alternative medicine

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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Food Psych #87: How to Trust Your Intuition about Food with Daxle Collier

Daxle Collier - Intuitive Eating Coach

Intuitive eating coach Daxle Collier shares how food insecurity affected her relationship with food, how a series of health problems led her down the path of restrictive dieting, how she got back in touch with her intuition, why perfectionism around food is so destructive, and lots more.

Daxle Collier is an intuitive eating coach who helps people heal their relationship with food and create an authentic self-care practice. She offers remote coaching, online courses, and local San Francisco Bay Area workshops.

Daxle blogs about intuitive eating, mindful eating, self-care, joyful movement, stress reduction, and the process of change. Her work is rooted in mindfulness, self-compassion, and the HAES principles.

She holds a masters in health education with specialization in nutrition from John F. Kennedy University, and has also completed Intuitive Eating Counselor Certification, Training and Supervision with Evelyn Tribole and Coach Training with Linda Bark of Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy. Find her online at DaxleCollier.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

We Discuss:

  • Daxle’s relationship with food growing up, which included having a mother who was a chronic dieter, an early intuitive relationship with food despite surrounding influences, and an eventual tumultuous relationship with food that began in her teenage years

  • How Daxle used food and exercise to rebel and to fit in with her friends at school

  • Daxle’s experience with food when she transitioned to college, including exploring vegetarianism and trying to learn how to cook and buy groceries for herself with limited means

  • Medical issues that cropped up for Daxle, which created a complicated relationship with Western medicine and eventually influenced her to explore alternative and holistic health

  • Daxle’s education in “functional nutrition,” including experimenting with the Paleo diet and eventually realizing that this diet was worsening her health

  • The ways in which American culture encourages suffering around our health

  • The danger of experimenting on ourselves with nutrition, and how easy it is to convince ourselves that certain food choices are the “magic bullet” to health, even when we are experiencing the opposite

  • Daxle’s journey to intuitive eating, including her experience doing the counselor training with Evelyn Tribole

  • How being in the Health at Every Size bubble can make us forget that intuitive eating and HAES aren’t the norm in the medical community and our culture as a whole

  • The ways in which learning about mindfulness, self-compassion, and intuition outside of our relationships to food can open us up to the world of intuitive eating

  • How important it is to break down our ideas and assumptions about foods in relation to the diet mentality before we jump into intuitive eating so that we can experience foods in an untainted, non-diet-centric way

  • Daxle’s job as a wellness coach, which does not include telling people what to eat

  • Why intuitive eating is not the “hunger and fullness” diet

  • How to not turn self-care into self-punishment

  • Daxle’s experience with peer support and how her classmates helped facilitate her journey through intuitive eating

  • Daxle’s emergence into the professional world as a health coach, including how she started her own business, and how difficult it can be to market in a world dominated by diet culture

  • The struggles of intuitive eating and letting go of weight loss in our fat-phobic, health-centric society

  • The problem with encouraging the idea that individual health is a personal responsibility, rather than considering the influences and social-justice issues that impact individual health

  • Daxle’s current relationship with food and her body, including the peace she’s found and the social media cleansing she has had to do

  • The question of body love versus body acceptance, especially in the face of chronic pain or disability, and choosing body trust over body hate

  • The systemic issues that create health problems

  • Daxle’s dream of intuitive eating and HAES eventually being the norm rather than progressive


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