Wellness and the Slippery Slope to Conspiracy Thinking


Todays big idea is that an interest in wellness can be a slippery slope into some conspiracy thought patterns.

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It’s kinda like that board game for kids Chutes and Ladders–remember that?

Wellness content starts off with the promise of a ladder. Take these steps to get your health to a better place. Get off the gluten. Eat fewer carbs. Eat more vegetables. It’s cool, you’re learning things, getting ideas, trying them out in your own life. Hopefully enjoying some tangible evidence of feeling better. 

BUT you can also be moseying along, consuming your wellness content, and then boom, fall down a chute into some pretty hairy spaces. For example, falling pray to conspiracy thinking. Like, the government has embedded 5G in the covid vaccines. Or you need to do your own research, because the establishment and the government is trying to keep you in the dark about any number of things. And the pharmaceutical industry wants to keep you drugged and compliant and shelling out big bucks for prescriptions you likely don’t need. 

This is where the chutes and ladders analogy falls apart a little bit. Because starting to buy in to conspiracy theories doesn’t happen all of a sudden. Typically, it’s the cumulative result of a lot of little exposures. So it’s kinda like you slide down the chute a tiny bit at a time until all of a sudden you’re in the sunken place.  

It’s enough of a phenomenon that it has an official terms

Conspirituality that was coined by sociologists Charlotte Ward and David Voas in 2011. It’s defined as “a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative world-views.” It’s about the intersection of health coaches who espouse celery juice slowly. And questioning the need for fluoride in the water who start spouting warnings about the global elite. And trademark phrases of QAnon, such as “save the children,” which alludes to that community’s belief that Hillary Clinton abused children and drank their blood.

Beyond conspiracy theories, there’s the potential that you become so devoted to wellness and eating right that you can actually cut too many things out of your diet and become malnourished. It’s a new shade of eating disorder known as orthorexia that really spiked during the pandemic. 

It’s getting real out there, y’all. And if you’re consuming wellness content of any kind you really want to be careful out there. 

Of course, there are some counterpoints to consider

While wellness can be a gateway to some really harmful stuff, it’s not all wellness’s fault. Social media algorithms can jump on your desire to research vaccines and start feeding you content that leads you down a wormhole. 

Also, the pandemic has taken a big hit on our collective mental health. We’ve been scared, and stressed at really high levels. And in addition to taking a toll on your cognition, it also makes you really hungry for answers. Even if those answers are really implausible in the light of day. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, the saying goes. And it also invites in some desperate thinking. 

And, truthfully, there have been forces looking to deceive us on matters of health. Think of tobacco industry and how many years they knew that their products were carcinogenic yet they kept it hidden. They spent billions on pushing their products on grown-ups and on kids. Or the pharmaceutical company that pushed oxycontin on doctors. There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of information that comes from even seemingly trustworthy sources. 

As far as orthorexia is concerned, there aren’t many things we have control over in this life, especially during a pandemic when so much of what we considered to be normal was overturned, and it makes sense that people could find comfort in getting very regimented and controlling about what they eat. 

So what’s the takeaway? 

You have to be really careful around the messaging that says things like “do your research” and “find out what your doctor doesn’t want you to know.” Take care around any kind of “discover the hidden truth they don’t want you to know” narrative. I know how tempting it is to want to click on those headlines. Heck, I’m sure I’ve written those headlines! It’s been a tried and true trope to get people to click or buy the magazine. But you have to keep in mind that it’s often a cue that you’re inching closer to one of the chutes I used in that analogy at the beginning of the episode. 

And remember that when you’re feeling disillusioned or out of control or scared that prioritizing your mental health is just hugely important–whether that means getting back in to see your therapist, or taking social media breaks, or meditating more, or spending time with the people or doing the things that make you feel most like yourself, or whatever combination of things works for you. 

If you’re interested in learning more about conspiriuality, there’s a great episode of the Maintenance Phase podcast called “The Wellness to QAnon pipeline”. 


And then there’s the whole Conspirituality podcast


And some great resources have sprung up that use social media to dispel disinformation,

Including the Instagram account of author Dr. Timothy Caulfield, and Abbie Richards, an extremism researcher who debunks conspiracy thinking on TikTok.

In all, take care out there

I hope that after this week of episodes you’ll be interacting with health content–and with the health judge in your own mind–a little differently. 

Next week I’m talking about writing and how to use it as a tool for personal growth, whether it’s something you ever share with another person or not. 


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