Why We Need To Fact-Check The Wellness Industry
What Is Wellness & Why Is It Important?
The definition of wellness changes from person to person. We all need different things to feel balanced, so it makes sense to experiment with new rituals, products, and foods to improve our physical, spiritual, and mental wellbeing. However, it’s important to pause when you’re considering making lifestyle changes and investigate the source of the information leading you to do so.
Brands Know How to Sell Products in Post-Diet Culture
The rise of wellness in the last few decades has led to the $3.7T wellness economy and changed the way companies market to a more conscious consumer. While the increase in information and new regimens has helped people in their search for wellness, capitalism and consumerism are still at the heart of the wellness industry, and brands promoting diet culture don’t want to miss out.
How is diet culture managing to bamboozle so many people? In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, Jessica Knoll described the diet industry as a smart “virus,” explaining how dieting “present[s] itself as wellness and clean eating,” tricking modern feminists.
Marketers are smart. They know the body-shaming media ads from past decades would now be seen as grossly insensitive. All this to say, the brands marketing toxic diet culture haven’t disappeared—they’ve just shifted their approach.
Diet culture has latched onto the rising wellness trend by marketing detoxes, supplements, restrictive diets, and other “wellness” products. While some of these products can improve your life—like eliminating certain foods to improve digestion or taking vitamins for the common deficiencies (Vitamin B6, Iron, D, and C)—others make false claims, thus the need for fact-checking.
The Danger of Weight-Focused Wellness Claims
There are many components to wellness that go beyond physical appearance, so you should be wary of brands that package shame as “self-improvement.” These companies sell feelings of guilt and shame for not “living your best life,” claiming their product, diet, or lifestyle change is what you need to better yourself. Big red flag alert!
Wellness without balance can be dangerous, especially when the focus is disproportionately on weight. Famous wellness blogger, Lee From America, recently took a hiatus from Instagram to seek treatment for orthorexia, a wellness condition obsession that operates like an eating disorder. She narrowed in on diet, fitness, and perfection (all packaged as “wellness”) and lost sight of her mental wellbeing. She now uses her platform to warn others about unhealthy wellness patterns and aspires to be more honest and genuine with her followers.
Social Media Stokes the Fire
Social media further adds to the confusion. While some influencers are honest with followers about their lifestyle changes, others post through paid partnerships that promote a product or diet. It’s difficult to distinguish between helpful advice and an advertisement, especially with something as personal as wellness.
Author and gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter calls this phenomenon the “wellness industrial complex.” Marketers latch onto our anxiety about health and pretend to have a solution for wellness. This is concerning because wellness looks different throughout life stages. Our bodies need different supplements as we age, and our priorities shift as we move through life.
How To Fact-Check Products & Wellness Claims
So, where does this leave us? You don’t have to avoid the wellness industry altogether.
1. Pause and Reflect
Whenever you feel pressured to change your lifestyle or try a new wellness product, pause and reflect on the following:
Does my definition of wellness include losing weight at any cost?
How can I strive for better physical health without shaming my body?
Will this product contribute negatively or positively to that goal?
Am I more concerned with my physical appearance than my mental health and wellbeing?
2. Talk to Your Doctor
You can also consult your health care provider with these wellness-related questions:
What preventative steps can I take to be healthy?
Which online sources do you recommend for health information?
Is medication crucial or needed for my condition? If not, what alternative options do you recommend?
If you’re seeking more holistic or integrative care, ask your doctor for referrals.
3. Research Before Trying
These resources can help you fact-check trends and product claims before trying:
Use this list of guidelines from Healthline to fact-check wellness and health claims made on social media. Watch for the sponsorship status of Instagram content from your favorite influencers (look for #ad on their posts).
HealthNewsReviews.org reviews popular wellness trends and stories. While this website paused operations in 2019, the library of over 6,000 fact-checked articles remains an excellent resource. The site’s criteria list is also useful for verifying wellness news.
If you’d like to learn more about a specific diet, product, or ingredient, use the Google scholar search engine to find scientific reports and studies results.
Don’t forget—a big part of wellness involves treating yourself with compassion and embracing your humanity. When you practice self-love and acceptance, it’s easier to spot advertisements aiming to convince you there’s something inherently wrong with you. Know that you’re amazing as you are—even if you forget to drink your acai-charcoal-quinoa-coconut-water smoothie.
Leah Thomas is a contributing writer at The Good Trade with a passion for wellness, inclusion and the environment. She works on the communications team at Patagonia and is a sustainable living blogger at Green Girl Leah. You can connect with her on Instagram @GreenGirlLeah