It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that wellness became a reality in this millennium. The 21st century has seen a radical transformation in food. We stopped eating carbs, turning bread into a treat. Sugar, wheat and dairy replaced fat as the new poisons, and we swapped meat-based Atkins for veganism. In the last two decades, staples such as milk, flour and butter have undergone a metamorphosis. It’s entirely normal now to get butter from nuts, flour from fruit, and milk from grains.
The focus on food is a reflection of our current obsession with agelessness. Just like fashion was a leading form of expression in the 1900s, wellness defines the 2000s. Fitness has replaced fashion as the new social currency.
The last decade in particular has seen a big boom in wellness, with the industry valued at more than $4 trillion (around ₹28 trillion), according to research by the US-based Global Wellness Institute in 2018. The digitization of health has bombarded us with more information than ever before. So as we enter the 2020s, wellness is more about personalization and preventive care than following trends or finding cures.
The Word: INFLAMMATION
“The last couple of years have been about the gut, but 2020 will be all about inflammation,” says Lovneet Batra, a Delhi-based sports nutritionist who has consulted with Indian teams for the Commonwealth Games. Whether it’s the increase in number of cases of auto-immune diseases, levels of pollution, or a need to get to the root cause of disease, reducing inflammatory load is the need of the hour.
Riding the wave of lifestyles that battle inflammation, says Batra, is the new “pegan” diet, which combines the plant-based focus of veganism with the whole foods concept of paleo. She explains that the big downside of veganism is the dependence on processed foods such as (vegan) cookies, chips and pasta, which increase cellular inflammation. In the pegan diet, you can eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and eggs but avoid dairy, grains, legumes, sugar and processed foods. “By eliminating sugar, processed foods and grains, you cut a huge amount of inflammation,” she says, explaining that these foods create disease-causing free radicals. Grains are on the list because most popular varieties of cereal are genetically modified. A 2013 report released by the Institute of Responsible Technology linked data on GMOs to five conditions that may either trigger or increase gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease.
The focus on fats is a tool in the current anti-inflammatory arsenal. Coconut, fish and olive oils have proved their worth in the last decade, but today the list also includes oils such as avocado and full-spectrum CBD (cannabidiol). Avocado oil is touted as the new coconut oil. Comprising more than 76% monosaturated fats that don’t raise cholesterol, the USP of this oil is its very high smoking point at 271 degrees Celsius, against coconut oil’s 232 degrees Celsius. “This means that if you use this to fry or even reheat food, it will release fewer free radicals compared to other oils,” says Batra. Research shows that avocado oil also increases the bioavailability of anti-inflammatory carotenoids from vegetables. So, if you sprinkle it on your salads, it will increase your ability to absorb the nutrients from leaves and root vegetables.
CBD oil goes even deeper to reduce inflammation. In 2018, the US Food and Drug administration (FDA), approved Epidiolex, which is made with purified CBD extract and used to treat rare seizure disorders in patients over the age of 2. But CBD has transcended the treatment of nervous disorders into the more general area of pain management. “Pain is the first sign of inflammation and because CBD works on this root cause, it’s used by athletes to reduce pain and speed healing,” says Batra. Advancements in research have proved that CBD is just one compound of hemp’s complex biochemistry, which includes many beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids. A 2015 study by The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School found that full-spectrum CBD was more effective in treating inflammation than CBD isolate.
For the hemp newbie: CBD isolate is the purest form, broad spectrum contains other cannabinoids and terpenes but no THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), while full-spectrum CBD also has minuscule amounts of THC. For general anti-inflammatory benefits, choose the other two varieties over the pure isolate form.
The Mood: SLOW
A torn ligament or injured ankle isn’t uncommon in the world of Ashtanga yoga and Insanity workouts. In 2020, though, the mood is changing. “Earlier, the trend was over-training, where people were pushing themselves without focusing on form or physical ability,” says Sumaya Dalmia, fitness expert and founder of the Sumaya chain of fitness studios in the National Capital Region. “If you overstrain, you do more harm than good because it increases your cortisol levels and inflammation, and reduces your ability to lose weight.” Today high-intensity workouts are being eschewed for slower, more deliberate practices such as Iyengar yoga, swimming, and high-intensity, low-impact workouts. “Consistency and comfort are keywords for 2020,” says Dalmia.
Intelligent workouts are being complemented with smart meditation techniques. Apps such as YogaGlo, Headspace, Calm, Sattva and Buddhify have democratized the practice. Sound healing, a big trend for 2020, is an intelligent tool that transports you into a meditative state with little effort. “Sound has been used for healing in all cultures across the world, be it Vedic chants, Tibetan bowls or shamanic drums,” says Vinnay Nasta, a sound therapist and feng shui consultant practising in Mumbai and Dubai. A 2013 review by McGill University in Montreal, Canada, of 400 published studies on music as medicine found that sound indeed improved mood and reduced stress, and rhythm in particular provided relief from physical pain. “Sound healing brings you to the present moment because it has the ability to transport the mind,” says Nasta, who recommends Tibetan bowls to balance chakras, drums for grounding or a basic Om chant for peace of mind. “Ultimately you have to choose what works for you, because different frequencies suit different people.”
The Tool: QUANTIFIABLE SELF
Forget about IQ or EQ, these days experts are talking about physical quotient (PQ), which determines your connection to your body and its signals. “Most people are so disconnected that they find it difficult to understand how a certain food or fitness routine makes them feel,” says Dalmia. So while you may be eating and working out right on paper, you might have ignored red flags like fatigue, pain and constipation. “This is why people are becoming less healthy despite the boom in wellness—you can follow trends but they are worth nothing if they don’t work for you.” To enhance PQ, Damia suggests working with a personal trainer or a functional medicine doctor to understand the positive indicators that work for you.
Today we are tracking ourselves more than ever before. Want to know the calories in your food? Use MyFitSelf. Want to track your mood? Try MoodKit. Want to check sleep quality? Try Sleep Cycle. From tracking blood sugar to energy and heart rate, wearables are obvious investments for the health conscious. In November, Google announced its acquisition of FitBit for $2.1 billion. But that’s not all. The digitization of health has also brought fitness studios to our doorstep.
Peloton, a New-York based fitness company, has revolutionized the way we exercise with a digitized stationary bike that comes with a 22-inch touchscreen. You can live-stream or join on-demand classes and compare metrics with other cyclists. Users vouch that Peloton gives them the atmosphere and competitive spirit of a real class that fits into their schedules. Peloton is still to come to India.
The modern world makes a fetish out of measurement, but attempts to quantify everything—from steps to calories—can be counter-productive. In a 2016 study by the University of Pittsburgh where 470 people were put on a low-calorie diet and asked to exercise more, it was found that those given fitness trackers lost less weight. The author of this study concluded that it was because this group assumed they had achieved fitness goals according to the trackers and therefore started easing out on the diet and exercise. Our dependence on numbers undermines our natural instinct—our biggest strength. Additionally, tracking numbers can increase anxiety in people with poor body image/eating disorders. Therefore, such tools must be seen as a convenience rather than as accurate predictors.
As time becomes the new luxury, quantified self, slow movement and preventive care are the holy trinity of wellness. Through them will flow new trends and inventions that fit into our busy, ever-connected lives.
Vasudha Rai is a Delhi-based writer.