The Truth About Digestion and Gut Health

This past weekend I went on a long road trip to visit my in-laws in Virginia. Normally the drive should only have taken 6 hours or so, but with the holiday traffic we spent more than 10 hours in the car each way.

That meant lots of stopping for meals and snacks.

Yesterday for lunch on the drive back home to Brooklyn, I spotted a sign for a fast-food place that shall remain McNameless, and suggested we stop there. My husband said that sounded good to him, too, so we pulled off at the next exit, sat and enjoyed our food, and then went on with our epic day of driving, feeling satisfied and happy.

It was a perfectly mundane, uneventful lunch—something that millions of people do every day—and yet to me, it was incredibly meaningful.

Because as we sat eating our burgers and fries, I thought back to a Thanksgiving road trip I’d taken to Boston with an ex more than a decade earlier that was an entirely different experience.

There was no relaxed, spontaneous decision-making about where to eat on that trip, because I was cutting out gluten and a couple of other foods at the time—a decision primarily motivated by my disordered eating, and seemingly justified by the constant digestive problems it was causing.

I didn’t (and still don’t) have celiac disease, a genuine medical condition that truly requires a gluten-free menu; instead, I was blaming gluten for my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a nebulous constellation of digestive symptoms that only began when I started restricting my eating and overexercising in my early 20s.

I didn’t realize that my disordered eating was actually causing my digestive problems.

Instead, I got caught up in the ideas—novel at the time—that gluten and dairy and a whole host of other foods might be responsible for the discomfort I was experiencing.

I fell down a rabbit hole of cutting out different foods to see if it would help, becoming so obsessed with what I thought I “should” and “shouldn’t” eat that I couldn’t go anywhere without scouring menus or traveling with Tupperwares full of my own food.

I’d done the latter on that fateful Boston road trip—although of course I hadn’t packed enough food to truly satisfy my hunger, because again, disordered eating—and I became increasingly irritable and upset when the holiday traffic added hours to that trip, too.

Instead of being able to meet my needs to the best of my ability in that situation, I was so locked into my disordered beliefs about food that I refused to deviate from my woefully inadequate menu—and ended up a miserable, hangry mess in the process.

The trend of cutting out foods in the name of digestive health has only become more and more mainstream in the decade-plus since that uncomfortable road trip, and as a result there are millions of people out there struggling with the same things that I did.

Diet culture’s latest incarnation, The Wellness Diet, would have us believe that ANY ailment is directly caused by the food we eat—and that’s especially true when we’re experiencing digestive discomfort.

As a result, often our first reaction (and sometimes that of health professionals) is to reflexively blame what we’re eating and start cutting out different foods in an attempt to find relief.

That’s completely understandable—nobody wants to experience pain, and we’re all constantly told that food is the culprit.

What diet culture doesn’t tell us, though, is that our gut actually communicates closely with our brain, and there’s a strong link between mental-health challenges and digestive issues.

So when you're worrying about food, obsessing over what you can and can’t eat, and stressing out about your health in general, that may actually be making your gut symptoms worse.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

My guest, friend and fellow anti-diet dietitian Marci Evans, joins me to discuss the intersection of digestive disorders and eating disorders, why disordered eating causes gastrointestinal problems, and the dangers of doing elimination diets.

We also delve into the role of the gut microbiome in digestion and health, and how to care for our GI tracts in truly holistic ways. Plus, I share how I’ve learned to manage my own IBS without cutting out foods—or making myself miserable on road trips.

This episode is already becoming a fan favorite—check it out right here to hear this great conversation!

Here’s to dropping the disordered eating and finding relief,


P.S. If you’re ready to stop stressing about food, come join my intuitive eating online course. It’s designed to help you break free from The Wellness Diet's rules, so that you can feel relaxed and joyful in your relationship with food—and in your life as a whole.

If you’re not quite ready to dive into the full course yet, I also have a 5-day intuitive eating mini course to give you a taste of freedom from diet culture, so that you can start building a foundation for deeper healing.

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The Truth About Having "A Lot On Your Plate"

I now officially have less than a month until my book manuscript is due—easily the most important deadline of my professional life to date.

I’m genuinely psyched about everything I’ve written so far (and I wish I could share it all with you RIGHT NOW instead of having to wait until it hits bookstores in late 2019!), but I’m also racing to fill in the gaps and smooth out the rough edges before sending it to my editor at the end of the month, while also trying to keep up business as usual with the podcast and my online courses and social media.

It’s a lot. I’m exhausted.

Whenever I talk to friends and family about how I’m managing it all, I often hear the phrase “you’ve got a lot on your plate,” meant as a compassionate way to commiserate with my feelings of overwhelm, of having more on my to-do list than I can manage.

I always appreciate the sentiment, but I’ve been thinking about that phrase, and I’ve realized that when it comes to what’s on my literal plate—as in the food I eat—I wouldn’t even have the ability to work on these amazing projects if I didn’t have a lot.

I wouldn’t have gotten all of these opportunities if I didn’t have a lot of food on my actual plate.

I’m fortunate enough not only to be able to afford food, but also to have a peaceful relationship with food that allows me to live in abundance instead of the scarcity imposed by diet culture—and that allows me to do this work.

I’m lucky to have a lot on my plate now, because I didn’t always.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I was never fully present in my writing because of my gnawing, ever-present hunger, invasive thoughts of food, and constant trips to the kitchen.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I never could’ve led courses on making peace with food and breaking free from diet culture, because I had no idea how to do those things myself. I was drowning in disordered beliefs about food and my body.

Ten or fifteen years ago, I had a hard time even getting out the door in the morning because I felt so overwhelmed by body shame and worries about what I would eat that day. And for several of those years, my life was organized around my compulsive-exercise schedule, so that my creative energy was constantly getting cut off in favor of punishing forms of physical activity.

Back then I didn’t have enough on my actual plate, but I had way too much diet-culture nonsense on my mind and my calendar to be able to achieve my goals in other areas of life.

That’s what diet culture does to so many of us (regardless of body size, although people in larger bodies also have to deal with the added injustice of weight-based discrimination), which is why I call it The Life Thief.

Diet culture stole a decade of my life, and that’s what it did to my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, too.

Before she became a psychotherapist and school counselor, Christine Yoshida got caught up in the world of fitness culture and “clean eating,” and fell down a rabbit hole of trying to diagnose her digestive issues by taking more and more foods off her plate.

She shares how the pursuit of thinness and fitness detracted from her life, how she eventually broke free and made peace with food, why the diet mentality can make health problems worse, and so much more.

Check it out here, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Here’s to having a lot on your actual plate,


P.S. If you’re ready to reclaim your life from diet culture, check out my intuitive eating online course. It’ll help you stop getting caught up in The Life Thief’s traps so that you can start pursuing the things you really want in life.

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How to Honor Your True Hungers

We’re all born with a strong connection to and innate trust in our hunger cues, but diet culture and other experiences of trauma can disconnect us from those internal signals, to the point that we create a relationship of distrust between our brains and our bodies. 

Over time, the more we ignore our hunger (or are unable to honor it for whatever reason), the more we erode our bodies’ abilities to trust us.

That’s why eating enough is so important in recovering from deprivation—because it helps our bodies learn to trust us again.

And by the way, even if you think you eat “too much” by way of bingeing, there’s actually an underlying environment of lack, of not-enough. Binge eating is a response to deprivation, not a matter of willpower.

So when you practice responding to your hunger at even the subtlest levels, every bite you take helps you heal from the trauma of deprivation.

It shows your body that it’s safe, that you’re no longer in a famine, and that it can start to relax around food.

What if you don’t have any hunger cues to honor? That actually means your body needs even more TLC, even more consistent eating, in order to come back from the deprivation that was imposed upon it.

It means your body was so deprived that it basically stopped even trying to get its needs met, like a neglected child who knows their cries won’t be heard.

So for you, too, the solution is showing your body that it won’t be deprived anymore, and that means eating consistent meals and snacks, even if you don’t feel hunger cues.

When you recover from deprivation in this way, slowly you’ll start to rebuild trust with your body, and eventually you’ll get back to the place of being able to recognize and honor your hunger the way you were born doing.

For all of us, the key to the process of healing from deprivation is feeding ourselves, both literally and figuratively:

Literally, you need to FEED YOURSELF FOOD—enough of it in general, and a wide enough variety that you can feel full, satisfied, content, and not deprived of the things your body needs and your mind wants.

And then figuratively, you need to feed yourself anti-diet resources to unlearn diet culture’s rules and re-learn how to feel and trust your body’s innate wisdom about food and movement.

You need to stop reflexively filling your mind with “diet food” and start nourishing it with truth.

When we consistently feed ourselves in these ways, we let our bodies and our brains know that we won't be depriving them of food any longer.

Once they trust us again, they can relax, and we can reclaim the peaceful relationship with food we were born with.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

It’s a repost of my conversation with Rachel Estapa, a size-acceptance advocate, yoga teacher, and the founder of More to Love Yoga.

We discuss the connection between physical and emotional hunger, why diet culture's promise to "fix" us is so alluring, and why rediscovering our true loves and desires in life is essential to recovery from dieting.

Rachel also shares how the practice of yoga helped show her the path to body liberation, how an acute illness led to an unexpected truce with her body, and lots more.

Tune in to the episode now to hear this great conversation—and if you're celebrating Labor Day today, I’m wishing you a happy one!

Here’s to honoring ALL your hungers, 

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What Is Diet Culture?

If you're familiar with my work, then you know I'm all about dismantling diet culture. But what exactly is diet culture? It's a term that gets thrown around in anti-diet spaces without a lot of unpacking, but it's incredibly important to understand so that we can recognize how it's showing up in our lives and fight back. Here's how I define it:

My Definition of Diet Culture

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health. 

Diet culture doesn't just mean “being on a diet,” because you don't have to follow any sort of official diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting.

Moreover, some people may eat in a way that they refer to as a diet for legit medical reasons (e.g. diagnosed celiac disease, diabetes, etc.) and not actually be engaging in diet culture (which, I should add, is very rare and hard to do, since diet culture has its tentacles all up in the medical field).  

I've worked with hundreds of people who think they're not dieting, but when we dig into their relationship with food, they realize that they're pursuing “wellness” or “health” in a way that looks veeeeeery much like a diet. 

That's a form of diet culture that I call The Wellness Diet, and it's rampant in the 21st century. “Clean eating,” detoxes, cleanses, the overuse of elimination diets, carb restriction, gluten phobia, “ancestral” diets, and performative health all fall under the umbrella of The Wellness Diet. The weight-stigma aspect of diet culture may be de-emphasized in some iterations of The Wellness Diet, but the moralization and demonization of food is front and center.  

There are many other forms of diet culture, too. It's a sneaky, shape-shifting thing that robs people of their time, money, health, happiness, and so much more, which is why I've nicknamed it The Life Thief. It can be hard to spot, and yet in Western culture, it's everywhere. 

To learn more about diet culture, how to recognize it, and how you can reclaim your life from it, check out some of my writing on the subject, and tune in to my podcast, Food Psych. I'm also working on a book about diet culture that's coming out in 2019, so be sure to check back here for more info, or pop your email address in the form below to stay in the loop.

Diet culture is a form of oppression, and dismantling it is essential for creating a world that's just and peaceful for people in ALL bodies.

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What Diet Culture Gets Wrong About Health

Food is so much more than nutrition.

When we eat, our bodies don’t just absorb nutrients and move on.

The act of eating is a complex experience, and it involves a lot more than just giving our cells energy (although of course giving them *enough* energy is essential, otherwise you end up in this situation).

Food is also about satisfaction and socialization and community.

It’s about pleasure and flavor and tradition.

It’s about creativity and connection.

It’s about SO much more than the nutrients. In fact, nutrition is just one small paragraph in the story of how food has functioned throughout human history. 

But The Wellness Diet—the modern guise of diet culture that pretends to be all about “wellness”—looks at food only in terms of nutrition, of physical health.

That completely misses the major role that food plays in mental health and well-being.

This negation of the mental and emotional aspects of food belies The Wellness Diet’s claim to be about “holistic” health.

*True* holistic health means considering your mental well-being just as much as you do your physical health. 

If your mentality about food and movement makes you feel obsessive and anxious rather than nourished, then I don’t care how much kale you’re eating, you’re NOT actually supporting your health.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

It's a repost of one of our all-time fan favorites, in which religious scholar Alan Levinovitz and I discuss how diet culture turns nutrition into a religion, totally negating the mental and emotional aspects of health.

We also discuss why “food as medicine” prescriptions should come with a warning label just like medications, why you don’t need to listen to diet culture’s fearmongering about gluten, and so much more.

Check it out here to see why this is one of our most beloved episodes of all time, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode!

Here’s to TRULY holistic health, 

P.S. If you’re ready to heal your relationship with food and your body, come check out my intuitive eating online course and community. It’ll help you break free from diet culture, so that you can care for your well-being in a real way—mind, body, and soul.

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