Amidst all of the negative impact of Covid19, one positive is that it has pushed the Wellness Warriors into the background and brought doctors and scientists back into the frame.
I have a surprising confession to make. I’m getting very uncomfortable with the word ‘wellness’. If you check Wikipedia, it’s “an umbrella term for pseudoscientific health interventions”. That’s a fairly polite way of saying it’s BS. This is a pity because I’ve spent the best part of the last two decades dedicated to trying to improve people’s health at a population level – and my approach has never included ANY pseudoscientific health interventions. Not a single one.
When I started out, ‘wellness’ was widely understood to be about taking personal responsibility for your health and adopting a lifestyle that helped you live a longer, healthier, happier life. I’ve long been a fan of The World Health Organization definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. That’s a pretty good reference point for what wellness should be.
Something sinister has happened over the years to this noble and august word. Rather than being the proverbial apple a day that keeps the doctor away, and filling in the gaps that medicine can’t reach, there’s an emerging wellness industrial complex that’s exploiting these same gaps. It features detoxes, superfoods, magic crystals, mindfulness for everyone, celebrity healers, juice cleansing, clean-eating, anti-vaxxing, reiki, activated almonds, coffee enemas, miracle diets, biohacking, chemical free, all-natural, Goop and colonic irrigation.
Believe it or not, I could go on. So I will…fat blasting, anti-ageing, spirulina, essential oils, spot fat reduction, supporting your immune system, all natural, organic, sugar free, fat free, low carb, gluten free, non GMO, horoscope diets, homeopathy and celebrity workouts.
This is a shame, because the original intent of ‘wellness’ – and our sole focus here at HeadUp Labs – is to help people better understand their health using data and scientific evidence that can be applied to what they do in their everyday lives. Most of this stuff isn’t revolutionary and its mostly anchored in common sense.
Most people get that if you spend your days at a desk and your evenings on the sofa, then you’re not moving enough to be maintaining good health. If your meals mostly come through a drive-through window and are washed down with a bucket sized cup of soda, then you’re unlikely to get to a ripe old age. If you can’t remember the last time you visited the doctor for a check-up, or if you never use sunscreen, smoke or vape, have lots of sex with lots of people without condoms, drive like you stole it, regularly drink yourself under the table and burn the candle at both ends, then you’re not a well being.
Most people get this. Most of us fundamentally know what to do. But in this age of consumerism, we’re being told we can simply consume our way to good health. That’s what ‘wellness’ has become. A shiny, new thing you’re supposed to buy and consume, rather than a tried and tested, evidence-based thing you should do.
So it’s time reclaim this word ‘wellness’. We owe it to the people who need our help. Are you with me?
P.S. Just as an exercise, I decided to grab the last two things I saw that featured ‘wellness’ and ‘wellbeing’. For anyone working in wellness/wellbeing it’s helpful to consider how your audience (the people you are trying to reach and help) are otherwise exposed to these words. Here they are:
1. The supermarket shelf featured a magazine called “WellBeing”. It’s mostly about horoscopes. If you’ve made it this far into this rant then you’re probably a critical thinker who appreciates that astrology is a pseudoscience that claims to be using facts, such as the movement of the planets, to predict human behaviour. There is zero factual evidence that the position of the stars and planets affects or predicts how humans behave or their personality traits or their health. This was made up by charlatans whilst actual scientists were busy inventing the Large Hadron Collider.
2. Found on a Qatar Airways flight – “Your Personal Wellness Bag”. You’re supposed to fill it with vomit. I am not making this up.