• Vitamins and supplements felt like a natural extension of my new health kick. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
The idea that physical health and wellbeing was something that I could not only control, but buy over the counter was particularly appealing.
Samuel Leighton-Dore

8 Aug 2018 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 4 Sep 2018 - 10:42 AM

It’s embarrassing to admit how little grasp I have on the concept of vitamins — and how much money I spend on them regardless.

Of course I know the basics. You’ll get vitamin C from oranges and vitamin D from the sun. But question me further on how much of these vitamins my body actually needs and my eyes will begin to glaze over, my mind playing re-runs of Nicole Kidman's dialogue-free and delightfully childlike Swisse Wellness commercial.

Cannot compute. Must frolic in field.

Despite being raised on a balanced meat-and-veg diet and enjoying the occasional visit from Healthy Harold throughout primary school, my adult relationship with the business of Health™ began with season 1 of The Biggest Loser back in 2004. As an overweight and depressed 14-year-old with a penchant for escapist reality TV, the show had me buying a second-hand exercise bike and Google-searching 'calorie deficit' faster than Ajay Rochester could say "it's time to weigh in".

My growing teenage body was already a temple under renovations.

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Vitamins and supplements felt like a natural extension of my new health kick - an easy 'just-in-case' way to look after the interior as I struggled with my temple's scaffolding. It began with multi-vitamins targeted at men. As a man, this felt like an obvious choice - and I'd argue that multivitamins are the 'gateway drug' of the health and wellbeing industry.

But then things got a little more specific, which, of course, meant more money.

Vitamins for strong, healthy, shiny hair? Great, I thought. That should help conquer the long, unbroken history of early male-pattern baldness on my mother's side of the family (spoiler alert: it didn't).

Liver-cleansing vitamins? Finally! The perfect antidote for a night of binge-drinking raspberry Bacardi Breezers in Hyde Park!

The idea that physical health and wellbeing was something that I could not only control, but buy over the counter was particularly appealing given my struggles with mental health.

After years of seeing various mental health professionals, nobody was offering a magical medicine-free cure for my depression or debilitating anxiety (though the internet was quick to tell me that vitamin B5 supports the adrenal glands, which reduces stress and anxiety levels, it didn't do the trick for me).

Vitamins were my way of covering my bases and making up for my poor choices, of which there were plenty. My nutritional insurance, if you will. After all, nothing made me feel like I could live to be 106 (despite the smoking and drinking and experimenting with illicit drugs) quite like swallowing a palm-sized concoction of fish oil tablets and assorted vitamins that tasted like bark.

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However, what I was really buying was the hope that came with the vitamins; the morning routine, the keen sense of choice and control, the idea that, like Nicole Kidman, I too could one day "live healthy and be happy" in a countryside montage.

Coupled with the very real placebo effect there's no limit on how much we, as consumers bursting at the seams with existential dread, are willing to hand over to this billion-dollar industry (Swisse alone was bought by Hong Kong company Biostime for $1.67 billion in 2015).

The reality is that most of us who eat a relatively balanced diet are getting all the vitamins we need - and the rest is being (literally) pissed away. So why are we (myself included) so susceptible to the product of hope?

Why are we so desperate to be Nicole Kidman on a swing?

Vitamania premieres Sunday 12 August, 8.30pm on SBS. The documentary will be available after broadcast via SBS On Demand

Join the conversation @Vitamaniamovie #Vitamania, visit  www.vitamaniathemovie.com