Why does the quest for well-being so often go wrong?

  • Words Annabel Bai Jackson

When I was a college student, there would be a five-day period each term labeled “wellness week.” The student committee would organize tai chi classes, advertise 6 a.m. group runs and give out “smoothie shots” in the cafeteria. I petted alpacas, I attended relaxation webinars, I even had a session of craniosacral therapy, in which I was informed that my body, impassively sprawled across the massage table, had “a good energy.” In these moments, the sensation of well-being—wrapped up in the languages of both discipline and recuperation—was seductive. A future fanned out before me: exercise at sunrise, probiotics at noon, meditation at night.

Like most people, I didn’t have the discipline to turn these tasters into an actual routine. But for some, the belief in regimen as the path to renewal can become an obsession. As the wellness industry booms, and the aesthetic demands placed upon our bodies become borderline impossible to achieve, healthy habits such as exercisin...

( 1 ) Although orthorexia is not a stand-alone condition in the DSM-5, it meets the criteria for an avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) which is a recognized condition.

( 2 ) Dunn's coinage was slow to catch on. In a 2010 article for The New York Times, Ben Zimmer recalls a 1979 60 Minutes segment on the topic in which the host began by saying: “Wellness: There’s a word you don’t hear every day.” Zimmer goes on to point out that, in fact, many people now hear that word multiple times a day.

( 3 ) Although she has changed her branding from The Blonde Vegan to The Balanced Blonde, Younger still posts about a wide range of wellness solutions. Her website includes affiliate links to a juicer, probiotic supplements, ketamine therapy and coffee enema bags.

( 4 ) The Priory, a private addiction rehab and mental health hospital in the UK, defines exercise addiction on its website as the point at which “the basic enjoyment of exercise and the knowledge that you are improving your health is overtaken by a psychological dependence on exercise which can result in injury and illness."

( 5 ) Friedman's book is a memoir of her experiences as a turn-of-the-millennium college senior who dealt with a bad breakup by running 10 miles a day and often consuming only 800 calories. She lost a third of her body weight in three months.

( 6 ) The Wellness Syndrome follows people with extreme passions, which includes diet obsessives but also people who are fixated on the “quantified self," monitoring their own health metrics, including their bowel movements, as well as their sleep and step count.

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