It’s that time of year when all the messaging and marketing by the wellness industry starts to land. Diets! Detoxes! Gyms! We are vulnerable – and puffy. Our tongues perma-coated in pastries, eye whites turned the colour of chardonnay, pants straining, zips gaping like the teeth of a hungry dog. There is the feeling of dread when neighbours invite us over for drinks. What more? No! Some of us have been circulating at end-of-year drinks since November and it’s not even New Year’s Eve.
The market is ready – as the market always is. There are detox spas in Australia and south-east Asia where they’ll not feed you for a hefty fee. There are all the gyms with their “new year new you” advertising and the boot camps and the personal trainers and the protein shakes and pharmacy detox kits. There are diet books and eating plans and internet forums with programs by Michelle Bridges (until recently of Channel Ten’s The Biggest Loser), Sarah Wilson (no sugar) and Pete Evans (paleo). In all this there is the idea of reversal and redemption. Here we are again (and again and again each year), lashed to the pendulum of excess and discipline. They’re all here to help us – all the Petes and Sarahs and Michelles – waiting at the end of the party, to scoop us up and promise us that if we just do as they say, follow their program and go without (just this once!) then equilibrium will be restored.
But will it? Will it really?
Now my own shameless plug alert: I have a book coming out in 2017 based on more than 10 years researching various nooks and crannies of the wellness industry. Trends come and go, each one promises health, balance and happiness. Often you pay through the nose.
Yet there are the things I came across that work and are free or low cost. These are not some miracle cures for eating and drinking too much – but practices you can build into your 2017 and can make you feel more balanced and healthy. And they are, of course, blindingly obvious. But so often the market doesn’t want us to see free, obvious, practical solutions.
Noted wellness person Gwyneth Paltrow has called sleep the “biggest health trend of 2017”. Get enough sleep and you’ll have enough energy to tackle whatever the day throws at you, including making sensible food and drink choices. The right amount of sleep puts you in a good mood, regulates immune functions, appetite, improves memory and concentration.
Despite the wellness industry trying to monestise sleep with various courses and sleep schools, including initiatives by Huff Po founder Arianna Huffington – it’s free.
2. Move every day
A few days without exercise I feel pre-arthritic, locked up, like an old person who has difficulty putting on their socks. It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga or the gym or crossfit or skateboarding or whatever. You’ll feel good if you move, stretch, sweat, huff, puff and ache a bit each day.
Fitness trends come and go. You only need follow them out of boredom with your old routine. But your body doesn’t care if you are doing a $35 exercise class or running through a field – it just want to move regularly and vigourously.
3. Avoid extreme detoxes
It’s easy to panic this time of year, when the plastic cup in your hand filled with sparkling wine appears affixed to your hand, and your main source of nutrients are potato chips and barbecued meats. A 3, 7, or 14-day detox – where you don’t eat, or drink only juice or weird shakes, is tempting for a quick reset – but from experience I’ve found whatever weight goes off, comes back on when you start eating normally. Just eat whole food, plenty of fruit and vege, cut back on coffee and alcohol and you’ll feel less seedy.
4. Embrace moderation
It feels good to give your body a break from boozing. You’ll sleep better, your skin and eyes will be brighter and you’ll be more focused and alert. But there’s also something to be said from the social benefits of joining your workmates for a celebratory beer after a difficult project or staying out late at a fun party. Moderation is the key when it comes to boozing. Doing a month off like Febfast creates the temptation to break it with a binge.
Just relax, enjoy the occasional drink, but be conscious about how much you are drinking and how you feel. It’s easy to lose track of things this time of the year.
5. Build a retreat into each year
At the end of each January I go away to a silent retreat in country Victoria. It’s non-religious and pretty simple. We meditate a lot, eat very nutritious vegan food; have a lot of silence, a few early nights and put away our devices.
Retreats – whether mediation retreats, yoga retreats, or a self-guided retreat where you just go away for a few days alone, and without the internet – can be beneficial in resetting things. Call it an evaluation vacation – but they’re a great way to kick off the year with a bit of slowing down, introspection, silence and some healthy living.
Travel writer Pico Iyer regularly visits a retreat centre in California. He says, “I’ve been going now for 24 years. I’ve stayed there more than 70 times. I really think that’s my secret home. In a world of change and sometimes impermanence, that, along with my wife and my mother, is really the still point of my world … And I feel that really steadies and grounds me in the way I need in a world of tumult.”
Biography’s brilliant drone
Philip Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis opens with these magnificent lines:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
This wasn’t true for everyone. Occasionally I read a biography and find out that some long ago figure from say the 1920s behaved like today’s most debauched rock stars. Had sex – a lot – and binge drank so much, so often, that people at parties just stepped over them when they fell flat on their faces. Or were morphine addicts and took benzodiazepines just to be calm enough to cook the dinner.
Over the Christmas break I devoured in two sittings a 1987 biography of Dorothy Parker by Marion Meade. I didn’t know much about her before I settled in with the book, except that she was a famed wit and had a sharp tongue. As I was to find out, the life she led would put Keith Richards to shame.
The book kept me up past 2am on Christmas night. She was a singular figure of the time – breaking through the all-male literary and media gab fest at the time to earn a seat at the table on the power of her wit and intelligence.
But it was not always an easy ride. For all the glamour and the moments of joy – there didn’t seem to be a lot of peace or contentment. Right to the end, she questioned her talent, and felt acutely that her failure to write a novel meant she squandered her talents.
David Marr wrote in the summer edition of the Monthly that reading a biography is like having a “life in your hands”.
And so it was with Parker. The long – lifelong – almost dispassionate view of the biographer functions like a drone circling overhead and across time. And there we see it – the thing we often can’t see in our own lives, because we are too close. The patterns, and the mistakes repeated over and over. How tempting it is to shout warnings across time and space – as Parker picks another younger, unsuitable lover, or goes on another binge, or keeps running back to Hollywood to write screenplays when she should have been in New York finishing her novel. “Don’t do it Dorothy!” But there she is – like us all – oblivious and, right to the end, always crashing the same car.
Wellmania – Extreme Adventures in the Wellness Industry by Brigid Delaney will be published in June 2017 by Black Inc
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