“banish the bloat”: how diet culture language keeps us from integrating

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our goal as humans, whether we’re talking about our health & wellness or living a fulfilling life, is to be integrated.

“integrated” means that all aspects of our experiences have a seat at the table–including what we don’t like or understand about ourselves. rather than getting left out of the room or shoved into a corner, these things are invited to be part of the conversation because our bodies, minds and spirits work as a whole.

there are things we’ve been taught to dislike about ourselves, or to worry are wrong, and we tend to react with fear and frustration rather than curiosity. terms like “banish” or “beat” serve to “other”–isolate or blame–our bodies & experiences, pitting us against ourselves.

i recently got a “banish the bloat” email from a wellness company and posted a poll in my instagram stories, asking if folks thought this was diet culture language.

for context: bloating is one of the ways our bodies communicate with us about their experiences and needs. while uncomfortable, bloating is not *the* problem, but rather a *symptom* of a problem. to say that bloat needs to be banished is to assign fault & blame to our bodies for not “working right,” for having needs that aren’t being met, or for communicating those needs to us.

i was thrilled to see that most of you were able to call out this language. for those who weren’t, i hope it gave you a moment of pause and curiosity.

why do i call out these seemingly innocuous instances of diet culture? because just like other systems of oppression (racism and misogyny, for example) diet culture is meant to keep us in shame, fear & hate. it is not a structure intended to make us more vibrant & fulfilled, and because it’s been in place for so long many of us can’t identify when it’s at play.

diet culture carves our experience into what’s working well & what’s going wrong, rather than encouraging us to be holistically present & curious. diet culture discourages our systems from striving for integration. but you have agency over how you want to experience your body & your life, and when you say no to diet culture you help shape a world in which we trust, honor & love our bodies–which is the fertile soil for health.

intro to diet culture

when i look back at my childhood i remember being a chubby kid.

i was self conscious about my weight, about what i ate and how i was perceived by others. my mother modeled this for me in her own preoccupation and fear–and, fueled by diet culture’s 90s DIY vibe, she instilling in me her self-taught patchwork of beliefs about nutrition and weight.

the thing is, i wasn’t overweight. to my knowledge, no doctor ever labelled me as such, recommended dieting, or gave my mom advice to watch what i ate or be concerned about my weight; this was something she did that entirely on her own, based on her own experiences and fears. 

in reality, i was an athletic, fit kid who was fairly healthy (aside from some asthma and undiagnosed anxiety). but between what i was learning at home and what i saw in movies and magazines, i was on high alert about my body and using disordered eating habits to cope.

when i went through puberty early and found myself suddenly bigger and curvier than my classmates, the switch flipped from disordered eating to full on eating disorder. i didn’t need any medical proof that my weight or body size were an issue when here was the proof: my body was wrong,  i had done a bad job, i was fat. diet culture had warned me and i had failed.

the irony is that developing an eating disorder did eventually make me fat. it divorced me from an ability to interpret hunger and fullness cues; it put my body into starvation mode, sometimes for years at a time; and restriction led to binge eating behavior, whether followed by purging (as part of my eating disorder) or not (as part of my short-lived, DIY recovery attempts).

***

diet culture tells you that without rules and restrictions your body will be greedy or unregulated, that you’ll eat too much of the “bad” stuff and/or not enough of the “good” stuff, that you’ll get fat or stay that way.

when diet culture tries to pretend it’s not diet culture, it tells you that the rules & restrictions are for your health: the “wrong” stuff is what’s going to make or keep you sick, while the “right” stuff is what will heal you and keep you well*.

the worst, most insidious thing diet culture does is dissociate you from your body and its needs, then tell you that it’s empowering you to be in the driver’s seat on your way to feeling (and looking) your best.

diet culture is a guy who sets your house on fire and then rescues you from the burning wreck–literal gaslighting.

diet culture is so pervasive, and takes so many forms, that most well-meaning people have no idea that it’s a problem. it shows up everywhere, from tv shows to family gatherings to medical & wellness training. we internalize it as medical advice, even when it’s never been told to us by a medical professional; the deprivation & restriction (as well as the idea of “cheating” & “treating”) that are such a common feature of diet culture mirror the “no pain, no gain” attitude that we’ve conflated with work ethic.

***

there is an element of unlearning diet culture in every one of my therapeutic relationships, and i am left wondering, for myself and for my patients. living in a world in which the validity of diet culture is a foregone conclusion, what could someone have said to me that would have kept me from believing this? what questions could i have been taught me to ask to peel back the propaganda and learn how to truly empower myself?

it is a human right, and a foundational need for true health and happiness, for our minds to live in partnership with our bodies, for our bodies to be our home, and for home to feel safe. my hope is that in sharing my healing journey you will feel inspired to share yours, and that collectively these stories will inspire further healing. what i fight for when i speak out against diet culture, ultimately, is our right and ability to come home to our bodies. 

so, please, share your journey. post a comment, send me a DM, or pass this post on to someone who needs to read it. help me learn more about what you’ve learned (or hope to learn!) and how you’ve survived–let’s help everyone come home.

 

*this is a complicated conversation, because certain foods can exacerbate health concerns while others can alleviate them–but that is a completely different framework, and to be determined based on your individual experience and needs, with the help of a wellness professional.

re-parenting around the idea of “treats”

 

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for most of my life, i felt crazy alongside classmates and peers who could have a few bites of a “treat” and put it down. throughout childhood, college, and into adulthood–even as i learned the “self control” of eating disorders–i believed that something was wrong with me, some defect that kept me from having the lack of interest others seemed to have about “off limit” foods.

when @theantidietplan posted the following thoughts on instagram yesterday, it helped me reframe those painful memories in the context of what i know now:

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we grow up in a world that tells us in one breath to buy more candy and in the next that we should be stronger than eating it. this is the world that informs how we’re parented, and how we’re parented informs how we learn to feel about food–and, subsequently, about ourselves.

[side note: while there is no virtue in not craving what we culturally refer to as “treats,” feeling out-of-control about cravings may have a physical component that compounds the programming we’ve received. it’s possible to explore this with a holistic wellness practitioner using a non-diet approach!]

i’m grateful for what i’ve learned about myself and about the world that has allowed me to have compassion and flexibility in my food choices. i’m proud of myself for developing a trusting relationship with myself that allows me to make and honor these choices.

personalized wellness & the role of a practitioner

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i get a lot of questions about what my nutrition practice entails, and what makes it holistic. since i generally don’t post the kind of content we’re used to seeing from wellness practitioners on social media–what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, advice for treating medical conditions, or the promotion of specific supplements–i see how my role as a healer may be unclear!

a large part of what inspired me to practice wellness through a holistic lens was my frustration with not being treated as a unique and whole individual, and i believe that a truly effective wellness practice is rooted in, as @thepointacu writes, “a completely personalized, and personal, experience.” 

what does de-personalized medical care look like? a common practice is treating symptoms without consideration of their root causes–which means without consideration of the patient as a whole.

that was certainly my experience with allopathic (ie conventional) medicine. at various times, i was prescribed pharmaceuticals for depression, anxiety, panic attacks, migraines, asthma, allergies, an autoimmune thyroid condition and a chronic illness called cyclic vomiting syndrome. i was rarely** asked about my diet, hydration habits, digestion, sleep hygiene, chemical exposure, history of trauma or whether i had a support system, among many many other things that can both inform and improve symptoms. i was never** referred for complementary treatment, like chiropractic, acupuncture or nutrition.

[** = with the exception of working with integrative MDs or DOs]

unfortunately, someone practicing from a holistic framework can be just as prescriptive in their recommendations, especially on social media. take a suggestion to treat constipation with magnesium instead of a laxative, for example. it’s a great recommendation, and certainly gets closer to treating the symptom at the root. but without knowing what specifically is contributing to someone’s constipation, this recommendation will nonetheless lack the individualism absolutely critical to holistic treatment, overlooking the underlying reasons for a symptom and what they may be communicating about a body and its needs.

we’ve been told that practitioners–whether the ones we seek care from in person or ones we encounter in articles, books or online–are experts, and that their job is to tell us what’s wrong with us and how to fix it. and while they may truly be experts in diagnosing conditions and treating symptoms, a practitioner is not an expert in YOUR experience–and it’s the specifics of YOUR experience that are the key to sustainably addressing YOUR symptoms and system!

in my opinion, the job of a wellness practitioner is not just to tell you what’s wrong with you or how to fix it–even though that’s what we’ve been programmed to believe and expect. rather, it is our job as your healers to be your partner on your journey of healing, to help support you in the curiosity, awareness, and skill-building necessary to empower you to have an experience of wellness and fulfillment.

i believe that healing requires the following (very personalized) things:

  • an ability to listen to AND hear our bodies
  • an understanding of what they are communicating
  • access to a toolkit of things that help meet our bodies’ needs
  • knowledge of how and when to use the contents of such a toolkit

in short: CURIOSITY, AWARENESS, TRUST, RESPECT, RESOURCES, LITERACY, PATIENCE and PRACTICE.

and in my opinion, the role of your practitioners should be as your PARTNER on the journey of wellness, to teach you and help you implement and practice these building blocks of healing & wellbeing.

i do think non-individualized wellness education plays an important role, especially at a time when many of us seek out health info on social media. for example, if no one ever told you about a more preventive or holistic approach you wouldn’t know to seek it out! but i think it’s important for this information to go in-hand with a recommendation to consult a practitioner and determine what’s appropriate and effective for YOU specifically.

the truly magical thing to me about a holistic approach is the feeling of empowerment that can come from understanding and seeing how every aspect of what goes on physiologically, emotionally and environmentally is interconnected in our overall experience. but this awareness can definitely feel overwhelming, especially if it’s new, and it may seem easier to turn away from it and shut it down.

please know that getting support so you can feel safe & empowered in your own experience is where the relief & sustainable solutions are. people like me are that support! so if you have questions about holistic wellness or about how to find appropriate care for any dis-ease you’re experiencing, please reach out! you can read more about how i practice, find me on instagram at @healwithmasha, or schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

more content, over on instagram!

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did you know that there’s LOTS of content that doesn’t get posted on the blog? most of my cooking and produce posts and many shorter posts can’t be found here, as well as any content i repost from other practitioners. visit and give us a follow at @healwithmasha!