Food Psych #208: Media, Wellness-Diet Culture, and the Power of Language with Maxine Ali

Maxine Ali.jpg

Body-image researcher, writer, and linguist Maxine Ali joins us to 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! 

Maxine Ali is a linguist and body-image researcher, with a BA (1st Class Hons) in English Language and Linguistics, and a MSc in Medical Humanities from King’s College London. Maxine’s research interest is how the language of health impacts body image, self-concept and identity.

Having begun her career as a health journalist at the height of London’s wellness boom, Maxine experienced first-hand the perils of diet culture and its destructive physical and psychological effects. In 2017, she left her job as a wellness editor to obtain an MSc in Medical Humanities, examining the role of disembodying language in female experiences of eating disorders, obesity and disability in her thesis. Drawing on her background in linguistics, she began using her platform to dissect the language of wellness and lift the lid on the toxic hidden messages around food, health and body image. Find her online at

We Discuss:

  • Maxine’s experience of having a smaller body from a very young age

  • How weight changes due to ulcerative colitis and medication side-effects affected her body image and relationship with food

  • How her personal experiences have influenced her research on the language of wellness and body image

  • Health as a guise for disordered eating and a desire to lose weight

  • The conflation of health and wellness with thinness

  • Wellness culture, and how it relates to privilege

  • Racial objectification, and how it contributes to feelings of disembodiment and higher rates of disordered eating

  • Maxine and Christy’s experiences as health and wellness journalists

  • The rarification of wellness

  • The prevalence of disordered eating in health and wellness media

  • Why journalists aren’t always the best judges of scientific information

  • How Maxine became interested in her current research

  • How wellness culture markets itself as a way to empower women when it actually does the opposite

  • Why diet culture is a form of “elective oppression”

  • The problem with neoliberalism in health and wellness rhetoric

  • The role of language in changing the discourse around health and wellness

  • The “non-diet diet paradox,” aka the co-opting of non-diet language by diet culture

  • How to recognize some of the sneakier forms of diet culture, such as The Wellness Diet

  • Why health isn’t the only goal of intuitive eating

  • Healthism, and how it intersects with diet culture

  • Unpacking our own internal biases

  • Embracing imperfection in intuitive eating


Resources Mentioned

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