We're all on the journey.
February 10, 2023
Emotional Eating: Unraveling the Impact of Diet Culture on Our Wellbeing with Dr. Marcella Raimondo

In this episode, we’re exploring the Complex Relationship between Food, Emotions, and Society with Dr. Marcella Raimondo. Marcella is a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders while creating body and food liberation ...

In this episode, we’re exploring the Complex Relationship between Food, Emotions, and Society with Dr. Marcella Raimondo. Marcella is a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders while creating body and food liberation through social justice.

Armed with her B.A. from UC Berkeley, and Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Michigan. Marcella’s desire to address eating disorders drove her to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology. Until 2005 she worked with About-Face, a nonprofit organization that addresses media impact on body image serving as the Director of Media Literacy. Today she is on the Board of Founders and a consultant - serving on the Advisory Board for the Association of Size Health and Diversity (ASDAH).

Marcella noticed that society's diet culture was not invested in people's well-being, but instead in keeping them chasing after a goal. On a trip to Italy, she saw people of all shapes and sizes enjoying ice cream and being together, without judgment. She realized the importance of a holistic relationship with food and the need to remove self-imposed judgment.

Armed with her B.A. from UC Berkeley, and Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Michigan. Marcella’s desire to address eating disorders drove her to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology.

Until 2005 she worked with About-Face, a nonprofit organization that addresses media impact on body image serving as the Director of Media Literacy. Today she is on the Board of Founders and a consultant - serving on the Advisory Board for the Association of Size Health and Diversity (ASDAH).

Today, we examine the impact of diet culture on food insecurity and our mental health, and the inherent power social influence has over our overall well-being.


In this episode, you will learn the following:

1. Exploring the Complex Relationship between Food, Emotions, and Society

2. Examining the Impact of Diet Culture on Food Insecurity and Mental Health

3. Investigating the Role of Food in Coping with Trauma, Emotional Deprivation, and Self-Harm.




JOIN US ON INSTAGRAM: @thelightinsidepodcast

SUBSCRIBE: pod.link/thelightinside


Featured Guest: Dr. Marcella Ria


Credits: Music Score by Epidemic Sound

Executive Producer: Jeffrey Besecker

Mixing, Engineering, Production, and Mastering: Aloft Media Studio

Senior Program Director: Anna Getz

--- Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/thelightinside/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/thelightinside/support

Marcella, I'd like to discuss with you today how many of us have a love hate relationship with food. And although our eating habits are designed to nourish, enrich and sustain us, for certain segments of our population, their eating habits pose a genuine threat to their overall emotional, mental, and psychological wellbeing. And our eating habits can frequently be viewed through the lens of our social and cultural models of interaction within the framework of a quick overview hitting the key target objectives of our conversation today, what role do you feel a healthy outlook at our dietary habits plays when addressing our overall well being? Let's start there, if we might, today.


Speaker B 00:00:45
All right, you just went right for it.


Speaker A 00:00:50
Juicy, vein, right up front.


Speaker B 00:00:53
First, our relationship with food is complex, and that's not a bad thing. So I just want to start that off. And because food is so many things food is family, food is community, food is celebration, and that's a wonderful thing. Food is also emotional, and we might have, like, oh, that's not a good thing. And yes, we certainly don't want our emotions to take over, but at times, food does comfort us, and that's not a bad thing. Where it starts to get tricky is that I feel like food is deep our relationship with food. There's family, it's emotional. And then we have our society diet culture, and you'll hear me use that word a lot in that diet culture is not invested in our well being with food. You're not going to convince me otherwise, but no diet culture is invested in keeping you with the most disharmonious relationship with food so that you engage in chasing some kind of goal, namely weight loss. And a lot of it through your relationship with food. It is not invested in your well being. It is not invested in your health. It is not invested in your happiness. It is invested at keeping you in this mindset so that you will spend all kinds of money and pursue all kinds of things. I'll just call them things because in order to have this health and harmony and happiness, where we get hooked on that is because of our emotional relationship with food. It's hard for us to think rationally, like, wow, I don't think this is working, or, I don't think I'm supposed to be cutting out all this food or eating only this food. And also, we live in a society that I think you can get very judgmental on our relationship with food, what we do, what our bodies look like. So not only are we judgmental, but decisions about who's in and what you get and what opportunities are afforded to you are based on your body and what society says is a healthy, acceptable, attractive body. So we're also pursuing that because we want to belong, not realizing, again, this isn't about belonging. This is about fitting in because nobody wants to be left behind as human.


Speaker A 00:03:40
Beings, social acceptance is considered a core basic need, therefore influencing whether or not we feel left behind. Because social rejection thoughts a core human need, it comes as no surprise that it influences a variety of our outcomes emotional, cognitive, behavioral, biological, and neural. In terms of emotional response, how does this interaction tend to increase our experience of negative emotions?


Speaker B 00:04:07
So this is why this is all so disharmonious. I remember pre pandemic, of course, I went to Italy, and I forget where I was. Just there's a lot of town centers. And you walk in and you're literally in a square, and there's people around, and it was like a 09:00 P.m, and it was warm, it was summer, and I was looking around. Everybody had ice cream. Everyone was just eating it. I could hear chatter and there was laughter. People were just chatting and looking at each other and engaging, and everybody was eating ice cream. And I was like, yes. These are those moments where we have this harmonious relationship with food. We're enjoying ice cream. Everyone was there with their cone or their cup enjoying themselves, just being together. I didn't feel negative energy. I didn't hear weird talk about, oh, I'm going to have to work out tomorrow, or OOH, blah blah, blah, blah blah, because there was a lot of English being spoken and that is the language that I speak and understand. But it just felt like we're just here and we're together and we're enjoying ice cream. Yeah.


Speaker A 00:05:27
I think here, at the outset of our conversation, it's ultimately essential that we establish, we develop our habits from what I like to associate with those eight dimensions of wellness, that framework or model. In that model, it basically establishes that wellness is a holistic approach that's vital to improving our outcomes as human beings. You know, assessing our overall experience, our state of collective embodiment. From that regard, are we engaging that healthy model of emotionality? Are we looking at it as good and bad? Or do we release some of that subjectivity and look at it? Is this healthy, unhealthy? Is this adverse beneficial? That kind of steps maybe perhaps out of some of that initial framework of stigma that automatically starts to trigger some of those emotional reactions. Of course, set of aside and we start to see that looking for that happy environment of food in this case. So with that regard, you've often mentioned how eating is an emotional interaction and that can be both adverse and beneficial in forming our perspectives.


Speaker B 00:06:47
Yes, absolutely.


Speaker A 00:06:49
What effects do our emotions play when forming our perspectives on eating habits both adverse and beneficial from this perspective, then absolutely.


Speaker B 00:07:00
I think if we can remove so much of the judgmental lenses and really the really harsh criticism of like when you engage in emotional eating, you're undisciplined, you're lazy, you're bad, you're disgusting. I have spoken with folks. This is my work. And the words and labeling that one uses. I'm like, Whoa, that's really harsh. And almost like, I'm having trouble listening to you and I'm here to listen. Like, wow, do you realize how hard that is? And they're like, yeah. And so I would love to explore someone's emotional relationship with food. And I do. And saying there are some times when folks share like, it was too much for me to deal with this situation. I was so heartbroken, I was so devastated. So I took it out on food and I said, yeah, it's okay, it's okay. Now, when you're like, but wait, then it's important to be like, okay, we do this. However, is this your only coping skill? Then I'm like, okay, perhaps now we need to look at your relationship with food. If you are using food to avoid and to isolate what could start to feel like even more harming to cope with life, then like, okay, let's take a look at that. Let's take a look at what's happening for you in your life. That food is the only coping skill, the only coping thing you have, the only thing that on some level really feels to take the edge off. And when folks are in that place, they're like, yeah, I can't tolerate my life. I avoid it, numbs me out, I get to check out. Then I'm like, okay, what do we need to do to bring you back in a more present state? And what is it about your life that is intolerable and what are aspects about your life that may or may not change due to our society? Folks tell me I deal with racism and I'm like, yeah, that's probably not going to change any time soon. However, and I'm not saying that it's important for you to just deal with it, but how do we hold what you are dealing with so that you don't hurt yourself and you don't take it out on yourself, even though society is telling you from a racist perspective, you're not worthy. I'd like for us to find a way to say, I do get to take care of myself. I do get to have a healthy relationship with food, a harmonious relationship with food. I get to experiment with food because that's also, like, as you were talking about holistically. We need a holistic relationship with food and take out the good bad, this is good, this is bad. But saying, okay, our bodies change and we might be like, wow, I used to be able to eat X amount of food and now my body has a different response to it. I probably shouldn't eat as or I don't want to eat as much because it doesn't feel good. That's different than X is bad for me, I shouldn't eat it. I'm an undisciplined person. If I eat it, I'm like, that's not curiosity and holistic. That's a lot of self imposed judgment that society created. And now you have internalized that as opposed to our body shift. I mean, I could tell you I used to drink milk as a kid, and now I can't. But I'm not saying, oh, milk is bad. I'm just saying I can't do it. So I'm not going to.


Speaker A 00:10:50
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, tennessee is considered one of the world's premier health institutions. In a core study concerning emotional eating, their researchers outlined the key causes, effects, and influential interactions of emotional eating, establishing that first and foremost, our childhoods ultimately shape our foundational eating habits. Again, from your perspective, how do you relate this factor to how our eating experiences begin to form?


Speaker B 00:11:22
That is a great question and a great outcome. And absolutely the folks that I work with have such from a fullblown eating disorder to a very disharmonious relationship with food. Many of them talk about their childhood experiences, talk about childhood experiences with food and their caregivers and sharing aspects of one, we grew up poor. There wasn't food in the house. So just that kind of food scarcity model. And so having to look at poverty and how that shaped their relationship with food. Folks also shared coming from a family where caregivers were concerned about the body changing and so kids being put on diets at an early age, which is the absolute worst thing you can do to a kid, like putting them on a diet. If you are concerned about eating habits, relationship with food, that is something to explore with a lot of curiosity. So that outcome, yeah, folks have shared, like, I was put on a diet. I had all kinds of food taken away from me. I grew up poor. I grew up there was trauma in the house that somehow intersected with how food was served. So I had this association with dinner time because that's when things got bad. And so that study is most likely if we were to do deeper dives and if they were to do I'm sure there's like some qualitative aspects, like really looking at there was some trauma in those relationships from this, like physical emotional trauma to putting kids on diets to poverty.


Speaker A 00:13:09
In regard to that, we can look at some of those patterns. We do pick up anything from reward behaviors. I'm going to take you out for ice cream to reward you for this job well done. Or speaking from that level of trauma, as you mentioned, let's go out and eat some ice cream to make us feel better about this. I'm going to go and buy you some candy to feel better about that. We can start to see where some of those patterns inadvertently start to interject themselves. From that perspective, what are some of the direct connections between foods and feeling that we start to create?


Speaker B 00:13:50
Yeah, and you bring up the I'm going to reward you, I'm going to help you feel better folks also start to share in adulthood, like they need to earn their food and diet culture is all about you work out. Now you can eat, or you don't work out, you really shouldn't be eating. And so that mindset is there. And I think when you share, like, oh, let's reward you with ice cream, what I'm hearing is there was an innocence with that and what felt like something actually kind of benign about like, oh, good job, or yes. Not recognizing that, that starts to develop, oh, I must now earn my ice cream. And especially with kids at such a young age, we don't know nuance as kids, our brains aren't developed there. It is a very binary good, bad, yes, no. So we don't really associate, like, oh, I'm just kind of holding the nuance. No, kids don't do that. So that can start to develop. And then we have our diet culture that just reinforces that. So then that kind of benign, oh, you did a good job. You get a bowl of ice cream tonight, and our diet culture will run with that and say, you don't get ice cream until you do this workout or this thing. And it's not even just working out like some of the folks that I work with talk about. I didn't do X, Y, and Z, therefore, I didn't think I really deserve to eat.


Speaker A 00:15:35
It's interesting to see how some of those patterns of behavior start to simply surface and proliferate. Returning back to that Vanderbilt study, I found it interesting how that suggests that we crave certain foods based on that perceived level of stress or what we might be feeling, and how that frequently influences our food choices in this regard. Then we develop unhealthy eating habits that affect our behavior within a dual process perspective relating that, including intentional choice and reactive emotional motivation. We're making the choice between the two. Is this intentionally serving me, or am I placating and reacting on that emotion to that regard? Instead of making that conscious, aware choice of what's healthy and beneficial, we instead return to that more automatic, involuntary action driven by that emotion. I found that really fascinating how we can kind of tend to neglect that in our awareness. I'll say neglect that. It might not be the best framing choice, but that does slip without our conscious interaction. How do you feel this typically lays out for most of us in creating that pattern? I'm kind of searching here on that one. I may have divested. I feel we might have already answered that a little bit. Is there anything we need to expand on with that?


Speaker B 00:17:08
I do because I work with folks with eating disorders, and mostly folks, like, full blown medical eating disorders, yet I'm surrounded by what I feel like is diet talk. And so, like, what you were describing of, like, responding emotionally to food, not recognizing that it's an emotional response to food, avoiding some aspect in your life. And also what I see is a vicious cycle of noticing that you ate certain foods emotionally without just recognizing. Like, this is just this situation when we are in an emotional place, I'd love to see studies, and there are studies that point out to our bodies crave something pretty, probably dense, or our bodies crave something that is comforting. So folks don't eat, like, raw vegetables, but just having more of the comfort food. And folks have shared there are certain sugary, salty, processed textures that they need for soothing and noting that, but we already have very negative labels for that. Instead of just noting that situation for what it is, then the next mindset is like, well, then I have to make up for that. I have to eat less at the next meal. I have to eat a salad. And then that can start. Like, you could put your body on the deprivation because you may or may not have craved a salad, but now you've deprived your body. So then you're like, I have to be good. So then you set yourself up for another binge eating or what feels like a compensatory response. And so folks have shared like, oh, I don't trust myself around cookies because I'll eat the entire bag. And it's like, that already is a deprivation diet culture. And also, you're not trusting yourself. You've lost that inherent trust in yourself. So that's where it starts, that emotional response, which is, I think, normal, or we've had that, and how to really look at that. Like, yeah, this is a situation you could see the cycle of deprivation compensatory deprivation compensatory. And that's I don't trust myself. I just don't trust myself. Oh, God, do not put those basket of French fries in front of me. No. Take it away. How many have been in situations where.


Speaker A 00:19:41
People, like, take it away from that regard? When we travel back through our evolution as human beings or our journey, however we want to look at fat and dissect, it makes good sense that we do have some emotional connection. A healthy fear of starvation is a very powerful, influential, healthy motivating factor. When that's within the right context, when we examine it within that framework of emotional granularity, if we don't fear not eating in that regard, we starve and die, right? Finding that balance, that midpoint, that middle ground where we are effectively utilizing that, traveling back to our childhood. Many of us don't learn within our environments and our upbringing that framework of emotional granularity or simply being able to name and identify our emotions and effectively relate when we're kind of cornered for a lack of better way. Of framing it to kind of pin down what exactly are we feeling? Can be a challenge, especially when we're molded and modeled to believe that certain feelings might be acceptable, whether even feeling and expressing is acceptable in our environment and our patterning. We start to get some of that programming, even within that interaction that says thinking and feeling these things might inherently carry its own adverse implication. Again, research from the previously mentioned studies indicates that what we reach for when eating to satisfy an emotion depends on the specific emotions experienced at that time. People who experience sadness, for example, reaching for ice cream and cookies 39% of the time and 36% of board people opening up a bag of potato chips, for instance. As you mentioned, under stress the body craves carbohydrates which have chemical properties that soothe and relaxes, you know, makes sense when we consider those factors. Holidays can be especially emotionally activating. Therefore, we might reach for extra helpings of turkey. Tryptophane has a soothing effect releasing both melatonin and serotonin. Serotonin? What does it do? It regulates our mood. Melatonin activates our sleep receptors, for instance. So it makes sense we might try to sleep through some of our more conflicting family interactions on the holidays. Looking back again, they equated how salty might equal boredom. Crunchy might be our go to when we experience anger or frustration. Spicy equaling excitement and intensity. We look for that lift in our emotion sweetness, plain and simple. We're looking to create joy and contentment. We're basically looking to fulfill those emotional needs that are going unmet. From that regard, I find it curious how we can consider some of those implications. While we look at that, might we be engaging certain kind of avoidant behaviors like boredom? I'm searching for that sense of kind of spark in the saltiness or anger and frustration. We're kind of fighting unconsciously with that emotion. Very often modeled to say anger and frustration is an adverse emotion. Most of the time I'm going to say adverse rather than positive or negative because that even becomes loaded.


Speaker B 00:23:17
Absolutely. Yeah.


Speaker A 00:23:18
Most of the time we're conditioned to avoid those emotions at any cost. So we're seeking that kind of fighting aspect of crunching through something. We're crunching through the emotion actively. There's a lot of motion and energy involved in chewing. That's a bit of a stretch maybe today, but there's a direct correlation. There's a direct unconscious action of trying to avoid some of that mannerism. I see. We look at that sense of finding, again, that excitement and intensity when we're feeling kind of in some of those maybe lower vibration emotions of sadness or grief. When we get in some of those more depressive states, finding something that connects us with the feeling of aliveness. I find that interesting to look at those circling back. That might have been a bit of an aside today. Let me have a moment.


Speaker B 00:24:16
No, I don't. I think you bring up a point of that human bodies want to express and want to live fully. And when we can't, because of the society that we live in, it's going to find outlets. And so not surprising that there are behaviors around food. So that makes sense. I'm just going to sit with that. As you were talking about, like, various aspects and various emotions and how a human body would like, I want salt, or I need something crunchy, or I just need something really smooth because of someone saying I can't live fully, I can't express. I'm having trouble getting my needs met. I'm having trouble just articulating it. I'm having trouble having it validated. Even if I can't get my needs met. It's like we live in a society that I feel because of die culture and other oppressive aspects, there's this constant oppressive gas lighting that just happens. So we get confused and all and so what do we do? And our bodies like I need to express and be complete. And so I can see that symbolic relationship with food. Absolutely. And you see other self harm behaviors coming through too. We can talk about various forms of addiction and self harm and all.


Speaker A 00:25:58
Yeah, let's take this back a step here maybe and look at how two types of hunger themselves are believed to exist. That physical hunger which fulfills our nutritional needs and that emotional hunger that which fulfills our psychological needs. What are some of the core differences, that concept you relate to? Let's start there.


Speaker B 00:26:24
So that we're just bringing down to bare bones physical hunger. And when we respond to that it's all those things that we hear about. Your body just knows what to do and what to take care of, to take care of itself. So there is no emotional kind of element coming in of like your body saying I'm hungry, I need fuel, I need certain kinds of fuel. When I have enough I will let you know and then you will be satisfied. And our physical hunger doesn't know about what's available to us and all we can't talk about food and emotional hunger and not talk about food justice in terms of what kinds of foods are available to us. I'm sure you've heard of like food deserts and where there is produce, where there are fast foods. And so that's a whole other discussion. But like with physical hunger I want these things, I need these things for my body. And I will also add and you might say well isn't this the emotional hunger? I'm like no, physically we want nourishment, we want fuel, we want pleasure. And so it is saying that yeah, I want something sweet, I want something x. I think that is part of physical hunger. Some people might disagree but it's like no, our bodies want all of this and when that happens our bodies are satisfied. Now the emotional hunger, this is when trying to find something and search for something through food. And I mean, folks have shared things feel great when I initially take out my emotional hunger on food, but they said but it never works in the long run. In fact, it doesn't even make me happy. Like a couple of hours later. It can be a bit of a bit of a rush, a bit of an immediate need or some kind of numbing and checking out. But when folks have talked about emotional hunger, it often feels like this kind of deprivation in their lives or at times having a lot of trouble articulating it. And emotional hunger can mean so many different things from I have trouble expressing my needs. I didn't grow up in an environment where I was encouraged to express my emotions and have a caregiver, be a witness to that, saying it's okay, oh, tell me about what's happening for you right now. Folks can have an emotional hunger, can come from various forms of trauma, various forms of feeling invalidated and just not sure what to do with their emotions. Sometimes folks can have an emotional range where they just feel like I don't know how to regulate my emotions and I'm not being sued by them. Or folks come in with a very constricted emotional range and be like, it is terrifying for me to have them, name them, feel them. But it does, as you can see, kind of leave folks in a place of like, emotional deprivation, emotional hunger. And if folks take that out on food, you can also see like, folks aren't being satisfied by that. It is a form of coping. Can leave folks with a really disharmonious relationship with food.


Speaker A 00:30:29
We look at that kind of natural hunger that arises from our physical need and slowly works its way up when we're starting to begin being a little neglectful of it, a little unaware of it, versus to me reading. True with that sudden urge of what we've kind of framed with being angry now or that kind of angry outburst of needing to eat. Underlying that is a core emotional response driving that sudden fluctuation of mood and attitude. It's meeting some emotional need in that eating in that regard, you know, a little bit of a stretch in that interaction, but we can see how that suddenly arises in that pattern of behavior.


Speaker B 00:31:15


Speaker A 00:31:16
So framing that and hopefully I'd like to look at that idea of removing some of the stigma of adversely labeling ourselves and identifying as emotional eaters what implications might arise from that. Instead, can we reframe that to allow ourselves to more vulnerably, move through some of that guilt and shame frequently becomes associated with the act or habit pattern of emotional eating.


Speaker B 00:31:46
So you like to remove like the word emotional or no, emotional eaters.


Speaker A 00:31:51
We so often label that emotional eaters. We are automatically identifying with eating in our emotions. With that often comes that unintentional suggested pattern of guilt and shame. Yes, some of that conditioning starts to form. Some of that limiting self belief then also begins to be tied with that I am an emotional eater. We're starting to validate and justify it.


Speaker B 00:32:19


Speaker A 00:32:20
How do we start to bridge some of that in that gap?


Speaker B 00:32:25
That's a great question. And I think folks can respond in all kinds of ways. I could see folks saying, I don't want to take that label away or it's almost like taking back the word queer. I'm taking that word. We've had a community take that word back. Yet I don't think it's quite the same thing in that I'm seeing where you are coming from because it could be one, I'm an emotional eater and that's just what I do versus it's hard for me to be vulnerable. It's hard for me to admit I have needs. I think those parts is something we need more of. I have trouble getting my needs met. I have trouble sharing my vulnerability. I don't feel safe to do so in this society. So food is comforting to me in that way. Food helps me in that way. Food is consistent in that way. Folks have shared like there are ways food doesn't let me down because I know I can rely on it. So I would like to add more like nuance and fluidity and curiosity with emotional eating because the way you said it is like, yeah, I'm an emotional eater and that's it. I am just there and that is where I live. As opposed to sure we have times when we emotionally eat. But what is happening more for you? What is the underlying aspect and how are you feeling about your life? How are you feeling about yourself? Do you feel that you can live fully in who you are? And is that at all connected to your emotional eating?


Speaker A 00:34:40
You stated previously how the impact of what our perception of our bodies endures on both a societal and social political level directly impacts our relationship with both our bodies and food. Let's look at how social stigma and condition beliefs play a role in influencing the level of social acceptance we experience from that regard. How do you feel our self concepts are influenced by both peer and familial interactions or relationships or our relationships within.


Speaker B 00:35:14
Our family units in terms of I think they have big influences, our family relationships, our peer relationships, our societal relationships in terms of bodies. Yes, absolutely. Talking about now our bodies is also a whole new conversation too. And also another really big area can be distressed as well. I'm sure I don't need to say like, yeah, our society favors thin folks, our society favors light skinned folks, our society favors able bodied folks. We have a beauty ideal. Young folks, we all know what the beauty ideal is. Where we need to connect more of the dots is that if you're not in this quote unquote beauty ideal, it's not even about vanity anymore. It's more about like, well, how does society treat marginalized folks? And so folks have shared their relationship to their body and how society regards them. Like talking about how queer they look, the color of their skin, their abled bodiedness. And so it's not about beauty. And vanity, but it's more about being targeted. Does it feel safe to navigate in their bodies in our society? Is it safe? Do they feel accepted? Do they even feel like they have opportunities presented given their bodies and whom they are? A lot of body image work often focuses on rejecting thinness and loving and accepting your body. And how do we push back against thinness? But you can see it's far more than just thinness. Like, how do we embrace bodies and people who are different than us and different than this mainstream beauty ideal that's much more than just beauty?


Speaker A 00:37:31
I think that so brilliantly speaks to how some of these key generational condition beliefs we experience arise as a result of that in group, out group, dynamic relationship, whether or not we're acknowledged and accepted and welcomed within the communities we interact with. You've pointed out how intersectionality should be considered when exercising a more diverse view of how individuals belong to multiple marginalized identities. I want to point that out specifically multiple marginalized identities and how we experience those inherent eating patterns within those communities. What role does cultural diversity play in empowering us to develop a cultural humility as an anchor while we learn about intersectionality? And how does that impact eating disorders and developing healthy body image?


Speaker B 00:38:33
It plays a big role, huge role in terms of if we're talking in and out just for simplistic sake, because in and of itself is so nuanced, but we'll just keep it kind of simple as we talk about something so inherently big. Cultural humility is so essential in how we work towards everybody having a harmonious relationship with food and their bodies. And so if we start with that vision or like, okay, we all agree on that, right at the top, this is the absolute vision, then underneath it, it's like, okay, there's a lot of nuance and a lot of aspects that we need to take a look at. And what we need to start doing first and foremost is listening to folks who are marginalized and what their relationship is and hearing from them of what do you need? What is it like to navigate in your body? Are you able to access food or not? Are you even able to access health? What are your experiences? Because this is where we need to make changes. And for many of us with privilege, how do we give space for folks who are more modularized to share their experiences and folks who are privileged? Are the ways we've just been quiet and kind of going along and how do we not do that anymore? I think what could start to feel overwhelming as we talk about food and our relationship with our bodies is feeling like, wow, there's a lot of dismantling we need to do, because I think we don't want to hear from our most marginalized folks saying, well, this society just doesn't work for me. And it means, like, oh, we have to do some pretty significant overhauls in our society, and are we willing to do this? Do we want to do this? And if we don't, then it's like, what are we doing then? Because I'll just look at current eating disorder treatment, prognosis is pretty dismal. It's kind of like, oh, people just don't really recover. And I was like, I just don't think that's true. Or okay, that is true. Okay, I'm not going to argue with the data. But when we sit back and look at it, I'm like, why are we saying that's true when we're born and we all want a harmonious relationship with food in our bodies and we kind of entered planet Earth with that. So it means, like, that's there so saying that people don't recover, oh, then we're doing something pretty wrong and we need to be willing to admit that. So, like, what you bring up, like, cultural humility is a big part. How do you tell someone who thinks they're doing a great job and has power and privilege? Like, you're kind of missing the mark. Do we want to hear that?


Speaker A 00:41:56
For me, as we kind of consider some of those cultural disparities, my mind instantly travels to marginalized communities that exist with what we typically have come to known as a food desert climate, where healthy, viable food sources aren't readily available. Therefore, some of those habits aren't readily in place simply based on availability.


Speaker B 00:42:25
Yeah, and there is so much there's a project called the Food Empowerment Project, and it looks at that as well as so many other factors from labor union practices to food production to even animal our meat industry. And what's really behind that with food deserts. Yeah, it does bring up who has access to food? How is food grown? Who is doing all the harvesting? How are we treating the Earth? How is food being transported? Who gets it with the pandemic? Right now we're on or whatever, are we on board the end? Who knows? But it seems like a lot of food transportation has been a bit derailed or what is happening? Because right now food prices are prices many of us haven't seen. And so it is really frightening to hear like, wow, people can't afford to eat. Whoa, I've gotten a grocery bill that I haven't seen before. I'm like, oh, my God. And there are some things I used to get. I'm like, one, I can't afford it, but two, I just can't pay that for that. I've never seen that amount. So food deserts right now, due to COVID, I think are just bringing accessibility, affordability and poverty up in a way of like, whoa, I'm sure we have seen in other times, and this might speak to my age and all, but it's just like, wow, food deserts, big topic. Big topic.


Speaker A 00:44:25
Within that, we can see where those very real implications of emotional trauma arise. That very real. Real interaction of scarcity, lack and meeting viable demand for healthy food can in and of itself set us up for an emotionally reactive response. How do we start to bring that into awareness then becomes perhaps one of our greatest challenges? I'm going to leave that out there. Do we address that now or is that something we just leave out there as an awareness in our conversation?


Speaker B 00:45:05
I think it's all part of it because when we can't access food, that is another emotional relationship to food. Absolutely. And folks have shared, like growing up in poverty, growing up not being able to eat, growing up sharing. Like we didn't throw food out. So how that? As we were talking about a little bit ago around physical hunger, it's hard to have a kind of full physical hunger if other factors are seeping in. How do you really go on physical hunger if you're in a household and you don't throw food out or you're in a household where you're having to make decisions on affordability, but we can have this this week, but we can't have that. So it can't shape physical hunger or physical hunger can be influenced by that, or the emotional hunger part can start to take over more culturally.


Speaker A 00:46:12
Weight bias has been brought to the forefront as a prevailing social justice issue. Looking at those marginalized communities from a compassionate and empathetic framework, share with us what encompasses weight bias from that regard.


Speaker B 00:46:33
Well, first I'm going to say as a person who's been thin my entire life, I don't understand. I can never tell you. I understand. I get it. I haven't had that lived experience. With that being said, weight bias is such a societal issue because there are a good number of folks that feel like having weight bias is important. It's a good thing because if it results in people like actually doing something and losing weight, then we need to keep weight bias in. So I realize I'm not starting off in a compassionate way, but starting off more and like how harmful it is. I'd like to go back to the compassionate way and saying like, okay, so weight bias is really not getting to looking at a person fully and what they are doing and what they are and what they are needing. Weight bias is looking at a person in a large body and having all kinds of thoughts and conclusions about them. As opposed to if you are a medical provider checking in and doing a routine check up inquiring about eating, not assuming weight bias. It delays care. It delays health care and can erroneously result in mortality and thinking like, well, the mortality was due to the large weight. Well no, the mortality was due to weight bias. The proper care was delayed as opposed to, oh, it's just a person in a large body that's so unhealthy that that's what they died of. It's like, no, that isn't what they died of, and I know several cases, or I would say several people to bring in more of the compassion that was their experience. Weight bias just gets in the way of people suffering and not getting the care they need. We can look at folks in large bodies as well as folks in very thin bodies. Like one of the singers, Amy Winehouse, there's this talk like she died of an overdose and her brother said, no, she died of an eating disorder. Her eating disorder is what killed her. And like, well, nobody was saying anything when her body changed and she became really thin and like, I think she was probably given a lot of praise, but like, whoa. I mean, I was looking at pictures of her and I was like, her body changed so dramatically. Like, weight bias got in the way of like, oh, maybe we need to intervene and not praise. So weight bias is when we let our review points of weight really dictate, impede, block what someone really needs. Weight bias also, I will say, assumes that people in large bodies are not happy and so assumes that people in large bodies aren't living joyous free lives that have movement and sex and pleasure and a good relationship with food. We just assume people in large bodies are just really unhappy and like, well, maybe, but they might be unhappy because of all the weight bias they're encountering, as opposed to, no, folks are happy. So it gets in the way of connecting and helping people get their needs met because we just have weight as this factor. So we stop being curious, we stop asking questions.


Speaker A 00:50:31
For me, it's interesting to reel that back a bit and see how our social evolution has occurred as a society. We look back and what our ideals of healthy body types might have been in any given frame of reference, any point in time. We look at the Victorian age and that more curvy, voluptuous figure was seen as the healthy ideal, moving a little more progression into seventy s. Eighty s. We started to develop that model of the waifishly thin, healthy model. And now we're kind of going through this fitness revolution, perhaps to frame it where that more muscular church, somewhat curvy again, is coming back in vogue, coming back in prominence. And we see this shifting, perhaps confusing state at times where what exactly constitutes the healthy ideal, that median range where we are engaged in that holistic level of health that creates some of that disparity in many regards, yes.


Speaker B 00:51:42
And I think it's just important to look at politically what was happening. Why do we need an ideal body type? What is that about? And I do believe there are politics behind it. And even some of the research pointing out that when I think it was like in some of the early 19, hundreds or 1920s, that when women were actually becoming very thin, there were a lot of medical doctors that are like, this isn't good, this is actually not good. Why are women not eating? Just like, what is this? And to look back thinking like, wow, medical doctors were not happy about this thing. This is actually unhealthy because we certainly don't see that now. So it is trying to understand also too, like, why did we have an ideal body? Were we really celebrating a body or were we having an agenda? Was curvy around fertility? I do think having this ideal body shape is more around control and containment, particularly when there are body types that are not very attainable.


Speaker A 00:53:04
I think relating to that, when we look at some of our reflected family beliefs, you need to put some meat on those bones. We've heard that in a context, socially or you look sickly, sometimes it's that drastically you look sickly because you're not carrying enough weight. Things of that nature. It's interesting to look at those patterns and how that starts to form that trauma bond.


Speaker B 00:53:31


Speaker A 00:53:33
Looking back to some of our previous episodes, we talked about body mass index and how that has been culturally grown to signify how it serves as a key indicator for assessing our personal health for decades. We've kind of adapted and adopted that right. Suggests that many of the ideals and models are somewhat understated in many regards when guiding health effectively. In light of the erroneous nature of that approach, how do we start to reframe that to accurately reflect scientific body type assessments, to empower more holistic health?


Speaker B 00:54:16
Well, body mass index is we just simplistically want to say if you're healthy or not. And like, no, this doesn't work that way. If we want to assess someone's health medically, scientifically, then look at the numbers, do a comprehensive evaluation. I mean, people want to know if they're healthy or not. People want to know like, how is my cholesterol? Do blood work on me, do a full body. I think, first of all, we need that. And I'm just going on medically, medically, physically, because we know health means far more than that. But let's just stick with that because we're talking about BMI and BMI is just no indicator of health whatsoever. It's funny that folks talk about the science or we need evidence based, but BMI is really good scientifically sound. So why is this like this premium indicator of health when it was some math project in the early 19 hundreds not even designed for health, but yet we took it as the most important indicator of health. And the lines of healthy, underweight, overweight, obese, they're very arbitrary. And how they're designed or where the cut off is again, arbitrary, not really based on science, but yet it is, or it's indicated. And BMI says nothing too about a person's health. But yet you see these studies that say, well, folks in larger BMI have blah blah blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm like well, let's look at this study that you did. And if you look at the study, this is not a very good study, a good statistical study, good structural research study. So why are we also drawing these formative conclusions like BMI produces this when the study was pretty shoddy to begin with? So I just think that we do need to take a better look at what is health, really look at BMI and see, like, no, this isn't actually a very good tool, and it's not very scientifically sound. Because while there are studies that say higher BMI produces these bad outcomes, there are studies that say higher BMI actually don't produce bad outcomes. But those studies aren't being highlighted. So, yeah, I have more to say about BMI and those studies. But yeah, they're not an indicator of health at all. And people want to be healthy. And I've had conversations, folks saying I'm unhealthy because my BMI is high, but I want to know what else is going on with you? What are your other numbers? I would want focus on any movement, let's say, for you to get more connected to your body, not have like, I have to move in order to lose weight. It's like, I want you to move because you want to be flexible, you want to be stronger, you want to have more lung capacity, you want to feel good. Yeah. So it's like losing sight of health because we focus on this arbitrary erroneous thing called BMI.


Speaker A 00:58:08
When we look at most of those labels of BMI, they don't tend to carry a very encouraging body positive connotation with them. So looking at that, lastly, as we develop this more empowering outlook in relationship with both our body and food, how do we begin to liberate ourselves from some of the more disempowering habits that often inhibit our health and well being?


Speaker B 00:58:37
I think for those who have medical insurance, working with a doctor or a doctor medical person who is going to be supportive. I work with folks saying and if they're able to do it because of the hospital setting that I work in, it's like if your doctor is just constantly on you about losing weight, you might want to see a different doctor and see about how is this doctor going to talk to you about health? Because we want folks that are going to encourage us, okay, what is your relationship with food? How is it and encourage when folks because folks do share. Like, I want to lose weight, and I'm like, okay, I hear you and why? And they share. And I say like, well, what if you don't lose weight? And like, folks are able to some of it is like, no, I'm not letting go of that goal. But some of it is folks here like, I want to have a good relationship with food, or folks, I want to be able to touch my toes. I'm like, okay, see those are. First of all, I just feel softer and then I hear your needs around. Like, I want health in my life, and I want to be as big as I can be. I'm like, okay, now we're having a different conversation. And can you have a doctor and folks that are encouraging if you're looking like, well, I just need to get to the gym every day. But what about taking walks outside and taking walks and catching up with a friend? I think when we start to move away from weight, then I think we can talk about health in a way where it can be encouraging. Folks can share. Like, I want to cook more, but I don't have time. Then I'm like, okay, then what can we do? Maybe it's a matter of starting off with more simpler things to cook. I think we just can have such a different and rich conversation when we talk about what's really important to you. And I think that also ties into what are your values and how does health intertwine with that? And folks can share. Values are often around. Like, I want people in my life. I want to be close to my friends and my family through health. I'm like, that's a great value and a great goal. And how can we encourage and support that?


Speaker A 01:01:05
Shifting our perspective to a healthier frame of reference both socially and emotionally, how can we identify effective treatment options for individuals who are in direct need of this assistance?


Speaker B 01:01:18
I think we need more community based programs that are just very holistic. I think we need community based programs that don't have weight loss attached to it. I think we need more access to medical care that don't have weight loss goals attached to it. And so I think those are two important things. To start in terms of how do we encourage this? I don't know so much about gyms because I don't belong to some of the mainstream gyms where you're like, we're walking in, there's this ginormous arena. But for those places that exist, how do we create an environment where it is something that folks can come to and be like, I want to move and I want to have goals, and I want to be supported in my goals as opposed to weight loss.


Speaker A 01:02:19
I think in very many instances that can be a very challenging and emotionally engaging environment. I can relate that back. For a number of years, my daughter worked at Planet Fitness, visiting Planet Fitness. One of their core values and mottos is that we are creating a judgment free, accepting, supporting zone. It's plastered all over the place, right? Yet very frequently we can step into those zones and not feel that welcomeness.


Speaker B 01:02:53
And folks in large bodies have shared, like, not only do they sometimes go to gyms and have looks of like, what I feel like, mockery disgust and all that, but they also get, like, what people think is benign. And supportive is when they just feel like folks in large body. Someone comes up to them, this absolute stranger is like, good for you for exercising. And it's like, that also not helpful. So it's also just knowing, like this judgment free zone, which is great, is like, are you saying good for you for accessing to everybody in the room or just a fat person? So it's also noting that we want to be encouraging to each other, of course, but just knowing where at times we might kind of be going on our weight bias.


Speaker A 01:03:49
That brings us back again to that unintentional bias.


Speaker B 01:03:53


Speaker A 01:03:54
With our good meaning consideration, we feel like we're being encouraging. How do we simply engage more effectively on an empathetic level as human beings that's a whole other can of worms to open up.


Speaker B 01:04:08


Speaker A 01:04:10
We may not approach that totally today. Just simply being aware of how we're wording things, how we're interacting, how that perspective sometimes just simply taking that moment to pause and just simply say the encouragement of saying hello often enough to create that environment of inviting, have a real and authentic conversation how are you today? Versus feeling like we have to, out of our own interactions emotionally kind of prop up and support some of that.


Speaker B 01:04:42
Right, absolutely. When you were just talking, like, how do we it's like, hello. Hello is a great thing. Hello is wonderful. Yeah.


Speaker A 01:04:51
It's interesting to look how some of our own blind spots might exist in that zone. What are we becoming uncomfortable with in our own interaction? Not to turn that into a selfish guard point we hide behind, but to bring it into that light of our awareness. To say maybe I hadn't fully considered some of my own views and framing with my own emotionality, my own eating patterns, my own health patterns, and how it might be affecting both us and others throughout our interactions.


Speaker B 01:05:26
Right. Because we all do it. We all do it in terms of we operated from a bias perspective. We operated from our own emotional base and benignly not realizing the harm that we just did. And we are human. And so I hoping that we use those opportunities to say, like, oh, wow, I kind of fumbled here. Okay, I need to check that out in myself. I need to do some exploring so that I don't benignly do this or I'll just leave it at that.


Speaker A 01:06:05
So to sum up our conversation today and perhaps bring some levity of action to our proceedings, can you propose some effective strategies we might utilize to change some of the research, diagnoses methods or treatment specifically for marginalized communities who are addressing eating disorders? What can we do to create that change?


Speaker B 01:06:30
One is first, be willing to realize probably most, if not everything you know about eating disorders is incorrect and like, okay. Because of how it's been presented. So it's like, are you willing to say, like, wow, I think I need to relearn what I think of about eating disorders because of stereotypes and not taking in marginalized communities into account here. So it's asking that first question, are you ready to unlearn almost everything you know about eating disorders? If the answer is yes, then there are some really fantastic resources out there, and in fact, a number of them are on my website. I'm always trying to find really good social justice folks or folks doing social justice work with eating disorders. And so I'm always putting them on my website. And so there are numerous podcasts to books just to activist work being done. And this is an opportunity for us to say, like, oh, it would be a good idea for me to take a look at my biases, particularly my weight bias, and how that comes into view of not only who I think has an eating disorder and who doesn't, but how I regard healthy and what is healthy. And so asking also the second question, like, are you willing to just take a step back, going, wow, can I be so curious about health? And I think I know a lot, but am I willing to just kind of hold that and say, you're open to that? Then I think we could really start to expand about what is healthy and that will kind of go into what we think about food and bodies and how that will just be what our relationship with food in our bodies and what we know about food in our bodies and our community and how we hold food in our bodies is something that just evolves. And if we're open to letting that evolve and change us, that's a good thing.


Speaker A 01:08:36
So much of our change is driven by our awareness and our openness to educate ourselves to become more attuned. So we'll be sure to share those resources in our show notes. Also, looking back on our conversation today, have we missed anything in the course of our discussion?


Speaker B 01:08:55
Marcella I don't think so, but I really love the way you ending with us being curious and bringing in humility, I think those two things, the way you touched on them.


Speaker A 01:09:07
I want to thank you for sharing your brilliant, curious light with us today. I know my journey throughout the preparation for this conversation has brought much into my awareness to be curious about and now go out and seek that understanding. So thank you for connecting with that opportunity today.


Speaker B 01:09:26
Thank you for having me. This is a great conversation.


Speaker A 01:09:30
It truly has been. Thank you. Thank you.
Dr. Marcella RaimondoProfile Photo

Dr. Marcella Raimondo

Clinical Psycholoist, Ph. D. MPH

or a decade in my teens and early twenties I battled with anorexia nervosa. As a queer, cisgender, able-bodied woman of color, I struggled in my recovery because my story did not mirror those in mainstream eating disorder textbooks and biographies.

After reading the testimonials of women of color and queer women in A Hunger So Wide and So Deep, by Becky Thompson, I found voices that resonated with my own life experiences. I began to realize that a huge gap exists in the treatment services for underrepresented and underserved folks with eating disorders. My life’s calling and social justice spirit came out of this experience.