The biggest health trend for 2024: it's the year of "dirty wellness"



“I shouldn’t tell you this,” a patient admitted to me last week, clearly terrified of my reaction. “But I’m going straight from our consultation to Gourmet Burger Kitchen for lunch with my best friend. Isn’t that awful?”

She didn’t give me time to reply. She was too full of mea culpas, too busy assuring me that she saw the irony of seeing a nutritionist, of taking the first steps to losing weight and optimising her health – “new year, new you!” – and then letting herself down at the first hurdle.

If she’d let me get a word in, I’d have told her that she was doing nothing wrong and everything right; that she was, moreover, the embodiment of 2024’s biggest health trend: “dirty wellness”.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the term “wellness”. Like its cringeworthy cousin, “healthfulness”, it’s one of those umbrella terms that means everything and nothing and leaves most of us feeling permanently on the backfoot – guilty and “less than” – without quite knowing why. Stick a “dirty” in front of it, however, and it’s my term of the year, if not the decade. It’s the blueprint I’ve always given my patients; it’s how I live my life. That it also happens to sound like how I take my martinis only adds to the appeal.

So what exactly does “dirty wellness” – a movement that began in LA and took root on TikTok late last year – entail? As a long-overdue rejection of the Goop-perfect, polished lifestyles we’ve had forced down our throats for almost a decade, it’s a move away from rigid routines, penance-filled days, restrictive eating and guilt-filled minds. It’s about actively carving out time for joy and fun every day, about giving yourself some wiggle room as you strive to look after yourself better, about adding some naughty to your nice and alternating the halo with the horns. It’s about a much-needed dose of common sense in a wellness world gone mad.

We’ve been so brainwashed by the wellness warriors that people are convinced there’s only one way to get healthy: a monk-like life of juice cleanses, bone broth, meditation and yoga.

Every January, I see the same glum faces and hear the same vows from my patients: they’re willing to make the sacrifices; they’re ready to suffer – now! Well, that’s too bad, I tell them, because I won’t be prescribing suffering, and by the time we’re done working out a health plan, any cutbacks won’t feel like sacrifices at all.

We are all biochemically individual. We also all have different lifestyles and challenges – from looking after broods of children to elderly parents; from constantly travelling for work to being stuck WFH with only that fridge for company – so there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to our health. For that reason, it’s all about finding a balance to suit your lifestyle. Only then will positive changes deliver the desired results and be sustainable.

Certain challenges are common, however, so to get you started on the dirty wellness road, here’s how to navigate the most generic speed bumps.

Winter takeaways

The days are dark and gloomy. Everyone’s on a self-imposed lockdown, doing “dry January”. Is it any wonder we all want to Deliveroo our way through to spring? Only takeaways are The End, right? Wrong. Do them the ‘dirty wellness’ way, and they have my blessing.

What people don’t realise is that 90 per cent of the bad rep that takeaways have is down to the simple carbohydrates involved. There’s nothing objectively wrong with an Indian, a Chinese or a Thai takeaway. Many of those dishes are actually great high-protein food choices.

Yes, there can be a lot of ghee and oil involved, but unless you’re severely overweight, fat is not the enemy. As for MSG? You’ll live. So, allow yourself the takeaway but load up on vegetable side dishes like stir-fried broccoli, okra and papaya salad, and – a great hack I tell all my patients – instead of ordering the white rice, keep a stash of pre-cooked brown rice and quinoa mixes to enjoy with your meals. These take two minutes to warm up and will make any takeaway healthier. Plus, because the extra fibre will keep you fuller for longer, you won’t find yourself reaching for sugary snacks an hour later.

The 4pm slump

Responsible for many of our poorest food choices, the 4pm blood sugar slump is A Real Thing. Almost every patient I have complains about it. Whether we’re bored, hungry or a mix of both, we’ll reach for that biscuit or vending machine Twix mid-afternoon and boom: our blood sugar levels will sky-rocket. For 45 minutes you’ll feel amazing, but then you’ll get thrown back down to earth with a crash, and for the rest of the day your energy levels will be yo-yo-ing.

All this can be avoided if you have some protein when you first feel that gnawing sensation in your stomach. Have yoghurt, a piece of cheese, some hummus and crudités or a handful of nuts – and then have the Hobnob, chocolate bar or slice of birthday cake in the office. I promise you’ll enjoy it even more without the sugar hangover, and end up eating less to boot.


I love day drinking. Is there anything more joyful in life than a long lunch with an old friend? Unless a patient had specific health conditions, I would never insist on them cutting out alcohol completely, but I will always remind them that alcohol is sugar, and that the way they cushion that injection of alcohol/sugar makes all the difference.

Before you reach for the first glass of wine, it’s crucial to line your stomach with both protein and fibre. Have some olives, cheese, nuts and a piece of ham. That will also help balance your blood sugar levels. After that, have your lunch, enjoy your booze – with one caveat: avoid the sugary mixers. They’ll double your calorie intake and your hangover.

If you do want spirits, have vodka and soda with lemon, vodka and kombucha (to help with your gut bacteria) or vodka and diluted coconut water (to help counteract the dehydration).

On that note, the old ‘one glass of water per glass of wine’ has run and run for a reason. Not only does it work, but if your tummy is full of liquid, you’ll end up drinking less.

Exercising the ‘dirty wellness’ way

When it comes to exercise, the most common complaint is: “I don’t have time”. This is a lie, of course. If you have time to trawl through your Instagram feed fifteen times a day, you have time to exercise. The real issue is that people have decided they need at least an hour for any form of exercise to be effective.

Not true. Let’s go for a quarter of that. You’ll always have time for 15 minutes. Start getting off the tube two stations earlier; start using a standing desk or do what I do and keep a set of weight and stretching bands by my desk. If a call goes on for a while, I’ll stick it on speaker and do a set of light weights while I’m talking. I may look like a lunatic but anything that adds to the sum total of movement at the end of the week means you can allow yourself a few more treats – and support your general health and longevity.

Coffee junkies

I have nothing against coffee. In fact, we know that it’s great for longevity, has impressive antioxidant properties and stimulates brain function. So, have two or even three a day, if you want, but don’t end up downing two pints of cow’s milk with it, because that’s not ideal. You may even get digestive issues or intolerances as a result.

Instead, swap your cow’s milk for oat, almond or coconut, and for the rest of the day offset those coffees with green tea, which is packed full of natural polyphenolic phytochemicals called catechins. We now know that these beneficial chemicals play an important role in supporting the immune system and even in cancer prevention – so there’s your balance.

The weekend blow-out

Whether it’s your best friend’s 50th, your ten-year anniversary or your daughter’s wedding, there are going to be occasions in life when a 24/48-hour blow-out cannot really be avoided.

Do you spend that weekend consumed with guilt, planning just how little you’ll eat and how much you’ll exercise over the following week? Because here’s the funny thing about guilt: research tells us that it doesn’t help us make better choices. In fact, according to a 2018 study conducted by the US-based Institute for the Psychology of Eating, guilt may actually slow down our metabolic rate, causing us to gain more weight from an equivalent amount of calories. Or, do you revel in the joy of celebration, whilst remembering to steel your body for the stress it’s going to be put through?

Here’s your one-word ‘dirty wellness’ solution: supplements. Pre-empt that oxidative stress by filling your body with All The Good Stuff. If you’ve decided to drink a lot, it’s essential to support your liver, which is a chemical sponge, so if you can at least be sure that it is working effectively by providing it with all the nutrients it needs, it can help combat the bad. I do my own supplement – GP Nutrition’s Cleanse Complex – and I also love Astaxanthin.

On the go junk food

Whether it’s in petrol stations, train stations or airports, there are always excuses to eat badly when you travel. But in 2024, they’re sounding pretty unconvincing.

Today, there will be a healthier option. Most places will have a Tesco or an M&S, for example, where you can pick up a salad or a pack of ham. But if you secretly want that fast food, have it – just focus on protein. Have a KFC, which isn’t great but is at least largely protein. Have the Burger King burger without the bun but with a huge salad and coleslaw. 

In airports look for soup, yoghurt, cheese, ham, nuts and crisps made from pulses. Even if it’s fried, have the protein. It won’t kill you. It’s the refined carbohydrates that are the problem, those nasty white fluffy bread sandwiches that shouldn’t even count as food.

The 'dirty wellness' holiday

Restriction has no place on holiday, but that leaves us with a problem, doesn’t it? Because if you overdo it for a week straight, you’ll come back feeling lousy.

How do we offset the damage? With a plan. If you’re away for seven days, for example, allow yourself to eat whatever you want for two of those days, and for the other five just keep a semblance of control. Or experiment with intermittent fasting, which is so effective and easy.

If you do the 16/8, that only either means skipping breakfast or stopping eating mid-afternoon. Choose whichever works best for you, and for the rest of the time follow your heart’s desires.

Find more helpful tips and tricks in Gabriela's latest book; '2 Weeks to a Younger You: Secrets to Living Longer and Feeling Fantastic'.

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