Saddled with an immune deficiency disorder for most of my adult life, the first chaotic months of the pandemic saw my anxiety levels soar to stratospheric heights. Desperate to learn more about how to protect myself, I turned to the science communication pages that were rapidly springing up on Instagram, translating the latest COVID information into layman’s terms, and smacking down misinformation.

It was through this new-found interest in science that I began to unlearn much of what I’d been led to believe by the Wellness Industry, and jumped off the hamster wheel of ever-changing diet and lifestyle regimes – the majority of which, it turns out, have scant evidence to demonstrate their efficacy, and frequently eliminate essential, healthy food groups.

I followed science pages to learn about COVID, but I ended up discovering I was being scammed by the wellness industry.Credit:iStock

Seduced by the idea of healing my own condition, ‘wellness’ interventions left me in a perpetual state of disappointment, fearful of conventional medicine, and half-broke from the cost of investing in endless supplements. Anyone who’s suffered a chronic or acute health condition will understand just how vulnerable you are to stories of miracle cures endorsed by attractive, wholesome people.

One beaming influencer after another has a story to tell: of a condition cured not by conventional medicine, but via supplements, celery juice, Auto-Immune Protocols. It’s all too easy to believe the only thing standing between you and the cure for your condition is a lack of a certain something; an excess of this, maybe an imbalance of that.

I tried everything to ‘heal’ my body. Everything, that is, except for eating for pleasure, and focusing my energy on something other than my own health.

I was fortunate in finding a new specialist at the end of 2019, a forthright Irish woman who wasted no time in persuading me of the health benefits of vaccination and medication; even so, I retained a degree of fear around conventional medicine. While I never totally rejected conventional medicine, the wellness industry had impressed upon me the need to remain suspicious.

It was not until the science accounts I looked to for COVID information began debunking some of the myths promoted by natural health advocates that I started to view Big Wellness through the same cynical lens I applied to Big Pharma.

As I let go of my ideas around supplements and diet as cure-alls, and stopped worrying about whether my daily bowl of yoghurt was going to cause systemic inflammation, something unexpected happened. In the absence of miracle diets, and all their joy-killing restrictions, and with the layers of protection conferred by vaccinations and medication, I started to come close to something resembling regular, good health.

Accepting that my immune disorder is something I need to live alongside, rather than conquer, has liberated me from futile notions of ‘cure’, and made me think about the ways we could all benefit from a rethink of our ideas around wellness.

I want us to acknowledge there are shortcomings in both conventional and alternative medicine, look to evidence-based practices from both, and spend less of our time focused on attaining some mythical state of perfect wellness. While it may run counter to our current idea of what wellness is, we can label vaccinations and medications as wellness interventions – that is exactly what they are. What is ‘wellness’, after all, if not the absence of easily preventable diseases?

If our suspicion of Big Pharma is driven by concerns around their financial motivations, we need to be asking questions about Big Wellness, too – an industry that McKinsey estimated to be worth as much as $1.5 trillion in 2021. During my time down the wellness rabbit hole, almost every Instagram influencer and doctor of dubious distinction discouraged followers from seeking evidence-based conventional medical treatments, peddling the false idea that there is virtually no health condition that can’t be reversed with lifestyle changes and supplements (conveniently available for purchase via the link in their bio).

The simple, social-media unfriendly truth is that the best things we can do to aid our health are the most boring ones: eat fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, sleep well, exercise, and manage our stress levels. None of these things can be bought via a link in a bio. But maybe we would all be healthier if we stopped trying so very hard to buy – and eat – our way to perfect wellness.

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