From colonics to cardio... how far will we go for ‘wellness’?

A new Netflix series, Wellmania, starts today. Colette Sheridan is intrigued
From colonics to cardio... how far will we go for ‘wellness’?

Celeste Barber stars in Wellmania. Picture: Netflix

HAVING a sweet tooth and lots of guilt about giving into it in supermarkets, I sometimes dally at the shelf that sells so-called protein bars.

You know the ones; they’re made out of delicious caramel and chocolate with some nuts thrown in.

The very word ‘protein’ or anything health-related allows me to justify buying one of these bars.

I’m willing to be complicit in the illusion being sold – all the better to satisfy mid afternoon sugar dips while fooling myself that I’m being kind of healthy. Heck, it’s better than buying a Mars bar (although that product advertised itself as helping you work, rest and play which was quite a claim. It even recommended ‘a Mars a day’.

Hardly what your doctor would order.

A new Netflix series, Wellmania, starts today, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Brigid Delaney about her journey through the wellness industry and its sometimes dubious claims.

In the eight part series, Instagram star, actress and comedy queen, Celeste Barber, plays Liv, an Australian lifestyle journalist and ‘human tornado’ who works hard and plays hard in New York.

On a dash back home for her friend’s 40th birthday, Liv finds herself stranded in Sydney because of a health crisis. This jeopardises her job of a lifetime back in the Big Apple. She is willing to try anything to get well enough to fly – from colonics to cardio. But she fails to confront the effects of being permanently on the go. Liv is in denial.

The series promises to be entertaining and maybe enlightening. Stock up on the gourmet crisps and organic wine to accompany the viewing experience. (You don’t get too much of a hangover from organic vino, apparently.)

In an interview with the Guardian, Celeste says that the show sends up the Sydney culture of “leather-wearing vegans.” She says that the thing about wellness is that a lot of it is for the elite. It might recommend that you “buy this $45 water bottle and it will make your husband not leave you.”

The TV series asks what it really means to be well. That eliminates flaky sounding quick fixes. But western society is in thrall to the wellness industry and recession or no recession, people are not going to stop buying ‘sacred’ Fitbits any time soon. But really, when you think about it, it’s very odd to be constantly monitoring your activity and whether or not you clock up 10,000 steps a day.

The Apple Watch, sold as a wellness device, brings in over $12 billion in sales for Apple annually. What suckers we have become, complicating what used to be a relaxing walk in the park. Now, it poses yet another goal to be met.

And for many, wellness is like a religion with its necessity for unquestioning belief in the particular dogma espoused. Who exactly dictates that 10,000 steps a day are essential for good health and fitness?

The idea was actually invented as part of the marketing campaign for an early pedometer ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Any amount of walking can be beneficial for health. The more the better, no doubt. But don’t feel like a failure if you don’t meet that big and neat roundy figure of 10,000.

We have always been susceptible to promises of better health and improved mood. And when there’s money to be made from people’s hopes, there will be a certain amount of exploitation.

The term ‘snake oil salesman’ goes back to the 18th century, referring to chancers selling miracle cures for various conditions. These salesmen would arrive in a town, make all sorts of claims about their product for sale, collect money from locals, before hot-footing it out of town before people copped on that their purchase was a waste of money.

Today, we call such purchases ‘scams’ and there are plenty of them purporting to improve our lives.

The actress Gwyneth Paltrow – in the headlines because of legal action arising from a skiing accident - has almost become more famous for her wellness and lifestyle brand, Goop, than her acting career. It was launched in 2008, initially as an email newsletter providing new age advice such a ‘police your thoughts’ and ‘eliminate white foods.’ (That advice is actually sound. How many of us are consumed with negativity and eat white rice and bread rather than the healthier brown versions?) But, come on, Goop is now estimated to be worth $250 million. For what? The company has come in for criticism for marketing products that are allegedly based on pseudoscience.

I’m looking forward to the new series, Wellmania and hope it will shine a light on the codology pedalled by some lifestyle gurus.

Parting with money for miracles is never a good idea.

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