The Wellness Paradox: The Stress of Being Healthy
With one quick scroll through my Instagram explore page, I’ve already found one post telling me the caloric content of 20 different types of breads, another with the top 15 foods with the least amount of pesticides, and a third with the benefits of celery juice, presented with a photo of a thin woman holding a glass with a smile so wide you’d think she’d just won the lottery.
It seems today that one cannot escape hearing of someone’s new diet, or how going vegan is not just a diet, but a lifestyle. Or how they feel “like a new person” after a month of eating Whole30. The stress induced from the judgement of what’s going on your plate, and even how it got there, sparks anxiety among many of us, in a new epidemic disguised by the title of “Wellness.”
One of the biggest platforms for America’s new fad-diet of Wellness is social media, and the influencers who occupy this stage present themselves with convincing authority to its susceptible audiences. Yet, research shows that the majority of these influential health and wellness bloggers hold no grounds for factuality or legitimacy.
An important 2018 study by the University of Glasgow found that only one out of nine bloggers who provide nutritional advice on social media meet the national guidelines of transparency, evidence-based claims, or compliance to nutritional standards.
Researchers have declared these findings “potentially harmful” due to the effects on self-esteem, misconceptions of health, and unrealistic lifestyles promoted to the large audience that these influencers extend to.
While the Wellness movement promotes the concept of complete health, incorporating both physical and mental aspects, there is an underlying sense of a goal to achieve thinness and weight loss. The convincing rhetoric and personal testimony behind the secrets of turmeric powder, hot lemon water, or intermittent fasting have grounded themselves in the content of countless social media accounts.
However, the swarming amount of opinions on how to live our “best” life don’t come without a cost. As a society, there is a problematic equation of being skinny to being healthy, and the “wholesome” lifestyle promoted by many of these influencers is not only misleading, but dangerous to our mental health.
Another study found that “the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness.” While this good-intentioned idea of Wellness claims to pave the way to a healthy life, the underlying motivation of achieving this lifestyle through weight loss can have costly effects on our mental state in pursuing an unattainable lifestyle.
Additional research found that out of seven influencers investigated, five of them did not supply evidence to their weight loss claims. Furthermore, a startling 90% of social media influencers were providing misleading and non-factual information on health in general.
Now, not only are we faced with the stress from adhering to this new trend of Wellness, we are also faced with the stress of not knowing what information to trust in a world where the amount of available information is unyielding.
We can rid ourselves from the stress invoked by this new trend by being mindful of how this trend affects our mental health. A healthy body includes a healthy mind, and while stressing to maintain the former, we can’t forget the importance of the latter. Here are some tips to remember in times of existential worry about achieving a “healthy” lifestyle.
1. Be aware of the misconceptions of health that fill our feeds.
There are currently no required standards influencers must maintain in order to present themselves as credible on social media. As a society, we must uphold these standards ourselves, as well as hold ourselves accountable for buying into what we see online.
2. Only take health advice from licensed professionals.
An Instagram or Twitter verification doesn’t equate to a nutrition degree. It’s important to remain objective when reading about someone’s miracle transformation without factual evidence supporting their claims.
3. Remember to take everything from social media with a grain of salt.
Influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers get paid to promote certain products, detox teas, and miscellaneous supplements—simply something to keep in mind before coughing up 50 dollars on everything but food at Whole Foods.
This is not to discredit the success some have found through keto nor the virtuous efforts to save our environment by eating vegan. It is simply calling awareness to the lack of fact-based claims on health provided by influencers and how the incongruity of these claims with scientific data affects our mental health.
By spreading awareness of the discrepancies of the health information fed to us by seemingly verified sources, we can avoid unnecessary stress in an aspect of our lives that is meant to spark joy: eating. Though this concept of Wellness seems benign, the subtle effect of every post, false nutritional claim, and the idealization of thinness all impact the mental health of those who scroll. True “wellness” comes from the stability of our mental health, and the stress invoked by the focus of our physical health should not chip away at that.
The bottom line is that it’s important to focus on yourself and find what works for you, uninfluenced by self-proclaimed wellness experts on social media.
Easoobesity. “Study Scrutinizes Credibility of Weight Management Blogs by Most.” EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/eaft-ssc042919.php.
Forrest, Adam. “Social Media Influencers Are Dishing out False Nutrition and Weight Loss Advice 90% of the Time.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 30 Apr. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/social-media-influencers-give-bad-health-advice-90-percent-of-time-study-shows-2019-4.
“Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association, 24 Apr. 2019, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.
Tags: anxiety, critical inner voice, eating disorders, eating habits, healthy eating, mindful eating, personal growth, self-esteem, self-understanding, stress, stress management