We are not well.
I really appreciate this conversation Anjali. I see so many new nutritionists and dietitians come into the field because they think it's a way to short-circuit becoming an influencer. I interviewed someone for a clinical role once who basically sat there saying they wanted to get lots of followers and write a book and I had to stop myself from screaming 'THAT'S NOT IT' in her face, poor lamb. I also HATE the way nutrition professionals weaponise their credentials to shut down any lived experience and stop people from tapping into their own instincts about what feels right. I like the emphasis in both motivational interviewing and client-centred care on 'de-experting' ourselves and wish this was a more integral part of training (instead of what we have now which is the antithesis).
Also. Dude has an eating disorder. Can we stop pretending like if that was literally any woman in the world that she wouldn't have been raked over the coals about this behaviour? But because it's couched under tech-bro-biohacking-optimisation language he gets a free pass?
P.S. reading this book, sounds so so interesting.
Thank you for this! The whole thing was such an important and, as usual, nuanced read.
I reread this part several times: "To me it reveals a hollowness that in other cultures is filled with the solid reassurance of a cultural cuisine whose shared practices provide norms and rules that can't be dislodged by any old TikTok influencer or doctor who wants to write a bestselling book. Without that solid center, we are lost; we just want someone to tell us what to do in 10 simple steps." Whew!
Things I ruminated on as I read: The cultural bankruptcy of whiteness. The drive to become wholly responsible for one's health as a means of control. The weird tension between longing, on one hand, for hyper-individualized wellness routines and, on the other hand, for an expert's blanket Ten Rules For Everyone On Earth To Follow Religiously and Achieve Peak Health.
I spend a lot of time in "anti-diet" spaces and it's so interesting to see how these same broad, blanket optimization strategies can be replicated by people who are, on the surface, totally opposed to the Peter Attias of the world. Many of the anti-diet commandments ("just eat the damn cake!") ignore the realities of navigating things like food insecurity, medical apartheid, and systemic anti-fatness, especially as a marginalized/racialized person.
One person I think brings lots of nuance to food conversations is Jessica Wilson. I've been reading her book "It's Always Been Ours," which directly tackles the role of white supremacy in food/wellness/eating disorder treatment spaces. Her analysis is so smart and rooted in the uncomfortable histories and realities that many nutrition and ED experts want to ignore. I also really appreciate her sharp take-downs of mainstream white anti-diet practitioners, whose critiques of "diet culture" are limited and narrow ("just eat the damn cake!")
From her book: "Staying in a place where eating cake is liberation protects those who directly benefit from upholding whiteness and thinness from having to address the far greater and more complicated legacy of white supremacy and its contribution to anti-fatness."
Very linked, in my mind, to Michael Pollan's idea of cooking as an act of "resistance."
(Sorry for the rambling comment — this piece just sparked a lot of jumbled thoughts for me today!)
This really resonated for me: "But we can't sell nuance in the same way, not when what people crave is rules and certainty, and so we are pressured into publicly prescribing absolutes." This is something I think about all the time and have no solution for. On one hand, people really want information about nutrition and they are going to find it somewhere, legitimate or not. And I do believe that high-quality nutrition research can teach us a lot of potentially useful things - not as directives but as small pieces of information to help guide our individual decisions, considered in the context of so many other factors. But the caveats are so difficult to communicate and often get left out in the interest of simplicity and directness, as you said. In research we generally look for overall trends - you just can't do a study that looks at associations among every possible subgroup with all possible combinations of characteristics. There are often many potential sources of bias and we just account for them as best we can, and acknowledge what we can't control for when we communicate our findings. We try to be clear about who our results might or might not generalize to. And we have to consider any one study in the context of other studies and reflect on conflicting findings. All of this nuance is generally lost when nutrition science is communicated in the media (and of course there is so much nutrition "information" out there that is not scientifically based at all). I am not a clinician but I imagine that it is incredibly difficult for dietitians to apply study results to their individual patients, especially when they have conditions or other characteristics that are not typically (or ever) studied or represented in research.
I also kind of laugh at the term "nutrition expert" - to me that means someone who understands that there is a ton that we don't really know about nutrition and how what we eat is related to health, and that we are always learning new things that challenge and sometimes completely contradict what we thought we "knew" before. Anyway, I appreciate you starting this conversation - it is a complicated but important one to have!
Thank you for this! This quote "There is a sadness to our insatiable need for "experts" to tell us what to eat and how to live. To me it reveals a hollowness that in other cultures is filled with the solid reassurance of a cultural cuisine whose shared practices provide norms and rules that can't be dislodged by any old TikTok influencer or doctor who wants to write a bestselling book. Without that solid center, we are lost; we just want someone to tell us what to do in 10 simple steps." really hit me hard.
I am a certified personal trainer, currently in university to become a registered dietitian. But, being in the fitness space, I constantly get people asking me for nutrition advice and I have to remind them that I don't (currently) have the certifications and qualifications to provide them that help. People are always shocked when I tell them what it takes to become an RD, yet they look for help from 'nutrition coaches' online or trainers with no nutrition background.
But yet, even as a dietitian, the goal is not to tell people what to do. It's to work with them with the knowledge we acquired in school, and the clients knowledge about their body and lived experience.
I am currently very into Costco's chicken salad (from the prepared deli section) eaten with Ritz crackers. They also have excellent produce so I can continue to fund my children's profound berry addiction.