Over the last eight years, I’ve tried almost every major wellness trend.
I went paleo for a year. I started drinking — then brewing — kombucha. I became obsessed with my gut health and began making kefir and sauerkraut. I experimented with intermittent fasting. I counted macros. I tried meditating.
Trying to be as healthy as possible is a worthwhile pursuit, but this year, I realized there was something darker at the root of my obsession with wellness.
I was drinking kombucha to improve my gut health, but I was also in search of a shortcut to help me balance work, motherhood, marriage and friendships. If I could revitalize my health — and the wellness world told me I could — perhaps everything else in my life would fall in line. If I had perfect health, maybe I wouldn’t shout at my kids or snap at my husband. Maybe I’d become more confident in social situations, lose my low-level anxiety or stop comparing myself to others.
That’s a lot to ask of fermented tea.
Trying new wellness trends has always been a hobby, a fun new project and something to discuss on social media, but I secretly hoped one of these days, a new ingredient or way of eating would help me find the answer, the missing piece that would complete the puzzle.
Even though I knew the claims were all too good to be true, I allowed myself to get caught up in the idea that the turmeric in golden milk could improve brain function, protect against heart disease and lower blood sugar levels. I’d think, “Well, what if? What if this is it?”
I love the euphoric buzz of possibility, the same feeling I got when I first heard about the importance of gut bacteria or the benefits of intermittent fasting. The best part of trying a new wellness trend is heading to the far corners of the health food store in search of the new, often unfamiliar ingredients, bringing them home and placing them carefully in the pantry — my altar of good health.
After drinking golden milk every night for a few weeks I arrived at the conclusion the concoction was exactly what I suspected: a healthy, delicious way to ease into bedtime, but not a magic potion.
I’ve repeated this cycle more times than I can count — until this summer.
That’s when I read the excellent New York Times profile of Gwyneth Paltrow. A line in the article jumped out at me, a sentence so revelatory I read it three times and then wrote it down, copying it carefully into a notebook: “The minute the phrase ‘having it all’ lost favor among women, wellness came in to pick up the pieces.”
I’d been looking at my body and health like a problem that needed solving. The right diet or supplement or drink would get rid of my rounded belly, soothe my fears of growing older and quiet my anxiety. Rooted in all these trends was a desire to fix myself, to get rid of my flaws and achieve perfection.
That line about “having it all” made me realize I was pursuing the impossible. I already understood having it all was a myth. I’m a working mother — every day, I make choices and sacrifices and never achieve perfection, and I’ve made peace with that reality. When I realized pursuing ultimate wellness was the same as trying to have it all, I understood I was chasing an impossible goal.
Buying into the idea of a diet or supplement as the solution to physical and mental health can also be something of a Trojan horse, bringing unhealthy foods or habits into your life under the cover of wellness. I’ve fallen victim to this line of magical thinking many times. It’s what caused all of us to consume SnackWell’s during the low-fat craze, and it’s the reason I spent a few months telling myself the packaged paleo pancake mix I found at the store was a healthy breakfast even though I knew eggs and spinach were a much better choice than a processed powder mixed with water.
True wellness doesn’t come from packaged foods labeled “paleo,” “gluten-free” or “keto.” The secret to good health is simpler and a bit boring.
The real wellness solution
When I stepped back and looked at my life, I realized I was already putting in the daily work that leads to good health. I’ve exercised regularly for 20 years. I combine strength training with high-intensity exercise — I go for walks and I surf. I make dinner — including a salad — at least five nights a week. I typically get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Kombucha plays a role in improving my health, but it has nothing to do with improving my liver function or preventing cancer (some of the more outlandish claims about the health benefits of kombucha).
A few years ago, I decided to avoid alcohol Sunday through Thursday, and instead of wine with dinner, I pour a glass of fizzy kombucha, made weekly by my husband who took over production a few years ago.
The difficult truth I had to face once I stopped looking for superfoods to fix my problems is that it’s up to me to improve my life, and real change will only come through hard, boring work.
Instead of trying a new supplement or diet, I’ve recently made an effort to reach out more frequently to friends, to be vulnerable and open. I’m trying to put down my phone and enjoy the life I do have: my two children, my wonderful husband and work that I love. The result is I’m sleeping better, I feel calm, and I’m more connected to those around me.
This doesn’t mean I’m not going to get excited about the latest healthy drink. I will definitely try mushroom coffee — I’ll just try my best not to expect it to help me run faster or feel comfortable at cocktail parties.