‘Wellness is a multibillion-dollar cult. Now I see through it’: the clean-living Instagrammer who learned to let go

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Lee Tilghman entered the online world in the early 2010s, with a healthy food blog she had started in college. Influencing was just becoming a thing. When she moved to Instagram, with the rest of her generation, in 2014, and featured one of her smoothie bowls, she gained 20,000 followers overnight. “Brands began reaching out to send me products,” she remembers now.

Two years later, she quit her nine-to-five and moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles. Within a year, she gained another 100,000 followers, an agency and manager. “I was earning upwards of $15,000 a post and working with major food and lifestyle brands who’d sell out of whatever I posted about.”

Her lifestyle matched the wellness ethos, says Tilghman, 34, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. “I believed anything in a package was bad. I only ate organic fruit, veg and grains, no complex carbs. I was afraid to use unnatural cleaning products and I did intermittent fasting from 7pm to noon.”

Content was all she thought about, but her extreme lifestyle quickly took its toll. “My followers told me they loved me, but I had no time to spend with friends. Watching the response to my posts was like undergoing a performance review every day. I remember getting to 100,000 followers and being ecstatic for one day before I wanted 1 million.”

In 2018, the internet “semi-cancelled” her for putting on workshops that cost too much. “The truth is, wellness is really inaccessible,” says Tilghman. “I was publicly shamed to the point where I considered suicide.” Her “healthy” diet had also triggered an eating disorder. She took five months off, lived on her savings and checked into a treatment centre. “Social media rewards extremes and obsessions, and wellness is dangerous territory. My body was my business card and I had been afraid of gaining weight. It wasn’t just about what I was promoting but what I was hearing and receiving online, too.”

Content retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2024/mar/31/the-wellness-instagrammer-who-learned-to-let-go.

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