In both my professional and personal experience, going on an elimination diet is likely to trigger or worsen disordered eating. If you already have some restrictive thinking about food (which most people living in diet culture do), an elimination diet is like pouring gasoline on the fire.
We’re finally starting to see this acknowledged in the literature, as in this study: As the researchers put it, “strict adherence [to] a low-FODMAP diet should raise the suspicion of a possible underlying eating disorder.”
If you’re someone who’s done elimination diets without any harm to your physical or mental well-being, cool—this post isn’t for you.
But given that disordered eating affects the vast majority of women and likely an even greater percentage of trans folks, as well as many cis men, I’d say having a wholly positive experience with elimination diets is FAR from the norm.
So if you’ve struggled with disordered eating in the wake of an elimination diet, know that you’re not alone—and that it’s not your fault. The diet—and diet culture in general—are the problem, not you.
And to all the healthcare providers out there, PLEASE educate yourself on disordered eating, and don’t trigger it in your patients by prescribing elimination diets willy-nilly.
There are some conditions for which the science on eliminating particular foods is airtight (e.g. celiac disease, anaphylactic allergies, phenylketonuria). But for many other conditions, the science is much shakier—and there are lots of better ways to treat, with far fewer unintended consequences, than prescribing a diet.
The overprescribing of elimination diets is just one of the many forms of the Wellness Diet—the sneaky, modern guise of diet culture that pretends to be all about health and wellness, but is actually just another form of the same oppressive system that brought us fatphobic beauty standards and a multi-billion-dollar diet industry.
This week’s episode of Food Psych addresses some of the other manifestations of the Wellness Diet, and the ways they cause harm.
My guest, Maxine Ali, is a fellow journalist who covers health and wellness, a fellow chronic-illness warrior, and a body-image researcher with a background in linguistics. (In other words, she’s fascinating and so knowledgeable about this intersection of “wellness” and diet culture.)
We discuss why wellness culture is really about privilege, not health; racial objectification and how it contributes to feelings of disembodiment; how to recognize when diet culture is co-opting non-diet language; the power of language in changing the discourse on health and wellness; and so much more.
Here’s to eliminating diet culture from ALL of our lives,
P.S. If you’re ready to make peace with food and heal from disordered eating (rather than just fanning the flames by cutting out foods), come check out my intuitive eating online course. It’ll help you stop spinning your wheels on diets that just leave you feeling more imprisoned, so that you can reclaim your time and mental space for the things that truly matter.
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