When she was in her early 30s, Rina Raphael left the New York rat race — and a job at the “Today” show — and moved to Los Angeles in search of a healthier lifestyle.
She immersed herself in the wellness world — both covering it for Fast Company and spending a great deal of her own money on it, trying seemingly every boutique fitness class, trendy tincture and offbeat yoga retreat out there.
“I was deep in and really drinking the kombucha full time,” Raphael told The Post. But after a time, she realized that the pursuit of extreme health left her feeling not so great.
“It started to feel like a burden more than an escape,” she said.
She became increasingly skeptical of it all and started to investigate the green-juice lifestyle. “The facade started to crumble,” she said. “The wellness industry was not well.”
In her book “The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop and the False Promise of Self-Care,” out Tuesday, Raphael reveals how the industry — which she said is filled with pseudoscience — exploits women’s anxiety with pricey potions and promises of quick fixes.
She looks at how the idea of “self-care” has been hugely twisted from its original meaning.
Initially the phrase was used in the civil rights activism of the 1960s to counteract the way the medical community underserved black and Hispanic women. In 1988, black activist Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” The concept was a means to be healthy, strong and exact a collective change.
“Now it’s become associated with a certain type of woman or man who has discretionary spending to buy all of this stuff. We bastardized it into this hyper-consumerist idea,” said Raphael.
And there’s always a buck to be made, specifically by “monetizing women’s anxiety,” said Raphael. “Fear sells really well, and [realizing] that was a big turning point for me.” She said the movement has exalted, above all, expensive workouts and products and food that are “all natural” or organic. And it’s created more stress for women who think they can ward off disease, aging and weight gain by simply buying the correct things to put into their body.
Things getting designated “organic” “is a complicated topic,” said Raphael. “There hasn’t been definitive studies saying it’s more nutritious or healthier. [The benefit] could be minimal.”
All of this remains unchecked, she said, because “wellness is covered like fashion. It’s not approached like real health. It’s treated like a trend. Health issues are now found in style sections.”
She noted that many who once worked in the fashion space – CEOs, marketers, journalists – have migrated to wellness. Many aren’t qualified to be offering what borders on medical advice. Writers, for instance, don’t always consult scientific experts in their reporting.
“Even Goop, many of their reporters used to work in fashion, and they are using the same techniques,” said Raphael. “We take a lot of wellness at face value.”
(When reached for comment, a Goop spokesperson said “That is completely inaccurate. We have a full science and research editorial and product development team. You can access their bios here.”)
In her book, she references a 2019 study where a bipartisan group of scientists looked at 100 popular health articles from the year before.
“Of the Top 10 shared articles,” she writes, “they found that three-quarters were either misleading or included some false information. Only three were considered ‘highly credible.’”
This fervor is helped along by social media influencers, many of whom have varying, often dubious, degrees of expertise.
“If you go back 20 years, if there was some guru who wrote a diet book or health book, it sat on your nightstand and it waited until you had a free moment to read it. Now you have access to your gurus nonstop. They are posting content numerous times a day and you can communicate with them directly,” Raphael said. ” It makes this stuff a lot more potent.”
The former wellness addict does acknowledge real therapeutic solutions within the industry. “Fitness, good nutrition, community and stress management are all positive things,” she said. “They shouldn’t come with a deprivation or a hefty price tag.”