Background Wellness and wellbeing are terms associated with health within dietetic discourse. More broadly, these terms are found in social discourse as represented in food and nutrition consumer communications. With the increasing requirement for evidence-based healthcare, there is an imperative to understand whether these terms are meaningful to individuals typically targeted for nutrition interventions and whether there are any implications for dietetic education. Methods To explore the understanding of these terms, eight semi-structured focus groups were conducted with 32 female participants (age range 23-79 years) who were actively engaged in managing their health. Overall understanding of the terms, factors that impacted perceptions and any relationships with food behaviour were investigated with the groups. Group discussions were transcribed verbatim and each transcript was examined by two researchers. Inductive analysis linking codes into main thematic categories was conducted using the constant comparison approach across the full data set. Results Wellness and wellbeing were identified as meaningful terms associated with health. A theoretical framework of wellness and wellbeing reflecting these meanings was developed linking four dominant thematic areas. These were Desired outcomes (most sought after result); Taking control (self management strategies); Internal influences (various personal inner factors influencing behaviours); and External influences (plethora of peripheral factors influencing behaviours). Conclusions Wellness and wellbeing are terms that are relevant and aspirational for individuals typically targeted for nutrition intervention. A theoretical framework of dominant areas of influence on notions of wellness and wellbeing was identified. This theoretical framework is worthy of further research to determine usefulness and effectiveness in dietetic practice settings.