot longer. Pizza Night tonight! Woo Hoo!
@David You’re 100% correct David, and I’d like you to know that there’s still some of us like you left in Bondi. The east is crammed with charlatans like these, all blow ins I might add.
Who was it that said “nobody ever went broke over estimating the stupidity of the masses?”
@vincent Some rich bloke.
Blessed are the gullible. For they shall enrich the unscrupulous.
@vincent Was it Eddie Obeid… or perhaps Tony Windsor? No it was actually Randolph Hearst, the US media tycoon.