361-Wellness Culture with Christy Harrison author of the Wellness Trap

by | Jun 12, 2023 | 0 comments

Wellness Culture with Christy Harrison

Wellness Culture

Wellness Culture with Christy Harrison author of the Wellness trap. 

You know diet culture…but do you know it has a cousin – Wellness Culture?

Thank you to my co-host Joni O’Donell for leading this interview in a way that will best serve you the listener. You can find out more about Joni on her website https://joniodonnell.com/.

What you’ll learn listening to this episode:

  • What is wellness culture and why it’s problematic
  • The harm that wellness culture causes
  • The SIFT method to not fall prey to wellness culture claims
  • Why individual responsibility isn’t the long term solution to our well being
  • If not wellness then what? Well being perhaps

Mentioned in the show: 

Cohost: Joni O’Donnell website

The Wellness Trap Book

Health Habits Checklist

Rebellious Eating Solution Webinar

Quiz: Is it you or your diet?

Undiet Your Life Program

Non-Diet Coaching Certification

Connect with our guest:

Website – Christy Harrison

Instagram – Christy Harrison

Facebook – Christy Harrison

Transcript

Going Beyond The Food Show Ep361 - 361-Wellness Culture with Christy Harrison author of the Wellness Trap

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This is episode 361 of the Beyond the Food Show, and today we're gonna talk about wellness culture. We're all familiar with diet culture, but there's a new phenomenon that is evolving from that culture, and that's wellness culture. And have a expert in the field of wellness culture, christie Harrison, who just released the book, well-researched book on that topic, the Trap of Wellness. And we're gonna have this beautiful conversation also including one of my student, Joni O'Donnell. So if you wanna understand wellness culture and how it plays a role in your life, stay tuned.

Stephanie: Welcome to the podcast, Christy.

Christy: Thank you so much for having me.

Stephanie: It's been two and a half years. We're just talking about that. The last time I had you on a podcast was like during the pandemic, or right before the pandemic what's your first book, the Anti-D diet book.

Christy: That's right.

Stephanie: The world has changed since then.

Christy: Such a different world. I know. It's wild.

Stephanie: But the topic is something I've been wanting to talk about for a very long time, which is wellness culture, and you just wrote a book on that. And I have a co-host, by the way, for everybody listening, Joni O'Donnell.

Joni: Hi everybody.

Stephanie: She is one of our student and she's also a mastermind with me so sh I ask her to come in and, lead this interview with me. And she's gonna get us started with a context question that's gonna set up the rest of the conversation, so I'll let you go first, joie.

Joni: Great, thanks Stephanie. Hi, Christie. I'm so happy to have you here and have this chance to talk with you today.

Christy: I'm happy to be here.

Joni: Great. So I was wondering if you could just start, just to kind of start our conversation, is to tell us a little bit about in general what wellness culture is and what we're talking about because we're familiar with diet culture at this point, and we've all read your book, anti-D Diet, which is amazing and changed everything for me and my work, but if you could tell us a little bit about what wellness culture is, I think that would help to kind of set the tone for people who are listening.

Christy: Sure. Absolutely. So, you know, wellness, like, I think it's helpful to start off by defining wellness itself. And wellness is really defined as and conceived of as this practice of seeking to prevent illness and prolong life, not just treat disease, although people with diseases make up a significant portion of the wellness market. And in wellness there's really a clear emphasis on individual choice and responsibility and the sense of optimization. It's like this active pursuit of the most optimized you can possibly be.

Christy: And so it's really defined by like this constant pursuit and the things that you do, and doing all those things typically requires a fair amount of privilege and is inaccessible to most people. And so wellness culture is the belief system that really underlies the concept of wellness. And it's a set of values that equates wellness with moral goodness and, pos certain behaviors in a certain type of body as the path to achieving that supposed goodness. It overlaps with diet culture, which I described in anti-D diet is a system of beliefs that equates thinness, muscularity, in particular body shapes with health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss and body reshaping as a means of attaining higher status, whether that's health status, moral status, or social status, demonizes certain foods and food groups while elevating others and oppresses people who don't match that supposed picture of health.

Christy: And wellness culture, more or less incorporates all of those values into its belief system, but it also adds several other major tenets of its own. So some of the ones that I focus on in the book are that it denigrates conventional medicine and idolizes alternative integrative, and supposedly holistic approaches to healing that are supposedly more natural. And there's this particular reverence for methods that are perceived as ancient or non-western, even if those characterizations aren't always accurate, even if the thing in question is actually just being sort of cherry picked or stripped for parts, and it's not really the ancient tradition that it's made out to be.

Christy: And in fact, I think in wellness culture, there's this emphasis on the individual's ability to pick and choose what works for them, what wellness practices to adopt, and that often results in taking healing modalities out of context and really creating cultural appropriation and fetishization. And this like lionization of individual choices that we see in wellness culture also downplays or outright ignores the social determinants of health, which have a much greater impact on population wellbeing than individual behaviors. And the way that wellness culture is set up to value those things, I think gives anecdotes and social media testimonials more weight than sound scientific evidence, which, enables the spread of myth and disinformation and, conspiracy theories and scams and a lot of things that I cover in the book. And, I think the, social media and the structure of the internet also has really facilitated that spread and sort of intertwined with wellness culture in interesting ways that I unpack in the book.

Joni: Yeah. Well thanks for that description. I just wanna say too, for anybody listening, you go into such depth about the cultural appropriation and the, different types of medicines in the cherry picking and it's so interesting that I highly recommend. I know we don't have the time to go into it in detail here, but I highly recommend, reading the book just for that, even that history information, is really fascinating and really ties into what we're dealing with today. [Thank you. ]

Stephanie: One other thing that for me, fascinated me in the way you described and presented wellness culture is this praise or how it prays on our desire for control. [Mm-hmm] When we have in fact very little control on our health and on our weight and wellness culture just proposed to a solution that pretend we will have control. And that's really an angle that I knew was there, but I didn't realize that was one of the prime value or foundation of wellness culture. It's really interesting perspective.

Christy: Yeah, I think it's really,praise on, like you said, the ways that people are unserved by the conventional healthcare system, the ways that we all, we all want and deserve to feel happy and well and, have wellbeing. I think that's the thing that we're all really seeking. But, wellness culture sort of promotes and packages this idea that we can achieve wellness and this like, optimized state and constantly be striving for it by doing these things that, really don't have a good evidence base behind them. In a lot of cases, in some cases they're just kind of totally made up by some influencer who's out for their own benefit. And it's preying on people who are vulnerable, have maybe chronic illnesses. I myself live with multiple chronic illnesses that are often targeted by wellness culture. So that was part of what inspired me to write this book because I have autoimmune diseases, I have hormonal conditions, I have skin issues, I have digestive issues, you know, all of these things that wellness culture promises you can fix with, often with food and then supplements and potentially other regimens and protocols that are really not evidence-based and in many cases are actually harmful.

Stephanie: And at the end of the day, it's about accepting, not having control. And here's where I see a pattern, and you tell me if you see the same thing. We've been in this world of the non-AI approach for me, eight years. And what I see people is they come in, they release diet culture, they stop dieting, and then there's a stage where they go into wellness culture, [mm-hmm] again, trying to seek the control that they had to like accept with their way. They're thinking there's still a hope to get control and not have to accept. Do you see the same pattern in your world as well?

Christy: Definitely. Definitely. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to write this book is because I see so many people, I've had a lot of people in my audience and clients come to me over the years and say like, I'm in recovery from disordered eating, I've given up diet culture, I'll never diet again, but I'm really interested in gut health. Or I really, [yes] I went to see a naturopath and they told me I need to cut out all these foods or I was feeling fatigued and kind of diagnosed myself online with adrenal fatigue. And I'm looking up diets for that and how do I do this thing for self-care, like to take care of myself without spiraling back into disordered eating?

Christy: And when I look into the, those conditions that people are supposedly diagnosed with or the diets that they're recommended, I see again and again, there's no good evidence base for them. There's certainly not enough scientific evidence, if any, to recommend individuals go on a diet. Maybe there's like animal studies or studies in a population level, but not at the individual level. And so, I've been seeing again and again, like the lack of good evidence behind those things, but how people are so vulnerable and get sucked in so easily, because, like you said, there's this desire for control. There's this desire for feeling better and I get it. You know, as someone with all these chronic health conditions, like I've had periods in my life where things were really flared up and really intense and I just wanted relief and I was desperate. And even being a science-minded person and a journalist, I've been a journalist my whole career and like have learned, learned early on sort of how to find sources and get good evidence and good information. I've learned a lot more I think in the years since I started about like research methods and media literacy and, going to school to get a master's of public health, I think really took that to the next level that, that many, science and nutrition journalists don't have. But, but still, I have been vulnerable and gotten sucked into these false promises of wellness culture and thought, well, I don't know if this has good evidence behind it, or I don't have the time to research it. I'm just exhausted from my chronic conditions, but let me try this because what's the harm?

Christy: And personally and in my professional life as well, I've seen again and again that, that there is tremendous harm that can happen from just trying something. I think these methods are wellness methods are framed as being gentler and having fewer risks and more natural or whatever than conventional methods. And so people feel like they can trust them or they can take the risk because even if it's not gonna work, like what's the worst that could happen? It's just a waste of money or something. But actually in many cases there's tremendous harm that can happen. Sometimes the protocols that we use exacerbate the very conditions that they're meant to solve. So like celery juice, which I talk about in the book, can actually cause digestive issues even though it's promoted as this, like cure all for gut health. There's lots of things like that that can really worsen what you're coming in with and set you back and your healing for various conditions.

Christy: And then, the disordered eating risk I think is so huge, and especially for anyone listening to this podcast, anyone who has their own history of disordered eating and is trying to recover, I think it's really, really slippery slope and really dangerous territory to go into wellness culture and expect to find healing that isn't going to exacerbate the disordered eating. I've had people tell me, they even went to like a functional medicine doctor or a naturopath or something and said, I have a history of disordered eating, so I really don't wanna do any diets. And still they got pushed into doing something restrictive or taking foods out or doing an elimination diet or something like that.

Christy: So, I think it's really important to kind of shine a light on this. And it's something that I don't think enough people are talking about in the anti-D diet space or in sort of the culture at large. I think there's so much trendiness to a lot of these diets and wellness protocols and, wellness on TikTok has become really huge and, and functional medicine has become really huge. And I think, there's a lot of downsides to all that stuff that we need to be talking about.

Joni: Well, Christie, I am so glad to hear you talking about all of this and it resonates, for me on a personal level, both, personally in my own life, recovering from an eating disorder, living with chronic conditions and chronic pain and autoimmune diseases. And this, also resonates deeply with the clients that I work with. And, As you described in your book, we live in this world of information overload, which is filled with misinformation, disinformation, and that can be really overwhelming for the average person. You talked about your history as a journalist and your master's in public health and all of your, clearly you have a lot of research history and scientific knowledge, but for the average person who may not have that kind of time, energy, the skills or even the resources available to do that kind of deep dive, what steps could you recommend for the average person to discern between what's trustworthy and helpful and what's harmful, bs?

Christy: Yeah, such a good question because we can't all be experts, right? We can't be expected to know everything, and even people who are experts sometimes just don't have the time or the resources to research everything. So I think it's important to have some kind of like shortcuts to figuring out what's useful and what is potentially a scam or just misinformation. I think one thing to really understand is that social media algorithms are designed to maximize engagement because that's what keeps people on the platforms getting served more ads, which is how the platforms make money. That's literally their business model. And what drives the most engagement is content that is novel, that is extreme, that provokes moral outrage, it's controversial. And misinformation really hits all those notes and we see that really driving so much of the wellness misinformation. So one thing to do is just stepping away from social media and not getting your health and wellness information from social media, looking at all of it with a really skeptical lens, even, from licensed healthcare providers, right?

Christy: Like credentialed providers are on social media doing good work. But I think also the incentives of social media and the business model often drive people to frame things in ways that are more black and white and less nuanced. And certainly a provider on social media isn't working with you one-on-one as a client, and so, there's a lot of nuance that gets missed. And so I think, not getting your information from social media is one big thing people can do. I think people don't necessarily fall for claims because they're gullible. They are, often very smart, very science minded. But sometimes that science mindedness and like trust in science can actually work against people because there's research showing that people who have like a broad trust in science, if they're presented with misinformation that has scientific references and scientific sounding language, they're gonna be more likely to be taken in by that because of their trust in science.

Christy: So I think, it's not to say don't trust science, but I think we need to be critical consumers of science and look at science with the same kind of skepticism that we would look at other things and in general to look at health and wellness claims with a very high degree of skepticism, not take things at face value, you know. And if something has supposed scientific references listed to actually click through and see, does that say what it purports to say, does that actually support the claim that someone is making or is that a totally different topic? Right. Oftentimes I'll see that with wellness influencers, whether they're, they'll link to a supposed piece of evidence or study that supports what they're saying, and it actually has nothing to do with what they're saying at all.

Christy: I think also looking out for kind of red flags, like doctors don't want you to know, or other kind of conspiratorial sounding language. The idea of like healing yourself naturally is so appealing, but that kind of language is also often associated with things that aren't as evidence-based. Dubious diagnoses that I talk about in the book, like adrenal fatigue, chronic Canada, leaky Gut syndrome, all of those things really don't have good evidence behind them. [Mm-hmm] And you know, if something is purporting to be a miracle or a cure-all, or it's like one thing that cures all ills, be very, very wary of that.

Christy: There's systemic issues here. And so not all of this is an individual responsibility, right? Like there are, things that need to be addressed at the societal level, including regulating technology companies and social media so that the proliferation of wellness, misinformation and disinformation isn't allowed to happen. Regulating the supplement industry, which is kind of the wild west, like there's really very little regulation that happens there. No pre-market testing for safety and efficacy, so things can go on the market that really shouldn't be there. But you know, that said, even as we're working towards these individual or these societal level changes that need to happen, there are things individuals can do as well. So, like I said, the skepticism, right? Treating integrative and alternative medicine and the wellness industry in general of as much critical thinking and skepticism or more than you would to conventional medicine. With any given wellness treatment or practice, just knowing that the placebo effect is likely very strong. And that's not to say it's all in your head, but actually there are powerful mind body connections at play where if you believe something is gonna help you or you're getting empathy and support from a care provider, that goes a long way to helping relieve pain and relieve symptoms and it's understandable that you might feel better at first, but what often happens with the placebo effect is that it wears off over time.

Christy: And so if something might seem like it's working at first and then over time you're like, I don't know, my symptoms are coming back, or now I'm having new symptoms and the, the solution proposed in wellness culture to that is often, okay, we'll just do that harder or just add these other supplements, or just add these other dietary restrictions, just keep doing it, keep pushing, like get more and more extreme. And actually, that can just compound the problem and make things a lot worse and worsen disordered eating, take people down that slippery slope of orthorexia and just, and, eating disorders. It can also worsen the symptoms that you came in with because now you're taking a whole bunch of supplements or a whole, doing a whole bunch of dietary restrictions that have their own side effects on physical health. And so

Christy: just being aware that placebo effect is often at play in wellness practices and if you start to feel like I just don't know if something is working,having that kind of skepticism and maybe instead of going harder, instead of like adding more protocols and doing more wellness treatments, stepping back and letting go of the stuff that you've been trying andpotentially working with a conventional healthcare provider, if you can find one who is less likely to prescribe those kinds of things.

Christy: And of course, conventional healthcare has its own pitfalls and its own problems, and I think that's why people are vulnerable to wellness culture in a lot of cases, why they're attracted to it and oftentimes there still is a better evidence base and better care that you can find, if you can sort of wade through some of like the weight stigma and the other stuff that, that is often there. There's a method that I really like called the Sift Method, which is developed by Mike Caulfield, who's a researcher at the University of Washington who studies media literacy. And that stands for four Steps. So it's stop, investigate the source, find better coverage, and trace claims quotes in media back to their original context. And so with wellness claims, wellness culture stuff that you might encounter, especially on social media, stop, just take a breath, don't share, don't act, don't spread the information. Even spreading, sharing content to say, look at this bogus thing, can actually spread it farther to vulnerable audiences. So really just thinking about quarantining the misinformation or the potential misinformation, not spreading it until you've investigated. Then investigating the source. look into who's sharing that content, who's responsible, who tends to benefit, what their credentials are and their reputation is. And just because, someone is like selling something doesn't mean they're automatically wrong or spreading misinformation, right? Everybody has to make money in this capitalistic system, but you know, it's helpful to take into account like what their agenda might be. Then, finding better coverage means, if you don't necessarily trust the source of the information, or even if you do, but you just want like a second or third opinion and they're saying something unusual, look for other coverage and see what other reputable sources or just reputable sources in general are saying on the subject.The concept of reputable can feel really tricky in this day and age because mainstream media has been really denigrated in certain corners and science does have its problems and stuff. But I think,thinking about mainstream news outlets, the fact that they're held journalistic standards and they could actually be sued for making false or unsubstantiated claims. So they're often a good source for information and cross-referencing information and claims that seem too good to be true because, lawyers would definitely, like block the publication of certain things if it was, not true. Right. Mainstream media outlets also tend to be really interested in health and wellness information and health and wellness trends. And speaking as a journalist who, got her start in health and wellness reporting, when I was like very disordered myself and looking for diet advice and wanting to lose weight and all of the things, journalists in this space I think are very interested in quote unquote natural methods or healing things with food. Like, if there was something that was that good, journalists in that space would be all over it if it was really true. Right? If there was like, an effective alternative to chemotherapy for cancer, or a natural method for treating ibs or whatever it is, so if they're not covering something, I think that could be a good sign that, it's the science isn't really there, right? And then finally tracing claims, quotes, and media back to their original context, just thinking about,whether the scientific references are really there to support something, as I said. Or whether citations are being taken out of context or sometimes entirely fabricated. And if there aren't any legitimate outside sources that are being cited, that's also a red flag. So if someone is like, have it on authority from a spirit that, doing this thing is gonna help you, which, like the medical medium has said about celery juice. It's like, like the spirit tells me that celery juice is gonna heal all your ills and science just hasn't caught up with it yet. So yeah, don't worry about the fact that there's no science. I'm the one to trust. Like that's a huge red flag, I think head for the hills when you know someone is making a claim like that. And then one other thing to think about is just noticing the emotions that come up in you when you're reading and absorbing content. [Mm-hmm] You know, if you end up feeling fearful, anxious, activated, feeling like I have to do this now, this is the key, this is the solution. Or you have this sort of outsized sense of hope, like this is finally gonna be the thing that cures all my ills but you can't verify the facts and you've like done this sift method and you're like, I don't know, I'm a little skeptical, nobody else reputable seems to be reporting on this, it's just this one person don't know if they have great credentials, I think be really aware that manipulation might be afoot in sort of how they're trying to stir up your emotions and get you to act.

Stephanie: In talking about this, in reading the book, the other piece that really struck me is the concept of wellbeing, which is in part where we're talking here, wellbeing versus wellness. And can you share your perspective on that and how it informs what we can do then. If it's not to buy into this claim, how can we approach wellness from a different land?

Christy: Yeah, that's such a good question. I really see wellbeing as,in a way, the antithesis of wellness, right? So, wellness is about optimization and constantly striving, and you can never quite get there. It's this thing that's always like receding in the distance. And wellbeing is more about acceptance, doing the best you have with what you've got, doing your best to find some measure of like mental and emotional and social support and feeling as connected as possible to people around you and having like, a more holistic sense of wellbeing than just pursuing this physical thing and constantly trying to optimize. Cause I think wellness culture really, it, it talks a big game about being holistic, but actually it's really prioritizing the physical and it takes away so much from the mental and emotional and social aspects of our wellbeing.

Christy: So, pursuing wellbeing I think is about kind of coming back to those more truly holistic aspects of ourselves and our connections with others and our wellbeing. And so, I think pursuing wellbeing is what we ultimately need to be striving for at the social level, at the societal level, supporting people's wellbeing, not putting so much emphasis on individual behaviors and shaming people for what they do and don't do. We need to be emphasizing social determinants of health more and sort of thinking about ways of collectively caring for people and not just putting it all onthe individual shoulders. And that's a really tall order I know in this society because, for so many reasons and so many historical roots of this. America and the western, western culture in general, I think is very individualistic and very shaming of people who have illness or struggle in some way or have disabilities or are larger bodied and all of those things.

Christy: So, it's a really is a tall order at the societal level, but I think we can work towards that. And as individuals we can just do our best to bring some measure of acceptance and thinking about mental and emotional wellbeing as sort of primary and not prioritizing the physical over and above that.

Stephanie: What for me has, and I'll get Jonie to go after that, but what for me wellbeing meant is that true quote, holistic nature, like mental and wellness, and what I have seen in my practice is that people move from that culture to wellness culture, finding the solution in wellness culture, that it's still physical. [Mm-hmm] And when you can think about wellbeing and the way you're presenting it in the book, you're really, kind of have to dig into what you've been avoiding all along, which is mental and emotional and spiritual wellbeing beyond the physical body.

Christy: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's really hard and that's something that, you know, people with disordered eating, [yes] sometimes they're trying to outrun, right? [Yes.] Disordered eating has benefits in some ways to people, or it's a coping skill. It's a coping method that people have developed for difficult things in their lives and a way of trying to control situations that might feel out of control and to find some measure of relief from outside forces like weight stigma and [Yeah] other forms of discrimination. It's a way of trying to like combat some of those forces. And so, when you drop that and when you drop the pursuit of wellness and optimization, I think sometimes you're faced with like this overwhelming fear and anxiety and pain and just grief that comes from feeling like, I don't know how to sort of fight back against these forces within me and outside of myself, and it can feel really, really painful.

Joni: So I think finding support for that in whatever way that looks like, it could be finding a great mental health therapist, which I know can be a process and involves access issues for a lot of people. It can mean leaning on your community and finding people in your life who get it, connecting with people online and maybe forming some offline relationships from that, doing your best to get connected with others who can support you. And really, I think therapy is amazing and has been so healing and important in my life that people who can and have access to therapy, just putting in that unfortunate work to like, of trial and error to find the right therapist, I think can have really immense payoffs too. So Christie, everything you just said, there's so, so much good information. I wish we had all day to talk about this. Some of the things that you brought up, about individual responsibility and dubious diagnoses, I know that they're two different topics, but they're so intertwined, I think.Somebody goes to the doctor and they're presented with this diagnosis, that just doesn't seem quite right, or it may have been given hastily without a lot of diagnostic testing and follow up, then we're faced with this weight stigma and this anti-fat bias in the medical community. And a lot of it then just comes back onto us as an individual, right? So both wellness culture, diet culture, they seem to both push this idea that we're solely responsible for all aspects of our health and wellbeing. And that nosha can really feel insurmountable. It can and feel like such a burden that leads to feelings of moral failure and thoughts like, I'm not good enough, I'm not strong enough, I don't have enough willpower or commitment. And that list can go on and on. And those feelings often get reinforced, like you said, by families, social circles, even in the medical community. Right.

Joni: So yeah, so how can someone just really kind of advocate for themselves in order to be heard and understood and taken seriously and provided appropriate testing and care in the medical setting, when they're faced with all of these factors. And what else is at play here besides just, you know,this is all your responsibility and this is all your fault, that you're in this, that you're in this situation.

Joni: So if we're working with people who we wanna kind of help free them from that, from the grip of that individual responsibility, can you share a little bit about what other factors are affecting the health and wellbeing that are not in the individual person's control?

Christy: Sure, yeah. So, genetics plays a huge, huge role in chronic conditions that people might have, in people's weight and body size, that's really largely heritable and largely determined by genetics. And then, people's social determinants of health I think can also really have an impact on their health outcomes, on chronic conditions, on the health challenges that they might face. So, there's research at the population level showing that 70% of population health outcomes are attributable to social determinants, like housing security, food security, income level, education level, experiences of discrimination and racism that they might face in the world,access to healthcare, all of these things that are affecting the conditions in which people live and can affect their wellbeing.

Christy: And so just being aware of that and being compassionate with yourself for the fact that those things are so influential in our lives and that only 30% of health population, health outcomes are attributable to all behaviors and then only 10% to food and exercise combined. And I think that number really staggers a lot of people because they might think, you know, in a wellness culture, we're sort of conditioned to believe that like 90% of the pie is food and exercise, right? And that like maybe only 10% is other things, and it's actually the reverse, you know? And so recognizing that we have so much less control over our outcomes then we are led to believe and very little control when it comes to food and exercise and that if someone is proposing those things as the solution to all your problems, it's really missing the bigger picture here. It's really missing this context of what goes into our wellbeing, kind of on average as a whole. And, if you can find a healthcare provider who is empathetic and willing to set aside some of their own biases, maybe set asidepressure to put you on a diet or lose weight and look at other factors that could be contributing to what's going on for you, and look at solutions that don't have anything to do with weight loss or diets. In many cases there are, really I thinkto me, pretty much in all cases there are solutions that can be adopted and practices that people can do to promote their wellbeing that have nothing to do with losing weight or with going on a restrictive diet, but that can maybe bring some measure of relief. And I know that there are chronic conditions that are really understudied and populations that are really underserved and certain conditions are contested and like don't have a lot of great evidence or support, or you might even get doctors sort of being skeptical that even exists. And in some cases there are things that don't really exist, like supposed adrenal fatigue or chronic Canada or things like that, that are like sort of wellness cultures invented terms. But if you think you have that, it's not that you don't have anything. It's like you, you have a real problem. There's things that really need, you really deserve help for what you're going through. And what you're going through is real, and your symptoms are real, but the label that you've gotten for them is wrong and it's been misidentified and so you deserve to get actual support and actual diagnosis for what's really ailing you.

Christy: And I know that can take years in some cases and a lot of trial and error and working with different providers and we shouldn't have to do that. We shouldn't have to go through all that to get the appropriate care. But unfortunately, that's the system we're in right now. And again, that's where wellness culture sort of preys on people's vulnerabilities, I think. Because the system is so broken in so many ways, there's a real void where good healthcare should be for many people. And so that's where, people start getting seduced by or sucked into these wellness paradigms that, are just leading them in the opposite direction of where they wanna be going, of the healing that they seek.

Christy: And so think it's really complicated and I have so much empathy and compassion for people going through it. And I just wanna sort of put in a plug for like, continuing to push and continuing to try to get the care that you need and deserve to the extent that you're able to with whatever else you've got going on, symptom-wise and stuff like, there are really empathetic providers out there who at the very least will agree to say, okay, I'm not gonna talk about your weight, I'm not gonna put you on a diet. Let's look at other potential solutions for this. Or who maybe are like beyond that, just super empathetic providers who are willing to do a lot of work and testing and keep supporting you as you find what's gonna work for you. [Mm-hmm.] So, it's again super complicated and I wish everybody had access to the kind of empathetic providers that I've eventually been able to find after two decades of like going through different providers and working to find a good team.

Christy: And if I move or go on a different insurance, I might lose them, right? So it's like, it's all very precarious in this healthcare system. But I think that's what we're really aiming for is to find that sort of team that's gonna be empathetic and compassionate and not put us on diets or promote weight loss, or stigmatize people for the size and shape of their bodies and actually give evidence-based care for the things that we are struggling with.

Stephanie: Did you have a last question, Joanie? Because we need to wrap this up at this point.

Joni: You know what, I just wanted to, there was something you said in your book at the very end you talk about healing from wellness culture and I just wanna kind of add this in because I think it's important for people to hear. I think they're gonna hear themselves in something that you said in the book. So, and I've been working with clients for a long time on unlearning and healing from the harms of diet culture and I imagine that is similar to healing and unlearning wellness culture. [Mm-hmm.] But specifically, you stated in the book that at some level you thought you needed to be free from symptoms and functioning optimally in order to be worthy. And that deep down you felt that you needed to completely erase your chronic conditions in order to fulfill and live the life that you had driven for yourself. So this resonates deeply with me. I'm sure it resonates with a lot of people listening who are already susceptible to all or nothing thinking, or black and white thinking and perfectionism.

Joni: [Mm-hmm.] So if you could share your biggest takeaway on how you began to kind of live in that gray zone of imperfection, I think that would be helpful for some of our listeners to hear.

Christy: Yeah. It's been such a winding path and I think it didn't happen overnight. So it takes work and it takes practice and support, but I think it was just this like little by little letting go of, for me, it started with food, right, started with letting go of the perfectionism about food and letting myself be a little more and letting myself, of be aware of and honor my hungers, my desires, my satisfactions, and starting to trust my body more through that process and just knowing that like, my body is gonna have these consistent ways of making its, or eventually consistent, right? Sometimes they're very inconsistent, but my body's gonna have ways of making its needs known. And if I listen to them and fill those needs, I'm gonna feel good. My body's gonna thank me in some way. And that took a lot of time to get to that point, I think. But then, sort of starting to become aware of that at an embodied level [mm-hmm] helped me also become aware of like, Other ways that I was being perfectionistic and holding on really tight and forcing myself to do things that were, not listening to my body's needs, right. Pushing myself beyond my limits, not getting enough rest, not taking the downtime I need as someone who's like, got mental health challenges as well and introverted and just needs to cocoon sometimes, and starting to accept those things about myself through talking to other people who went through similar challenges, reading,consuming content from other people who struggle with similar issues and realizing that like feeling at peace with myself and having a certain measure of wellbeing, well, a isn't gonna be consistent through all time, like I'm gonna have ups and downs with that and sometimes I'm not gonna feel at peace with myself and I'm gonna feel frustrated with my conditions and maybe lack of ability to do things that other people can do and compare myself and all that stuff. But, but recognizing that like in order to feel some measure of greater peace, I don't need to be entirely symptom free or medication free or disease free, right? That it's possible to be in a state of relative wellbeing even while living with chronic conditions and managing them and doing my best to just take care of my body and make accommodations for it and recognize its limitations and embrace those things actually, right? Like, to get to at least a place of neutrality with them was one thing. but then to get to a place of like real care and compassion for myself in struggling with those challenges, I think was kind of another level of healing.

Christy: And so it's not easy. It's, it takes a lot, I think, of constant effort and work to, to remind yourself of that acceptance that you need to have for yourself. But, over time and with enough practice and support, I really was able to let go of so much of that perfectionism about my wellbeing and wellness in general and not get so caught up in things that purported to make me symptom free or reverse disease or put things into remission. I've stopped believing in those magic bullets and started to really just accept that these are things I'm gonna live with and I don't know why I have them really. Some of them are genetic, some of them who knows. But,this is what it is. This is what I've been given, this is the body I live with, and there are strengths to it and there are limitations to it, and I'm gonna do my best to embrace all of it.

Stephanie: I just kept shook my hand. I've been, I've been singing that song for years now because I have chronic pain as well, and people always want to know like how, why are you seem to be living a full life and somewhat happy? [Mm-hmm.] It's not because I found the magic pill. [Mm-hmm.] It's because I've accepted that my life is with chronic pain. [Mm-hmm.] So thank you for saying that out loud.

Stephanie: I'm going to wrap us up and say thank you so much, Christie, for being here and highly recommend the book. We are gonna link it in the show notes. I think it's a game changer and it can not in the sense that wellness culture one tell you can change your life, but it can really change your perspective on life.

Christy: Hmm. Thank you so much.

Stephanie: Thank you.

 

 

Wellness Culture with Christy Harrison author of the Wellness Trap

This is episode 361 of the Beyond the Food Show, and today we’re gonna talk about wellness culture. We’re all familiar with diet culture, but there’s a new phenomenon that is evolving from that culture, and that’s wellness culture. And have a expert in the field of wellness culture, christie Harrison, who just released the book, well-researched book on that topic, the Trap of Wellness. And we’re gonna have this beautiful conversation also including one of my student, Joni O’Donnell. So if you wanna understand wellness culture and how it plays a role in your life, stay tuned.

Stephanie: Welcome to the podcast, Christy.

Christy: Thank you so much for having me.

Stephanie: It’s been two and a half years. We’re just talking about that. The last time I had you on a podcast was like during the pandemic, or right before the pandemic what’s your first book, the Anti-D diet book.

Christy: That’s right.

Stephanie: The world has changed since then.

Christy: Such a different world. I know. It’s wild.

Stephanie: But the topic is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a very long time, which is wellness culture, and you just wrote a book on that. And I have a co-host, by the way, for everybody listening, Joni O’Donnell.

Joni: Hi everybody.

Stephanie: She is one of our student and she’s also a mastermind with me so sh I ask her to come in and, lead this interview with me. And she’s gonna get us started with a context question that’s gonna set up the rest of the conversation, so I’ll let you go first, joie.

Joni: Great, thanks Stephanie. Hi, Christie. I’m so happy to have you here and have this chance to talk with you today.

Christy: I’m happy to be here.

Joni: Great. So I was wondering if you could just start, just to kind of start our conversation, is to tell us a little bit about in general what wellness culture is and what we’re talking about because we’re familiar with diet culture at this point, and we’ve all read your book, anti-D Diet, which is amazing and changed everything for me and my work, but if you could tell us a little bit about what wellness culture is, I think that would help to kind of set the tone for people who are listening.

Christy: Sure. Absolutely. So, you know, wellness, like, I think it’s helpful to start off by defining wellness itself. And wellness is really defined as and conceived of as this practice of seeking to prevent illness and prolong life, not just treat disease, although people with diseases make up a significant portion of the wellness market. And in wellness there’s really a clear emphasis on individual choice and responsibility and the sense of optimization. It’s like this active pursuit of the most optimized you can possibly be.

Christy: And so it’s really defined by like this constant pursuit and the things that you do, and doing all those things typically requires a fair amount of privilege and is inaccessible to most people. And so wellness culture is the belief system that really underlies the concept of wellness. And it’s a set of values that equates wellness with moral goodness and, pos certain behaviors in a certain type of body as the path to achieving that supposed goodness. It overlaps with diet culture, which I described in anti-D diet is a system of beliefs that equates thinness, muscularity, in particular body shapes with health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss and body reshaping as a means of attaining higher status, whether that’s health status, moral status, or social status, demonizes certain foods and food groups while elevating others and oppresses people who don’t match that supposed picture of health.

Christy: And wellness culture, more or less incorporates all of those values into its belief system, but it also adds several other major tenets of its own. So some of the ones that I focus on in the book are that it denigrates conventional medicine and idolizes alternative integrative, and supposedly holistic approaches to healing that are supposedly more natural. And there’s this particular reverence for methods that are perceived as ancient or non-western, even if those characterizations aren’t always accurate, even if the thing in question is actually just being sort of cherry picked or stripped for parts, and it’s not really the ancient tradition that it’s made out to be.

Christy: And in fact, I think in wellness culture, there’s this emphasis on the individual’s ability to pick and choose what works for them, what wellness practices to adopt, and that often results in taking healing modalities out of context and really creating cultural appropriation and fetishization. And this like lionization of individual choices that we see in wellness culture also downplays or outright ignores the social determinants of health, which have a much greater impact on population wellbeing than individual behaviors. And the way that wellness culture is set up to value those things, I think gives anecdotes and social media testimonials more weight than sound scientific evidence, which, enables the spread of myth and disinformation and, conspiracy theories and scams and a lot of things that I cover in the book. And, I think the, social media and the structure of the internet also has really facilitated that spread and sort of intertwined with wellness culture in interesting ways that I unpack in the book.

Joni: Yeah. Well thanks for that description. I just wanna say too, for anybody listening, you go into such depth about the cultural appropriation and the, different types of medicines in the cherry picking and it’s so interesting that I highly recommend. I know we don’t have the time to go into it in detail here, but I highly recommend, reading the book just for that, even that history information, is really fascinating and really ties into what we’re dealing with today. [Thank you. ]

Stephanie: One other thing that for me, fascinated me in the way you described and presented wellness culture is this praise or how it prays on our desire for control. [Mm-hmm] When we have in fact very little control on our health and on our weight and wellness culture just proposed to a solution that pretend we will have control. And that’s really an angle that I knew was there, but I didn’t realize that was one of the prime value or foundation of wellness culture. It’s really interesting perspective.

Christy: Yeah, I think it’s really,praise on, like you said, the ways that people are unserved by the conventional healthcare system, the ways that we all, we all want and deserve to feel happy and well and, have wellbeing. I think that’s the thing that we’re all really seeking. But, wellness culture sort of promotes and packages this idea that we can achieve wellness and this like, optimized state and constantly be striving for it by doing these things that, really don’t have a good evidence base behind them. In a lot of cases, in some cases they’re just kind of totally made up by some influencer who’s out for their own benefit. And it’s preying on people who are vulnerable, have maybe chronic illnesses. I myself live with multiple chronic illnesses that are often targeted by wellness culture. So that was part of what inspired me to write this book because I have autoimmune diseases, I have hormonal conditions, I have skin issues, I have digestive issues, you know, all of these things that wellness culture promises you can fix with, often with food and then supplements and potentially other regimens and protocols that are really not evidence-based and in many cases are actually harmful.

Stephanie: And at the end of the day, it’s about accepting, not having control. And here’s where I see a pattern, and you tell me if you see the same thing. We’ve been in this world of the non-AI approach for me, eight years. And what I see people is they come in, they release diet culture, they stop dieting, and then there’s a stage where they go into wellness culture, [mm-hmm] again, trying to seek the control that they had to like accept with their way. They’re thinking there’s still a hope to get control and not have to accept. Do you see the same pattern in your world as well?

Christy: Definitely. Definitely. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this book is because I see so many people, I’ve had a lot of people in my audience and clients come to me over the years and say like, I’m in recovery from disordered eating, I’ve given up diet culture, I’ll never diet again, but I’m really interested in gut health. Or I really, [yes] I went to see a naturopath and they told me I need to cut out all these foods or I was feeling fatigued and kind of diagnosed myself online with adrenal fatigue. And I’m looking up diets for that and how do I do this thing for self-care, like to take care of myself without spiraling back into disordered eating?

Christy: And when I look into the, those conditions that people are supposedly diagnosed with or the diets that they’re recommended, I see again and again, there’s no good evidence base for them. There’s certainly not enough scientific evidence, if any, to recommend individuals go on a diet. Maybe there’s like animal studies or studies in a population level, but not at the individual level. And so, I’ve been seeing again and again, like the lack of good evidence behind those things, but how people are so vulnerable and get sucked in so easily, because, like you said, there’s this desire for control. There’s this desire for feeling better and I get it. You know, as someone with all these chronic health conditions, like I’ve had periods in my life where things were really flared up and really intense and I just wanted relief and I was desperate. And even being a science-minded person and a journalist, I’ve been a journalist my whole career and like have learned, learned early on sort of how to find sources and get good evidence and good information. I’ve learned a lot more I think in the years since I started about like research methods and media literacy and, going to school to get a master’s of public health, I think really took that to the next level that, that many, science and nutrition journalists don’t have. But, but still, I have been vulnerable and gotten sucked into these false promises of wellness culture and thought, well, I don’t know if this has good evidence behind it, or I don’t have the time to research it. I’m just exhausted from my chronic conditions, but let me try this because what’s the harm?

Christy: And personally and in my professional life as well, I’ve seen again and again that, that there is tremendous harm that can happen from just trying something. I think these methods are wellness methods are framed as being gentler and having fewer risks and more natural or whatever than conventional methods. And so people feel like they can trust them or they can take the risk because even if it’s not gonna work, like what’s the worst that could happen? It’s just a waste of money or something. But actually in many cases there’s tremendous harm that can happen. Sometimes the protocols that we use exacerbate the very conditions that they’re meant to solve. So like celery juice, which I talk about in the book, can actually cause digestive issues even though it’s promoted as this, like cure all for gut health. There’s lots of things like that that can really worsen what you’re coming in with and set you back and your healing for various conditions.

Christy: And then, the disordered eating risk I think is so huge, and especially for anyone listening to this podcast, anyone who has their own history of disordered eating and is trying to recover, I think it’s really, really slippery slope and really dangerous territory to go into wellness culture and expect to find healing that isn’t going to exacerbate the disordered eating. I’ve had people tell me, they even went to like a functional medicine doctor or a naturopath or something and said, I have a history of disordered eating, so I really don’t wanna do any diets. And still they got pushed into doing something restrictive or taking foods out or doing an elimination diet or something like that.

Christy: So, I think it’s really important to kind of shine a light on this. And it’s something that I don’t think enough people are talking about in the anti-D diet space or in sort of the culture at large. I think there’s so much trendiness to a lot of these diets and wellness protocols and, wellness on TikTok has become really huge and, and functional medicine has become really huge. And I think, there’s a lot of downsides to all that stuff that we need to be talking about.

Joni: Well, Christie, I am so glad to hear you talking about all of this and it resonates, for me on a personal level, both, personally in my own life, recovering from an eating disorder, living with chronic conditions and chronic pain and autoimmune diseases. And this, also resonates deeply with the clients that I work with. And, As you described in your book, we live in this world of information overload, which is filled with misinformation, disinformation, and that can be really overwhelming for the average person. You talked about your history as a journalist and your master’s in public health and all of your, clearly you have a lot of research history and scientific knowledge, but for the average person who may not have that kind of time, energy, the skills or even the resources available to do that kind of deep dive, what steps could you recommend for the average person to discern between what’s trustworthy and helpful and what’s harmful, bs?

Christy: Yeah, such a good question because we can’t all be experts, right? We can’t be expected to know everything, and even people who are experts sometimes just don’t have the time or the resources to research everything. So I think it’s important to have some kind of like shortcuts to figuring out what’s useful and what is potentially a scam or just misinformation. I think one thing to really understand is that social media algorithms are designed to maximize engagement because that’s what keeps people on the platforms getting served more ads, which is how the platforms make money. That’s literally their business model. And what drives the most engagement is content that is novel, that is extreme, that provokes moral outrage, it’s controversial. And misinformation really hits all those notes and we see that really driving so much of the wellness misinformation. So one thing to do is just stepping away from social media and not getting your health and wellness information from social media, looking at all of it with a really skeptical lens, even, from licensed healthcare providers, right?

Christy: Like credentialed providers are on social media doing good work. But I think also the incentives of social media and the business model often drive people to frame things in ways that are more black and white and less nuanced. And certainly a provider on social media isn’t working with you one-on-one as a client, and so, there’s a lot of nuance that gets missed. And so I think, not getting your information from social media is one big thing people can do. I think people don’t necessarily fall for claims because they’re gullible. They are, often very smart, very science minded. But sometimes that science mindedness and like trust in science can actually work against people because there’s research showing that people who have like a broad trust in science, if they’re presented with misinformation that has scientific references and scientific sounding language, they’re gonna be more likely to be taken in by that because of their trust in science.

Christy: So I think, it’s not to say don’t trust science, but I think we need to be critical consumers of science and look at science with the same kind of skepticism that we would look at other things and in general to look at health and wellness claims with a very high degree of skepticism, not take things at face value, you know. And if something has supposed scientific references listed to actually click through and see, does that say what it purports to say, does that actually support the claim that someone is making or is that a totally different topic? Right. Oftentimes I’ll see that with wellness influencers, whether they’re, they’ll link to a supposed piece of evidence or study that supports what they’re saying, and it actually has nothing to do with what they’re saying at all.

Christy: I think also looking out for kind of red flags, like doctors don’t want you to know, or other kind of conspiratorial sounding language. The idea of like healing yourself naturally is so appealing, but that kind of language is also often associated with things that aren’t as evidence-based. Dubious diagnoses that I talk about in the book, like adrenal fatigue, chronic Canada, leaky Gut syndrome, all of those things really don’t have good evidence behind them. [Mm-hmm] And you know, if something is purporting to be a miracle or a cure-all, or it’s like one thing that cures all ills, be very, very wary of that.

Christy: There’s systemic issues here. And so not all of this is an individual responsibility, right? Like there are, things that need to be addressed at the societal level, including regulating technology companies and social media so that the proliferation of wellness, misinformation and disinformation isn’t allowed to happen. Regulating the supplement industry, which is kind of the wild west, like there’s really very little regulation that happens there. No pre-market testing for safety and efficacy, so things can go on the market that really shouldn’t be there. But you know, that said, even as we’re working towards these individual or these societal level changes that need to happen, there are things individuals can do as well. So, like I said, the skepticism, right? Treating integrative and alternative medicine and the wellness industry in general of as much critical thinking and skepticism or more than you would to conventional medicine. With any given wellness treatment or practice, just knowing that the placebo effect is likely very strong. And that’s not to say it’s all in your head, but actually there are powerful mind body connections at play where if you believe something is gonna help you or you’re getting empathy and support from a care provider, that goes a long way to helping relieve pain and relieve symptoms and it’s understandable that you might feel better at first, but what often happens with the placebo effect is that it wears off over time.

Christy: And so if something might seem like it’s working at first and then over time you’re like, I don’t know, my symptoms are coming back, or now I’m having new symptoms and the, the solution proposed in wellness culture to that is often, okay, we’ll just do that harder or just add these other supplements, or just add these other dietary restrictions, just keep doing it, keep pushing, like get more and more extreme. And actually, that can just compound the problem and make things a lot worse and worsen disordered eating, take people down that slippery slope of orthorexia and just, and, eating disorders. It can also worsen the symptoms that you came in with because now you’re taking a whole bunch of supplements or a whole, doing a whole bunch of dietary restrictions that have their own side effects on physical health. And so

Christy: just being aware that placebo effect is often at play in wellness practices and if you start to feel like I just don’t know if something is working,having that kind of skepticism and maybe instead of going harder, instead of like adding more protocols and doing more wellness treatments, stepping back and letting go of the stuff that you’ve been trying andpotentially working with a conventional healthcare provider, if you can find one who is less likely to prescribe those kinds of things.

Christy: And of course, conventional healthcare has its own pitfalls and its own problems, and I think that’s why people are vulnerable to wellness culture in a lot of cases, why they’re attracted to it and oftentimes there still is a better evidence base and better care that you can find, if you can sort of wade through some of like the weight stigma and the other stuff that, that is often there. There’s a method that I really like called the Sift Method, which is developed by Mike Caulfield, who’s a researcher at the University of Washington who studies media literacy. And that stands for four Steps. So it’s stop, investigate the source, find better coverage, and trace claims quotes in media back to their original context. And so with wellness claims, wellness culture stuff that you might encounter, especially on social media, stop, just take a breath, don’t share, don’t act, don’t spread the information. Even spreading, sharing content to say, look at this bogus thing, can actually spread it farther to vulnerable audiences. So really just thinking about quarantining the misinformation or the potential misinformation, not spreading it until you’ve investigated. Then investigating the source. look into who’s sharing that content, who’s responsible, who tends to benefit, what their credentials are and their reputation is. And just because, someone is like selling something doesn’t mean they’re automatically wrong or spreading misinformation, right? Everybody has to make money in this capitalistic system, but you know, it’s helpful to take into account like what their agenda might be. Then, finding better coverage means, if you don’t necessarily trust the source of the information, or even if you do, but you just want like a second or third opinion and they’re saying something unusual, look for other coverage and see what other reputable sources or just reputable sources in general are saying on the subject.The concept of reputable can feel really tricky in this day and age because mainstream media has been really denigrated in certain corners and science does have its problems and stuff. But I think,thinking about mainstream news outlets, the fact that they’re held journalistic standards and they could actually be sued for making false or unsubstantiated claims. So they’re often a good source for information and cross-referencing information and claims that seem too good to be true because, lawyers would definitely, like block the publication of certain things if it was, not true. Right. Mainstream media outlets also tend to be really interested in health and wellness information and health and wellness trends. And speaking as a journalist who, got her start in health and wellness reporting, when I was like very disordered myself and looking for diet advice and wanting to lose weight and all of the things, journalists in this space I think are very interested in quote unquote natural methods or healing things with food. Like, if there was something that was that good, journalists in that space would be all over it if it was really true. Right? If there was like, an effective alternative to chemotherapy for cancer, or a natural method for treating ibs or whatever it is, so if they’re not covering something, I think that could be a good sign that, it’s the science isn’t really there, right? And then finally tracing claims, quotes, and media back to their original context, just thinking about,whether the scientific references are really there to support something, as I said. Or whether citations are being taken out of context or sometimes entirely fabricated. And if there aren’t any legitimate outside sources that are being cited, that’s also a red flag. So if someone is like, have it on authority from a spirit that, doing this thing is gonna help you, which, like the medical medium has said about celery juice. It’s like, like the spirit tells me that celery juice is gonna heal all your ills and science just hasn’t caught up with it yet. So yeah, don’t worry about the fact that there’s no science. I’m the one to trust. Like that’s a huge red flag, I think head for the hills when you know someone is making a claim like that. And then one other thing to think about is just noticing the emotions that come up in you when you’re reading and absorbing content. [Mm-hmm] You know, if you end up feeling fearful, anxious, activated, feeling like I have to do this now, this is the key, this is the solution. Or you have this sort of outsized sense of hope, like this is finally gonna be the thing that cures all my ills but you can’t verify the facts and you’ve like done this sift method and you’re like, I don’t know, I’m a little skeptical, nobody else reputable seems to be reporting on this, it’s just this one person don’t know if they have great credentials, I think be really aware that manipulation might be afoot in sort of how they’re trying to stir up your emotions and get you to act.

Stephanie: In talking about this, in reading the book, the other piece that really struck me is the concept of wellbeing, which is in part where we’re talking here, wellbeing versus wellness. And can you share your perspective on that and how it informs what we can do then. If it’s not to buy into this claim, how can we approach wellness from a different land?

Christy: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I really see wellbeing as,in a way, the antithesis of wellness, right? So, wellness is about optimization and constantly striving, and you can never quite get there. It’s this thing that’s always like receding in the distance. And wellbeing is more about acceptance, doing the best you have with what you’ve got, doing your best to find some measure of like mental and emotional and social support and feeling as connected as possible to people around you and having like, a more holistic sense of wellbeing than just pursuing this physical thing and constantly trying to optimize. Cause I think wellness culture really, it, it talks a big game about being holistic, but actually it’s really prioritizing the physical and it takes away so much from the mental and emotional and social aspects of our wellbeing.

Christy: So, pursuing wellbeing I think is about kind of coming back to those more truly holistic aspects of ourselves and our connections with others and our wellbeing. And so, I think pursuing wellbeing is what we ultimately need to be striving for at the social level, at the societal level, supporting people’s wellbeing, not putting so much emphasis on individual behaviors and shaming people for what they do and don’t do. We need to be emphasizing social determinants of health more and sort of thinking about ways of collectively caring for people and not just putting it all onthe individual shoulders. And that’s a really tall order I know in this society because, for so many reasons and so many historical roots of this. America and the western, western culture in general, I think is very individualistic and very shaming of people who have illness or struggle in some way or have disabilities or are larger bodied and all of those things.

Christy: So, it’s a really is a tall order at the societal level, but I think we can work towards that. And as individuals we can just do our best to bring some measure of acceptance and thinking about mental and emotional wellbeing as sort of primary and not prioritizing the physical over and above that.

Stephanie: What for me has, and I’ll get Jonie to go after that, but what for me wellbeing meant is that true quote, holistic nature, like mental and wellness, and what I have seen in my practice is that people move from that culture to wellness culture, finding the solution in wellness culture, that it’s still physical. [Mm-hmm] And when you can think about wellbeing and the way you’re presenting it in the book, you’re really, kind of have to dig into what you’ve been avoiding all along, which is mental and emotional and spiritual wellbeing beyond the physical body.

Christy: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s really hard and that’s something that, you know, people with disordered eating, [yes] sometimes they’re trying to outrun, right? [Yes.] Disordered eating has benefits in some ways to people, or it’s a coping skill. It’s a coping method that people have developed for difficult things in their lives and a way of trying to control situations that might feel out of control and to find some measure of relief from outside forces like weight stigma and [Yeah] other forms of discrimination. It’s a way of trying to like combat some of those forces. And so, when you drop that and when you drop the pursuit of wellness and optimization, I think sometimes you’re faced with like this overwhelming fear and anxiety and pain and just grief that comes from feeling like, I don’t know how to sort of fight back against these forces within me and outside of myself, and it can feel really, really painful.

Joni: So I think finding support for that in whatever way that looks like, it could be finding a great mental health therapist, which I know can be a process and involves access issues for a lot of people. It can mean leaning on your community and finding people in your life who get it, connecting with people online and maybe forming some offline relationships from that, doing your best to get connected with others who can support you. And really, I think therapy is amazing and has been so healing and important in my life that people who can and have access to therapy, just putting in that unfortunate work to like, of trial and error to find the right therapist, I think can have really immense payoffs too. So Christie, everything you just said, there’s so, so much good information. I wish we had all day to talk about this. Some of the things that you brought up, about individual responsibility and dubious diagnoses, I know that they’re two different topics, but they’re so intertwined, I think.Somebody goes to the doctor and they’re presented with this diagnosis, that just doesn’t seem quite right, or it may have been given hastily without a lot of diagnostic testing and follow up, then we’re faced with this weight stigma and this anti-fat bias in the medical community. And a lot of it then just comes back onto us as an individual, right? So both wellness culture, diet culture, they seem to both push this idea that we’re solely responsible for all aspects of our health and wellbeing. And that nosha can really feel insurmountable. It can and feel like such a burden that leads to feelings of moral failure and thoughts like, I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough, I don’t have enough willpower or commitment. And that list can go on and on. And those feelings often get reinforced, like you said, by families, social circles, even in the medical community. Right.

Joni: So yeah, so how can someone just really kind of advocate for themselves in order to be heard and understood and taken seriously and provided appropriate testing and care in the medical setting, when they’re faced with all of these factors. And what else is at play here besides just, you know,this is all your responsibility and this is all your fault, that you’re in this, that you’re in this situation.

Joni: So if we’re working with people who we wanna kind of help free them from that, from the grip of that individual responsibility, can you share a little bit about what other factors are affecting the health and wellbeing that are not in the individual person’s control?

Christy: Sure, yeah. So, genetics plays a huge, huge role in chronic conditions that people might have, in people’s weight and body size, that’s really largely heritable and largely determined by genetics. And then, people’s social determinants of health I think can also really have an impact on their health outcomes, on chronic conditions, on the health challenges that they might face. So, there’s research at the population level showing that 70% of population health outcomes are attributable to social determinants, like housing security, food security, income level, education level, experiences of discrimination and racism that they might face in the world,access to healthcare, all of these things that are affecting the conditions in which people live and can affect their wellbeing.

Christy: And so just being aware of that and being compassionate with yourself for the fact that those things are so influential in our lives and that only 30% of health population, health outcomes are attributable to all behaviors and then only 10% to food and exercise combined. And I think that number really staggers a lot of people because they might think, you know, in a wellness culture, we’re sort of conditioned to believe that like 90% of the pie is food and exercise, right? And that like maybe only 10% is other things, and it’s actually the reverse, you know? And so recognizing that we have so much less control over our outcomes then we are led to believe and very little control when it comes to food and exercise and that if someone is proposing those things as the solution to all your problems, it’s really missing the bigger picture here. It’s really missing this context of what goes into our wellbeing, kind of on average as a whole. And, if you can find a healthcare provider who is empathetic and willing to set aside some of their own biases, maybe set asidepressure to put you on a diet or lose weight and look at other factors that could be contributing to what’s going on for you, and look at solutions that don’t have anything to do with weight loss or diets. In many cases there are, really I thinkto me, pretty much in all cases there are solutions that can be adopted and practices that people can do to promote their wellbeing that have nothing to do with losing weight or with going on a restrictive diet, but that can maybe bring some measure of relief. And I know that there are chronic conditions that are really understudied and populations that are really underserved and certain conditions are contested and like don’t have a lot of great evidence or support, or you might even get doctors sort of being skeptical that even exists. And in some cases there are things that don’t really exist, like supposed adrenal fatigue or chronic Canada or things like that, that are like sort of wellness cultures invented terms. But if you think you have that, it’s not that you don’t have anything. It’s like you, you have a real problem. There’s things that really need, you really deserve help for what you’re going through. And what you’re going through is real, and your symptoms are real, but the label that you’ve gotten for them is wrong and it’s been misidentified and so you deserve to get actual support and actual diagnosis for what’s really ailing you.

Christy: And I know that can take years in some cases and a lot of trial and error and working with different providers and we shouldn’t have to do that. We shouldn’t have to go through all that to get the appropriate care. But unfortunately, that’s the system we’re in right now. And again, that’s where wellness culture sort of preys on people’s vulnerabilities, I think. Because the system is so broken in so many ways, there’s a real void where good healthcare should be for many people. And so that’s where, people start getting seduced by or sucked into these wellness paradigms that, are just leading them in the opposite direction of where they wanna be going, of the healing that they seek.

Christy: And so think it’s really complicated and I have so much empathy and compassion for people going through it. And I just wanna sort of put in a plug for like, continuing to push and continuing to try to get the care that you need and deserve to the extent that you’re able to with whatever else you’ve got going on, symptom-wise and stuff like, there are really empathetic providers out there who at the very least will agree to say, okay, I’m not gonna talk about your weight, I’m not gonna put you on a diet. Let’s look at other potential solutions for this. Or who maybe are like beyond that, just super empathetic providers who are willing to do a lot of work and testing and keep supporting you as you find what’s gonna work for you. [Mm-hmm.] So, it’s again super complicated and I wish everybody had access to the kind of empathetic providers that I’ve eventually been able to find after two decades of like going through different providers and working to find a good team.

Christy: And if I move or go on a different insurance, I might lose them, right? So it’s like, it’s all very precarious in this healthcare system. But I think that’s what we’re really aiming for is to find that sort of team that’s gonna be empathetic and compassionate and not put us on diets or promote weight loss, or stigmatize people for the size and shape of their bodies and actually give evidence-based care for the things that we are struggling with.

Stephanie: Did you have a last question, Joanie? Because we need to wrap this up at this point.

 

Joni: You know what, I just wanted to, there was something you said in your book at the very end you talk about healing from wellness culture and I just wanna kind of add this in because I think it’s important for people to hear. I think they’re gonna hear themselves in something that you said in the book. So, and I’ve been working with clients for a long time on unlearning and healing from the harms of diet culture and I imagine that is similar to healing and unlearning wellness culture. [Mm-hmm.] But specifically, you stated in the book that at some level you thought you needed to be free from symptoms and functioning optimally in order to be worthy. And that deep down you felt that you needed to completely erase your chronic conditions in order to fulfill and live the life that you had driven for yourself. So this resonates deeply with me. I’m sure it resonates with a lot of people listening who are already susceptible to all or nothing thinking, or black and white thinking and perfectionism.

Joni: [Mm-hmm.] So if you could share your biggest takeaway on how you began to kind of live in that gray zone of imperfection, I think that would be helpful for some of our listeners to hear.

Christy: Yeah. It’s been such a winding path and I think it didn’t happen overnight. So it takes work and it takes practice and support, but I think it was just this like little by little letting go of, for me, it started with food, right, started with letting go of the perfectionism about food and letting myself be a little more and letting myself, of be aware of and honor my hungers, my desires, my satisfactions, and starting to trust my body more through that process and just knowing that like, my body is gonna have these consistent ways of making its, or eventually consistent, right? Sometimes they’re very inconsistent, but my body’s gonna have ways of making its needs known. And if I listen to them and fill those needs, I’m gonna feel good. My body’s gonna thank me in some way. And that took a lot of time to get to that point, I think. But then, sort of starting to become aware of that at an embodied level [mm-hmm] helped me also become aware of like, Other ways that I was being perfectionistic and holding on really tight and forcing myself to do things that were, not listening to my body’s needs, right. Pushing myself beyond my limits, not getting enough rest, not taking the downtime I need as someone who’s like, got mental health challenges as well and introverted and just needs to cocoon sometimes, and starting to accept those things about myself through talking to other people who went through similar challenges, reading,consuming content from other people who struggle with similar issues and realizing that like feeling at peace with myself and having a certain measure of wellbeing, well, a isn’t gonna be consistent through all time, like I’m gonna have ups and downs with that and sometimes I’m not gonna feel at peace with myself and I’m gonna feel frustrated with my conditions and maybe lack of ability to do things that other people can do and compare myself and all that stuff. But, but recognizing that like in order to feel some measure of greater peace, I don’t need to be entirely symptom free or medication free or disease free, right? That it’s possible to be in a state of relative wellbeing even while living with chronic conditions and managing them and doing my best to just take care of my body and make accommodations for it and recognize its limitations and embrace those things actually, right? Like, to get to at least a place of neutrality with them was one thing. but then to get to a place of like real care and compassion for myself in struggling with those challenges, I think was kind of another level of healing.

Christy: And so it’s not easy. It’s, it takes a lot, I think, of constant effort and work to, to remind yourself of that acceptance that you need to have for yourself. But, over time and with enough practice and support, I really was able to let go of so much of that perfectionism about my wellbeing and wellness in general and not get so caught up in things that purported to make me symptom free or reverse disease or put things into remission. I’ve stopped believing in those magic bullets and started to really just accept that these are things I’m gonna live with and I don’t know why I have them really. Some of them are genetic, some of them who knows. But,this is what it is. This is what I’ve been given, this is the body I live with, and there are strengths to it and there are limitations to it, and I’m gonna do my best to embrace all of it.

Stephanie: I just kept shook my hand. I’ve been, I’ve been singing that song for years now because I have chronic pain as well, and people always want to know like how, why are you seem to be living a full life and somewhat happy? [Mm-hmm.] It’s not because I found the magic pill. [Mm-hmm.] It’s because I’ve accepted that my life is with chronic pain. [Mm-hmm.] So thank you for saying that out loud.

Stephanie: I’m going to wrap us up and say thank you so much, Christie, for being here and highly recommend the book. We are gonna link it in the show notes. I think it’s a game changer and it can not in the sense that wellness culture one tell you can change your life, but it can really change your perspective on life.

Christy: Hmm. Thank you so much.

Stephanie: Thank you.

Podcast Stephanie Dodier

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I’m Stephanie Dodier – Non-Diet Nutritionist and Coach. I help women fight diet culture by reshaping their mind not their body. I have been hosting a million downloads podcast- It’s Beyond The Food for over 8 years and created the Going Beyond The Food Method™️, which was born from my own journey with a 25 years dieting career  and has since grown into a global movement.

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