What is Wellness?

by Barb Cook M.Aut.(Edu), Dip.HSc.(Nut), Developmental Educator, Integrative Neurodivergent Nutritionist & Adult ADHD Coach

We all need energy. How we obtain it however can come from a variety of sources. We can get energy from food which gives us calories to burn, sleep which restores our mental and physical wellbeing so we have energy to do things throughout the day, and from doing things we enjoy.

Looking at all the different ways to obtain energy has me thinking about the necessity of food. Food provides our bodies with fuel as well as sustaining life. Over the past few decades, we have seen an enormous increase in food choices, but a decline in health as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer rise in increasing numbers. With the increased food availability and choices, surely, we should be getting healthier, not sicker?

I recently heard a quote from Dr Garth Davis, bariatric surgeon, physician, and author, which got me really thinking:

“We are in a world where we have become comfortable in our appearance and body, which is great, however, we have also become comfortable with being sick.”

That certainly struck a chord. I proclaim to be a supporter of the body positive movement, looking at lifestyle and mental wellbeing and that it is okay to be who you are, however I have never sat down to think that by promoting this way of thinking, are we allowing ourselves the easy way out of doing things to make ourselves healthy through good food choices and healthy eating.

Yes, it is easier to buy a box of chicken nuggets on the way home from a busy day at work, especially after picking the kids up from school, rather than spending the time on planning and cooking a meal, and then serving it to yourself and the family. It all seems like far too much work! And often it is. We live incredibly busy lives juggling many things and feel constantly stressed about finances that seem to be ever increasing, the state of the world, and other things.

You can see why food choices and healthy eating get pushed aside. Furthermore, we are conditioned into thinking that healthy food is expensive. Just looking at the news and social media, it is easy to believe that good food is expensive, especially when we see the price of iceberg lettuce skyrocketing to nearly $12 each or a whole watermelon costing over $100. The media tells us it is due to the recent floods, another year of fires, or another drought. And yes, these impact on the cost of food. But when you scrutinise what is driving the costs, you often find that the farmer is not the one receiving the extra money for production loss or production induced costs.

To put this into context, good food can be expensive as it is often not mass produced using intensive, monoculture farming. Many large-scale farms focus on one crop to supply large distributors to our giant supermarket chains. Plus, they often gain government subsidies to bring down the cost of the food produced. Many of us don’t think about the distance the food has travelled to end up on our plates or the seasonality of food and the demand that drives suppliers to provide common staples all year round. Just look at the ever-increasing prices of fuel. If your piece of fruit or vegetable has travelled 1000s of kilometres to arrive on your plate, we really need to take a long hard look at how we make food choices.

When we eat unseasonal food, it will be expensive. We need to consider the food choices that match the regions we live in, when the food is grown, and to learn about the balance with nature that we are losing by deprecating our lands with mass monocultural practices.

It’s a lot to think about, and, throughout my life, I have fallen off the proverbial apple cart in doing what is best for myself, my health, and sustainability of the food we eat and lifestyles we lead. It is easy to grab the inexpensive junk foods. When we are on a tight budget, we are forced to make unhealthy choices for ourselves and our families. It can also be tough on parents who often want to bring up their children with healthy eating habits but are forced to make poor food choices.

So how do we even start to tackle this dilemma?

It can be difficult to know where to start, but I think we need to start thinking of ways that take care of ourselves and our environment on a personal level. When we think on a larger scale, it can be too overwhelming. We need to start in our circle of influence, that is, with ourselves, our family, our friends, and neighbours.

Start small.

Over my lifetime, I have studied in a variety of areas to better understand life and wellness and the social impacts it has on us as a community. I am a horticulturalist and a permaculturist. I have studied environment and sustainability and a biomedical degree. I’m a qualified nutritionist and I have studied behaviours with a Masters in Autism and Education, giving me a deeper understanding of people with neurological differences through my work as a registered developmental educator, supporting autistic and neurodivergent people. I have also been a qualified graphic designer for over 25 years and have witnessed first-hand through the designer lens that by creating visually appealing designs for advertising and marketing of goods, services, and businesses, is driven by the primary goal of convincing you the consumer to buy this product or choose that service, whether or not it is good for you or needed. I was part of that system of making people and business look good, without a concern for moral or principles. I was part of that system that is often profit driven, not wellness and community focused. The care was for the $$$. And that is what broke me in my late 30s and I had to get out.

As a deep thinker and a person with a unique neurological difference, with empathy and compassion to levels that can be quite overwhelming at times, I am driven once again to reconsider what is happening in our world today and how I can be part of the change for a different way of viewing ourselves, our health, our wellness, and our wider community. I ponder the sheer scope of how to transition just my way of thinking, knowing how easy it can be to slip into convenience and unwellness and to retreat into a world where I cut myself off from society and often feel lethargic, tired, drained, and unmotivated to do anything physical or good for myself.

I have to start somewhere, revisit what I have learned, how I can implement this and how I can make this sustainable for me. There is way and I will document in coming articles how I work through this transition, convincing myself the surface appearance of convenience is in fact the contributor to unwellness and health decline. This is a place of where many of us feel stuck, sick, and helpless, but it can be done. We just need to stop, rethink, and put ourselves first. Big business does not control our choices, we do.


Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. (2015). Retrieved 13 June 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat

Garth Davis, M.D.: Bariatric & General Surgery Houston, TX. (2022). Retrieved 13 June 2022, from https://www.drgarthdavis.com/

Jardine, M., Kahleova, H., Levin, S., Ali, Z., Trapp, C., & Barnard, N. (2021). Perspective: Plant-Based Eating Pattern for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention and Treatment: Efficacy, Mechanisms, and Practical Considerations. Advances In Nutrition12(6), 2045-2055. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmab063

Packer, J., Russell, S., Siovolgyi, G., McLaren, K., Stansfield, C., Viner, R., & Croker, H. (2022). The Impact on Dietary Outcomes of Celebrities and Influencers in Marketing Unhealthy Foods to Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients14(3), 434. doi: 10.3390/nu14030434


Barb Cook Girl Women Autism WorkshopAbout Barb Cook, M.Aut.(Ed), Dip.HSc.(Nut)

Developmental Educator, Integrative Nutritionist & Adult ADHD Coach

Barb Cook is a highly committed autistic advocate, writer, editor, and highly sought-after international speaker. She has made appearances on Australian radio and television, in newspapers and magazines, and in the SBS television documentary The Chameleons: Women with Autism.

Barb is a registered Developmental Educator and Integrative Nutritionist, who is dedicated to improving the overall well-being and quality of life for women and neurodivergence. Barb identifies a neurodivergent after being diagnosed mid-life (40) and after significant burnout in 2009 with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Barb brings over 35 years of experience in health and wellbeing, environment and sustainability, horticulture, and permaculture, with a unique and highly research-informed approach to wellness, both from personal experience and professional practice. Furthermore, Barb brings her 25 years of experience in marketing and graphic design to give an insider’s view of how we are “coerced and persuaded” through advertising and social media in making food and wellness choices.

Barb is internationally recognised for her bestselling book on autism in women, Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism with Dr Michelle Garnett, filling the gap in literature between lived experience of autistic women and the clinical knowledge. Barb’s recently released and second best-selling book co-authored with Yenn Purkis, The Autism and Neurodiversity Self-Advocacy Handbook: Developing Skills to Determine Your Own Future, is an essential guidebook that gives you the tools and strategies to advocate for yourself in any situation, developing your skills in standing up for yourself, your needs and wishes.

Barb is founder of Spectrum Women Magazine and is a prolific writer on autism, ADHD and neurodivergence.

Barb is founder of the Neurodiversity Hub in Gympie Queensland, a space providing allied health services for neurodivergent people, including one-on-one support, therapeutic groups, workshops and presentations and an informal space to meet.

Barb is a highly sought-after international speaker and presents on a variety of topics related to women, autism, ADHD and Neurodiversity. Barb spoke at the World Autism Organisation Congress 2018 in Houston Texas and 2019, and was invited by the United States government to keynote a special event “A Woman’s Voice: Understanding Autistic Needs” for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) in Washington DC, USA.

Barb is a passionate motorcyclist, and enjoys riding the love of her life, Ron Strom Burgundy, a Suzuki VStrom DL1000, who assists her with good self-care and an effective anxiety reducing and depression busting practice.

Visit www.neurodiversityhub.com/barb-cook/ and www.barbcook.com.au to learn more about Barb Cook.






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