Food Psych #94: How to Leave the Religion of Dieting with Alan Levinovitz

 Alan Levinovitz

Religious scholar and journalist Alan Levinovitz discusses how diet culture is like a religion, why so much modern nutrition advice is dangerous, why we need to think critically about restrictive eating practices, how suspicion of Western medicine can lead people to believe in harmful "miracle cures," why the "nocebo effect" is causing people to unnecessarily demonize particular foods, and lots more.     

Alan Levinovitz received his PhD in religion from the University of Chicago where he specialized in classical Chinese thought. He is now assistant professor of religious studies at James Madison University, where he teaches classes on religion, Chinese philosophy, and the connection between religion and medicine. His journalism focuses on the intersection of religion, science, and culture, and has appeared in The Atlantic, Wired, The Washington Post, Slate, Vox, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat (mild trigger warning for frank discussion of diets and eating practices). Find him at James Madison University and on Twitter at @AlanLevinovitz.

 

We Discuss:

  • Alan’s enriching and satisfying relationship with food growing up, including his experience with food as an art form

  • Alan’s experience with body image throughout his life, as well as his differing experience in the world due to his male gender identification

  • How ignoring the personal experiences and struggles of people around food and focusing on the logic can make healing one’s relationship with food seem simplistic and easy, even though it is anything but

  • Debunking dieting, and the ways in which the attachment people have to their belief systems around dieting closely resembles the attachment people have to their belief systems around religion

  • The dogma of nutrition and dieting

  • The power of media representation of the body

  • Alan’s journey into religious studies, including his eventual transition into dietary and food studies as a kind of religion

  • The “nocebo effect”… sometimes, if we are told something is going to make us feel bad, it will

  • Some of the restrictive practices of religion, and the intersections of diet culture and religion

  • The decline of religiosity in relation to the ascension of diet culture

  • Eating as ritual

  • How restrictive religious practices can sometimes spark disordered eating and eating disorders

  • The specific practice of Lent, including how some people view Lent as an opportunity to diet

  • The ways in which some of us deceive ourselves in order justify restrictive practices around our food

  • False promises, charismatic hope, and prosperity gospel

  • How the power of the mind can convince us that food is both healing us or hurting us

  • The issue with the ‘holistic’ health movement, including the intense scrutiny against Western and mainstream medicine

  • Self-identity within our food values and dietary practices

  • The seduction and subsequent failure of black and white rules in relation to food, and how to embrace fluidity instead

  • Buddhism as a path to mindfulness, intuitive eating, and eating disorder recovery

  • How important it is to remember that all bodies are individual, and therefore dietary practices that promise to heal and work for everyone should inspire caution

  • The danger in obsessing over productivity, output, and quantifying every aspect of our lives

  • Putting warning labels on diets and exercise tracking devices like FitBits

  • The importance of not pathologizing sadness, bad body image days, and other negative emotions that are just a part of life

 

Resources Mentioned

 

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