The good news is that women are waking up to the dangers of diet culture. We are rejecting the cycle of dieting along with the resulting self-loathing and disordered eating. The bad news is that lurking in the wings is another danger – that of wellness culture.
My story illustrates how the quest for wellness can go awry.
For most of my life I had an excellent relationship with food. I ate intuitively, loved the food I ate, and enjoyed meal times immensely. Because I love the science of food, I even chose nutrition for my field of study.
But this started to change when I was diagnosed with endometriosis.
Based on what I was learning I began making changes to my diet in the hopes of regulating my hormones, reducing inflammation, and mediating my overactive immune system. To accomplish this I eliminated dairy, sugar, gluten, processed foods, and many other foods that had shown up on a sensitivity test.
My new diet included many hideous drink concoctions and over 20 supplement pills a day. I began exercising more intensely.
Over time my world became increasingly black and white. I saw every bite of food as either something that would help me become healthy or something that would kill me.
I struggled to not eat foods I had formerly enjoyed and when I didn’t succeed in meeting my rigid standards I felt tremendous guilt. An impromptu plan with a friend would trigger a stress attack from the worry that I would be exposed to the wrong food. There was little room for pleasure or relaxation.
Over time I began to see my body not as essentially healthy with one concern, but as fragile and sick. I spent incalculable money on everything from acupuncture and chiropractic to herbal medicine and physiotherapy.
Yet, even though I was doing everything “right,” I became increasingly stressed. It was only when I was near total breakdown that I came to the realization that my hyper-focus on wellness was working against me.
I knew I had to find another way.
Slowly I began to toss out my restrictive food rules, to moderate my exercise, and to look inward, rather than outward, for wisdom. I stopped asking for advice and began listening to my own body.
It turns out that what I needed most was the exact opposite of what I was doing. What I needed most was to relax, let go of my rigid ideas, and give myself permission to view health in a broader way.
Now I’m actually able to eat most foods when I stay relaxed. And I can usually tell when it’s not a good time to indulge in a specific food. Even more surprising is that I feel my best when I allow all foods as options rather than depriving myself of what I really want.
Through this experience, I’ve learned that my health doesn’t need “clean” eating – whatever that really means – or an elimination diet. I’ve learned that I don’t need dozens of supplements. I’ve learned that moderate activity enhances my life, while over exercising wears out my body. And I’ve found that I don’t need a team of body workers to keep me together.
I’m perfectly happy now living a “normal” life without all of the appointments, food restrictions, and extreme exercise. And I’m healthier than I imagined I could become – even with some cheesecake thrown in.
I enjoy moving my body and getting pleasure from eating. I enjoy an occasional massage or other bodywork. As for the endometriosis – it will always be there but it is no longer keeping me from enjoying life. I was even able to have a healthy pregnancy.
So beware of all those recommendations for foods to eliminate, supplements to try, advisors to consult, or exercise routines to implement. Don’t forget the bigger picture of health as something that serves you vs. you serving it. The stress of never eating what gives you pleasure or never taking time to rest and recover does not enhance your well-being.
Consider that not only does wellness culture cost in time, funds, and psychic energy, it generates enormous amounts of fear, guilt, and shame. This misguided quest is leading many to false solutions and unnecessary stress rather than real wellness.
You don’t need excessive supplements or endless consultations for the simple reason that you aren’t broken. Whatever your symptoms, consider that your health isn’t best served when you take actions that seem healthy but ultimately have the opposite effect.
Lina Galatola has a background in behavioural science and psychology, and has since gone on to become a qualified nutritional medicine practitioner, and an Eating Psychology Coach. She is the proud owner of her private practice – Nourish Mind + Body Nutrition, and you can learn more about her journey at www.nourishmindbodynutrition.com.au.