Fine Line between “Wellness” and Dangerous Misinformation

Image description: black and white overhead shot of white tea cup with dark rim, against a white background. This pic has nothing to do with GOOP, but it’s calming to me and I took it in February (Tracy).

Last week Sam shared a story about GOOP with a few of us and it made my blood boil. The latest thing that’s happening at Gwyneth’s “health” empire? She’s established a press that sells health books. I’m not sure about you, but I found this bit of news to be alarming. In the article Sam circulated, entitled, “Goop She Did It Again: The Dangerous Obsession with Intuitive Fasting,” She’s pictured holding a book about intermittent fasting called Intuitive Fasting.

Now, despite that the the pandemic sometimes makes me feel as if I’m living in a cave, I have not in fact been living in a cave. So I understand a few things. I understand, for example, that some people like intermittent fasting and there is even some research that it is effective even if “really no more effective than any other diet”(according to this article on the Harvard Medical School blog). I understand that there is cultural pressure to be thin (like Gwyneth, for example) and lose weight. The Harvard Med School blog article tried to make itself relevant by noting that there is some surprising news about intermittent fasting (besides that fasting is “hard”): timing is key to its effectiveness.

But I’m not here to talk about its effectiveness. I’m here to remind everyone of a terribly disappointing fact that there is a lot of social/cultural pressure to deny: in the long run diets are ineffective. So if intermittent (or “intuitive”) fasting as “as effective as any other diet” it’s not particularly effective at helping anyone lose weight and keep it off.

Maybe that is the more realistic message that should be out there, getting support from celebrities with influence. If you’re not familiar with GOOP, it’s a leading purveyor of products and messaging to promote the “wellness” of rich white women with money to spend on pseudo-health trends and fads that cost a lot. Gwyneth is not a medical or health expert. She’s a peddlar who profits from women’s insecurities about their bodies, about aging, about being “misunderstood” by the medical practioners. She promotes things like cleansing and detoxing and all that stuff that is based on no facts at all. (I’ve written about “clean eating” a few times, including here). And we know that “clean eating” is linked to eating disorders. See “Experts: Clean Eating Fuels Anorexia.”

I get that “different people like different things” and that people get to make their own choices. But when a woman of influence gets people to make not just stupid but literally dangerous health decisions because they want to buy an image that she is selling, I want to throw up my hands and scream at the heavens.

So when I saw that she is hawking books about “intuitive” fasting, trading on the well-researched and anti-diet approach to food called “intuitive eating” (of which I myself am a big fan), it made me feel really demoralized about the sort of information that gains traction in our world today. Wrong information. Dangerous information. Harmful information that gets presented as liberating — as the Bitch Media article says: “We should all be alarmed by Paltrow’s power to repackage deeply harmful ideas under a glossy veneer of girl-boss feminism.”

The “wellness” industry has a lot of that. I recently started reading a novel called Self-Care by Leigh Stein. It is a parody of the wellness industry and even as a parody I simply couldn’t stand reading about it. It is the only “Did Not Finish” on my goodreads bookshelf. I just could not. But even though my response to this sort of harmful bullshit is visceral, it’s not ONLY visceral. I am a philosopher and a citizen of the world. I do not think that all ideas have equal merit. And as much as I believe that for the most part we should “live and let live” and that adults get to make their own choices, I do find the choices many adults are making to be alarming because they are not just uninformed, but they have dangerous propaganda as their main driver. You can dress it up as “self-care,” put it in a fancy bottle or an elegant cover, and frame it as “taking your life back” and “doing it your way” but come ON.

It’s no different from snake oil and miracle cures. And it ought to be resisted.

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