In a brief history published in 2010, the New York Times traced the modern use of the term wellness to the 1950s, just after the World Health Organization equated health with “physical, mental, and social well-being.” It’s a trend, and even a movement, that’s steadily gained traction ever since, expanding beyond the realm of “hippies in the Berkshires eating health food,” says Elizabeth Beier, executive editor at St. Martin’s, and into the mainstream.
Riding the still-cresting tide, publishers are releasing books that combine an array of topics to embrace an ever-broadening definition of wellness. Diets are for losing weight, but also for balancing hormones and combating stress. Fitness and a concerted spiritual, or even magical, practice are stepping stones to emotional health. Feeling empowered is inextricably linked to feeling physically and emotionally powerful. There is no health without happiness, new wellness titles say, and there is no happiness without self-care.
Habits for Humanity
As Deb Brody, editor-in-chief of nonfiction at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, puts it, “Wellness means everything in your life now.”
In Tiny Habits (HMH, Dec.), B.J. Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford, defines this everything as the desire to “eat healthier, lose weight, exercise more, reduce stress, get better sleep”—plus be better parents and partners, and be more productive and creative. Readers can achieve these goals by making small adjustments to their usual routines, using what Fogg terms “behavior design.” He told PW in a recent q&a, “The behavior model is, in some ways, a breakthrough that is like the answer to the riddle. And once you see it, it’s like having keys to a car.”
Fogg’s plan embraces a Venn diagram of overlapping fields, including health, psychology, and self-help. “Anything that contributes to making you feel better in all aspects of your life—that’s what people are looking for in these books,” Brody says.
Jessica Cording, a health coach and registered dietician, takes a similarly holistic approach in The Little Book of Game Changers (Viva Editions, Jan. 2020), focusing on improving overall health by reducing stress and anxiety. Cording suggests adjusting daily habits and technology use; learning the difference between good and bad carbs, and making meal plans; and finding time to meditate and de-clutter.
Like Cording, who contributes to the popular wellness website MindBodyGreen, health journalist Pilar Gerasimo, founding editor of the health and fitness magazine Experience Life (143,000 Facebook followers), has a built-in fan base that editors see as critical to marketing wellness books. In The Healthy Deviant (North Atlantic, Jan. 2020), Gerasimo maintains that “most people have become habituated to some form of chronic, low-grade misery.” The only way to break the cycle of unwellness, she writes, is to deviate from a reliance on crutches such as “symptom-suppressing drugs” and instead experiment with mindfulness, movement to build strength and flexibility, and what she calls “real,” or unprocessed, food. She lays out the benefits: “increased energy and resilience, radiant health and vitality, and a dramatically expanded sense of what’s possible.”
At DK, the series A Little Book of Self-Care comprises four titles, gift-size and pastel-illustrated, each focused on a single health-minded practice. In January, Self Reiki by Jasmin Harsono and Sleep by Petra Hawker join Breathwork by Nathalia Westmacott-Brown and Trigger Points by Amanda Oswald, both of which pubbed in September. Together, the books add up to what DK Life managing editor Dawn Henderson calls “a 360-degree approach to modern wellness.”
Similarly, in The Wellness Remodel (Harper Wave, Apr. 2020), HGTV host Christina Anstead and nutritionist Cara Clark offer a prescription for what the publisher terms “full-body wellness.” The book presents “a practical approach to mind/body/spirit wellness, addressing everything from nutrition and movement to meditation, gratitude, and spiritual practice,” says Harper Wave v-p and editorial director Julie Will. “Readers are increasingly aware of the importance of addressing mental health in a category that has tended to focus more on the body and conventional thinking about physical health.” Anstead shares the emotional and physical health crises she suffered on the heels of a divorce and an autoimmune disease diagnosis, and how the plan she and Clark devised led her to recovery.
Summer Sanders, a raw food chef and the author of Love Your Body Feed Your Soul (Skyhorse, Jan. 2020), also gets personal as she aims to help readers—through mantras, bath soaks, and recipes for smoothies, salads, and tonics—to unlock “a river of depth, beauty, and health,” she writes. Having grappled with bulimia as a teen, she draws connections among unhappiness, disordered eating, and a lack of fulfillment.
“Women in particular are breaking out of the typical dieting mold in favor of a far wider range of self-care,” says Skyhorse editor Nicole Mele. She sees a similar trend happening in the mental health space, where bodily health and mindfulness are spliced in “to ease physical symptoms of anxiety or depression.”
Authors such as Anstead and Sanders court reader trust by showing how the plan they’re promoting worked for them. Other wellness titles hinge on more conventionally credentialed, yet still alternative, advice about health.
Could loneliness be the root of broad societal unwellness? That’s the premise of Together (Harper Wave, Apr. 2020) by Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general under Barack Obama. The health ramifications of loneliness include a range of ailments, among them increased inflammation and drug addiction, that, he writes, cry out for increased community engagement. The book “offers a call to action,” says Will at Harper Wave. Murthy “challenges us to reconsider the paradigm for health, and highlights with urgency the epidemic of loneliness and the need for human connection, which is as essential to our well-being as nutrition.”
In May 2020, Kales Press, which is distributed by W.W. Norton, will release Tapestry of Health by Daniel A. Monti and Anthony J. Bazzan, physicians who treat patients at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health in New Jersey. The book, publisher Kenneth Kales says, gives equal wellness weight to positive relationships, healthy diets, and “walks in the woods.” The authors write in their foreword that readers have been “let down by conventional medicine” and need to learn to “question dogma” to develop a whole-health plan based on nutrition and lifestyle changes.
They’re appealing to the kind of reader, often female, who Beier at St. Martin’s says may feel dismissed by the traditional medical establishment, and who turns to books to “feed her desire to be better informed” about matters pertaining to her own health. Behavioral change specialist Shahroo Izadi addresses this reader in The Last Diet (St. Martin’s, Apr. 2020), teaching here—as she did in 2019’s The Kindness Method—how to effect lasting change without self-judgment, a pitfall of many weight-loss plans.
Other authors, too, focus on dietary changes as a path to overall well-being. In Your Body in Balance (Grand Central, Feb. 2020), diabetes clinical researcher Neal D. Barnard (2018’s The Vegan Starter Kit) advocates a vegan diet as central to alleviating a wide range of health problems. Many foods, he explains, contain and influence hormones that are linked to issues as diverse as menstrual cramps and prostate cancer.
Dermatologist and osteopath Debbie Palmer, in Mindful Beauty (Llewellyn, Apr. 2020; written with Valerie Latona), proposes that an integrative approach to wellness is necessary not only for feeling mentally and physically healthy, but also for looking good. As she writes in the introduction, stressed-out patients who come to her for a quick dermatological fix not only receive a complete skin-care plan, but also more comprehensive lifestyle guides of the sort she features in the book, which folds meditation and exercise into what she refers to as “me time.”
Llewellyn acquisitions editor Angela Wix says readers are beginning to make a connection between health and beauty and as a result want, in addition to skin-care regimens, “creative solutions” for achieving wellness, such as feng shui tips for the bedroom to promote better sleep. They’re looking, she says, for “solid resources to support their quest for better health and quality of life.”
Let’s Get Physical, and Then Some
Quality of life is inextricably tied to pleasure, according to Why Good Sex Matters (HMH, Jan. 2020) by Nan Wise, a licensed psychotherapist and cognitive neuroscientist. But Wise’s book isn’t just another about having sex, HMH’s Brody says. Rather, Wise provides “a new understanding of how a good sex life can make us happier and healthier.” She says this message is particularly relevant to millennial readers, who may be looking for connection through dating apps and are instead finding less sex and less fulfillment from their encounters.
At St. Martin’s, Beier sees physical activity of a different sort as ripe for revamping to fit current concepts of wellness. Better Stretching (Mar. 2020) by trainer and JoeFitness founder Joe Yoon (1.2 million Instagram followers) is about more than limbering up before a run, she says. Rather, stretching is a pursuit in its own right that will improve overall health.
In Ignite Your Light (Running Press, Apr. 2020), health coach Jolene Hart zeroes in on positive personal energy, which she defines as the “feeling that your presence conveys” when you’re inspired and insightful. This energy, which could come from the physical (a good workout, for instance) or the emotional, such as a conversation with a close friend, “influences your beauty, strength, gratitude, relationships, health,” she writes. Cindy Sipala, executive editor at Running Press, says Hart’s goal is to help readers “discover what makes them feel their most energized, and embrace more of it until it’s what fills their world, all day every day.”
What Hart calls the “lit-from-within effect” also resonates with CICO publisher Cindy Richards. “Millennials are interested in looking after themselves from the inside out,” she says. “That means they’ve moved on from this idea of wellness as merely physical, to a holistic approach that includes the spiritual.” Magical Self-Care for Everyday Life by Leah Vanderveldt—who, like Jessica Cording of Little Book of Game Changers, is a MindBodyGreen contributor—mingles breathing exercises, stretching, and recipes “to ground each chapter,” Richards says, with tarot, astrology, and moon rituals.
Vanderveldt calls for women to get in touch with their own sources of power, in what she refers to as the “goddess” space. Similar themes are found in Self-Care Down There by Taq Kaur Bhandal (Adams, Feb. 2020; see “Beyond the Pain”), which covers vaginal and pelvic health. Bhandal discusses fairly mainstream tools and practices, including menstrual cups and Brazilian waxing, but also offers “ancestral female wisdom” on vaginal care, with “sacred self-care” suggestions at the end of each chapter. Her message: women who can overcome the shame of speaking openly about their private parts, and learn to care for them properly, empower themselves to have better, all-encompassing wellness.
Feeling healthy, Bhandal tells PW, requires people to “find ways to get joy and pleasure from their bodies.” There are as many places to start, she and other authors say, as there are interpretations of wellness.
Lela Nargi is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn.
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Beyond the Pain
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