When Healthy HurtsPeruse any blog or scroll through your Instagram for a few minutes, and you are bound to be inundated with various images and portrayals of “wellness.” In Los Angeles it is particularly inescapable, where a juice bar or fitness club is on nearly every corner and workout gear is de rigueur. A casual conversation with a friend often turns to eating habits, and it seems that almost everyone I know is following a strict — albeit usually self-imposed dietary regimen. Whether it’s the avoidance of gluten or animal bi-products, food intolerance or sensitivity, or abolishment of an entire food group, it’s difficult to think of anyone who isn’t restricting themselves in one way or another. But at what point does the desire to be optimally healthy morph into an obsession and, moreover, disorder?
While the wellness movement is undoubtedly grounded in positive intentions, the adage still rings true: there can indeed be too much of a good thing. Although orthorexia is not recognized as an official eating disorder, the term was coined by Dr. Stephen Bratman in 1996 to describe an obsession with healthy eating, to the point where it becomes an all-encompassing compulsion. Dr. Bratman explains it as such: “an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable.” Anxiety, avoidance of social situations and a mind consumed by thoughts of self-established rules are also pervasive. Like most eating disorders Orthorexia is rooted in need for control.So how did we get here? Why is it that in a society so obsessed with the idea of wellness, so many people, especially women, seem to be feeling particularly unwell?
This brings us back to social media and the rise of Wellness as an industry. These days it seems that anyone with an Instagram account can be an “expert.” Despite what you may think scrolling through your feed, true wellness is not synonymous with “skinny.” It is not necessarily consuming seaweed collagen dust exclusively while completing a hardcore hour in the trending sweat-lodge of your choice, nor is it being the proud owner of a six-pack. The term “wellness” means the absence of illness, as well as the holistic integration of mind, body, and spirit. It is incredibly individual, for no two bodies are the same. Having worked as a fashion model for over ten years now, I am intensely aware of societal pressures put on to young women to look a certain way. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become significantly more comfortable not only in my skin but also with saying no to those who do not accept me for the way I look in professional circumstances. To me, wellness means freedom to live the way I choose, without limitations. Looking after my whole self to the best of my ability has been my most worthwhile investment, and I can only hope to encourage other young women to do the same.
While the fact that Wellness is becoming such an integral part of young people’s lives these days is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it is essential to acknowledge the risks of overdoing it. Avoiding spending time with friends or loved ones due to fear of certain foods being present, suffering from exhaustion caused by too many workouts in a single day, feeling weak or lightheaded, amenorrhoea, constant irritability and even depression can all be signs that one’s quest for peak health is becoming harmful. In the most authentic fashion of wellness, it is vital to be in tune with the body and recognize when rest, or perhaps a higher intake of calories, is needed. Moreover, it is just as important to be able to indulge on occasion, without guilt or remorse. Struggling to find that balance between discipline and self-care can indicate the beginning of disordered eating and should be promptly addressed. I have personally been in similar situations before and found it very helpful to re-center myself and focus on my ultimate goal: to nourish my body and live at my optimal level of wellbeing, as opposed to punishing myself.
In a world of magic dust for whatever may ail you and that costs a pretty penny, my advice is to take it all with a grain of salt. Rather than comparing your current diet and exercise preferences to those of a blogger you admire, take the time to look inward and take note of how your routine makes you feel. The sheer amount of wellness trends and (mis)information out there can be incredibly overwhelming, so remember to do your research and avoid self-diagnosing. When looking after your body, don’t forget about your mind as well – one cannot be healthy without the other. No matter what “wellness” may mean to you, there is no substitute for proper self-care and, most importantly, self-love.
Julia Gall is a Los Angeles based model and our contributing wellness guru. When she’s not sniffing out the latest in deliciously clean ingredients she’s sweating it out on the tennis courts!