Is Wellness Culture Promoting WELLNESS? Or WORRY?
I’m sure you’ve seen them. Maybe while scrolling through social media, maybe while listening to your favorite podcast episode, or maybe even while shopping online. What’s the “them” I’m referring to? Oh, you know. Messages telling you all the reasons why you’re unhealthy or sick, or maybe on the verge of becoming unhealthy or sick (even though you’re perfectly fine, of course). Messages telling you why your diet—your well-balanced diet—isn’t “clean” enough. Messages convincing you that you need IV vitamin therapy or an hour a day in an oxygen-rich hyperbaric chamber or to shut yourself off from society for the sake of “healthy living” and “reduced exposure to toxins” and “stress reduction.” You’ve seen them, I know you have. We all have. The sad truth is, they’re hard (IMPOSSIBLE, actually) to miss. Here’s some examples:
Now. When you read these, do you feel informed? Or do you feel anxious? My guess is you got a jerky feeling in your stomach and immediately thought “Oh gosh! I need to take better care of my adrenals!” Or “Oh gosh! I have to avoid paint fumes at all costs for the rest of my life.” Both for the sake of “wellness,” of course. Do you see the problem? Posts like these aren’t really promoting wellness at all. They are promoting WORRY, which is fueling DECISIVE ACTION, which is leading to you SPENDING MONEY, which allows the wellness industry to continue thriving. See, here’s what we have to realize. Wellness and natural health is an industry, too. We hear a lot about the pharmaceutical industry being corrupt and money-hungry, and I wouldn’t argue with that. But what’s NOT discussed nearly enough is the corruption and money-hungry nature of the NATURAL HEALTH industry. We oftentimes don’t like to come face-to-face with that, because we like to idealize wellness, and those that represent it, as this optimal state of kindness, zen, and alignment in body/mind/spirit/soul, and from what these gurus are presenting (and presenting themselves as), surely they have reached that state of wellness nirvana...right?! Well, let’s look again.
The natural health industry is estimated to reach a net worth of $296.3 billion dollars by 2027 (1), according to latest statistics, while the supplement industry is expected to reach a whopping $349 billion by 2026 (2). Whether we want to admit it or not, Wellness is a business. And a big, big, big money-making one. And unless we continue to be convinced that without that $50 turmeric supplement, that $250/month nutrition coach, or that new $100/month MLM product that PROMISES to regenerate your cells that our health will fall apart, the wellness business will fall apart.
I have seen a sickening amount of “wellness coaches,” “health coaches” and self-proclaimed “nutritionists” using the scare-tactics demonstrated above to convince their audience that, unless they take immediate and financially-driven action, their health may be in jeopardy. Or, worse yet, that the TOTALLY NATURAL bodily experiences they have are symptoms of underlying “chronic illness” and that they need to “detox...” of course, only by purchasing their $500 detox protocol (not including the poop tea!). And then of course we have the lovely individuals who got rid of their bloating or skin blemishes and decided that meant they had “healed themselves,” and that they were now qualified to call themselves a wellness coach and tell other people how to heal themselves. There are few things that anger me as much as this: stringing vulnerable, scared, and desperate people along and juicing them for all their worth for your financial gain. I believe there is a special place in hell for these individuals. And I mean that in the best way possible.
But here’s the thing we have to realize, as much as we may not want to realize it: “optimal health and wellness” doesn’t exist. At least not collectively. Your optimal health will undoubtedly look and feel different than my optimal health, which will look and feel different than the optimal health of Jack and Jill. Optimal health and wellness isn’t a destination to be reached, but a mind/body/spirit/soul state that harmonizes the individual with their Creator God. Physical illness, symptoms, and dysfunction are not the real problem, after all. Sin and separation from God, and living outside of His design is the ultimate problem. And we can eat all the kale, and drink all the bone broth, repeat all the mantras, and align all our chakras...but until we focus on aligning our souls with the One who they are created to love, we will never achieve “wellness” OR true healing.
Wellness can seem so complicated sometimes:
But in reality, it’s not that elusive. It’s not that confusing. And it’s not that stressful. If we lived as God designed us to, we would reach optimal health and wellness. And the biggest catch here? Living as God designed us to means LETTING GO of obsession with the body. Does that mean you stop caring for your body? Not at all. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our body is a temple of The Holy Spirit. Neglecting our bodies would be neglecting God’s creation, which we are to steward well. But we must be vigilant to ensure we keep our focus on worshipping our Creator, not worshipping His creation, our temples.
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” All these things! When we seek HIM first, all things in our lives come into alignment, including our wellness.
As Christians, we are, indeed, supposed to care for our bodies, God's temple. However, there is a difference between caring for our bodies (in light of them as dwelling place of The Holy Spirit) and obsessing over our bodies (out of vanity, self-interest, or fear). It is imperative we stay rooted in Christ as we strive for wellness, and remember always that wellness is a state of being involving mind, body, and spirit, and can truly only be reached by addressing all three parts of our being and exposing them to God's light, truth, and guidance.
Another important point to make is that health advice and information conflicts and contradicts itself. Always. According to one science-backed source, a vegan diet is the key to longevity, and all other animal protein-inclusive diets will give you cancer. Yet according to another, that key lies in a Paleolithic way of eating, and the vegan diet will leave you with irregular blood sugar levels and brittle bones. So what’s the truth? Well, you can find at least one study to back just about anything in the health and wellness world. I’m totally serious, too. It doesn’t make your quest for truth and guidance any easier, but, in all honesty, it forces us to look deeper. It points us to ULTIMATE truth: that our bodies are God’s creation, each one unique, and only The Holy Spirit truly knows what WE need—and that won’t be found in any research study or statistic. The only true way to know with confidence that you are nourishing and caring for YOUR body is to be, in everything, led and guided by the Holy Spirit. EVERYTHING--including food choices, health decisions, and wellness ventures. Listening to the voice of The Spirit, coupled with the words of Scripture, is the ONLY surefire way to find true health and wellness, while also finding the peace that passes understanding. And while some may claim they’ve found the former with their crazy restrictive and drudgery-laden diet and "wellness" practices, the latter--peace--will always be lacking unless we choose God’s way.
Science will always be contradictory. Today’s study will always refute yesterday’s study, which will have refuted last week’s study. That’s fact. (If you're not positive, take brief survey of nutrition advice over the last decade or two. That'll convince you quickly!) We can’t agree upon what’s healthy, because healthy is different for everyone, which is why working with a Christ-centered, bioindividuality-informed naturopath and/or nutritional therapist is key. However, one thing science does NOT disagree on is the overwhelming health benefits of JOY (4). The University of California-Berkeley states how a happy and joyful outlook and attitude protects the heart, reduces physical pain, strengthens the immune system, reduces stress, reduces risk of ALL diseases, and increases life expectancy (5). Another thing science doesn’t disagree on? The detrimental and devastating effects of STRESS on our health, happiness, and wholeness. Health and wellness is a holistic state, and our thoughts and feelings influence it strongly. The hypothalamus in the brain, the “king regulator” of just about every hormonal and steroidal process in our bodies, listens to EVERYTHING we think and picks up on everything we feel, and makes decisions about whether or not it is “safe” to carry out normal physiological functions—most of which can only happen in the parasympathetic state, or the “rest and digest” state of the nervous system. Though it may be hard to believe, if your efforts at healthy living (or your social media feed that is “informing” you of all the best health practices) are stressing you to the max, your body picks up on that, and will actually inhibit it’s OWN healing processes, thereby making you sicker.
"If your efforts at healthy living are stressing you to the max, your body picks up on that, and will actually inhibit it's OWN healing processes, thereby making you sicker."
Here’s the truth that many of us done want to hear: we can’t control our health. Now, I don’t mean we don’t have any control over any of it. What I mean is, we aren’t meant to control and micro-manage everything about our health (OR our lives, which is why this temptation is, at its core, rooted in original sin and the desire to be Lord of our own lives, instead of surrendering unto God our Creator). Our bodies are incredible—just watch closely the next time you cut yourself...how your tissue knits itself back together in a matter of days, no help from you!—and they will take care of us if we care for them...but that doesn’t mean what we think it does. Although “caring for our bodies” nowadays has come to mean doing everything perfectly and making sure we are “promoting adrenal health” and “avoiding endocrine disrupters” and “limiting our consumption of goitrogens,” caring for our bodies should not be that complicated. And it’s really not. The Bible gives us instructions for everything in life, including our health and wellbeing, and it’s not an oversight or coincidence that the repeating theme and commandment is to make God the most important thing in our lives. It doesn't give us specific restrictions and specifications on how to focus in on our health...because health and wholeness is a natural result of living in alignment with God's design, i.e., putting HIM first. When we do that, and live according to His design (by prioritizing time in His Word and with fellow believers, staying in tune with and open to His Spirit guiding us in all areas, and trusting Him to care for us, instead of trusting in our own efforts), we find peace and joy, while also ridding ourselves of a great deal of stress. And as already established, these are the foundational keys to true health and wellness, that ALL science agrees upon. Coincidence? Nope.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 says that "Much learning earns you much trouble. The more you know, the more you hurt." If you've ever experienced "information overload anxiety," you're probably resonating with this verse. Today's wellness movement likes to suggest that the only way to be healthy in this world is to micro-manage everything about your health, spend an insane amount of money on different herbs for every organ and body part, and never enjoy a non-organic meal out with friends again. Spoiler alert: this, too, is a scare tactic to keep you spending. And while there is nothing wrong with learning about natural health, nutrition, and our bodies, everything we learn must be taken in light of The Lord's truth, found in Scripture. We also must remember that TRUE wisdom comes only from God and His Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 1:30), not from any research study, natural health guidebook, or any other earthly resource. Only God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-good. No matter how knowledgable a human being may be, their wisdom will never compare to that of The Lord--yet another reason we should look to The Spirit for guidance, over everything else.
My goal isn’t to discourage you from utilizing natural health resources, or opting for alternative medicine when it’s a better option than drugs or surgery. I mean, I’m a naturopath—I clearly believe in natural health and alternative medicine. I have seen the incredible benefit of natural medicine firsthand: in myself AND in my patients. It works, and I believe in it wholeheartedly! My intention isn't to "diss" natural health and wellness--not in the slightest. My purpose in this post is to remind you that wellness is an industry, too, and just like in any industry, there are crooks and people in it for money only. And because wellness is such a part of our culture these days (and because there are more people with a chronic illness than ever before and, therefore, more people seeking after “healing”), it’s an easy way to “get rich quick.” And while much of what you read in these fear-inducing posts may be true (much, but not all), we have to remember what science has also proven through MANY, MANY, MANY studies (not one or two) to be more harmful, toxic, and disease-promoting than ANYTHING ELSE, including paint fumes: stress (3). So if our efforts to be “well” are making us stressed out, WELLNESS culture is actually promoting illness, which leads me back to scripture: “Seek first the Kingdom of God...” When we seek JESUS first, trusting in Him for our salvation, and trusting Him with our lives (and our health!), we don’t have to worry and stress about reaching optimal wellness, aligning the stars (or our chakras) so we will have the perfect, toxin-free environment, we just have to rest in Him—“Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7), “Cast your burden upon The Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall,” (Psalm 55:22), “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Wellness isn’t a bad thing, and neither is seeking after wellness. But remember that wellness is only TRUE wellness when it’s rooted in Jesus. Though wellness culture would have you believe that taking herbs, healing your gut lining, and embracing your inner child are addressing “the root cause,” that, too, is ultimately folly. These practices can heal the visible abrasions, but they leave the infection behind. There is one root cause ill, and that is only and always will be only sin and separation from God. To buy the lie that we can JUST eat a cleaner diet and totally clean up all our problems is no better than thinking we can take statins to “fix” our high cholesterol. So if our quest for wellness and healing is leading us down a path of micro-managing our health, bodies, and lives, and causing and encouraging us to rely on ourselves, our works, and our abilities to heal ourselves and obtain wellness (aka leading us further away from God by distracting us with “the lusts of the flesh” as Paul discusses in Galatians 5), then wellness is driving us further into separation from God, and therefore, further into illness.
"Wellness is only TRUE wellness when it's rooted in Jesus."
Natural health is a wonderful gift, its medicines given to us by God Himself. But, like anything, is can be corrupted. And though it’s exceptionally hard sometimes to filter out truth from temptation, with God all things are possible (Phil. 4:13). We have to remember that ultimately, Christ died for our sins so that we may have “life abundant” (John 10:10). And if our “natural” lifestyle is resulting in us constantly stressing, refusing to eat meals with family because “the meat’s not grass-fed and therefore the fats have turned into omega-6 instead of staying omega-3,” or never allowing our kids to paint their fingernails at sleepovers because “they don’t use organic fingernail polish,” that’s not exactly life abundant...or the natural life that GOD intended us to live, one of balance and enjoyment of the many blessings He has provided for us, daily rooted in and looking to Him.
So next time you’re scrolling through Instagram and you see a “wellness” influencer encouraging you to be terrified that your one-time consumption of conventional dairy is going to clog your lymphatic system and give you cancer, remember there’s most likely a hidden (financially-driven) agenda behind that “warning,” and there’s DEFINITELY not reason to freak out (or even believe it most of the time—email me and I can usually always provide a study or three to put your mind at ease!). For many of us, the most healing thing we can do is just let go and LIVE: refusing to stress about life’s trivialities (because, in the grand scheme of things and in light of eternity, everything else really is trivial...especially things regarding our bodies, which will eventually wear out regardless of how "perfect" our diet or supplement regimen is). And yep, sometimes that means eating a conventional dairy ice cream cone...and enjoying every darn and drippy second.
Until next time,
Stay happy, healthy, and hopeful.
Dr. Anna Johnson, ND/CNS
Owner, Anna's Organics Wellness