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The link between New Year resolutions, wellness and the rise of orthorexia

On the first day of the year, I thought it was about time I re-downloaded all the apps on my phone I had taken a break from during the holidays. While typing the words “Mail” in the App Store, I was advertised the app of the day: Yazio. “To eat well and lose weight,” said the simple slogan. I scrolled down and then was hit again with a How To piece: “Find a fitness plan to suit you” and the training tools i.e. apps and lifestyle tips to help make this happen.

It’s now the fourth week into January and I am still being advertised new ways to get fit in the form of ‘wellness’ routines. Losing weight is the top New Year’s resolution every year but this year many have used words like ‘clean eating’ instead, arguably a more acceptable way of saying you’d like to shed a few pounds. But with everyone recommending some kind of new diet, whether that’s a paleo one, a sugar-free month, the classic carb-free one or even choosing to go vegan, wellness in 2019 is starting to feel like a dressed up version of severely controlling what you eat. In other words, a trendy infrastructure for eating disorders to manifest.

“The incline of orthorexia (the obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy) has been severe these past few years,” says Dalia Maori when I ask if there is a link between wellness and eating disorders, especially in the New Year. The Clinical Specialist Registered Dietitian for The Therapy Room based in Cambridge, explained that the obsession with healthy eating has the same traits as anorexia, bulimia and those who suffer from tremendous anxiety. It all has the same amount of rigidity.


“I have patients crying about eating out of plastic but this conscientious perfectionistic personality, a compulsive mental health issue has no nuance” dissects Maori as “‘Clean eating’ is to not eat anything processed which can be a bag of freshly washed spinach to a bag of doughnuts”.

Yet in the wave of wellness, advice on eating green is everywhere. Whether it’s Boots putting its vitamins and mineral cleanse kits on sale in January or videos on the easiest and “healthiest” ways to ‘dissolve fat’. The internet means everyone has a voice but unfortunately, everyone is also behaving like a general practitioner when really creating this kind of content in a responsible way is a real battle, says dietitian, health writer and nutrition consultant Laura Tilt. “Given the rise of social media, which is unregulated so far as wellness is concerned”.

Magnified under New Year resolutions, a consequence of ‘clean eating’ and wellness trends is what Dietitian Dalia Maori calls the “disordered rejection of all pleasure” i.e. what Antoni Porowski, “the food guy” on Netflix’s Queer Eye said in this paraphrase on flavour: what about the spice? The texture, the sensations? Maori also reminds us that there is such a thing as “eating for the soul. We don’t just have sex to have babies, we do it to please ourselves.” But in this climate of either extreme — eating only superfoods or living your best life on mac’n’cheese — many are finding it hard to stay still—even when their mind and body deserves it. 24-hour gyms promote a healthy lifestyle but what’s wrong with sitting down when you’ve been on your feet (and mind) all day? Much of the wellness en vogue may be full of certain kinds of vegetables but this can still be an imbalanced diet and lifestyle.

As the messages to become more “healthy” yet arguably look only one way is advertised all around us, from the billboards to a swipe up on Stories, I asked nutritionists on how we can use technology for the betterment of our health and power and not the traditional technique of dieting which makes women especially feel guilty about our bodies.

Health writer Laura Tilt said she uses Garmin’s Vivosmart in order to track steps and activity, especially when working from home, in addition to being aware of the screen time limits on her phone as “too much tech isn’t good for your wellbeing!”. Insight Timer was also a recommended app to help meditate and journal as well as feel as though you are in a yoga class as it will tell you how many other people are also mediating at the same time.

While I haven’t stuck to health, fitness nor wellness app as of yet, I am still of the belief that much of the disorders such as orthorexia come from not enjoying our bodies from the inside out; forgetting that women are not linear beings and are, as Maori says, “like moons”. Our blood sugar levels change, our appetites change as well as our needs and moods. No “What I Eat In A Day” video or app tracker will be able to extend a hand to help my body if it’s not personalised to fit my body in the first place. Yet positive additions to the 2019 wellbeing craze are podcasts that work to negate the unified vision of what wellbeing may be or look like, such as The Happy Place, Super Soul Conversations and Off Menu. Remember, there’s also no one way a body looks like when it’s dipped in wellness.

The rise of death wellness: how to prepare for death

Death is not an easy topic, that’s why everyone avoids it—me included. It’s a morbid and depressing subject that rarely gets mentioned, even though we all have to deal with it at some point in our lives. The taboo around death comes from our fear of the unknown and losing control, but just like other taboos, discussing death and grieving could be beneficial for each and every one of us.

This is what a new movement, called ‘death wellness’, identified by the Global Wellness Institute, is about. In the U.S., healthcare experts, academics, and spiritual leaders welcomed people to talk about it, confront anxiety about eternal rest, and learn how to go through the process of grieving. Here’s a small introduction to this new trend that will hopefully make everyone more comfortable about something inevitable (for now).

The death wellness movement is an extension of the wellness industry, created by the baby boomer generation, who supposedly eat better, exercise more, and smoke less than previous generations. Unlike millennials, the baby boomer generation tends to have more money to devote to and care for their health. Why stop there then? What if a good death was part of a good life?

From this new trend arose events, workshops and jobs. Ever heard of death doulas? Just like birth doulas (or midwives) assisting with the birthing process, death doulas assist in the dying process and help families cope with it—not an easy task. The International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) is a non profit organisation that trains individuals on how to listen to dying patients, discuss death with them and ‘plan their last days’. That entails everything from where they would like to rest, to what kind of music should be playing at their funeral.

Most death doulas are volunteers but some are available for hire—they can charge up to $100 an hour, depending on the type of care the patient needs. Although it is still a very niche status, it is evolving in the care community, with the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine starting the End-of-Life Doula Professional Certificate Program in 2017.

The first step towards preparing yourself for what’s about to inevitably happen is talking about it, and to facilitate the dreaded conversation and ‘normalising’ death. Death Cafe, a programme which brings people together to drink tea and discuss death follows that same idea. With its first coffee shop opening in London in 2011, it has had more than 8,200 events in 65 countries since. Death Over Dinner and The Dinner Party are self-explanatory: you join those communities by attending dinner parties to talk about all things death-related. As strange as these events sound, Death Over Dinner organised more than 200,000 dinners, translating to nearly a million people served while The Dinner Party receives over 100 new member submissions per week. Those numbers clearly show how awareness of death wellness is spreading.

With lifespans growing longer worldwide, death should be looked at as a growing industry. In other words, we’ve been able to delay death for a bit longer, but this means a rise in the number of deaths is straight ahead. The Global Wellness Institute’s trend card states at its end that “The World Health Organization forecasts that global deaths will jump from 56 million in 2015 to 70 million by 2030—a staggering 25 percent growth”. A frightening image that should only push us more to act on it and prepare ourselves.

Preparing for your death is not only about writing your will—or your digital will. It’s a medical and human act. With the help of the death wellness trend, people should feel more empowered to take back some ownership over these decisions that are foolishly swept under the carpet for now. If this conversation also ignited changes in our medical systems, it would just come as a bonus. It’s up to you now, are you willing to start the discussion?