Our CoFounder and CEO tackles our signature questions and dives into her passion for nutrition education and policy.
Rebecca Parekh is the CEO and CoFounder of THE WELL, a complete ecosystem for wellness — but her life wasn’t always so centered around health. In 2009, Rebecca was a constantly overworked New Yorker with a stressful job in finance.
That year, on the way to yet another work conference, she visited a destination wellness spa in Sedona, Arizona, which proved to be a “lightbulb moment” for her. She was so inspired by the experience that she left finance two years later, and eventually teamed up with CoFounders Sarrah Hallock and Kane Sarhan to found THE WELL in New York City.
Below, Rebecca answers THE WELL Q&A to expand on everything from her passion for health equity to what she puts in her morning coffee.
What first brought you to wellness?
I grew up around wellness and have always recognized the importance of holistic health. My mom was teaching yoga in the 70s when she was pregnant with me and the philosophy of food as medicine was a big part of my upbringing. My great grandfather was an Ayurvedic doctor and my grandparents had a daily meditation practice. I witnessed and experienced firsthand the transformative power of wellness but found it challenging to integrate it into my everyday life. In late 2009 on my way to a conference, I visited a destination wellness spa in Sedona, Arizona. That was my lightbulb moment and I knew I wanted to bring that integrated experience to New York City in a way that was easy-to-navigate and filled some of the gaps of what our traditional healthcare options lack.
We’re hosting our first food policy summit at THE WELL this week, Food For Thought. Can you tell us about your passion for nutrition policy work?
A lot of it goes back to my mom. When I was in middle school, my mom started growing our own food, began composting and put up posters in our kitchen that warned of the dangers of food dyes, processed ingredients and other food additives. She’s an activist spirit, and that was infused into my upbringing. Food has always been a big part of my life, and when I got older, I started to realize how unique that was. I’ve been able to continue learning about food and nutrition science throughout my life, and I know that education is one of the most powerful tools we have to empower people to make better food decisions.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our nation’s already-fraught relationship with nutrition?
It’s highlighted the urgent need to change the way we make, distribute and eat food in this country. One major theme from data collected so far is that patients suffering from obesity and metabolic syndrome seem to have the most dire outcomes — and that’s nearly one in four Americans, or 23 percent. As Frank Lipman, MD, our Chief Medical Officer, says in this article, “Poor diet is a major contributing factor to poor outcomes of COVID-19 patients.” Yet we are not trying to point fingers or shame anyone — it’s a systemic problem of the food industry.
How can THE WELL, and other wellness companies, work to help effect changes in health and nutrition policies?
First, we can help educate. Information is power, and resources provide a great entry point for people to hone in on a mission that resonates with them. Secondly, we can also work on the language of wellness — the way we talk about health and wellness. Just as we look at health from a whole-body perspective, we need to look at wellness from a whole-society perspective, examining how the well-being of us each as individuals impacts the well-being of society at large. We need to get clear on “What is wellness?” It’s not just green juice and yoga. Don’t get me wrong — I love my green juice and yoga, but it’s also about civil rights, human rights, safe food, safe housing. We as a community have a responsibility to talk about collective care.
How can individuals help effect change in health and nutrition policies?
First and foremost: Get political. If you care about wellness, take it to the polls (or request your mail-in ballot). Our elected officials control a lot — from the food on our plate to our access to healthcare. Get educated on policy issues, talk to your representatives, support grassroots organizations and demand a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable healthcare system.
What does a more equitable wellness industry look like to you?
During COVID, we’ve seen a turn to telehealth, and I hope that technology will continue to be a big part of the future of wellness. My goal with THE WELL is to help people take greater agency for their health and empower them with products, courses and education, all of which we make available online as well as within our physical spaces. Beyond that, I think the future of wellness needs to be more accessible, in all the ways — more inclusive, less confusing, less complicated, more affordable and more integrated into a “traditional” healthcare model. My hope is that we move towards a model where wellness is part of healthcare, prevention is valued, food as medicine is part of every doctor’s office conversation, healthy food is accessible to all and our focus on self-care shifts to a more inclusive model of collective care.
Best beauty secret?
Early bird or night owl?
Night owl. I get a second wind in the evening but try to be in bed by 10:30 and asleep by 11 most nights.
Instant mood lifter?
Nature. Whether it’s the ocean, mountains or woods, spending time outside is the quickest fix for my mood.
I try to eat food in its simplest form, and buy organic, local and seasonal foods when possible (but I know it’s not always possible). I focus more on abundance and what I’m adding in versus what I’m leaving out — I eat colorful veggies, tons of leafy greens, spices, herbs, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, whole grains and simple proteins.
Most used condiments?
Olive oil, himalayan sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, cumin
How do you take coffee or tea?
With full-fat organic milk or coconut milk
Simple smoothie recipe?
Spinach, half a banana, half a pear (or apple), blueberries, fresh ginger, cinnamon, filtered water and a spoonful of full-fat organic plain yogurt. Adding cinnamon aids digestion of the raw ingredients and stabilizes blood sugar levels. It also tastes delicious!
Every morning involves yoga, dry brushing and tongue scraping. (That last one is an Ayurvedic practice that is so quick and so important for the overall health of the mouth.)
In your salad?
It varies depending on season and what I have on hand, but typically it’s a combination of the following:
- Leafy greens: Bibb and leaf lettuces, spinach, kale, endive and radicchio
- Veggies: cucumbers, radishes, scallions, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers (I try to lightly cook some of my veggies before adding in, especially during the colder months)
- Nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds
- Dressing: olive oil, white balsamic, dry mustard powder, dried herbs
- Extras: boiled egg, avocado, sprouts
When you feel a cold coming on you…
The first thing I do is add extra garlic and freshly grated ginger to my diet — I make a tea with ginger, turmeric, fresh squeezed lemon juice and a touch of honey. I also get extra sleep and give my body downtime to rest. I'm beyond excited about our new Immune Health line, which was developed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Frank Lipman. I've started taking Clean-Up Crew daily and add the Immune Complex when I need extra support.
Words to live by?
To thine own self be true.
Last time you laughed?
Never not laughing.