23 Feb Food and “Wellness” in the Social Media Age
The other night, I found myself Googling “What is Wellness?” I thought this was kind of funny, considering that I think psychotherapy most definitely falls into part of a “wellness” routine; yet I was getting confused. Scrolling through my Instagram feed, the hashtag #wellness was coming up often (there are 16 million posts tagged with the term and counting), and it was making me question what that actually meant.
Why my confusion? Here is an example: #wellness was the first hashtag used under a photo of a tray of just-baked cookies. Following that hashtag were the hashtags: #vegan #glutenfree #dairyfree #sugarfree #highfiber #plantbased #paleo #cleaneats #grainfree.
While the cookie actually looked delicious despite seeming to be free of anything but air, I began to think: why is wellness described as being “free of things”? If I was a vulnerable adolescent scrolling through social media, inspired to make some healthy changes in my life, I’d clearly think the message was to remove so many things. And, is there a need to? Is the quest for “wellness” becoming an obsession for people, creating unhealthy habits rather than healthy ones?
Is our obsession with “Wellness” encouraging people who don’t need to restrict certain foods fueling the eating disorder of Orthorexia? Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder focusing on food purity and elimination. It’s proven that unless a person has celiac disease, gluten will not cause weight gain. Dairy gets a bad reputation for some reason, and yet provides calcium and fat to keep the body healthy. What is wrong with wheat? Why is plant-based better than a diet rich in animal protein?
There is no doubt that some dietary choices are healthier than others. Yet, one should not learn this or determine this on social media, as there is not enough information provided and often what is offered is misleading. I see how this is e-affecting my clients in a negative way.
I realized that I didn’t need to actually Google the definition of Wellness. There really isn’t one, although the standard is “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.”
Good health should always be a goal.
Wellness begins with a mindset. That mindset must include the pursuit of MENTAL health as well as physical health. It should not include derogatory language about the body or invoke feelings of shame and guilt. Nor should it include restriction of foods unnecessarily or over exercising. Lastly, one must be careful who they follow in the pursuit of wellness. There are many people with limited or no training providing information about vitamins, supplements or herbs or specific exercise regimes. It’s hard to determine fact from fiction.
So, how can one begin to focus on wellness in a healthy way? I believe it starts with acknowledging a variety of definitions.
Wellness may mean incorporating French fries and ice cream into one’s diet, solely for pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure and enjoyment are important components of Wellness!
Wellness may be acknowledging a dialectic: You can be an animal lover and still nourish your body in the way your body tells you to be nourished!
Each body is different.
All those supplements and vitamins and probiotics and collagens and formulas out there? Be careful. Many instagrammers and bloggers are trying to form alliances with certain companies for sponsorship.
If you want to start a vitamin or supplement routine, begin with a check up with your doctor and some blood work. If you have any deficiencies, your doctor will tell you what is necessary for your body type and let you know what kinds of supplements and vitamins will be beneficial. Otherwise, your body just eliminates what you don’t need and the supplements and vitamins can be pointless.
That expensive spirulina shake that your favorite instagrammer swears by every morning? If you try it and it tastes bad to you, don’t torture yourself. Make yourself something yummier. Don’t like green juice? Don’t feel like you have to drink it. The majority of people didn’t drink green juice before it became a trend and they turned out just fine!
Point being–Wellness should never feel forced. It should never turn into an obsession. It should never make you think twice before enjoying a slice of pizza, even if that pizza is from the corner pizza parlor and not made of a cauliflower crust, with dairy-free cheese, and not labeled #vegan #glutenfree #cleaneats.
Ultimate Wellness begins in the mind and it begins with professionals. If you want to establish and achieve certain health goals, the best people to talk to are doctors and certified nutritionists who can help you set up a nutrition and fitness plan best for your body and your mental health goals.
Instagram can be wonderful and inspiring (nothing wrong with beautiful photos of veggie recipes to ADD into your diet) and it can also be persuasive and a dangerous vortex of eating-disordered behavior and people who act holier-than-thou regarding their food choices.
Be mindful out there – Happy and HEALTHY scrolling to all!
Authored by: Jaime Gleicher, LMSW