Musings & Research

in Psychology

'Don’t Fall Prey to the Cult of Wellness'


We may be in a time of wellness fixation, one that can distort our judgement of what is healthy, ineffective, or even harmful. We have learned to conflate challenge and suffering with health and benefit. The anxiety we create from these fixations can take a greater mental and physical toll than the potential benefit we receive. Dr. Margaret McCartney offers a compelling perspective on the “cult of wellness,” its origins, and how we can exercise stronger discernment of what is baseless and anxiety driven and what is truly beneficial to our minds and bodies.

“Vast amounts of technology is marketed through the wellness industry, via apps and fitness devices, promoted as a responsible way to “know thyself” better. But, frankly, it makes something which should be fun – good living – into a miserable, competitive, pseudoscientific morass.

The well-being industry is a massive business – for we are not allowed to assume that if we feel well, then we are well. Instead we are told we have to have our hands on the vegetable juicer to “detox,” to do exercise classes to achieve not just physical fitness but spiritual nirvana, all while monitoring our every mouthful and emission for signs that we are impure. This industry invites us to be self-absorbed and obsessed – making us unhealthy while promising us better health.

As a family doctor with a keen interest in evidence-based practice, I find our obsession with wellness troubling. This vogue has to be set against a cultural landscape where science is seen as a matter of opinion rather than fact and evidence. Social media have allowed a slew of widely followed celebrities to recommend products and supplements despite having little evidence to justify them. 

There has always been quackery, but vast swaths of the health and fitness sector, especially online, seem to have been colonized by what I term bollocksology. The rise of the internet has allowed amplification of the cool, trendy and aesthetically pleasing, and science – which does not readily use advertising teams or public-relations companies – has struggled to make itself heard. So there is nothing new about the goodness of exercise as medicine – indeed, there is high-quality evidence that it helps prevent and treat many conditions. The wellness crusade, however, invites people to feel constantly anxious about their health, even when feeling entirely well.

This inducement to anxiety breeds profitable markets in the process.”

Yakov Barton, PhD