November 10, 2022
Journalist and author Rina Raphael joins Jameela this week to discuss her book, The Gospel of Wellness – her journalistic look into wellness culture. They cover what wellness encompasses, why it is so appealing to women, the nuances of the wellness movement, trends Rina finds problematic, the things Rina wants consumers to know, and more.
Get Rina Raphael’s book – The Gospel of Wellness – wherever books are sold.
Follow Rina on Twitter @rrins
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136 — The Gospel of Wellness with Rina Raphael
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast against shame. I hope you’re well. I’m fucking knackered. It’s been the mid-terms in the United States where I’m currently living, and that has been a real head fuck and such a mixed bag of results. I’m immensely proud of what people were able to achieve in many places for reproductive rights. I’m also very sad for the states in which we did not manage to elect in progressive leaders, and so they are stuck with the same stupid fucking bastards who have taken away their human rights. It’s really tricky and I understand why in such an enormous country you have to have state by state laws. It just means that when some people are freed, everyone is not freed all at the same time. Some people are still living under unimaginable oppression just because of their postcode. And it just doesn’t make any fucking sense. But I don’t think I’m fully ready to get into it. And I think it would take about 17 hours. So we’re going to move on. Another subject that got me all riled up, if you follow me online, is the attempted revival of the fashion industry of heroin chic. Do you remember that? Where in the nineties the media non ironically coined the term telling people that in order to look beautiful you have to look like you were dying of a deadly and sad drug addiction and everyone was starving themselves and some people actually were taking drugs in order to emulate that appearance. And because drugs can suppress your appetite and people putting like dark eyeshadow under their eyes to make them look more like they’re doing heroin, it was hunching over and starving themselves. What a fucking time. And you know what they thought in 2022? Women’s bodies in particular are not under enough attack. We must get them to also starve themselves. Doesn’t matter we’ve taken away their reproductive rights and we’re murdering women in Iraq. Let’s also encourage the women to be further distracted, further demotivated and disenfranchised by starving them by making them starve themselves. They’re selling all kinds of fucking new evil ways to achieve speed, weight loss. Temporary has huge side effects long term for your health. Let’s get them to inject themselves with shit that’s going to make them so sick that they can’t go out into the streets and fight for their rights. It is all a deep and genuine conspiracy. It’s not something that is just a vanity based thing, preying on the insecurities of women, which of course to some extent it is on the surface. But there is a bigger move and ploy of patriarchy here. And if you zoom out and look at everything that’s happening to women, all this this pushback against our progress that we’ve made, it’s all fucking well timed. It’s spookily well coordinated and it’s absolutely fucked and it can get fucked because we are not going to let this happen again. I was only 12 or 11 the first time this happened, but now I’m all grown up and I’m much louder and much more annoying and I am going to go as hard as humanly possible at heroin chic at this fucking weight loss injections and are any influence or celebrity who even thinks of promoting them on their platforms. Oh if you thought I was annoying before during the whole diet detox tea thing, you’ve never seen anything like the energy I’m about to bring. So let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Let’s hope we have made enough noise in the last week together to stop it in its tracks because you have to nip these things in the bud. The best way to reduce harm is to be preventative. So we’re going to just stop dealing with the shit. We have more important fish to fry. We are trying to fight for our basic human bodily rights we’re are not also going to tolerate a further attack on our bodies that we are expected to do to ourselves. I’ve written an article about all of this I haven’t written in years, but I was so angry and incensed that this was happening that I wrote an article for Paper magazine and you can find the link to it on my social media. Anyway. Kind of well timed alongside all of this happening. I was able to get hold of someone who used to be a journalist in the wellness industry. Now, the reason that’s especially relevant to the conversation I’m already having is that the wellness culture has been a big part of diet culture. The two have kind of like morphed together over the last ten years. And wellness culture has adopted principles of diet culture, but kind of doused it in a fake layer of being about your well-being, about your, quote unquote health, encouraging all kinds of really unhealthy fads and and methods of altering your eating and movement habits that feel much more in line with disordered eating than actually doing what is best in the long term for your body and for your mind. Now, I asked the excellent Rina Raphael to come onto the podcast to talk to me about the deep, dark depths of the wellness industry. She was a wellness journalist, so she really knows her shit. She is someone who used to believe in the church and the gospel of wellness. She she used to promote it. She knows everyone at the very top of this industry. She knows how it works. She knows how it lies. She knows how it fucking sets you up for failure. She has tried a lot of these methods and she has harmed her own body. This woman is so equipped and well positioned to have the conversation against the parts of the I’m not trying to say the whole wellness industry is bad. I know that that ultimately there are many things from it that we have learned that are beneficial to us, but it’s also being used as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, right? Pretending to be our friend, but really working against us to take our money, our time and our fucking energy that we need for other things that will actually make us well, that will actually make us happy. You know what makes us well and happy? Fucking freedom. Let’s focus our energy on that instead. Now she has written for all of the biggest publications and news outlets. She’s also been a senior producer and lifestyle editor at The Today Show, and she has a book called The Gospel of Wellness, which is out now. And I highly, highly recommend you go and read it because it’s just like little fireworks going off in your brain again and again of like, oh fucking hell that lie. And you remember the amount of fads and nonsense that we have been peddled and made to feel as though we have to be part of something. Otherwise we are being lazy, we are being bad, we are being left behind. Just what in the fuck this has this industry managed to pull off against us? And that’s why it’s so important to have people like Rina, who are whistleblowers, who actually come to this from a place of understanding that someone like me who is on the outside could never really understand. She’s so brilliant, and she really takes me through the wellness movement. She really breaks down the history of its target demographic. What’s wrong with it? What’s right with it, what we should be doing from it, and what we absolutely shouldn’t. She’s on our side here, and I’m so grateful that we have her. And I’m so grateful for her book and I hope you follow her online. She’s a great fucking speaker and was just such a wealth of information and enlightenment for me. I really enjoyed this chat. I think you will too. Seeing as we’re gearing up to the new year in which all this shit is going to be peddled to us at an even higher price, and we’re going to be told New Year, New you by this expensive shit that you don’t need, that’s going to make you feel worse. Let’s get ready. Let’s arm ourselves with knowledge. This is the excellent Rina Raphael. Rina Raphael, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Rina [00:08:06] Good. Thanks for having me.
Jameela [00:08:08] I’m so excited that you’re here. I feel like I’ve been waiting for you for my whole life. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for us to find each other. What a breath of fresh air you are. And what a needed voice in this moment. And so I so appreciate all the work you do. Is it stressful?
Rina [00:08:27] Very stressful when it comes to health and wellness. Those are highly sensitive emotional areas. So you’re always kind of dealing with people who don’t agree with you. So it is it is stressful, but I’m really proud of the book and it wasn’t easy to write because it’s basically almost like a media mea culpa, it’s examining the ways that I wasn’t right in the past and that I’m trying to bring more evidence based information to my industry.
Jameela [00:08:59] Yeah. And this is your book, The Gospel of Wellness, Gyms, Gurus, Goop and the False Promise of Self-care. And I think that your voice is so excellent, but also the fact that you come from within the belly of the beast is what makes this what’s what makes your voice stand out among the others. Right. We have a lot of scientists and doctors from the outside screaming about this stuff over the last few years, but no one really understanding how the sausage is made. And you have been part of that sausage in the past and and you’ve seen all the inner workings and are able to give us this kind of like accidental Trojan horse-esque insight into the wellness industry. And and I really do commend your bravery because you are similarly to me. We’re coming up against multi, multi, multibillion dollar industries. And there are a lot of people who would like to shut us up because we are costing them a lot of money with the truth and they will go to any lengths to discredit us. And so it is vital that we support each other. And that’s why I wanted you to be here today.
Rina [00:10:05] Well, I’m glad to be here. And you’re right, especially if you’re talking about a lot of these wellness startups that have so much investment money, I mean, they’re backed by these huge VC funds that have like armies of lawyers. It’s really, really hard to go against the grain.
Jameela [00:10:22] I’ve been I mean, I’ve I have had every part of my personality and my credibility distorted and sent for and people finding ways to accuse me of being a liar or a dishonest person or or actually literally insane or too mentally ill for people to believe. Like, it’s just been amazing to watch the way that the machine has targeted me so that people won’t listen to me as I try and call these things out. But I could never call them out with the experience that you do. And so I’d love to just jump in to that. Let’s start with how you first got into being part of the wellness kind of movement. First of all, let’s just describe what the wellness movement is, in your opinion.
Rina [00:11:12] Right. It’s the million dollar question. It’s the number one question I’m asked. What is wellness? Everyone is so confused these days and I didn’t see this confusion, let’s say, even eight years ago. So at its most basic level, wellness is the pursuit of well-being outside the frame of, let’s say, medicine or insurance. So that’s all the ways we need to be mentally, physically and spiritually better. So that includes nutrition, fitness, sleep, relaxation techniques, you name it. The term wellness is general and vague. There is no agreed upon definition of what quote unquote well is, and that’s one reason why the wellness industry has grown so big. Literally, anything can be wellness now, as long as it makes you feel good. And so it’s part of the reason it’s grown into this huge industrial complex. You know, the term wellness is almost an ambiguous marketing term that just because just as easily could mean meditation as it does activated charcoal toothpaste. So we’re seeing more and more sectors adopt these ridiculous items or things that are not evidence based because it’s such a lucrative industry.
Jameela [00:12:21] 100% yeah go on
Rina [00:12:23] And I’ll say this, like wellness can mean almost anything. And when something means everything, it starts to mean nothing. And that’s what’s happening with wellness. And so my project is to try to decipher what is real wellness from a lot of the bunker productivity pressures that are being sold to us.
Jameela [00:12:42] And also, by the way, you know, some of these practices are sound. Some of these things that are recommended are good for us. It’s not all bullshit, but it’s been forced through a pipeline of capitalism that has made it overpriced bullshit with a lot of fear mongering around it, a lot of quite cultish language, cultish behavior. And and that’s what we have to be careful of. Like we are we are losing the art of moderation. And I think one of the keys to true wellness is moderation in every area of your life. As you can drink a bit, you can you can, you know, party a bit. You can lose a bit of sleep. You can do this, that and the other. You can eat a little bit of whatever they call, quote unquote, junk food or fast food. You know, you can do all these things and still live a perfectly good life. It’s just about balance. And as much as a lot of wellness culture talks about balance, they don’t actually prescribe as lot of quite extremist practices to, you know, this pedestal of ideal, physical, emotional, spiritual well-being. Right.
Rina [00:13:47] Totally. Of course, no one will argue that eating vegetables and getting movement and getting proper sleep is bad for you. I think a lot of people see the title of my book and they just assume it’s all wellness bashing. Absolutely not. It’s nuanced, and throughout the book, I talk about things that help me and that help other women. But again, like you said, it’s become this very hyper consumerist capitalist system that I will say is also hyper individualist and just bursting with productivity and more pressures on women. And yes, it has become a little bit extreme. It’s often as we’re seeing with so many elements of American life is put through the funnel of this binary, like it’s good for you or it’s bad for you is healthier, it’s unhealthy, it’s it’s good or it’s evil. And a lot of these sectors and a lot of the things that are recommended by doctors and by science are a lot more complicated than that. But I see all the time women just wanting to separate everything into like, this item is good for you, this item is bad for you. This ingredient is toxic. It’s not toxic for you. I mean, a lot of times that mini bit of language, which is what we find in marketing, is just there to make you fearful of something and then inspire you to buy a product.
Jameela [00:15:00] Yeah. Make you feel like there’s an emergency or make you feel like something’s broken that you must go out and fix. So talk to me about how you first kind of became I don’t mean sucked in this in a way to undermine your intelligence whatsoever. I don’t mean that, but I just mean, like, how did you grow? Like, how did you come to be involved in the wellness industry?
Rina [00:15:20] Right. So about ten years ago, I got really, really into wellness. And I would say I tried pretty much every fad and trend. I belong to three different boutique fitness gyms. I tried clean eating. I had a pantry that was stocked with natural wine, supplements, kombucha, you name it, I tried it. And the reason I tried all these things was because I, like many American women, didn’t feel well. I felt stressed out. I felt like my life had too much chaos in it. I looked at the news and I was stressed out. I didn’t feel like there was enough support for me. Even things like seeing my friends was difficult. I mean, it was like herding cats to get anyone to go to dinner for an evening and something like a boutique gym said, Oh, you want to see people, you want to have friends, just come to your regular class. That’s your community. Any problem I had this industry sold a solution and I wanted to believe in it. So that’s how I got into it. And then because I was so into wellness culture and I moved to L.A., which is like ground zero for like green juice drinkers. My my pitch has started to reflect my metamorphosis. So the company I was working for at the time, Fast Company magazine, allowed me at a certain point to cover the wellness industry full time, and I even had a newsletter devoted to it. So I had access suddenly to everyone. I had access to Gwyneth Paltrow, Bulletproof CEO Dave Asprey, every single founder of a fitness or meditation app or functional elixir, you name it. I got to see their marketing plans or business plans and get to spend time with these people. And the longer I cover this industry, I realized that a lot of these solutions and products had very little, if any, scientific evidence. More than that, they were selling an aspirational lifestyle. It wasn’t necessarily about health anymore, and I can get into that a little bit later. And then on a personal front, all of these things that I was into, I started questioning if they were actually making me better, because suddenly I was paranoid. I was paranoid about toxic chemicals and everything. I would freak out if I traveled and like, oh God forbid, there’s a non clean body wash in my shower. Clean eating gave me disordered eating. I became obsessed with working out, you know, I was checking my Fitbit if I didn’t get enough steps and I would punish myself. And so at a certain point, I had to realize two things. Number one, this project wasn’t really working the way intended personally. And on the professional front, I had to admit the wellness industry is unwell. And, and it was hard because a lot of my early reporting, you know, basically touted and helped push all of these startups to bigger realms and help them get VC funding. And the book is me saying, Gosh, I got a lot of stuff wrong and I got it wrong because I didn’t check with medical experts like a lot of reporters don’t do in media. We all just take certain values and ideas at face value, and then it’s just repeated ad nauseam by every other outlet and influencer.
Jameela [00:18:32] Yeah. And also there’s, you know, a kind of there’s no encouragement for you to necessarily be thorough, especially not anymore in this day and age, especially when a lot of advertising dollars come from a large portion of the wellness industry. Right. The diet industry that, you know, it slowly falls under the wellness industry, even if they deny that so much of wellness is diet culture. Wearing a, you know, a cloak. You know, it’s really distressing to me to see how sick it’s making so many of the people that I know and love and how long it has done so, all under the guise of this kind of aspirational nonsense myth.
Rina [00:19:13] Right. And I mean, a lot of it comes down to linguistics and the terminology a lot of these companies are using. You know, you can no longer use the term diet, right? It’s become like a dirty word. So you use terms like detox and cleanse and, you know, they’ll put, you know, magazines or influencers will do a before and after images of bodies, you know, one looking a little bit, you know, higher weight. And they’re saying that’s when they didn’t eat clean. And then after clean, they’re like glowing and beautiful in a bikini. I mean.
Jameela [00:19:45] Yeah, and crazy. Now they have a ring light and their hair got like put through tongues and they’re wearing makeup now, and it’s daylight and they’re not in a basement.
Rina [00:19:53] Right.
Jameela [00:19:53] Like the amount of things I mean, I’ve spoken about this before. I just did. I slightly go off on a tangent and make this about me. I you know, I remember when I, I gained like sort of five or six dress sizes when I was 26. I was on steroids and I was eating a loaf of bread with every meal because I was very hungry with the steroids. So it was a kind of a multitude of of things that were going on. And I got shamed nationally for having gained so much weight. And they were taking photographs of my ass outside my house and I’d be bending over to get my keys at like 7:00 in the morning. Lots of very kind of like photographs, always of me looking really sad. I just have a naturally sad face. I was not sad at the time. I was really happy and I was having, you know, had a great love life and I had great friends and I was having the best year of my career. But if you were to look at any paparazzi photographs of me, I looked really like devastated. They would always, like, isolate me from my friends in the photographs. So it looks like I’m always alone. It’s like the idea of, like the lonely, fatter woman, whereas I was actually at the peak of my life. And so it was one of the happiest years ever. And so not for anyone ever, just for me personally, just to be clear. But yeah, I was having a great time. That was not the story sold. And so I was offered by multiple huge diet and detox. I use that in inverted commas companies. The opportunity to work with them to tell an inspiring story of weight loss. They were going to help me lose weight, but they wanted me to take photographs. That was they were going to be set up as if they were sort of secret paparazzi photographs from behind a bush. Except I would know that those photographs were going to be happening. I would be wearing a bikini that was far too small for me so that my body would be kind of like hanging over it and I would be running. They love a mid air woman in a bikini that is too tight, and I’d be holding like a burger or some sort of fast food, and I’d be eating like the fast food in a sloppy way, and it would be falling down me. Just just deliberately, like unbelievably degrading photographs, right? The set ups for like this maximum humiliating photograph so that it makes when I’m I turn up thin and in, you know, and poised and posed and, you know, not in midair. And I’m wearing, you know, an outfit that fits my actual body. It looked like the ultimate triumph I got to really understand. And I was like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is how this is done. I obviously rejected it. But also I went back through my 12 year old mind who used to see those photographs, the derogatory sort of mid-air, impromptu, sort of chaotic photographs of a woman, and then six months later, her transformation. And I would think that that was aspirational. The lie was laid out right in front of me, and that was the moment that ignited my fight against diet culture, when I understood how sadistic, how twisted, how dishonest it was. That’s when I started speaking out. So this is my sort of like 10th or 11th year now and really going for it. Because similarly to you. But not quite to the same extent. I. I. Now. See the the business of it. And it’s nothing to do with our happiness or well-being or or how self-confidence. Yeah.
Rina [00:23:03] Or how. But I mean, again, this is how this industry continues to grow. There’s so much money in diet culture. And so, again, this is not real wellness, but the wellness industry, what calls itself wellness, has been able to take these tactics and products and just kind of give it a new, shinier outfit. Right. And so, for example, a couple of years ago, I remember I interviewed Weight Watchers about their rebrand and I interviewed.
Jameela [00:23:29] To wellness watchers. Right?
Rina [00:23:31] Right. WW Right. So, so that you no longer see the word weight. And the executive told me that they had just come off of their lowest performing year. And when they investigated why, they found that women said, frankly, we’re no longer willing to diet. So the company was like, Gosh, what should we do? We should get rid of the word weight and diet. But it didn’t. I mean, the company changed a little bit, a little bit for the better. But if you look at some of their videos and some of their advertising is still about way it’s still they still have like videos where they talk about like we helped James Corden lose 20 pounds. It’s that’s sort of still the problem. But and again, I don’t want to just pick on Weight Watchers. I know that they do help a lot of women, but there’s such a huge focus on weight still. That’s not the only issue within the wellness industry, but that is an example of the wellness industry kind of preying on women’s desires and deep vulnerabilities and kind of just continuing the status quo. But when you see the word health, you’re kind of tricked by it. And so a lot of my book goes into all the marketing lingo that is really sort of twisting what we’re actually talking about here.
Jameela [00:24:42] And what’s really scary is the kind of tandem in which, like we also have it all works in tandem with the ever changing beauty ideals of what is considered beautiful, you know. And so it’s having a small waist now. And, you know, back in my day, it was jutting hip bones and no bottom whatsoever and no breasts and, you know, arms that are like twig like. And then it became very small waist, very slim arms, but big tits, big bottom. And now I feel like it’s twisting back to extremely thin and looking at the fashion trends of the very low, low rise jeans and the tiny, tiny, tiny micro micro micro mini mini skirt that hangs off your hips. We’re seeing a rise in celebrity weight loss, again, like drastic, drastic celebrity weight loss that feels like the early 2000. And there’s a lot of information coming out about the fact that a lot of people are taking weight loss injections and a lot of medication that is designed for people with diabetes. And a lot of these people taking this medication who are celebrities and models are not diabetic and they are playing with their metabolisms, with insulin, with their kidney function. These things, when taken without there being a medical necessity, are incredibly dangerous and we don’t yet know what the long term impacts are. But what I’m hearing reports of are is that there is a shortage in medication for people with diabetes now because of the rising growth of people using it who don’t have diabetes for fast weight loss. And so, again, we’re seeing a new kind of terrifying trend coming through in real time.
Rina [00:26:33] It’s interesting, when I was writing this book, I have a whole chapter on sort of how hard fitness culture has become. And certain experts I spoke to said there are new pressures on women. No longer do you even have to just be skinny. Right. Because, you know, a lot of us grew up during the Kate Moss era where you had to be a tiny twig. Now you also have to be toned. Now, you have to have a little muscle showing. And then on top of that, you had to have a big butt. It was almost like triple the pressures on women. You know, now you’re supposed to be in the gym and make sure that you look super fit and look like one of these fitness influencers. And these fitness influencers make it seem like it’s just a matter of like, you know, committing to yourself every day for an hour. And the audience isn’t privy to the 7 hours they spend in the gym, nor to the lighting tricks or the way to position themselves in front of the camera. You know, everything is me. Like, it’s so simple for the average person, but it’s not. A lot of it comes down to genetics or, you know, for example, like you’re saying, like doing something like injections or getting surgery. And so if most women realize that a lot of what we call wellness is actually just fashion. They be, they’d pause a little bit more before getting into the next big thing. You know, I always give the example of like, you know, eight years ago it was all about bone broth and it was green juice and it was kambucha and then it was CBD seltzer. Now it’s corporate. It just keeps going and going and going. It’s a lot like restrictive fad diets where you put your faith into something. You try it out. It doesn’t work or it’s unsustainable, and then you just move to the next thing.
Jameela [00:28:06] You said something really interesting to me when we were on the phone. I know you’ve written about this as well. Is the fact that the reason that when like an influencer or a celebrity takes on one of these fads, they go all in, you know, a kind of not to name any specific names, but we know who their most typical worst offenders are. They they go all in, they advertise it. They work with brands to push, push, push. They’re working with, quote unquote, experts or a biased, quote unquote experts to reinforce this product or this fad or this trend. And the reason they do that is because they know they don’t have very long. You were saying. Right, to be able to push it before it gets exposed as unsustainable. So they milk the cow as quickly as possible.
Rina [00:28:53] That’s why they eventually. I love these I love these influencers who are all about like, you know, teaching you a certain diet or lifestyle. And inevitably they end up selling these supplements because that’s where the money is. And again, there’s no money in moderation or telling someone to just like eat their vegetables. The money is selling products, retreats, whatever it is. But yeah, a lot of times you see especially like let’s talk about a great example is restrictive fad diets.
Jameela [00:29:22] Mm hmm.
Rina [00:29:22] People cannot tolerate them for so long. This is why you have friends who one year arm paleo, then they’re on keto, then they’re on Atkins. They just keep going and going and they just again, because we are a very optimistic nation, put their faith in the next thing. And so when it comes to people who are like this, they know that they only have a couple of years to make their money before everyone gets sick of them or like the jig is up, you know, like it’s sort of like what we’re seeing now with CBD that’s kind of on the wane. It’s like overhyped. People tried it. It works for some, but not for everyone. And it’s gets stuck in a closet. And then people are like, Well, I’m not buying that again. Like, Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. So yeah, they have a short life span and so they go all in to make all their money because they know you’re not a consumer for life. They know it.
Jameela [00:30:10] And I have learned from your work that actually, speaking of supplements, we are seeing millennials have complications. Can you expand on that?
Rina [00:30:20] Yeah, there have been doctors who have talked about the fact that they are seeing health complications from supplements. I think a lot of people think that supplements are just a totally safe and fine because, you know, they’re quote unquote natural. There is a natural fallacy where we just assume that everything that’s made of herbs is good for us. And sometimes it’s not just the fact that you’re wasting money on something. It could be that you’re depending on the supplement instead of figuring out what’s actually wrong with you. It could be standing in the way of actual therapeutic treatments, and that can be dangerous because you might have a real serious condition. You might have a serious disorder. So that’s where supplements become really, really tricky. Obviously, if you are advised a supplement by your doctor, that’s legit. But what we’re seeing now in your local Walgreens or CVS, these rows and rows and rows of supplements, a lot of them don’t have enough scientific evidence behind them. Not to mention, you don’t even know if they’re actually having them, what they say they have in them.
Jameela [00:31:22] Right. And then there are these like very, very kind of like rare stories of someone who’s been able to cure cancer on a supposed broth fast for six months or something, like, you know what I mean? Like, we see these stories and they get touted as they get touted as kind of like fact. And then those stories get.
Rina [00:31:43] Right. Anecdotal evidence.
Jameela [00:31:43] Yeah. These anecdotal evidence stories get used. You know, we saw that a lot with the celery juice movement. You know what I mean? Like where celery juice became the cure all. And I tried to even for a week and I noticed that my eczema that I was struggling with went away. So I fuck like a fucking idiot and asshole posted. I was like, Oh, have a drink of this celery juice. And my eczema is gone down. And immediately Dr. Joshua Wolrich, who I’ve had on this podcast since, and he came in and like immediately attacking me and my DMS and that was fine. His manner wasn’t ideal. We’ve spoken about that on the podcast, but his message was absolutely correct, where he was just like, careful, careful, careful, don’t be posting about this. He was like, There could be a million reasons why your eczema is better this week. Maybe it’s that you swapped out your coffee for your celery juice. Maybe it was caffeine or the coffee, the acid from the coffee that was causing your eczema. Like, just don’t attribute it to the celery juice rather than the change that the celery juice lifestyle has made on your entire day. You know, like all these different things that I might have an allergy to that I’ve replaced with celery juice, like that’s what it might be. So that was my one time accidentally tripping and falling into it. And also, like, I didn’t think it was because I was like, no one can make money off the celery juice in my head at the time because I was like,
Rina [00:33:00] You can make money off anything.
Jameela [00:33:00] well all have access to celery. I now know that the guy who pushed it made a shit ton of money with that. So anyway, that was my one hour mistake that I made like five years ago, but I saw how easy it was. Like in my head I was like, Oh, my eczema has gone. It was like, Yes, cause I fucking gave up coffee for a bit. And so you take that like minor mistake with the celery juice and you apply that to like much bigger things where people make much bigger claims about much more serious illnesses that that require medical like mainstream medical intervention. And you see people not take the help that they need because they’re going with this fad that they heard anecdotally worked for this one individual who has a different body to them and a different system to them. And sometimes those people die. And we don’t hear about those stories. We just hear about the rare.
Rina [00:33:46] I do.
Jameela [00:33:47] Or you do. But we as the public, those stories get suppressed. We don’t hear enough about that. We hear a lot about the anecdotal, random evidence of someone who overcame their health issues just with herbs. But I would love for you to talk to me about the stories that you hear.
Rina [00:34:02] Yeah. So one thing to say about supplements is that, you know, it is illegal to sell unsafe supplements, but the FDA does not track whether these are effective solutions. So just because something says it’s FDA, you know, it says it’s approved doesn’t mean it’s going to actually helping the thing it’s going to say that it helps you in. So I don’t know that a lot of people are aware of that, but they should be aware of that. But you also see a lot of terminology like if we use words like boosts or aid, you know, what does it mean to boost something to boost your immune system? They use words like you’ll never see the words cure or fix. And there’s a reason for that. And it’s not because they don’t have a thesaurus. It’s because they know they can use these very, very, very vague terminology that promises you something without actually promising you really concretely anything. But there is actual danger. I don’t want to just, you know, pick on supplements, but anything that is not really evidenced based medicine could be really dangerous. I mean, there have been plenty of cases of people who relied on complementary or alternative medicine for things like cancer or even chronic conditions got worse and then died. But you don’t really hear their stories, right? We only hear the positive anecdotal stories. Right. But, you know, dead men tell no tales. So, of course, you wouldn’t hear from those people. You’re going to hear from the anecdotes on the influencers websites because they want you to hear the positive stories.
Jameela [00:35:35] And this misinformation is just everywhere.
Rina [00:35:39] Yes. And it’s not just from your influencers on social media, although that’s a huge problem right now. But you’ll find sometimes these trends are covered by top publications. And oftentimes, they’re not always in the science section, sometimes will be something like at a fashion or style section, and there isn’t enough checking with medical experts. A lot of reporters are just taking this at face value. A lot of these claims, it’s not put upon them to check with the right people who are experts in that specific field. And I know that because I made mistakes.
Jameela [00:36:16] Can you talk to me about some of the trends that you think have been or are currently the most problematic?
Rina [00:36:25] Yeah. Although I think some of them are getting better. I think what we see going on in terms of the clean culture and not just clean eating but also clean beauty. I see a lot of people take simplistic messaging from these fields and apply them elsewhere. So I see a lot of women falling down the rabbit hole of chemo phobia. They’re made fearful of chemicals and I wish its people can see my air quotes when I say that because everything is made of chemicals, including water, but they’re made afraid of anything that’s synthetically made. And then they take those simplistic lessons and apply them elsewhere. Right. For example, if you made people terrified of anything that’s synthetically made. And again, this goes back to the natural fallacy of assuming anything made by nature is better for you, which completely ignores asbestos. You know, poisonous mushrooms like nature has its issues, too. But they take that messaging and then they say, Oh, well, I can’t take a vaccine because, you know, it has formaldehyde. Without realizing that, say, a pear has more formaldehyde. But they’re made so terrified of certain chemicals and they’re not given the full information about how that product is used and what dosage.
Jameela [00:37:38] And to be fair to the consumer. Right. There are also some like mainstream beauty things that have incredibly dangerous chemicals in them.
Rina [00:37:47] Sure.
Jameela [00:37:47] And, you know, we we’ve learned a lot about especially dark hair day and the length that has to damaging the health of people who frequently have their hair dyed with dark hair dye. Right. We have a lot of information now coming out about certain things that can be carcinogens, but absolutely that should not be weaponized to make everyone afraid of all things. I mean, people are afraid of fluoride. They’re afraid of mainstream toothpaste now, you know, they’re afraid of putting toothpaste in their mouths. And some some I mean, I know some people who you know, and again, I’m doing the anecdotal evidence, but who switched to a completely un chemical toothpaste and who ended up with gum problems and teeth problems because these things were not as effective as they were told they would be. They didn’t have any effects, but they did then lose some of what they needed for their dental hygiene. So it’s just I’ve seen the darker side of that as well.
Rina [00:38:44] Yeah, I don’t deny that there have been chemical fiascos and I go through them in my book that have made us very, very wary of certain big companies and manufacturers. But that’s very different than making the consumer fearful of everything in the beauty aisle. And oftentimes, I mean, there’s a buck to be made. You make people totally terrified of certain ingredients so that you can sell your product. The nuance isn’t being conveyed to the consumer, and that’s the issue I take with it, because when you make everyone terrified of everything in the aisle, you’re excluding whole groups who can’t afford your $30 clean beauty face wash. And you know, I even give the example of like making people terrified of conventional produce. You terrify consumers if they don’t eat organic, they’re going to like basically drop dead from all of these pesticides are going to harm their kids. Well, there’s one study that found that lower income groups are now buying less conventional produce. They’re skipping the produce aisle altogether because they’ve been made terrified of it. And there are the groups that already were in risk of not having enough fruits and vegetables. So it’s counterproductive. But fear sells. We are more likely to remember negative information than positive information. It’s exactly why politicians run negative ads. So if you can make a consumer absolutely terrified of something, then maybe they’ll buy your organic snack brand. Maybe they’ll buy your clean face wash. There’s no money in nuance. There’s no money in in moderates. There’s money in going to extremes.
Jameela [00:40:23] Well, we see the same thing with like Keto, like how many of the people I know developed health issues or bowel issues because you’re not eating enough like vegetables and fibers to be able to go to the toilet regularly. God knows I’ve been very loud about diet and quote unquote detox products and appetite suppressant lollipops. And you know, I’m like the grim reaper of any any influencer selling like weight loss products to the point where most famous people don’t anymore because they’re worried I’m going to crawl out of my coffin and come after them. Imagine being that annoying that you actually become effective, but it is sort of the only way forward. And so any other trends that you notice?
Rina [00:41:07] Yeah. I think coming out of the pandemic, we see a lot of fatigue. I see this a lot with moms and I see this a lot actually with sort of millennial sex. And I don’t want to, you know, paint with too wide a brush, but people are just tired of being told to buy this exact thing, work out so hard, and just be terrified of so many purchases. Or they hate that wellness is now tied to an aspirational lifestyle. It’s exhausting. And so the pandemic has such a focus on health and health misinformation that I think consumers are sort of pausing before drinking the Kool-Aid on the next trend. And like I said, they just bought a whole bunch of stuff that hasn’t worked and they’re tired of it. But you also see Gen Z impacting this culture. Because they don’t they basically associate this work so hard on your health, this fetishization of health with that kind of girlboss millennial era, and they’re rebelling against it. And so sometimes I speak to Gen Zers and they say things like, Yeah, I can have an Oreo and I’m not going to drop dead. Why don’t you relax? And they’re kind of bringing a more common sense mentality where they kind of understand, for example, that, you know, that our diet is based on dietary patterns, not on one single item. Not one single item cannot be healthy or unhealthy. It’s what you eat as a whole. So you can have that Oreo and you will be fine. So there is a slight course correction that’s coming. And I actually just did a piece for the L.A. Times on how even self-care culture is changing. You know, I think people are looking more at the root issues of why they’re so stressed. They’re tired of being told, Oh, I’m stressed because I didn’t do enough yoga. No, maybe you’re stressed because we don’t have enough maternal benefits in this country. We don’t have child care policies. Me Because your boss emails you after 6 p.m..
Jameela [00:42:57] They’re rejecting the blame element, right? It’s like, well, you’re not eating right enough. You’re not sleeping enough. It’s like, well, why the fuck are we not sleeping enough?
Rina [00:43:03] Exactly. And that’s my issue with self-care discourse is that it basically sets you up for self-blame. It puts all the onus on the individual. And that’s what you see with workplace wellness programs. Like you go to H.R. and you complain that you’re overworked. Well, how convenient. They’ll send you to their workplace wellness program instead of them actually dealing with the reason that you are so stressed, which is likely partially because of them. So you see people sort of understanding that a bit more. And sort of the new self-care trends that we’re seeing are things that I think are a little bit more hopeful, like walking, listening to music, reading, and it’s not as much about bubble baths and skin care anymore. So there is a little bit of hope, I think that’s coming.
Jameela [00:43:48] Yeah, I think I think everything is becoming a little bit more transparent now. We’re starting to see things for what it is. And I, I really appreciate that that both of us feel very emphatic about not blaming the consumer. Right. We never want anyone to feel foolish for having partaken in these things. As in, like there’s a different level of accountability for those who then go on to influence others to do the same and who make false promises, etc., who make money off of doing this. But if you are someone who’s done these diets or has tried those face sheets or who’s, you know, taken those supplements, you are not bad, you are not stupid. There is a multi multibillion dollar masterpiece of marketing coming at you from every possible angle and you are being directly lied to or vital information is being directly and deliberately omitted from your sphere of influence. So please know that there’s no judgment for you. If anything, we are. We are like die hard on your side and want to help you get to the root cause of what would actually make your life better. And that is never anything extremist and wellness, culture, diet, culture. All these cultures are increasingly extremist over the past few decades.
Rina [00:45:03] Yeah, of course. And I don’t I have a lot of empathy because I am one of these people. Again, I did all of these trends and I wanted a book that spoke to me because oftentimes when I would try to read up on this, I felt like it was a lot of shame culture of like, Oh, I can’t believe the consumer could be this stupid. And I was like, Well, I’m not so stupid and my friends aren’t stupid. How come we’re all falling for this? And it’s because the messaging is everywhere and because the marketing is so clever. So I’m on.
Jameela [00:45:32] We have statistics to prove that it fucking works for eating disorders are at the highest they’ve been in teenagers like teenage cosmetic surgery is the highest. I also find it absolutely amazing that a lot of these publications and fucking influencers who are going on and on about like toxins also have fillers or are promoting fillers. It’s like right. That’s chemicals injected into your face, right? And like, listen, if you want to do whatever you want to do, you should do that. However, let’s also be honest about the fact that the skull is the most porous bone in the body. We don’t know for sure the long term impacts of injecting chemicals yet into somewhere that is so close to our fucking brain. So to have the same people have fillers and have and, and put those chemicals directly into their body via a syringe, but then tell us that we should only ever eat organic or we shouldn’t use the certain type of toothpaste. It’s just. It’s. It makes me feel mad.
Rina [00:46:26] Yeah. No, it is maddening. It it mad.
Jameela [00:46:27] It doesn’t make any sense.
Rina [00:46:29] Because just when you realize how much money is involved in this and they have to keep up a certain type of appearance, like that’s the thing. It all comes back oftentimes to making a buck. And here’s the other thing I want to say. I’m not against wellness culture, by the way. I like a bubble bath. I actually filter hotel rooms according to bubble baths. I also have skincare masks. I am obsessed with a certain type of gym class called the class. I’m not above this. The difference is, is that I no longer put my faith in it. And I also can kind of realize what’s leisure, what’s for fun, and what’s real health and wellness. And that’s my point.
Jameela [00:47:12] I think that one of the things that is incredibly helpful and practical about your advice is that you are inspiring people who do feel fearful because of what they’ve heard from influencers to not just follow influencers, to then follow toxicologists, to follow nutritionists like people who are certified qualifications in these areas who can dispel what is, you know, like for example, I find Dr. Jenn Gunter, who I’ve had on this podcast several times, an excellent, excellent source of like being able to whittle away at what is misinformation. You know, she’s a gynecologist who is very like anti the putting scented shit up yourself to make it smell better or things that claim to be able to clean your vagina when your vagina is basically the self-cleaning oven of the body. She’s very big on understanding like hygiene and how to and dispelling the huge new trend of the kind of the commodification of the vagina that we’ve seen. You know, GOOP has been big on this. Many other people have jumped in on this. And it’s been, you know, called the new billion dollar industry is like vaginal, not even care. What is it? Vaginal hygiene?
Rina [00:48:19] Yes.
Jameela [00:48:19] And fem care.
Rina [00:48:21] Yeah, definitely. But there’s another aspect to this, and this is what a big chunk of my book deals with, which is why are women turning to wellness? What is going on in America that is making people turn to these influencers, to these supplements, to this bunk pseudoscience? And so, for example, I have two chapters, just about legitimate complaints with the medical industry and by the way, legitimate complaints against our food supply, a whole bunch of stuff. And how these companies then prey on the fact that a lot of women feel gaslit, misheard, ignored by their doctor, or there’s not enough solutions for chronic conditions, in part because women’s health research is underfunded. And so those are legitimate complaints. The thing is, is just because, you know, your doctor doesn’t have the answer, it doesn’t mean that an alternative healer or influencer does. But these gurus are able to gather the masses with assurance they promise you that they have the answer. And that’s really, really enticing. So I have a lot of empathy for women who feel like they’re at their wit’s end and out of desperation, they will try these things. And so it’s really, really complicated because, again, it’s not that these people are stupid. It’s that people are a lot of people are desperate.
Jameela [00:49:38] Yeah. And there’s also a kind of immediacy culture that has kind of spanned in the last 20 years where we have become sick of waiting. And so everything has to be quick, right? We’re sold on, you know, like everything is instant gratification. And and I think text messages meant, you know, we learned how to expect people to respond immediately. That was quite new. And we expect immediate weight loss results, immediate abs, immediate weight gain results when we’re trying to build muscle like there’s there’s we’re never taught about patience and there’s a lot of money made off of immediacy. So I think that people are also sick and tired and therefore just looking for the quickest possible fix because we’re exhausted and we’re accustomed to instant gratification. And that is also something that’s very, very dangerous because nothing sustainable and good for you happens overnight.
Rina [00:50:25] Yeah, America loves a quick fix, especially one that they can buy. I personally believe it’s because we’re a very highly optimistic nation, but also because it’s easier than doing the hard work like behavior modification or actually addressing the root issues of why we’re so stressed, why we’re so lonely or so unwell. I mean, a woman alone cannot handle the fact that women’s health is under-researched and underfunded. That takes a lot of time. It’s going to take decades for us to get that fixed so it’s easier to just buy something. Right. And I think, you know, even putting something in your shopping cart feels good, like you’ve taken that first step towards doing something. The problem, however, with a quick fix, is that hardly anything is that simple. And also it could actually be counterproductive. I mean, there have been studies that found that people, for example, who take a supplement, you know, then slack off on their health. I’m getting proper movement or eating their vegetables because they thought, oh, I’ve taken a pill. I’ve taken care of my health. That’s kind of the problem with the quick fix. At the same time, we are so stressed in this country and we’re so hyper individualistic and we feel like we have no institutional support, that people feel like it’s upon themselves to deal with their issues. And when.
Jameela [00:51:48] Treat symptoms, not the cause.
Rina [00:51:50] But also when you’re so stressed, you have so little time, you know, you just don’t have the resources availability to think through or address the real issues. That’s part of it, too. It’s kind of like an insidious cycle.
Jameela [00:52:02] I think your accountability is very inspiring, and I’m sure that there are a lot of people who hear this, who hear me, you know, like rampantly against this culture or hear, you know, things like this conversation, even who feel embarrassed and sometimes defensive. You know, when you were writing these articles and sort of being called out by scientists or, you know, experts who were asking you why you were writing these things and putting this misinformation out there, did you at first feel a bit defensive or was it quite quick for you to recognize you were doing something wrong?
Rina [00:52:31] Oh I was humiliated. Humiliated. It was shocking to me. But you know, what’s funny is that there’s two reactions over time when I realized I was wrong about something, even in my personal life. Like, you know, when someone gave me the correct information about something, I felt relieved. I was like, Oh, one less thing that I have to obsess over. I felt a little bit of freedom. But I found that in my writing when I explained to someone, well, actually, you know, organic food is actually a bit more complicated than has been conveyed to the average consumer. You know, there’s conflicting evidence about whether or not it’s more nutritious. It’s more about the agricultural farming method. A lot of people get very, very offended. They take it as a personal attack on themselves. And I think it’s partially because sometimes we over identify with our health, we give certain values to things like organic is now synonymous with good parenting or clean beauty with purity. There are certain values that are assigned. So when you and we over identify with them so that when you call that out, it’s an attack on themselves personally. And I understand that.
Jameela [00:53:43] And so what do we do? Where do we go from here? What is the overall teaching you would like us to take from this?
Rina [00:53:53] Oh, wow. To distill to one thing I would say first is.
Jameela [00:53:57] It doesn’t have to be one thing. I just mean some of the things that you hope that we learn from this and and take from what you’re exposing, what other people are exposing. Where do we go from here? Like. Because there’s a lot to unlearn.
Rina [00:54:10] Definitely. And you’re not going to unlearn all of it.
Jameela [00:54:13] In a quick fix.
Rina [00:54:15] No, I still fall for the natural fallacy all the time. I think we can become smarter consumers by just learning how these marketing tactics work. And that’s why throughout my book I really focus in on the language or even, you know, something like science washing where you have a lot of brands now use scientific lingo because as soon as we see scientific jargon, we’re like oh the scientists.
Jameela [00:54:38] Give me an example. Give me an example. So we know what to look out for.
Rina [00:54:41] Uh clinically tested. Someone may see the word clinically tested and they’re like, Oh, so that like, okay, so it’s all good, all right. That means science vouches for that. Or what does that actually mean? Does that mean it’s an effective product? So just because, you know, again or you see something has a study. Well, who conducted the study? Was it peer reviewed? You know, there could be something like homeopathy where there is, you know, a thousand studies saying it’s conflicting evidence and there’s not much evidence there. You can find a study done 20 years ago on 20 people and use that as your evidence and the consumer isn’t really aware of that. So I think that if we start looking at the marketing lingo, but also using critical thinking skills, who is going to gain by this purchase? Are they using manipulative tactics to get me to feel a certain emotion? What are the medical consensus guidelines say about this issue or even who are taking your advice from? Is this a medical expert who’s respected by their peers, or are they a doctor like Dr. Oz, whom the rest of their peers kind of are criticizing now? I think that we can be smarter consumers and and I think people can do what I did, which took me a long time to learn this stuff. But just be more curious about what you’re purchasing and doing in your life.
Jameela [00:56:03] Yes, because it’s your hard earned money. And the stuff is incredibly overpriced and a lot of a lot of health and wellness is available for free. And, you know, you talk about walking and things like that. There are things that we can do that don’t cost fucking hundreds of dollars a month on top of a cost of living crisis. But also, it’s so interesting to see a culture that is supposedly against stress. Stress us out about what we’re doing. And if we’re taking enough supplements and if we’re taking enough fucking if we’re getting enough sleep, if we’re doing all these different things that are like, they’re freaking us out. Like, you know, what is in your food? What have you done today? What is in the tap water? What is in this, that and the other? And so it’s important also recognize if this stuff is starting to stress you out and just take doses of it in moderation. It’s always great to have lots of information, but don’t let it control your life. Recognize whether or not you have a healthy relationship with the health and wellness industry.
Rina [00:57:00] Yeah I guess my advice would be relax a little bit. You know, like you said, don’t go to extremes. That was really my takeaway. And also just figure out why you’re stressed and try to zero in on that. We can’t fix everything like none of us can fix the news cycle or politics. We obviously can’t do that, but there’s a lot that we can tackle. And also, you know, one of the biggest messages I have in my book is the fact that this industry has completely ignored the fact that one of the main pillars of wellness is social support and community. Everything comes down to me, myself and my credit card. And there’s so much to be said about gathering together, about being with other people. And we don’t stress that at all.
Jameela [00:57:48] It’s a really good point. Well, everyone should go out and buy this book to hone in on. I mean, there are so many things, so specific that we don’t have time to cover in even ten episodes of a podcast. But I really would like you to go out and read this and maybe you’ll find a fad that you got particularly suckered into. Maybe you’re still currently, you know, being influenced by it. And it can be investigated deeper by someone who’s kind of experienced the full spectrum of this very industry. I really appreciate I really appreciate your work. I appreciate the unpretentiousness with which you explain all of this stuff and the fact that you do not allow any of the shame to go on to the consumer, because all of the shame belongs in the hands of those who knowingly push misinformation out for a quick cash grab. And we have been taught to look at ourselves, scrutinize ourselves so that deliberately we will not look at them. And this podcast and my work and your work is part of the movement to make sure that we twist that lens right back around on whoever is shaming us.
Rina [00:58:58] 100%.
Jameela [00:58:59] Well, everyone go and follow Rina, buy her books. And and thank you so much for giving me your time and thank you for writing this much needed work. And thank you for going up against these people. I know that’s really hard. I know even writing a book or researching a book like this is so stressful. I know how many people try and shoot you down. As I said at the top of this episode, and your work is deeply, deeply, deeply appreciated by me and by us. Thank you.
Rina [00:59:24] Thank you for having me.
Jameela [00:59:27] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher Premium by going to Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly over at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 18186605543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighpodcast@Gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners.
Listener [01:00:19] I weigh recovering from an eating disorder for the past ten years and learning to accept that every day is going to be a struggle, but I am going to get better at it. I weigh a fiercely protective relationship with my sister, who I didn’t let be affected by my eating disorder and who has tried to educate and teach through all of my feelings and struggles in life and who’s grown up to be such a beautiful human being. I weigh constantly trying to do better and learning to accept the shortcomings that I have now, knowing that one day it will all be worth it.
February 20, 2024
Guest Cindy Gallop
We’re revisiting this incredible episode with MakeLoveNotP*rn’s Cindy Gallop, as Jameela shares an exciting announcement.