For lunch five minutes ago I consumed a LÄRABAR and slices of deli roast beef, medium rare, straight from the bag. Also spironolactone, an androgen-blocking diuretic that the dermatologist prescribed a few days ago for my hormonal acne. Later today, I may go to the gym for a HIIT session on the treadmill. After I spend hours writing, I need to counteract that feeling I get of being a caged and force-fattened animal destined to spend its entire life immobile in a factory farm. Most of this would be considered antithetical to “wellness”—the red meat, the nitrates, the steroids, the sitting, the existential unrest—but I feel well enough. My doctor, who just gave me an annual checkup complete with blood work, also reports that I’m perfectly healthy. Notice that I said “well enough.” See how hesitant I am to embrace my own health, even when I have it completely? “Well enough,” as in, “Fine, but maybe actually not fine at all.” My ambivalence comes from a penchant for hypochondria, one that imagines ailments both physical and spiritual. This hypochondria tells me that a self-actualized me would not simply be “well enough.” It—like lifestyle gurus, sci-fi movies, fitness moguls, organized religion, and Tinder—leads me to suspect that there is always better. That there is something subtly, but deeply, wrong. Something that, once discovered, will finally open my eyes to just how wrong I have been all along. It is the quick reward. It is the constant chatter. It is the refusal to be with “that thing—that empty, forever empty” feeling that sits somewhere deep down. The promise of something better (read: perfection) is at the heart of everything we buy, whether that’s bee pollen or the Master Cleanse or evangelical Christianity. It’s up to us to manage our expectations of what any of these can realistically deliver. How? By asking questions and making sure the answers are backed by science (not pseudoscience). What is “wellness,” anyway, and who is defining it? There is no consensus. Let’s just say it’s a new word for an old concept—health—and also a brand that people are using to sell expensive things. I can’t claim to know what “wellness” is, but I can say what health is not: the habit of wasting resources on empty promises. And the people peddling “wellness,” like the people peddling indulgences, promise a whole lot. To help you, here’s a list of “wellness”-branded items that are almost certainly bullsh*t, according to science.
Have you heard of goop? Not the stuff in your eyes when you wake up, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand? According to the website’s meta description, goop delivers “cutting-edge wellness advice from doctors and experts, vetted travel recommendations, and a curated” shopping experience. Speaking of shopping, a couple of items sold on the goop platform are the rose quartz and jade eggs, for $55 and $66, respectively. These eggs, a “strictly guarded secret of Chinese royalty in antiquity” used by “queens and concubines…to stay in shape for emperors,” are to be put up your hoo-ha. Why? They claim to offer a host of benefits, including improvement of “chi, orgasms, vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy in general.” You’re advised to boil your egg first, to ensure its cleanliness. You’re also given instructions on how you might cleanse it spiritually—”you can put it out under the light of a full moon,” for example. As great as these eggs sound, however, they appear to be useless, if not dangerous. According to Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN and a pain medicine physician, there are a few problems. First, “the claim that they can balance hormones is, quite simply, biologically impossible.” While it’s true that “[p]elvic floor exercises can help with incontinence and even give stronger orgasms for some women…they cannot change hormones,” Gunter writes in an open letter to Ms. Paltrow. Second, there’s the suggestion that women should sleep with these eggs inside them. “[J]ade is porous which could allow bacteria to get inside and so the egg could act like a fomite,” she writes. “This is not good, in case you were wondering. It could be a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis or even the potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome.” Third, “your pelvic floor muscles are not meant to contract continuously,” so the suggestion to walk around with them inserted is decidedly not good advice. “For women who want to use a device to help with Kegel exercises I suggest using weights made with medical grade silicone or plastic and to not wear them for long periods of time,” Gunter says.
If you’re in LA, there is something that you simply must do, according to goop: get hot air blown into your lady parts. The “V-steam” goes like this: “You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release—not just a steam douche—that balances female hormone levels.” Dr. Gunter’s response? “Don’t.” She writes: “We don’t know the effect of steam on the lower reproductive tract, but the lactobacilli strains that keep vaginas healthy are very finicky about their environment and raising the temperature with steam and whatever infrared nonsense Paltrow means is likely not beneficial and is potentially harmful. “Some strains of lactobacilli are so hard to cultivate outside of this the very specific vaginal environment that growing them in a lab is next to impossible. There is also the possibility that the ‘steam’ from these plants could contain volatile substances that are harmful to lactobacilli or other aspects of the vaginal ecosystem.” Got it! No to steam douching—or really any douching at all. You don’t have to tell us twice.
The glory days of the juice fast have now faded, and here’s why: It actually isn’t very healthy. Sure, it’s fruit and it’s vegetables. But, as The Washington Post puts it, juicing “takes healthy fruits and vegetables and makes them much less healthy.” You know the seeds, the membranes, the meat of the fruit? You need it. “That is where most of the fiber, as well as many of the antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals are hiding,” reports The Washington Post. “Fiber is good for your gut; it fills you up and slows the absorption of the sugars you eat, resulting in smaller spikes in insulin. When your body can no longer keep up with your need for insulin, Type 2 diabetes can develop.” To add to the problem, juice does not register in the stomach the same way that other, whole foods do, meaning that your liquid meal will likely leave you much less satisfied than a solid meal with the same number of calories. The takeaway? Drink less juice, more water.
Detoxing in General
By now, you have heard about all the toxins you’re ingesting daily. These toxins, though difficult to define, are literally everywhere. They’re in your bar soap, on your food, in your dog’s food, in your face lotion with SPF…you get the picture. Many products advertise their ability to “detox” or “cleanse” your body, sometimes targeting specific organs like the liver. But what exactly are they accomplishing? Nothing good, according to experts. “There is something to be said for doing ‘food resets.’ That is, going back to the basic tenets of healthful eating (mainly eating whole, minimally processed, largely plant-based foods) to reaccustom the taste buds to more subtle flavors,” registered dietitian Andy Bellatti tells Lifehacker. But this is different from a cleanse, during which your body is more likely to be breaking itself down because of insufficient macronutrients like protein. “Nutrition and health is about the big picture,” Bellati says. “What you do for five or seven days out of the year is pretty inconsequential.” So: Cut out the cleanses, and eat more fruits and vegetables every day instead. But you already knew this, somewhere deep down.