‘If you follow this diet, I’d be surprised if you’re not pregnant by the year’s end,’ was what an alternative practitioner said to me nine years ago when my husband and I were trying to conceive.
Yet, those words did not give me hope or the resolve to follow their restrictive eating plan. No, their words were disheartening and infuriating. Those words epitomised everything that is wrong with wellness culture, which promises a plethora of health outcomes from reversing allergies and autism to glowing skin, and weight loss to the reversal of infertility and autoimmune diseases.
Nine years ago, as I sat across the table from that practitioner, who was so sure of herself and her recommendations, I reached a turning point in my perception of wellness diets.
Until then, I was captivated by the wellness jargon that alternative practitioners and online gurus were spouting. I’d been to workshops where presenters talked of conspiracies and collusions with our government dietary recommendations (which are supposedly outdated and industry biased). These presenters perpetuated fear in our nutritionally devoid foods and the ever-increasing chemical load that is making us sick and infertile
I was sucked in, hook, line and sinker. So much so, that I confidently repeated much of what they spouted in my own workshops (sorry to any of you I harmed in this way).
Now, I’d like to make some disclaimers here. I do, to this day, still choose to use organic make-up and biodegradable cleaning products and toilet paper. I am completely on board with avoiding food laced with artificial flavours and colourings and personal products containing synthetic deodorisers, as these choices do help me alleviate monthly PMS symptoms and skin irritation. I have no problem with these personal choices. The issue for me, and what infuriated me so much when I was told I’d likely be pregnant by the year’s end, was the promise—it was the conviction with which that practitioner spoke.
I believe it is this convincing language that many wellness advocates employ that is harmful. In a state of desperation, you’ll try whatever someone’s promoting if it provides a sliver of hope of a child or to be well again. Now, the practitioners providing advice may think, what harm could there be in providing hope or helping someone get healthier, even if they don’t conceive or reverse what ails them?
The harm is in the promise, whether overt or covert. It is the promise or guarantee that causes people to follow someone’s recommendations diligently. And in some cases, so much so, that they fear getting it wrong.
I believe it is this convincing language that many wellness advocates employ that is harmful.
A practitioner or ‘health guru’s’ conviction can cause us to fear slipping up on their protocol. It can cause us anxiety should someone bring the cake of death (i.e. laden in sugar and gluten) to work in celebration of someone’s birthday or dare to spray sunscreen at the beach.
It is the anxiety and stress that is created by such fearmongering, which may do more to deteriorate one’s health than the supposedly unhealthy behaviours they were engaged in before embarking on the wellness diet; or should I say wellness plan, because we’re told they’re not diets when they most definitely are!
And this is why I believe that these protocols and plans (aka diets) are harmful, whether that is the intention of the practitioner or not. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe that most practitioners have good intentions and truly want to help people be healthier. However, I don’t think some of them realise the harm they cause.
Furthermore, the promises of certain outcomes, whether guaranteed or not, are harmful. Just by standing on the stage (or posting on social media) and saying, ‘I was unhealthy, impotent and infertile before I adopted this way of eating or lifestyle’, is enough to convince people that they also need to follow this person’s protocol if they are to radiate health and reverse the same aliments. It is the guarantee that can cause us to try to follow someone’s protocol perfectly and feel like an absolute failure if we don’t adhere to the plan. And that fear of failure can be immense if it comes with the ultimate price (or punishment)—you won’t get pregnant, or you will die a drawn-out and painful death.
It is the guarantee that can cause us to try to follow someone’s protocol perfectly and feel like an absolute failure if we don’t adhere to the plan.
There are No Guarantees
So, at that moment, sitting across from that alternative practitioner, I felt the immense pressure of this practitioner’s recommendations. And yet at the same time, I knew that there were no guarantees. Although there was a part of me that would have done anything to get pregnant, there was also a part of me that was wiser; a part of me that knew that sometimes shit happens and you don’t control the outcome. It was in realising this that I decided to let go of attachment to the end goal and to eat, move and live in a way that feels good to me, rather than follow some convoluted, confusing, unscientifically founded eating protocol.
Today, like it has been most of my life, my diet is objectively healthy. I exercise most days. I am happy and deeply love my husband. I enjoy and feel inspired by my work. And, I do not have children.
Children were not meant to be, and that’s life. We don’t always get what we want. We don’t control the outcome of our actions. As the saying goes, life works in mysterious ways.
We don’t control the outcome of our actions.
Yet, my desire to have children, and my wellness journey in that pursuit, has provided me with deep empathy and compassion for those trying to achieve health outcomes. I know how tempting it can be to be lured in by promises of certain outcomes when we so desperately want them. However, I now know how psychologically harmful this can be and aspire to help others release the burden of achieving an unknown outcome.