It seems these days that health culture comes in mysterious forms. Whether on a billboard, in a magazine, through a friend or an overly enthusiastic gym membership salesperson, in the end, it comes to us all.

When I mention health culture, perhaps you think of that green juice you just saw on Instagram. Protein shakes. Nourishment. Cleanses. Leg day. Lifting. Kale. Health culture is a beautiful field of diverse creatures smelling of fresh celery and newborn babies.

Whether flaunted by gym buffs, happy hikers, couch to 5k-ers or badass bicycle riders, health culture seems pretty great. Most of the time, it seems like something inspirational, aspirational, wonderful and positive. What about when the words ‘health cult’ come to mind?

Now, ‘cult’ is obviously merely three letters fewer than ‘culture’. Yet, what a difference those three letters make.  Get ready, because I am about to spill some truth tea.

illumintati(OK, maybe the illuminati isn’t behind all this. But wait, how many letters are in ‘health cult’? Ten. And how many are in ‘illuminati’? Ten. Coincidence? I also present to you Exhibit B: What is the difference in number of letters between health cult and health culture?
Three letters. Three points. Three. I rest my case.)

I’m telling you upfront that this is not a health-lifestyle-bashing story. This is a story about the pressure (or, you could even say, cult mentality) formed around the idea of a healthy life, and the lengths people go to achieve such an ideal. This article is to show you that all that glitters (AKA the sun on me, from that one yoga retreat #health #wellness #downwarddog) is not always gold.

When I say health cult, you may or may not be thinking of the seedy underbelly of the health world. Are you thinking of Belle Gibson, the founder of The Whole Pantry – you know, the ‘health guru’ who lied about curing her terminal cancer through healthy living – because she didn’t even have cancer in the first place? The one who spent years developing a blog, a book and an app, social media, and a large portion her life around this lie? Are you maybe thinking ‘wow, Debbie sure uses many rhetorical sentences, but I am intrigued and will read on anyway’?

The health ‘cult’ represents a world apart from health culture. The cult is the idea that wellness gurus are, somehow, infallible experts who lead devoted followers to the end of the rainbow, where there are gluten-free cupcake trees and sugar-free candy canes for all.

In the case of The Whole Pantry and this whole mess, well, let’s look at the facts. Belle has claimed that cutting things like gluten, dairy and coffee from her diet and living healthily, she managed to keep her (fake) brain cancer at bay. She has since admitted that “none of it’s true.”

Belle does not seem to be a ‘wellness guru’, but an opportunist who has made an empire out of presenting herself as a victim. But, in the end, the true victims are the people who bought her app, bought her book, read her blog, the countless people who looked up to her, and the charities who never saw the donations she promised. And that’s to say nothing of the true cancer sufferers who took her advice.

Why care? ‘Wellness gurus’ may or may not be qualified to advise others on nutrition and exercise, may or may not be authentic, and may or may not be harmful to others. But what I do know is that those who have dubious qualifications – or lack thereof – should come with a warning label, as noted in The Guardian, rather than be able to slip through the cracks and earn money off the innocent.

Now more than ever, we’re exposed to ‘gurus’ who perpetuate the idea of a very specific form of ‘perfection’. All toothy smiles, ripped arms, bubbly energy and 4.30am runs on Instagram.

I was a fan of Belle’s since I read up on her blog last year, and I deeply admired her impeccable Instagram game, but she’s opened my eyes to the obsessive, blind worship of self-proclaimed ‘lifestyle gurus’. Belle is just one example of someone who’s made a career out of a persona created for an audience – and the more attention the public gave her, the more she spun her web of deceit.

The perceived lifestyle of a health cult guru is a reflection of a cultivated persona. There is a sense of pressure, an expectation for the wellness guru to look and be a certain way, and perhaps to be model citizens for the fitness world – and for the rest of us civilians.

Maybe we should all take a good look at health blogs, our social media feeds, nay, ourselves. You never know who is going to ‘catfish’ you on the internet, and we can only see and know so much when we’re online.

Let’s put the ‘ure’ back in ‘health cult’ and just, you know, embrace health by taking everything with a grain of (pink himalayan sea) salt. Without putting people on pedestals, without chasing ‘perfection’; instead choosing to be the best version of ourselves, and living life without a filter.