Mixed Feelings About Smashing The Wellness Industry

Welcome to “Required Reading,” where BTRtoday writers share the best stories they didn’t write. 

Smash the Wellness Industry

I have complicated thoughts about this New York Times op-ed. When the author, novelist Jessica Knoll, writes “at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss. It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin,” she loses me a little. I get that in her experience, self-worth and appearance tangle together like thin necklaces (that’s her imagery, not mine, but it’s so good I wish I could take credit for it). But it seems to exist in another as food desert-laden, obesity crisis stricken America. Associating thinness and health isn’t wrong. Being overweight is a serious health risk.

But I understand the important role gender plays in her argument. Men’s bodies aren’t scrutinized the way women’s bodies are. Men aren’t valued solely for their appearances. Male self-worth and appearance necklaces are in far less danger of tangling. I also understandKnoll’s point about the wellness industry’s promises about health. They don’t tout lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol. They advertise pseudoscientific benefits about increased energy and glowing skin.

Knoll and I end up in mostly the same place. We oppose fad diets and encourage healthy lifestyle changes. One point I wish she’d made, or perhaps made more forcefully, is how critical it is to be patient and consistent with fitness. The story opens with her sadness over eating with women on Whole 30 diets and avoiding dairy while men eat cheeseburgers. I think it’s implied that they’re chasing market-driven quick fixes instead of eating healthy in general. 

And also, as the health industry is, the food industry is far, far worse. Fast food, sodas, chips, candy bars and so forth are addictive poison. Health professionals don’t demonize deliciousness. They demonize the salt, fat, sugars and oils that are making us sick. It’s OK to eat like a normal person, which Knoll learns to do through her intuitive eater-espousing trainer. But after a century of nonstop junk food advertisements, drive-thru proliferation and food engineering, Americans have forgotten what normal eating feels like.