In the 1990s and 2000s, a slew of “self-help” books hit shelves that we can in hindsight safely label as problematic at best. (The Fat Flush Plan and The Atkins Diet instantly come to mind.) And as much as we’d like to believe we’ve come a long way in terms of how we talk about wellness and self-image, the current digital landscape isn’t so different — but the language is. Amateur nutritionists have taken to TikTok to preach the benefits of myriad ingestibles that have no real clinical support. There are 5 a.m. morning routine videos that revolve around workout plans and liquid breakfasts disguised as motivation to “better yourself.” Diet culture has also had a recent, unwelcome rebrand that allowed companies to continue selling a weight-loss mindset under the guise of “clean eating” and to push supplements as cure-alls. Lately, it can feel like we’re back to where we started, with publications dropping headlines like “The Cult of Thinness” and “Why are Body Types Still a Trend.” 

“The wellness industry as we now know it is an expansion of the same diet industry that, as activists in the The Fat Underground movement in the 1970s put it, ‘sells a cure that doesn’t work for a disease that doesn’t exist,’” Aubrey Gordon, author of You Just Need to Lose Weight and 19 Other Myths About Fat People, tells Allure. It’s still challenging to find books, like Gordon’s, that intelligently and empathetically talk about modern wellness culture in a positive, and, well, real way.  

But writers have developed projects that challenge those shortcomings. In the last year, a handful of books have taken a different approach, breaking down the commodification of wellness through the lenses of social justice, detrimental diet culture, gender inequality, and fatphobia. These works discuss why wellness culture has proven problematic, yet each author has their own take on the industry and its problems.

Here, five books that speak to the exploitation and commercialization of wellness, and how to examine your own personal self-care practices in a new light.

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