Holistic health has become more mainstream, but do you know the difference between real science and the woo-woo? Take a closer look, and consider how it’s impacting you as a whole person.


Nutrition is a relatively new science, and there’s still so much to learn. More recently, there’s been increased attention around integrative and holistic nutrition, and things that were once considered “out there” and “not evidence-based” are now considered mainstream in the consumer health world.

However, much of these mainstream approaches focus on food and exercise without looking at wellness with a broader lens.

According to the American Holistic Health Association, the definition of holistic health is the following:

“Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, this ancient approach to health considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment. It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit. The goal is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning the very best that is possible.”

Unfortunately, mainstream holistic health seems to have become more about specialized diets, detoxes, and supplements.

Whether it’s gluten-free, an elimination diet based on what our ancestors supposedly ate in the distant past, cleanses with $10 green juices, or exotic supplements, these holistic practices often focus on the minutiae of nutrition, with an emphasis on restriction. Often times, they use potentially harmful supplements with very little science that actually supports their use. This is unfair to the many holistic practitioners out there who really do have an in-depth, specialized, and science-backed knowledge in their field.

The problem with the diet and supplement-focused approach to health is that it doesn’t actually achieve what holistic health sets out to do – which is to consider the entire person and emphasize the connection of mind, body, and spirit. It requires a solid understanding of the potential risks and benefits to the person as a whole before moving forward.

For example, throwing an elimination diet and supplements at a problem isn’t any different than a doctor throwing medications at the earliest sign of a symptom. But how ‘holistic’ is one really being when they are on a restrictive diet that damages their mind through stress?

If a person is stressed out about what they can or cannot eat, or they can’t go out and socialize because of dietary limitations,

That holistic diet isn’t actually healthy.

Instead of pursuing holistic health, I encourage you to think about ‘wholistic’ health. Your health is so much more than what and how much food goes into your body. ‘Wholistic’ health puts your mental health on par with physical health, and won’t sacrifice mental health for the sake of improving physical health.

It emphasizes social connection, sleep, stress management, and spirituality. It also recognizes there are some determinants of health that are more difficult to change, such as certain medical diagnoses that require medication, weight stigma, or socioeconomic status.

If you’re struggling with a health condition and looking to holistic health for answers, please be sure to work with someone who is well-qualified in the science. Look for registered dietitians or other health professionals who have sought additional training in integrative nutrition, and someone who is willing to partner with you on your health journey, rather than someone who is trying to pitch a magical cure. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and most importantly, be sure to ask yourself:

Will this help me feel whole in all aspects of my life?

Adapted from the original article.

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC.  By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being through delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.