This week, join Rachel and Steph as they discuss all things eating and not-eating and how it relates to religion. They give some historical examples of fasting and other ascetic practices, but also get into the religious language we use surrounding the modern food and dieting industry.
Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search Nearly Numinous.
Blog post: Religion in Diet Culture by Rachel Devenish
Hello, everyone, and welcome to Nearly Numinous. I’m Rachel and today Steph and I will be talking to you about the intersections between diet culture and religion. I have talked a little bit before on the show about my interest in this subject. So I’m excited to have a whole episode to discuss it with Steph. I’ll give you a bit of an introduction into how I got into this topic through some historical context for religious fasting and starvation. Then we’ll dive into religion and modern diet culture. But first, I would like to note that this episode does come with a trigger warning because we will be discussing sensitive topics like body image and disordered eating. And we are not in any way promoting restricting food or exercising in unhealthy ways. But we will be discussing examples of those communities who do. So you may or may not have noticed that there are very particular ways we talk about food where we tend to ascribe value to different types and amounts. So for example, like, we might say, chocolate is sinful or having a side of fries instead of salad is being bad, or you should want to detoxify and purify your body or focus only on clean eating. And like most people, I think I grew up hearing these things but didn’t really reflect on whether or not ascribing value to foods is helpful or even necessary at all. And I became aware of it in high school when it really took its toll on my mental health. I continued my research into it during my undergrad. I wrote an essay a few years ago focusing on how modern manifestations of eating disorders relate to historical examples, religious fasting, and came across the term anorexia mirabilis, otherwise known as holy anorexia. And that was really the inspiration for this episode. But before we get into that more, I think an important topic to talk about would be asceticism, since that’s a term that is really linked with not only Christianity, but just like religious fasting and restriction and deprivation in general. So Steph, could you give us a bit of an explanation of asceticism?
So I did some research on asceticism as it specifically pertains to a lot of ancient Greek practices. And in the ancient Greek context, it was referred to as ascessis. So it’s a little bit different from what maybe contemporary asceticism is, but I thought maybe we could start at the beginning there. But basically ascessis this was a seen as a form of discipline, and practice, and basically just like a habit formation. So in the ancient Greek realm, I looked at this specifically on the basis of sports and athletics. So this form of ascessis was a version of kind of discipline where you really focused on the task at hand. So for athletes, it was their practice, it was putting their body through crazy things just to kind of get to that state of success, especially when it came to athletics. And for many people, I mean, we all know that in the Greek world, like the Olympics, and you know, any form of sporting event was usually done as a way to honour the gods. So, there is a very distinct connection here between the idea of like training your body, and really focusing on your body itself in order to please the gods. So when we kind of see how this moves into asceticism in the contemporary age, and how we view it, the current kind of contemporary approach to asceticism is the neglect of basic bodily needs, in order to kind of achieve this more divine experience. So for some that can be extreme meditation. So when we look at something in like the Buddhist community, that that kind of extreme meditation and what we view the Buddha as doing, like neglecting bodily needs, whether that’s sitting in meditation for days, sometimes that means not eating for days, and it’s just kind of trying to separate yourself from that worldly experience in order for you to fully embrace this divine kind of mental state. And this kind of is seen to be an advanced connection with the gods. So we also see this in extreme Christian monastery practices. And I believe Rachel will get into that a little bit more later. But it’s the idea of starving yourself, and to use maybe less extreme words, fasting, so that you can kind of create a more deep connection with God because you’re kind of neglecting those needs so that your body is only relying on what God can provide of you.
Yeah, and I guess, I would say that starving is really like the higher end of restricting food like, I mean, depending on how you define starving, it can just mean like consuming no food at all, which some ascetics did, or only consuming certain foods like bread or rice, or only having, only restricting one type of food.
Yeah, it’s like a spectrum for sure.
Especially when it comes to like, and it can be anywhere from you can see, like really basic forms of asceticism, even just in a normal setting where you just deny certain pleasures for yourself in order to create that connection with God. So this can even be seen and how, you know, priests are celibate, right? Like that’s kind of seen as neglecting a certain worldly pleasure in order to create that more divine connection. But it can also even just be not eating high sugary foods, you know, we see this with maybe, like, Mormons will oftentimes not have things like caffeine, or other stimulants, because they’re seen as kind of creating this certain pleasure that denies you a deeper relationship with God.
Yeah, absolutely. So branching off that topic of asceticism. After learning about it, I did some research in my undergrad on asceticism and like I said, came across holy anorexia, which is a term used to describe the ascetic and restrictive and sometimes destructive behaviours, typically among medieval Christian women that were used in order to bring them closer to God and salvation. So for instance, fasting might be seen by some of these young religious women as a way to purge their body of sins, avoid giving into bodily and earthly urges, so that they can grow spiritually, like kinda like what Steph said before.
So can you maybe explain what the difference is between anorexia nervosa and anorexia mirabilis?
Yeah, so this is something that I want to talk about later on, too. But anorexia, mirabilis is specifically referring to sort of retroactive diagnosis of medieval Christian women who fasted specifically for the purpose of achieving salvation. And anorexia nervosa is a modern mental illness diagnosis that is defined as restricting food intake. So there’s a little bit of an interesting dynamic there with medically diagnosing people who lived hundreds of years ago versus medically diagnosing people now. And there’s, what I looked at in the essay that I wrote years ago was this connection, specifically in religiosity between the two and that I argued that there is some religious roots or language or influences in modern anorexia nervosa.
So do you find… Like, I’m really interested in the history of this, especially because I think we’re gonna talk a little bit more specifically about how this really links to contemporary diet culture and things like that. But I would like to know a little bit more about your research, especially when it comes to like, what, if you know much about like, how this started why this was seen as such a holy endeavour? And kind of like where we often saw it. So like, was this in more with like, nuns specifically, or was it just any Christian woman?
Yeah, I’m going to have to reach back because this was an essay I did in second year. So it was quite a while ago and also, if I looked back on it, probably really not that good?
Yeah, that happens to me a lot. I read old essays. And I’m like, Oh, I know the ideas there. But like the communication of it was just garbage.
I know, it’s just awful, but from what I remember. So, this is something that happened, like among nuns, but it was also just something that women in the general population would engage in like, it was a lot easier for men to sort of find community and connect to God. I mean, men were kind of seen as connected to God more, more automatically, by nature of being masculine, intellectual, less bodily, less worldly. And women were more seen as connected to their bodies and the earth, and therefore less in touch with their spiritual side or less able to be connected to God.
I find that hilarious, because I would say in the contemporary age, the assumption’s the opposite.
The stereotypes that like men are just like more driven by their bodily needs, to put it real friendly. And women are the ones that are more like in touch with their emotion and their spirit and stuff. It’s such a change.
I know. And I think you do see that there’s, I mean, maybe I shouldn’t, don’t quote me on this. But I think there are more religious women than men these days.
It seems to be at least I think, maybe, maybe it’s just the interpretation that we take from that. Because I would also say that women tend to, and I would like to just clarify, I’m going off a very traditional gender typing here. But a lot of the very traditional men and women and you know, what we view as men and women identify, men are typically less likely to talk about their religious belief system. Whereas you know, my mom and I can sit down and have a conversation about our religious beliefs, what we view God as being, what we view our connection to our religion as being, whereas me and my dad never have those conversations. But my dad still goes to church, he still is a religious guy, we just don’t talk about it. He’s less open about it. So it almost maybe comes across as like, you know, men are maybe not as religious when it’s really just they don’t talk about it as much. I don’t know.
That’s very true. That’s a good point I hadn’t thought of
Sorry, my cat’s scratching my door, I’m just gonna let her in. Recording from home is really fun!
Yay! And building off that, I think like, at least going back many years, like decades and centuries, the public sphere was more of like, a men’s place in the private sphere was more of like women’s space. And since women were more like restricted to the private space, they kind of had to find different ways to sort of develop and strengthen a connection to God rather than like, you know, less through theological discussions with other people, it was more like a personal matter, at least from my understanding. And restricting food, sort of modifying your body or modifying changes in your life, in order to be saved in order to have a closer relationship with God was more accessible for women, when they were more restricted in their ability to worship God. So I touched on before about the value we attribute to certain foods but what really interested me when looking into the topic was that a lot of the language used in diet culture is either relating to religion or even explicitly religious. So for instance, the example I used before was that chocolate is sometimes described as sinful, or the language around clean eating implies that other types of eating makes you dirty, or the unwritten or sometimes actually written rules that exercise or restricting are should almost be used as a punishment for you know, being bad to your body or with food.
And there’s even that kind of discussion that I noticed a lot in contemporary like health and fitness especially that you have to kind of work for and earn your food as well which kind of fits in that like punishment almost, right, like it’s kind of like a direct correlation that you have to suffer before you can enjoy the pleasures, right? And you know, you always see those posts of like, “I did a two hour workout so I earned this a doughnut.” It’s like, “I exist as a human being, therefore I earned a doughnut, thank you very much.” “Today was hard, everyday is hard, you deserve that donut.” I think too, it kind of goes back to that, like ascetic principles, right of that, you in order to really have the peak, the pinnacle of a full pleasure experience, like whether that be from a religious standpoint of being fully embraced by like, whatever Holy Spirit, religion, enlightenment that you’re trying to achieve, in order to have that kind of pinnacle of experience, you need to suffer first. So you need to neglect yourself of things first. And that really is mirrored in this like how we talk about food, how we talk about, even just like if you’re trying to achieve the perfect body, you need to suffer in order to do that, which means you need to have like flavourless food, something like chocolate is sinful. Because, you know, it’s, it’s bad for you. And but because it’s a pleasure, right? Like, it’s not even necessarily like chocolate at the end of the day is not bad for you. You know?
Yeah, in order to reap the benefits later on, whether that’s like, you know, the ideal afterlife or the ideal body you have to suffer right now.
Yeah, exactly. So I’m curious, though, too. Before we kind of get too much into the modern diet culture piece. I am curious if you know much about like, are these ascetic practices still practiced today? Like, do we have evidence of them, like occurring in, you know, contemporary, more monastery or monastic traditions?
Um, I’m not so sure about contemporary Christian practices regarding asceticism. But I mean, I more know about like asceticism involved in Hinduism, and even though Buddhism is about the middle way, there’s like some arguably ascetic practices involved in Buddhism as well. So I’m not really sure about the Christian side of I mean, at least I was, what I am going to talk about later is like, the Christian influence on modern diet culture, but I’m not so sure about the current Christian… Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t know what I’m saying.
I know exactly what you’re saying. Yeah, I think, from my perspective, anyway, I’m not sure what happens outside of like the North American context, when we refer to this because I feel like the Christian experience outside of North America is vastly different. And sorry, not necessarily just North America, maybe like the Western Christian experience is very different than what might be happening in other parts of the world. But I know, at least in the North American context, I don’t hear much, especially from a Protestant standpoint, I’m sure from a Catholic one as well. There’s not a lot of like anorexia mirabilis that’s really, at the very least, it’s not promoted. And nobody talks about it in that sense. But I do think that there is, I distinctly remember when I was going to camp, we would have as part of, like our staff training, we’d have one day where we would fast and that was seen as you know, we would spend a lot of time alone in like meditation and prayer. Sorry, not meditation. You don’t call it meditation. In prayer.
And yeah, and it was all about creating this, like deeper connection between yourself and God, and like finding that kind of guidance, especially like to prepare ourselves for like, because we were counselors. I wasn’t a counselor, but like, all the staff did it. And like you were seen as like, you were going to be guiding these children. So like, you needed to have this really deep connection with God. And so like, this was a very important day during our training. So it wasn’t necessarily said as being like, asceticism or neglecting, you know, like food, neglecting pleasure, etc. But that was kind of the unspoken like, that’s what you were doing, right? I mean, I think the difference is though, like we did this for, not even I don’t think we even did a full 24 hours. I think it was something like we had breakfast and then we didn’t eat again until like, a late dinner or something. But either way that was still this is still something that’s really celebrated and you know, I think I hear about it in other instance, as well, where when people really feel like they need additional guidance from God or whatever, godlike figure that you worship, in order to do that, you fast and you take the time to focus solely on your relationship. And it takes away the time of you know, needing to eat needing to prepare food, but it also takes away these distractions, right, because when you start to feel hungry, the idea is that, instead of nourishing your body through food, you’re nourishing your body through spiritual means.
Yeah, exactly. And thinking about it. Now I can kind of see how fasting could come into more like evangelists, like Protestant evangelism, like with purity culture, specifically, I think a lot of the purity culture is like, specifically around sex and lust and all that, but I mean, bodily urges like hunger. That’s just another, that’s just another example of succumbing to your body’s desires. And I can, I can see how it might play a role there. But I’m really not sure. And it’ll be interesting to look more into that.
Mm hmm. Yeah, I could see that being definitely a point of conversation. And I think that’s also something, I’m curious as well, though, if that’s something that isn’t really focused on outside of the Christian church. So for example, if you were as like a non-Christian person, if you were having a conversation with your Christian friend, they might not focus on things like that, because I think that’s seen as like, if you were to say that, like your religion is a ladder, right? The first rung is just like going to church, or, you know, participating in a community. You know, one of the top rounds would be like doing things like purity-based practices, so doing things like fasting, celibacy, things like that. And so that’s not necessarily something that would just come up in everyday conversation. So I’m wondering if it’s maybe just more widespread than we’re even realizing it because I, as somebody, I don’t really spend a lot of time in highly religious circles these days, you know.
That’s true, it could be sort of like an unspoken or more of thing that is involved in tight-knit communities that you and I on the outskirts of those tight-knit religious communities wouldn’t see.
Mm hmm. When I think even to take a step further, I’d be curious, and maybe we should give our good old friend Sam a call. I wonder if he would have anything to say about, Because I’m sure that looking at diagnoses of hysteria, I’m sure some of it probably accompanied extreme fasting. I think we did talk about that a little bit in our episode. I don’t know if you remember more specifically?
I think I do. Yeah. And I do remember coming across the word hysteria and hysterical women, when I was researching holy anorexia, and like fasting and starvation among medieval Christian women, they, it gets tied together, it’s a very gendered thing.
So Rachel, you’ve kind of mentioned like, not only, you know, we kind of talked about up until this point, the idea of fasting within religious traditions and why they’re used but you did mention that there’s a lot of links between the language we use when it comes to fasting or asceticism and purity, and how that functions in modern diet culture. And I’d really like to know a little bit more about that, especially like as it pertains to how those movements happen, either associated with religion or even just separate from religion.
The sites and communities I’m going to talk about are not as easy to find online these days, as a lot of them have been reported and removed for glorifying mental illness, eating disorders and self-harm, as they should have been reported. They the sites, communities and individuals label themselves as pro-Ana meaning pro-anorexia or pro-Mia meaning pro-Bulimia. And they involve a community of people who wish to lose weight and encourage themselves and each other to do that by sharing photos and videos of skinny people, body goals, measurements, exercising and more called fitspiration or fitspiration. And sometimes these hashtags sort of filter into more general diet communities online, like Twitter, but they a lot of the time are born from directly in these pro-Ana and pro-Mia communities.
It sounds like there’s a bit of a difference between like what you might see on some like fitness and Instagram influencers page that’s like, quote unquote “fitsbo” versus like what’s in these communities. It sounds like it’s maybe like quite a bit more extreme in these communities versus like just, you know, muscular and skinny, I’m inspiring you to work out versus like, I’m inspiring you to purge, right?
Yeah, particularly with thin-spiration, it’s not about being healthy. It’s not about even sometimes being like attractive through being skinny, it’s specifically about being skinny, about being pure, and about being, about like sticking to these rules. Rather than like bettering yourself as a person, you’re sort of diminishing yourself as a person. So in this way, disordered eating not only becomes an integral part of the user’s identity and the way they see themselves in the world. But it’s also a big part of the people they surround themselves with. So, on these sites and accounts, you can see a lot of allusion to religion, via the language and terminology used. So for instance, one of the things that can be found online are the thin commandments, which is an obvious allusion to the 10 commandments, but it involves rules that require the follower to become pure, attractive, and strong, specifically through starving yourself. And sometimes the rules are even written in a similar way as the 10 commandments, such as by beginning with “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.” For example, number two on the list that I brought below is, “being thin is more important than being healthy.” Number four, “Thou shalt not eat without feeling guilty.” Like, they’re really, it’s not about health, it’s about sort of punishing yourself, diminishing yourself in the pursuit of this ideal goal of skinniness, and purity and perfection.
I think it’s interesting too, with, like, the language around perfection, purity and guilt, all three of those words, I really see as being driven by this kind of idealized vision, which you see a lot in like religion as well, because, you know, in order to be the perfect person, you have to be pure, right? You have to, like, there’s this guilt that comes along with it, if that makes sense. You know, and I think too, right? Like, it’s, it’s like, it’s called the what is it, the Christian guilt, or something is a term that’s often used, especially by people who have left the Christian church. And again, so I’m speaking specifically from Christianity, because that’s just what I know most. But I’m, I’m sure this happens in other religious traditions, too, especially like the idea of purity, and making yourself this quote, unquote, perfect image, right. And I know, this can also go back to the idea of like, the imago dei, right, and like, making yourself to be as godly as possible. And in order to do that, you have to make yourself as pure and as perfect as possible as well. Regardless, like, obviously, I’d like to say here that there’s very different, this is a very different view of what perfect means. A lot of people, you know, there’s healthier views of what you think perfection is too, right? Like, it’s not necessarily bad to strive for perfection, it’s just when you have these unhealthy characteristics associated to it can be quite dangerous. So I’d like to just like say that as well.
Do you mind explaining what imago dei means?
Mm hmm. So imago dei is in the image of God, I guess. So. It’s like to quote it directly. So it’s this idealized image, basically, that humans were created in the image of God. And in order to be as godlike as possible, you need to match that image of God, if that makes sense. So like to put it into the context of, you know, this diet industry, extreme dieting industry, in order to make yourself this perfect human form, you have to be as close to God as possible. And it’s quite interesting, because I mean, from my personal opinion, you know, and I think a lot of people’s opinion, is that that we’re created in the image of God or we’ve created God in the image of us and so how we kind of create this view of perfection really plays into that theme. And so even going back to like what I was talking about in like Greece, and that kind of asceticism, when you put it in the realm of you know, athletes for example, you will equate these statues of athletic heroes, you say, “Oh, they, those looked like the Greek gods” like that’s what we think that Gods look like. I can even think about, like, you know, when you look at images of like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his OG bodybuilding days, a lot of Pete like the language used around that is just comparing him to this like godlike figure, because it’s seen as like he has the perfect body. So we’ve kind of melded this like imago dei vision into what we think the human body should look like. And that’s what like, we’ve kind of taken that into a whole new realm when it comes to health and fitness. And, you know, I mentioned bodybuilding as well like, that is another example of just like, how we view the human body and how we compare it to this idea of perfection. And granted, bodybuilding is a good example of like, you can be just aiming for this great physique, not a big deal. But as soon as you kind of like take it, almost deeper than that, when it becomes a lifestyle, when it becomes an identity. It almost becomes your religion and you strive for this purity and you strive for this perfection, to the point where it’s a form of asceticism or purging. And, and that can be extremely dangerous as well.
Yeah, I think imago dei also might have played a role in the asceticism of women, like hundreds of years ago, especially like, if we’re created, supposedly, in the image of God, and God is a man, than like, what are women? Are women created in the image of God? Are women lesser than men, because they’re not specifically created in the image of God and like, is the only way to become closer to God through sort of diminishing or destroying anything bodily or womanly, about yourself?
Well, it’s interesting, you bring that up, too, because I mean, aside from just like the religious implications of it there, there is really a movement happening right now where we’re starting to see just how much women’s bodies have been neglected when it comes to especially like research and expectations of women in the health and fitness industry. There is, I think, Dr. Stacy Sims, I think her name is she’s doing a lot of work about like her motto is women aren’t just tiny men, which I think is pretty funny. But it’s true. You know, it’s kind of, up until this point, a lot of women have strived to have the same results that men typically have when it comes to health and fitness. They’re trying to be like men, whether that’s a strictly like patriarchal thing, or if it’s directly tied to this religious language as well, and this version of like, the imago dei. And so what we’re seeing as well is things like, you know, not to get too TMI about this, but like women’s menstrual cycles, for example, you know, that is an extremely important part of the female system. Whether or not you’re choosing to reproduce or not, that is still a function that needs to be happening, right. And if it’s not happening, that’s actually quite dangerous. But what we see is that oftentimes, when women use approaches like just to draw from a specific diet industry right now, like keto, for example, like women need healthy fats in their diet for a healthy reproductive menstrual cycle, and when they’re not getting enough, like carbs, and fats, and etc, it can affect that. Whereas when you see men, which is what like the keto diet was originally researched on, men do it, it’s not a big deal. It doesn’t affect them to a great amount. But with women it does. But then, I mean, even on top of that, up until recently, it was almost seen as like a successful thing. Like when women no longer had their menstrual cycle. It was like, Oh, you’ve lost enough body fat that you don’t have that anymore. So you’re you’ve reached the pinnacle.
Yeah, like you finally overcome that.
Yeah, like you’ve overcome what it means to be a woman. You’ve now matched yourself to a man. Closer to being God-like
Yeah, I’ve seen that for more like the psychology health field a bit too, like, historically, the way we understand the human body and the human mind is from the standard of man. So when we study like women, and find them different from men, then it’s sort of seen as like women are lacking compared to the standard of what it is to be a human aka man. Yeah, that was a little sidebar, but sort of go back to imago dei and being a God, being in the image of God. In these pro-Ana and pro-Mia communities, you might also see Ana and Mia being personified or like, worshipped as goddesses. And you can specifically like see this in the imagery or descriptions of them being like, perfectly thin and much holier for it, sort of like this ideal to strive for, or like, someone you can pray to, for strength to, you know, be as perfect as them.
I think, too. There, there is a really interesting quote that I came across when I was doing my research on asceticism from a scholar that studies the like the Olympics, but more from like an ancient Greek perspective and utilizes like philosophies for understanding performance enhancement technologies, and things like that. But she kind of pointed out that the way we worship these kind of gods and heroes, is how we’ve kind of turned into worshipping these athletes. And even in ancient Greece, she kind of said,” ancient athletes were not heroes, rather, they reenacted heroic struggles, thereby experiencing heroic virtues and inspiring both artists and spectators to bond with the higher ideals implied by their shared belief in Divine ancestry.” So especially when you kind of put this like language about the hero, and like the heroic struggle, especially, that brings into this kind of idea of the in order to be that hero or that God or that Goddess you have to be part of that struggle. So like, it’s interesting, too, that the way you’re saying these, like pro-Mia, pro-Ana groups are personified into the Goddess. It’s it’s that struggle that’s being personified, if that makes sense.
Yeah, absolutely. And that, that word “virtue” is such an interesting word like to be virtuous in these circumstances. Like, the only way to be virtuous is specifically to struggle.
Well, so on the topic of virtue, when it comes to talking about ascetics, specifically, and again, going back to a bit more of my research, a lot of the things that had to do with asceticism were surrounding this idea of this struggle, but it was because there was a celebration of struggle as being virtuous. So in order to have that kind of virtue and be seen as a virtuous person, you did have to do like, be part of the struggle. I found a lot of work, especially Aristotle talked a lot about this, especially when it came to the struggle of habit building and habit formation was what made you, what gave you moral virtue. So it wasn’t only just being that ideal person, so it wasn’t just being skinny, it wasn’t just being fit. Because, I mean, even when you bring into context, like a lot of people who struggle with anorexia, it’s not because they’re fat at all right? Like, it’s not because they’re legitimately overweight. It’s because it’s always striving to be skinnier, right? It’s always striving to like, quote, unquote, be better. Not that I’m saying it’s better to be skinnier by any means. But it’s not about the, I guess, it’s not about the where you’re trying to be, it’s about struggling to get there. And so it’s really, that’s where the virtue comes from. And that’s where becoming this virtuous person comes from his in like this habit building in this struggle, you know?
Yeah, completely. And I think like, these days, I think ascribing to diet culture is seen like as a virtue or like, at least connected to virtues, like strength and willpower and accountability. And all these can be achieved via mental and physical struggle, by way of like, restricting food, or over-exercising or all that. And you could say, these are healthy examples of virtues, like you think like strength is a good virtue. Well, power is a good virtue. But then on the opposite side of that is that if you aren’t dieting, if you aren’t exercising, then you might be seen as weak or you don’t have any willpower or like, you’re not virtuous, you’re not good and you can, like you should punish yourself for it or you should, you know, do something to change that.
I think it’s interesting to using the word willpower, because that’s definitely Something that you hear a lot. I even remember, back when you know, watching cable television was a real thing. I remember all the commercials, especially when, you know, with things like 100 calorie snacks when it was like, you don’t need the willpower anymore, like, you don’t need that. You just need these small snacks, right? So like that idea of willpower is like so big. And I think especially if you’re trying to be the most perfect physical form you can be a lot of it comes down to willpower, which seems like such a harmless word, but when you really think about it like that is, yeah.
Yeah. And it’s mistaken to, like, if you there’s a lot of new research these days coming out that saying, like, willpower is like, only a small part, if apart at all of like, you know, the way your body functions, the way it craves food, the way it the way you try to lose weight, it’s not like, it’s not about being a stronger weak person, like this is biology. And I mean, dieting is supposed to be, or it seen is supposed to be like overcoming your biology.
Yeah. Especially when it comes to things like you were mentioning cravings. You know, the research that’s been done recently, but I think we’ve kind of always known this just nobody talked about it was that when your body is craving something, it’s because your body needs that, you know, it’s not that, you know, and it can sometimes be masked as things, right. You know, like, there’s things about, like, when your body’s craving salty food, it can be because you’re deficient in certain minerals and things like that, and you get them from those salty foods. So it’s not necessarily about if you’re trying to use your willpower to overcome those cravings, sometimes it’s actually dangerous. And oftentimes, it’s dangerous, because your body needs something it wants, like it needs to get something. Now, there’s something to be said to about different food addictions. And that’s a whole other conversation that we’re not even bringing up right now. But from like, the average person standpoint, you know, if you are for the most part, like baseline healthy and your body’s craving something, you shouldn’t be using your willpower to neglect yourself of that you should really be figuring out what your body needs. And using that, you know, there is no virtue in starvation. Just point blank, despite everything we’re talking about today, right?
That’s where, like, that’s where I think the religiosity comes in, like, the willpower. If you don’t have it, you can pray to God for extra strength. Or, like, if you do have the strength, it’s like, you know, it’s God-given or like, maybe it’s not, like, it’s more to do with your brain, which sometimes historically has been more connected to God, then to do with your body, which is, you know, historically been connected, like, you know, the earth being away from God being more worldly rather than otherworldly.
For sure. And that goes back to kind of what I was saying earlier that, you know, for people that fast, it’s, it’s about rather than nourishing your body, your nourishing your soul. Right, so there’s that like, disconnect there as well, where again, if you’re eating, you’re nourishing your body, whatever, but you really need to be nourishing your soul. So you know, ignore that. And, you know, pray instead. Which, yeah, that’s, that can be really dangerous, really dangerous. Yeah. Actually, there was one other topic that I thought was quite interesting. And I don’t know if it’s going to be give as much of a conversation, but something I’ve really noticed. So I am somebody that definitely has kind of been pulled in by like the health and fitness community, both in like healthy and unhealthy ways for sure. I’ve never been one to starve myself. Food is just too good. I can’t do it. I have no willpower, so to speak. But one thing that I really have noticed is that when you look to health and fitness influencers, and I don’t know why this is, and I don’t know if this is maybe just something that I’ve accidentally come across, but I’ve noticed that a lot of them are Christian women, a lot of them. So people that I follow on Instagram, especially ones that like do like fitness blogs and cooking blogs and things like that a lot of them have Christian roots. And I don’t know if that’s just because obviously most people I follow are from North America. And typically in North America, people tend to be more Christian, especially like kind of in their 30s right now. Or if that’s like if it’s just a fluke, but I do find it quite interesting. It seems to be these two, like put a stereotype on it, what often happens is it seems to be white women in their 30s, who have young kids that really seem to be pulled into this diet culture. And I don’t know, if I feel like there’s definitely a link there between this kind of wanting a certain spiritual connection, wanting to be a certain way for your family, for your husband, for your religious community, that really ties into like, why a lot of these women end up being these health and fitness people. And even more so, I like there’s definitely something to be said about, like, why they typically tend to be the health and fitness people that end up being influencers, right? and being like taking the time to really try to like teach and almost like evangelize their health and fitness to other people, right?
Yeah. It really is sort of like evangelizing. Like, if you look at these health and fitness influencers, it’s very, I don’t know how to describe it, it’s very, all-consuming, very pervasive, like it influences or it like it seems to online, every bit of their life. And all they kind of do is preach, and say like, you need to join this movement, or like, this is why joining this movement would benefit you. Would like, I think, even these days, people will say like, it’ll make you healthier spiritually too, if you, you know, join in on this movement. It’s not just about being healthy, like physically and mentally, it’s about being healthy spiritually too, like, if you want to be healthy in all aspects of life, including, like, spiritually fulfilled, like, this is one of the things you need to do like this, and this and this.
Yeah, well, and it’s interesting, too, because I’ve so often heard this kind of movement being called the cult of wellness or the wellness cult, right. And so, you know, you put that name on it too, right? “Cult,” you know, like, it’s pulling people in, it’s this evangelizing, you know, you’ve got your charismatic leaders. And, again, not to go, you know, as a religious study scholar, we could go into the nitty-gritty about calling it a cult, but that’s a whole other thing. But, you know, like, that kind of word still brings out certain thoughts about what this group is, right? You know, and it’s true, they, they pull you in, they sell you stuff, they make a buck off you with these charismatic leaders who convince you that the only way you’re going to be a worthy person is by being part of their group, right? And so that’s kind of like, that’s where I think, too, you know, there’s different levels of, you know, you’ve got the pro-Ana and Mia groups that we were talking about that, that are super, super dangerous, because it actually is detrimental to your our physical health. But then you get even these ones kind of where they’re not necessarily detrimental to your physical health, because you know, you’re working out, you’re eating healthy, not a big deal, that’s a good thing, right? You know, you’re eating the food, you still need to be eating, you’re taking care of yourself and all of that. But then there’s still this pressure. And this kind of community that you’re told that you need to be a part of. And I even think of just for like, my own personal example, I a couple years ago, I got really involved with like the Tone It Up community, right. And for me, that was awesome. Because I was in a really rough place mentally, like I was not doing too well, I’d gained a ton of weight, I wasn’t healthy, mentally, physically, etc. And so I found something it was easy for me to do. It was like 15-20 minute workouts every morning, and I just did them and it was great. But then on top of it, it pulls you in with these like, Girl Power stuff, right and like having a community of people but then on top of that, there’s also this sort of pressure to like, buy all the products like I don’t know if you’re familiar with like the Tone It Up community, but they have like their own protein powders, they have their own workout equipment, they have an app, they have, like cooking, like nutrition plan books, they have live events that you can go to. And at the end of the day, if you’re going to be like totally involved in this community the way you should be, quote, unquote, then you’re going to end up spending like 1000s of dollars a year like I know people not personally but like I know of people that would spend like 1000s of dollars on like round trip planes tickets just to go to some event that they were hosting. And it’s insane, but it’s also like you need to do that to be part of this community. And if you’re just doing the workouts every day, like you’re not being held accountable, you know, and like, that’s a whole other thing is like that accountability language too. You know, so like, again, if you’re not showing up to the church of Tone It Up every single day, then you’re bad at your religion. And you’re not a truly invested person, you know?
Yeah. Yeah. And these, like, the health and fitness experts and like companies and communities, they really like, they really tend to draw in vulnerable people. But the thing is, like, this diet mentality is so pervasive in our culture, that it’s such a slippery slope for pretty much anybody to be drawn in these days. Like, it’s like, you’ve got the charismatic leaders that you can just see on Instagram, like, you scroll past it, you see it. And maybe you don’t like read the entire thing, but it’s still in your head. And then you’ll see more of them on your timeline. Like, it’s just so completely ingrained in our culture that it becomes ingrained in our mind and sort of leaves us vulnerable to, you know, even if we are being, quote unquote, healthy about our body and food choices we might still have an unhealthy mindset.
Definitely, yeah. And I think too, it really sucks you in because it tells you that you have a healthier mindset because of it. And now, in all fairness, like going back to my own personal experience, I did, I saw a huge shift in my own mental health state, my physical health state, how I was just going about my day to day life improved drastically while I was part of this kind of community. But that being said, it got to a point where it just wasn’t sustainable for me, and I either needed to move on and do something else, or really continue to invest more than it was really giving back to me. And I mean, I think luckily, I wasn’t as invested in this community as some people get. So for me, when I kind of stopped being interested in it, I just moved on. Not a big deal, you know, and now like, I have a healthier relationship with health and fitness and I continue to do it, but I’m not really part of this like group. But I think there are people that you see, they’re just part of this group for like years, and they can’t get out of it. You know, you even see it with things like Weight Watchers, right? Or, or even just another, like going back to that keto thing. Again, you know, what ends up happening is, if you stop doing it, then you see all this weight gain, right? And like the only reason you’re healthy, and the only reason you’re in this position is because you’re doing this one thing, you’re part of this one movement, and it works for you. But then again, as soon as you stop being keto, people put on a ton of weight, because it’s not a sustainable diet, right. And so you see that happening a lot to where yeah, you just, it might be healthy for a certain amount of time. But it’s just knowing when you’re pulled into the cult, and you can’t get out versus, you know, when you actually are making healthy decisions about your own life and what you need for your own personal growth and development.
Yeah, I guess, at the end of the day, kind of what we’re trying to say with this episode is
I think it’s just be wary of what you attribute virtue to.
And, you know, diet culture sucks.
Yeah, diet culture sucks
Just flat out?
But I think too, especially, you know, I think how we view virtue and morals, and how we create our worldview is inherently religious. Whether or not you want to call it religion or not. And I think that’s kind of what we get at this whole podcast whenever we talk about anything, right? Like there’s religion is so intertwined with everything that we do, and how then we view our morals and our virtue is directly affected by how we associate our life with like, every individual choice we make and like, how the marketing of these things prey on your desire for virtue and morals, when that needs to come from within you, I think. Not to get all like self-development “Woo-woo” crap. Like, you know, I think, yeah, don’t look to these communities to tell you how to live a virtuous life, you know?