Why Extreme Wellness Is So Popular

Marathons, fasting, and silent retreats—the psychology behind hardcore health

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
8 min readApr 11, 2019

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Credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

EEmily Fonnesbeck says her issues with diet and exercise started after her first son was born. “I was a new mom and feeling pressure to recover from the pregnancy body, and I started eating less and exercising more,” she says. “I’m very much a perfectionist, so if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it one hundred percent.”

At first, 100% meant cardio workouts most days and eliminating unhealthy foods from her diet. But slowly her habits snowballed. Over a period of five or six years, her training progressed until she was working out for at least 90 minutes every day. “There were numbers I had to hit — like a certain number of miles, minutes, calories, etc. — and if I didn’t hit them, my mind would drive me crazy about it all day,” she says.

Meanwhile, Fonnesbeck was also experimenting with elimination diets. First she cut out sugar, followed by dairy and gluten. “I had constant headaches and I was tired and I had digestive issues,” she says. “I thought, well, I’m just not eating the right things — I need to cut out what I’m eating that’s bad.” Eventually, her diet dwindled to just five foods: sprouted-corn tortillas, brown rice, cabbage, tahini, and beans.

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a frequent contributor at TIME, the New York Times, and other media orgs. I write mostly about health and science. I like long walks and the Grateful Dead.