Diets are dead. Well, at least for The Upstreamists they are. Rejecting quick-fix solutions, they represent a growing consumer mindset who adopt a more holistic approach to wellbeing and view food as nurturing, nourishing and medicinal. They believe that you can use food and drink in the same way you might use technology – to prevent health problems by upstreaming your eating habits. It is an evolution of the idea of Upstream Health, a notion we first explored in our 2015 macrotrend The Optimised Self. Explaining the concept at the time, Rishi Manchanda, founder of Health Begins, said: ‘We need to improve health where it begins, which is not in a doctor’s office but [upstream] where we live, work, eat, sleep, learn and play.’
This sentiment, combined with the growing wellness movement and a backlash against clean eating, lie at the root of this new mindset. Consumers are increasingly tired of deceptive health claims or lazy marketing, and are turning to more reputable, medically assured sources to help them make more enlightened food choices.
A clear indicator that more people are buying into the idea of using food as medicine is evident in the current value of the healthy eating and preventative medicine sectors. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss, and the preventative and personalised medicine and public health sectors are valued at £509bn ($648bn, €580bn) and £419.4bn ($534bn, €478bn), respectively. ‘It is finally being recognised that nutrition is a very important factor in our health, and so the preventative healthcare industry will continue to grow,’ says Nadja Pinnavaia, founder and CEO of Euphebe.
Into this environment, The Upstreamists tribe is emerging. Members are united by their 360-degree approach to their wellbeing, their Anti-diet Mentality and their proactive approach to food consumption. They are also bonded by their investigation of their bodies and emotional wellbeing, and their following of only trustworthy health gurus to help them make their food choices. Our tribe members are Kavita Khosa, who lives in Pune, India, and uses the Ayurvedic medical system to inform her diet, Ramsgate-based Pandora Symes, a nutritionist who practises and teaches Intuitive Eating, and Lilian Correa, a health educator based in San Bernardino, California, who uses food to address ailments and culinary medicine to inform her food and drink choices.
These tribe members value authenticity and are not phased by social metrics or influencers. Pandora and Lilian only trust in scientific experts that have been in the industry for a long time. ‘I love the work of people like Emma Cannon, a fertility expert who has in the field for 25 years,’ says Pandora.
At the other end of the spectrum, Kavita doesn’t base her food choices on modern nutrition or scientific knowledge. She is led by ancestral knowledge and Ayurveda. ‘My grandparents and elders around our community are very knowledgeable and they influence my food choices today.’
Food as nourishment
Unsurprisingly, food is regarded as extremely nourishing to The Upstreamists, and they believe that every food choice they make has a direct impact on their bodies. ‘I am very conscious of what I eat in terms of how I treat certain conditions,’ says Lilian, who once stocked up on tart cherry juice after injuring her back to alleviate the pain. ‘It has anti-inflammatory properties and it also helps me to go to sleep, as it supports melatonin production.’
Kavita, who takes a more Ayurvedic approach, eats food based on the temperature and the season. ‘If it’s winter and I eat coconut I’m likely to catch a cold.’ Meanwhile, Pandora assesses what needs nourishing that day – whether it be her body or her emotions – and eats accordingly.
Ethical consumption is seen as an extension of these tribe members’ personalities as they opt for socially conscious and ethical products.
Pandora would much rather buy something second-hand from eBay so she is ‘supporting the universe’. Similarly, Kavita leans towards organic cotton products. ‘I am very conscious of where the natural fibres come from and whether they come from fair trade sources.’
Beyond fashion, Lilian is very supportive of companies such as Starbucks that are socially responsible. ‘I need to know the places where I’m eating or buying are doing good things in the world,’ she explains.
For The Upstreamists, the quality of the food they eat is thoroughly considered. Lilian avoids processed foods and veers towards a plant-based, whole foods diet, and limits her sugar, bread and oil intake. ‘I define whole foods as unprocessed – such as potatoes, legumes and brown rice. They all come naturally in that form,’ she says.
Pandora buys a weekly organic Abel & Cole box, and her meat is always ethically sourced. ‘We’ll always buy a grass-fed, organic chicken,' she says.
Considering herself a purist, Kavita will only eat local foods or buy from brands such as Conscious Food, which she believes ‘works well with her genetic Indian structure’.
Going against any traditional notion of dieting, The Upstreamists’ food and drink choices are without restriction and often rely on intuition.
Pandora eats more intuitively and is guided by what her body tells her. ‘When I was pregnant, I craved Chinese foods, and I just had to surrender to it.’ Grounded in indigenous knowledge, Kavita has never dieted and says: ‘If I hear of any kind of a diet or trend I must be honest, I tend to look at it a bit cautiously.’
As a dietician, Lilian knows people with a genuine gluten intolerance, but believes that gluten-free food products tend to be trend-driven. ‘I don’t avoid gluten, because I don’t think you should have to if you don’t have allergies or if you don’t have an intolerance,’ she says.