The diet industry may have been pushed out of the mainstream, but a new industry has taken its place
In 2018, Weight Watchers completely rebranded its marketing as a company. It even changed its name to WW, or “Wellness That Works.” This rebranding was a result of an increase in criticism regarding “diet culture” and the practices it promotes, such as crash dieting and restrictive eating. The diet industry makes $35 billion off of Americans, and people have started to catch on.
Unsustainable diets that condemn entire food groups, such as the Atkins diet, have been pushed out of the cultural zeitgeist. An increasing number of people are pushing back against the claims made by the diet industry about the best way to care for your body. Instead, “wellness” has become a keyword in 2020 utilized by these companies, supposedly focusing on ways to boost true physical and mental health.
Just because a diet product is rebranded as wellness, however, does not mean that there is not an industry profiting behind it. Disordered and restrictive practices still prevail under their mask.
The concept of “wellness” has replaced its diet-driven predecessors and has integrated itself into our daily lives. An article in JSTOR Daily reviewed this rising trend.
“Once associated with the utopian New Age subcultures of places like Marin County and Santa Fe, wellness has gone mainstream,” the article explained. “The landscape is crowded with the business of it: juice bars, meditation retreats, detox diets, mindfulness apps, and retailers of downward-dog-friendly Lycra.”
Although these routines are not inherently dangerous, the conflation between the practices and full-fledged diet practices are becoming an issue. The act of fasting, for example, has been practiced for hundreds of years. It can have great benefits for one’s mental, physical and spiritual health. When it is coupled with a desire to lose weight, however, it can lead to detrimental mental and physical damage.
“The worst component of this industry is that it positions itself under the guise of legitimate health, making it possibly even more damaging than the conventional diet culture,” an article for Metiza articulates.
Fasting for religious or spiritual purposes lead to intermittent fasting, which has now led us to alternate day fasting, in which people restrict calories for entire days in order to place themselves at a caloric deficit. Disordered behaviors around food and health are harder to see when they are masked by “wellness.”
Just like the condemned “diet industry” that profits off of people thinking something is wrong with themselves and their diets, the wellness industry functions in a very similar way.
An opinion piece in USA Today, written by former holistic nutritionist Denby Royal, details the falsehoods of many wellness claims and the ways in which it functions like a business.
“A meal in my home would have included only organic and non-genetically modified organisms (non-GMO) foods,” Royal writes. “I thought this was the best way to rid your diet of toxins and pesticides. In reality, this isn’t quite the case. The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a list of synthetic substances that organic growers are permitted to use on their crops and still maintain their ‘organic’ label.”
This industry has gone beyond replacing the diet industry and has pervaded aspects of medical care as well. Certain wellness practices and “natural cures” are hailed as valid remedies for actual medical and psychological issues. This is demonstrated by trends like the anti-vaccination movement, which advises using peppermint and lavender oil instead of antiviral medication to treat influenza, with disastrous consequences, and in the case of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab company, which sells $70 “Wellness” candles and a $500 Wellness Solution vibrator. This proves that just because an ideology or product has “wellness” in the description does not mean you should buy into it.
Although there’s nothing wrong with focusing on one’s health and wellness, people should still be weary of claims that a specific product or lifestyle change will inherently better one’s life. Odds are, there is an industry behind the claim trying to make money by selling dissatisfaction.
Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — firstname.lastname@example.org