MANIFESTO FOR AN INCLUSIVE WELLNESS INDUSTRY

After discovering that there was nothing “wrong” with her body except conventional health messaging, Jillian Murphy shares her manifesto for a more inclusive wellness industry …

Photo: Samantha Santy

I had put on 40lbs in my second pregnancy and they seemed to have nestled in for good. I was eating well and moving my body religiously but I just couldn’t lose the weight.

Every well-intentioned health care professional I worked and interacted with as a naturopath was happy to offer up advice about what must be wrong with my adrenals, thyroid, hormonal health, sleep patterns, food combining, mindfulness, sugar intake, etc. etc. etc. and I had worked on it ALL. But to no avail, and I was exhausted from the effort.

Frustrated, I hired a body image and emotional eating coach and, after explaining my long and convoluted health and weight story to this new mentor, she told me something I was wholly unprepared to hear:

“There is nothing wrong with you except for your belief that your body is wrong. You are exceptionally healthy: you don’t have a food problem and your body is exactly, happily, where it needs to be.”

It was one of the strangest, most revolutionary things I’d ever heard. It simultaneously crushed and liberated my soul. Crushed, because, OMG! All the lost time I’d spent trying to “fix” my body. Liberated, because I’d finally been given permission to shed the physical expectations of our culture and just live my life.

The mere suggestion that my body weight and shape may not dictate my health nearly blew up my brain. It set into motion a 7-year journey of critical thinking, self-discovery, and research that would ultimately serve to heal my relationship with food and my body and revolutionize my understanding of health.

What I realized was:

Conventional health messaging flattens beautiful, complex, and biodiverse individuals into 2D facsimiles. Squishes us into mathematical equations, diets, and wellness checklists that promise abundant health and complete control over our bodies.

This messaging makes us believe that if our bodies don’t fit, we are at fault – too lazy, not enough willpower, intelligence, or effort. And in our attempts to conform, we offer up our emotional and spiritual wellbeing, our peace of mind, and sometimes our sanity.

Now, we in the wellness industries are being called to dismantle and challenge outdated, oppressive, and limiting beliefs about food, movement, weight, and health. To present a model for inclusive wellness that is respectful of ALL bodies; critical of information that leaves us feeling confused and in lack; and that offers alternatives to restrictive and prescriptive health ideologies that ignore the lived experience and values of the individual.

This is my manifesto for a more inclusive wellness industry ….

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1// Pursue physical health without compromising your mental, emotional, and/or spiritual self.

When we exercise though our body is asking for rest; when we cut carbs or calories despite our body begging for sustenance; when we skip dinner out for fear of not having the “right” food options; when thinking about food and health consumes our every thought – we sacrifice our sense of peace, connection, and joy in the pursuit of physical “health.” The outcome is a feeling of depletion despite doing “everything right.”

The shift: Put physical health back in its place, as one piece of the health puzzle and not the whole picture.

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2// Respect and appreciate the diversity of human bodies. 

All bodies deserve access to quality healthcare and health resources without judgment or shame. Current body type and weight ideals are problematic and unscientific (including the Body Mass Index or BMI). They negatively impact our relationship with food and movement, and encourage the stigmatization of all but a small percentage of bodies deemed “appropriate.”  Those in bigger bodies are judged harshly and mistreated in every sphere of society, from the workplace to medicine.

The shift: We must shed the belief that losing weight is the #1 path to health and wellness and work instead to pursue behaviors that have been proven to have a positive impact on health – whether we lose weight or not – while developing a much broader and inclusive definition of bodies we deem healthy, attractive, and worthy.

Photo: Samantha Santy

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3// Define “health” and “wellness” for yourself. 

These terms are social constructs that differ across communities and cultures. It’s also important to recognize that many people don’t have the privilege of prioritizing wellness, even if they want to. We can own our own investment and interest in health and wellness without projecting it onto others. Imagine how many hours a day/week could you free up if you let go of food, body control, and worry.

The shift: Consider what aspects of health and wellness actually light you up. Can you think of moments when you’ve judged the health and wellness choices of others? Begin to think about how our narrowly drawn ideas about these concepts impact the overall health of our society.

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4// Become the leading expert on YOU.

We have been taught that we must rely on externally devised, highly moralized food plans telling us how much to eat, what to eat, and when to eat. The Now Age way is to turn to models for nourishing ourselves that put us back in touch with our innate ability to regulate food variety and quantity. These models consider the needs of our physical bodies, while also taking the mental, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of food, movement, and health into account.

The shift: Promote eating based on our bodies’ internal cues instead of following fad diets or parroting somebody else’s food rules. (ED: read Jillian’s tips on using body positivity to unlock your intuition).

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5// Cultivate a sense of purpose and worth beyond your physical form.

The exhaustion, digestive issues, inflammatory processes, and body concerns I see in so many of my patients are one part physical, two parts spiritual/emotional. We feel disconnected and the stress of floating through the world unsure of where we belong, what makes us worthy, and what our purpose is shows up as dysfunction in our thought processes and bodies. We then cling to the rituals, routines, and ideologies of wellness and weight that serve as the ultimate distraction.

The shift: Replace diets and health “regimens” with rituals that connect you to the moon, meditation, talk therapy, dance parties, ditching toxic relationships, eating mindfully, speaking up, saying no, walking in nature, swimming in the ocean, lighting a candle, giving back. Anything that reminds us that our worth is inherent, we are more than our bodies, and we are connected to everyone and everything.

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6// Work to change the systems in place that deeply affect the health and wellness of our culture and community.

Socioeconomic status is the leading determinant of health. Accordingly, we must work to shift these issues on a systemic level if we truly care about our health and the health of those around us. There are systems in place that can’t be “love + light”ed away, and we all have a responsibility to pull apart our own oppressive beliefs and work toward amplifying the perspectives of those who experience this system differently.

The shift: Realize that representation matters – if we want to feel normal and acceptable in our various forms, we need to SEE those forms and diverse paths to health. Start with your social media feed by including a wide range of body shapes, sizes, races, abilities, and gender expressions, and enter into those spaces with the intention of listening. As you learn, commit to engaging those who share your social identity in conversations that question your current health and wellness beliefs. Be an active catalyst for change.

HEALTHCARE VS. THE WELLNESS INDUSTRY

What’s worse, a broken healthcare system or the elitist wellness industry? One thing is clear—it’s time for a healthcare revolution, says Ruby Warrington

Seeing these two articles next to each other in my news feed this week really struck a nerve. The wellness industry comes up for yet more criticism and ridicule in a lengthy article in New York magazine … while mainstream America continues to medicate itself to death over conditions that can very often be treated successfully with diet and lifestyle changes.

As reported by PBS Newshour, over 50% of opioid prescriptions go to people with depression and mood disorders—prescriptions which have contributed to the incidence of death from opioid overdose having quadrupled in the USA since 1999. Of the 33,000 who died from opioid overdose in 2015, nearly half involved an opioid prescription.

“We’re handing them out like candy,” says an MD in the PBS piece. Candy, or rather poor diet in general, being another leading contributor to chronic conditions in this country. Heart disease still kills more Americans than any other illness (1 in every 4 deaths). Worldwide, 350 million people now live with diabetes—with 1 in 10 healthcare dollars spent on managing the disease.

All particularly resonant RIGHT NOW, as this was also the week that the American Health Care Act was predicted to raise healthcare premiums for the most at risk populations—in the name of reducing taxes for the wealthiest few.

With this in mind, I can see why it still feels cool to take Amanda Chantal bacon to task for peddling extortionately-priced miracle wellness “dusts.” But beyond the OMG-she’s-peddling-snake-oil witch hunts, Amanda and wellness industry pioneers like her are actually the forerunners in what basically HAS to be a healthcare revolution.

After all, if those increased health insurance premiums are only going to cover yet more prescriptions, isn’t the real “solution” to work on providing alternative “wellness” options to America’s most vulnerable?

Yes, $65 is a lot of money for powdered mushrooms that may or may not make your hair shiner. The fact the Goop Summit in LA last month appeared to be attended exclusively by white women with expensive blonde highlights and time on their hands to get high on vitamin drips also leaves a nasty taste (kinda like Stevia).

These people are not necessarily “at risk” of developing the chronic conditions that keep millions of low-income Americans enslaved to a healthcare system that does not serve them. (Although, let’s also not forget that “depression and mood disorders” tend to be pretty indiscriminate when it comes to the size of your bank balance.)

But rather than waste more time, cynicism, and column inches decrying the “haves” for making choices that, frankly, a lot of us might make if we had the resources—the time is surely NOW to dedicate more of our precious life force energy to figuring out ways to make the conversation about wellness more accessible to all.
After all, if being “well” is all our birthright, then isn’t it also all our responsibility to contribute to the wellbeing of the collective? (Yes this includes you, cynical lifestyle editors.)

If you want to get inspired, check out what Numinous contributor Eddie Stern is doing bringing the tools of yoga and meditation to schools. Or my friend Jessica Murnane, on a one-woman mission to get America eating at least one plant-based meal a day.

And The David Lynch Foundation, who have taught transcendental meditation (proven to help with PTSD, for example) to hundreds of thousands of veterans, at risk kids, and women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. (The part that gets overlooked when they’re “accused” of ripping off rich white people by charging those who can afford it for tuition.)

But you don’t have to be a celebrity or have a million-dollar fund-raising operation to do your part.

On a peer-to-peer level, one reason Alexandra Roxo and I started Moon Club was to make the sisterly emotional support and self-healing tools we had found at moon circles and workshops in NYC and LA available to everybody, regardless of location.

Meanwhile, a lot of our members are also awakening to their own innate desire to work as healers within their local communities, and are using the group to support them as they build their own businesses and side projects to bring this work to life. So beautiful to witness!

Bottom line? Taking responsibility for your own wellbeing, and modeling the positive effects of whatever choices this means you end up making to your own family, friends and colleagues is really where it’s at. To quote Rha Goddess from Monday’s post on spiritpreneurs: “To tip the world, it will take all of us.” Same goes for healing the world, too.