How Wellness Culture is More Harmful Than You Think

Do you feel like you’re in a never-ending cycle of diets, weight loss programs, and disordered eating? Like many, you may have explored the world of wellness culture as a reprieve.

It may surprise you to learn that “wellness” can actually harm your relationship to food and body. Keep reading to find out why.

On the finale episode of Equipped to Recover on The Recovery Warrior Shows podcast channel, Host Erin Parks, PhD dives deep into the hidden dangers of wellness culture. She spoke with Dori Steinberg and Laura Cohen, two experts who have turned their backs on successful careers in the wellness industry after realizing the truth about “wellness”.

Get ready to challenge your beliefs, unlearn harmful habits, and embrace a new perspective on true health and well-being.

What is Wellness Culture?

Wellness culture is a set of values that equates wellness with moral goodness, and posits certain behaviors—and a certain type of body—as the path to achieving that supposed righteousness [1]. Wellness culture is intertwined with diet culture.

Many proponents of various “wellness” practices may tout the idea that wellness is not about weight loss, but about health and well being, all while simultaneously promoting the damaging ideas that your worth is directly tied to your physical appearance and your health is determined by your weight.

How is Wellness Culture Harmful?

Though often portrayed as promoting health and self-care, wellness culture can actually be quite harmful.

Why? It places a heavy emphasis on external appearances, particularly body sizes and shapes, and defines health solely by these standards. This narrow focus perpetuates a toxic cycle of body shaming, unrealistic beauty ideals, and the belief that one’s worth is tied to their physical appearance.

“Wellness” promotes harmful dieting practices, strict exercise regimens, and the constant pursuit of an unattainable “perfect” body. This can lead to disordered eating habits, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and a negative relationship with food and exercise.

I was saying I don’t believe in diets. But the “healthy” lifestyle I recommended was worse than a diet.

Laura Cohen, Registered Dietitian

Additionally, wellness culture tends to oversimplify complex health issues, promoting quick fixes and miracle cures rather than addressing the underlying factors that contribute to holistic well-being. It often excludes marginalized communities, reinforcing systemic biases and creating barriers to access and support.

Ultimately, wellness culture promotes an unattainable and harmful notion of health, compromising both physical and mental well-being.

From Wellness Culture to Recovery Advocacy

In a world obsessed with “wellness” and the pursuit of thinness, registered dietitians Dori Steinberg and Laura Cohen, our guests on Equipped to Recover, made a courageous choice to challenge the very industries they had once thrived in.

They each went through a similar journey as they realized the harms of wellness culture and changed their tune to prioritize mental and physical well-being over unhealthy societal expectations.

Dori Steinberg is now the VP of Research at Equip Health. She once dedicated years of her life to studying weight loss and health. Laura, a family mentor at Equip, once pursued a career as a dietitian focused on weight loss. However, it was through their own personal battles with eating disorders that they began to question the very ideologies they had been championing.

A Personal Awakening: Dori’s story

Dori Steinberg’s journey towards recovery began when she sought treatment for her own eating disorder. Being in a supportive group setting with others struggling with similar issues proved to be a turning point for her.

She realized that her fascination with weight and health, which had fueled her career, was rooted in her own eating disorder. This newfound self-awareness led her to understand the harmful effects that society’s obsession with wellness, weight, and health had on individuals.

I remember that ‘a-ha’ moment of, ‘wow, I can’t do this work anymore. It’s so harmful.’

Dori Steinberg

Dori’s personal awakening prompted her to leave her successful career in helping people lose weight, and focus on helping others recover from eating disorders and forego intentional weight loss – challenging the very system she was once part of.

A Journey of Reflection: Laura Cohen

Laura Cohen’s perspective on wellness culture shifted dramatically when her daughter was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. It was a wake-up call that made her question her involvement in diet culture through her work as a registered dietitian, and the influence it had on her daughter’s struggles.

Laura realized that her focus on weight and dieting had not only been ineffective, but damaging to her clients and to herself. She transformed her own approach to nutrition, adopting an anti-diet perspective.

Laura’s personal experience propelled her to become a family mentor at Equip, where she now advocates for healing and body acceptance

Moving Away From Wellness Culture

Leaving successful careers and questioning the beliefs they once held dear was not an easy feat for Dori and Laura. It required them to confront their own guilt and shame regarding their past involvement in wellness culture.

Now, they put their efforts on providing true help instead, and raising awareness about the harms of “wellness.”

Both Dori and Laura approach their work with Equip from a place of compassion and empathy. They recognize that individuals often engage in harmful behaviors due to societal pressures and deeply ingrained beliefs.

Instead of shaming their clients, they validate their experiences, gently breaking down misconceptions, and guiding them towards positive change.

By sharing their own stories and being transparent about their past, Dori and Laura create a safe space for others to open up and embark on their own journey of recovery.

The Impact of Their Transformation

Dori and Laura’s transformation from being advocates of wellness culture to vocal critics has had a profound impact on those around them. Their courage to challenge the prevailing norms of the industries they were once part of gives hope for a healthier and more compassionate society.

Through their work, they aim to challenge the damaging effects of diet culture and weight stigma, encouraging you to prioritize mental and physical well-being over societal expectations. They pave the way for a future that values acceptance, self-love, and understanding.

Unlearning Wellness Culture

Dori Steinberg and Laura Cohen’s journey from wellness culture to recovery advocacy is a powerful testament to the capacity for personal growth and change. Their experiences, fueled by personal struggles with eating disorders, drove them to challenge the very industries they were once a part of.

Through empathy, understanding, and the courage to confront their own past, they are leading the charge for a society that values mental and physical well-being over harmful beauty ideals.

Dori and Laura’s stories remind us that transformation is possible and that recovery is a journey worth embarking on, not only for ourselves but for the generations to come.

Wellness culture is just diet culture. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Erin Parks, Host

Take a listen to Dori & Laura’s episode on Equipped to Recover for tips on how how to identify when something is truly making you well (rather than unwell), and to hear the statistics around why intentional weight loss doesn’t work.

Click here to learn more about Equip.

Connect with Equip, Dori Steinberg, & Laura Cohen

SOURCES

[1] https://christyharrison.com/wellness-culture – “Wellness Culture” Christy Harrison MPH, RD, CEDS

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