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The Trap of Toxic Wellness Culture

Are you more flexible today than yesterday? Are you fitter? Stronger? Is your mind sharper? Does your skin look clearer and your hair shinier? It’s ‘funny’ how there’s a beauty product, trendy diet, or workout regimen designed to cater to each and every one of our personal wellness goals. In fact, this culture of wellness – or rather the fixation on wellness – has been gathering momentum for decades, with endless product campaigns and commercials to back it up.

But recently, collective reflection has encouraged us to step back and see this never-ending drive toward personal betterment in a different light. The term ‘toxic wellness culture’ is now used to describe society’s relentless push towards progress in health and wellness.

But wait – isn’t wellness a good thing? Yes, of course! What’s not, however, is an unhealthy fixation or ideology that can trick us into obsessive pursuits. Confused? Let’s pick apart the toxic wellness culture.

What is Toxic Wellness Culture?

Toxic wellness culture describes the idea that the body is incapable of maintaining health on its own and that striving for improved wellness should be perpetual. Of course, practicing healthy habits is a great thing! But toxic wellness culture creates this idea that you can never be satisfied – even when you’re in good shape, you should be striving for better shape. And the threat of ‘poor health or illness’ is always looming if you happen to fall off your wellness routine.

Toxic wellness culture sets an impossibly high bar, as there is always room for improvement. Whether it’s a strict diet, workout regime, mental exercises for improved memory, or meditation for happiness – there is an obsessive component to this trend that can drive people into an unhealthy mindset. Being committed to a heathy lifestyle is fantastic! But falling into the pressures of toxic wellness culture can be harmful.

Here are a few specific problems rooted in toxic wellness culture:

Problem #1: Insatiable Goal

Toxic wellness culture turns “My skin looks good” into “My skin could look younger” – with ‘younger’ becoming a benchmark that never ends.

Problem #2: Anxiety of Rest

What happens if you miss a workout? Toxic wellness culture has a ‘doom’ vibe to it that can make you feel guilty for taking a day off or not reaching fitness goals as fast as planned. Sadly, this sentiment can translate into a feeling of dread – one that can make people think something ‘bad’ might happen (say, illness or poor health) because of a day off. This anxiety can have other repercussions on your health!

Problem #3: Commercialistic Tendencies

I hate to break it to you, but the wellness industry is a big moneymaker, which means that it’s not churning out new diet crazes, cookbooks, and wellness products purely out of goodwill. The commercial undertones of toxic wellness culture may not be in everyone’s best interest.

Problem #4: Misunderstanding of Wellness and Disease

Health is a complex animal. With so many factors at play – including genetics, diet, environment, stress, and more – we can’t control every aspect of our health. Toxic wellness culture promotes this idea that if you do all the right things, you’ll be rewarded with what you want. This isn’t always the case!

Some people just happen to have a super-fast metabolism, while others have elevated risks to certain hereditary illnesses. Plus, there are many conditions that the scientific community doesn’t fully understand – though advancements are being made all the time. The point is, it is very misleading to set this expectation that perfect health is a direct result from your actions. Furthermore, it puts an element of pressure, guilt and shame into the equation that certainly isn’t good for anyone’s wellbeing.

Healthy habits are great! But falling into the trap of toxic wellness culture can have serious consequences.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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