Ten Ways in Which Connected Eating Supports the Practise of Liberation
Against the Binary, Against Diet Logic
When our thought pathways drive us to pit one thing against another, such as body against mind, we are using binary thinking, aka as a dichotomous mindset, or dualism.
The trouble with the binary is that it underwrites supremacist thinking. It’s everywhere, it’s divisive, it oppresses. How we talk about food is a case in point. Diet culture overflows with binary pairings of good-bad, healthy-unhealthy, thin-fat and so on ad nauseum. Diet advocates urge us to follow food rules by using our rational mind to out-strategise the promptings of the sensual body.
When I talk about dieting, diet talk, Diet Mentality, Diet Culture, Diet Logic and so on, I’m talking about a way of being in the world that revolves around a belief that it’s not ok to be fat. There’s a whole load of associated beliefs that go along with this, such as everyone can and should be thin, beliefs that are poisonous and based on sham science. Various actions and attitudes flow from this fatphobia that centre on ‘correcting’ (sic) weight. So, someone might be running for the sheer joy of being out in the rain. Someone else might be running as a weight maintenance strategy. Same behaviour, different source to the impluse. The first one isn’t Diet Logic, the second one is.
Diet Logic wants us to reach for the food that fits our regime over the food that would satisfy us, packaging deprivation as being for our own good. Words like temptation, guilt, failure, willpower and shame are its glue. Must. Have to. Ought. Also success, toned, disciplined. Happy. In Diet Logic fat, which is coded as bloated, sluggish, lethargic, is bad and thin wins, at any cost. Diet Logic’s insistence on splitting mind (reason, discipline = thin, order, western civilisation, white) from body (emotion, fluidity, nature, disorder, undisciplined =fat, Black, precolonial civilisation), and its preoccupation with elevating reason and rewarding eurocentric body ideals is circularly rooted in racism and white supremacy.
In short, binary thinking structures the world through opposition; the oppostion white vs black set in motion colonisation and we live with, and are, its living legacy. Recognising this, we need to root out biases that uphold white privilege in order to prevent violence, honour Black values, stop normalising complacency, in order to start to repair harm done, in order to heal.
Binary thinking provides the protectionist structure within which white supremacy thrives. It orders our language and therefore our thinking along the lines of divide, devalue, and conquer. It follows that we need to dismantle binary thinking to dismantle oppression, and one way we can do this is by rejecting Diet Logic.
Diet Logic’s insistence on splitting mind from body, and its preoccupation with elevating reason and rewarding eurocentric body ideals is circularly rooted in racism and white supremacy
By saying ‘There’s no body politic in Diet Logic’ I’m saying diet thinking doesn’t make any space to accommodate ways in which our social experiences shape eating, and wellbeing, or shape anything else for that matter. Social cirumstances influence how we relate to food, and impact our metabolism irrespective of what we eat. For instance, Diet Logics’ simplistic dogma of “eat less, move more, be healthy” overlooks how racism, trauma and fatphobia impact various dimensions of our health including the personal, social, spiritual and financial. It is costly to live with systemic bias.
Against the Binary, Against Non-Diet Logic
Intuitive and mindful eating (I/ME) have been taken up by non-diet discourse, which schools us to reject food rules and instead listen to body signals. Reason is outre, the body reigns supreme. Unlike Diet Logic, non-diet theories also advise us to ditch fat hate and embrace all bodies as good bodies.
Non-diet theory holds that exiling body signals, as in Diet Logic, is nonsensical. I agree: not least because body signals are integral to reasoned decision-making, and a reality that acts as if this is not so is delusional. I/ME bring in the body and remind us that we absolutely need to allow for the role of body signals for any sort of learning theory to be credible or useful. But it exiles reason, which is another nonsensical move. (The term ‘mindful eating’ is a confusing choice as the mindfulness practise it implies leads to an appreciation of inter-connectedness whereas mindful eating teaches body-mind-society disconnect.) In both I/ME the binary is foundational: mind over body for dieters, body over mind for non-dieters. And all this devoid of context. What’s needed is a model that integrates mind and body and situates the eating self. I call this model Well Now; it’s body aware, relational and intentionally political.
In both I/ME the binary is foundational: mind over body for dieters, body over mind for non-dieters.
Diet discourse is so flawed in so many ways, and there’s heaps of poweful critique of why it’s dangerous, so I’m not giving it air time here. For the record, whenever I refer to dieting in this context I’m talking about anything we do where somewhere along the line the goal is weight control. It’s not the activity itself, it’s the intent behind it. Running for the pleasure of being out in your skimpies in the rain, running to ‘balance out’ a chocolate bar: same activity, different source. If you’re committed to social action or health improvement or quality science and the idea that promoting dieting harms is news, you have some myth-cracking learning in store. In short, Diet Culture is anti-thetical to human rights, body respect, health equity and ethical professionalism. My take-home point is not that ‘diets don’t work’ (even though within the remit of evidence-based practise this is a fact), the point is that Diet Logic is oppressive and oppression is morally wrong.
What’s needed is a model that integrates mind and body and situates the eating self. I call this model Well Now; it’s body aware, relational and intentionally political.
Non-diet advocates vociferously condemn Diet Culture as unethical, non-scientific, toxic. They also flag up its capitalist, misogynist and racist underpinning, objections which are all too true. Non-dieting mission statements often commit to social justice. But there’s a glitch. Because right relationship, interconnection, and dismantling the binary which are vital to social justice are poleaxed by I/ME. It’s the atomistic self and a body-mind binary that are foundational to I/ME and non-diet discourse, and these move us out of relationship.
Non-diet dietitians’ injunction to ‘listen to your body and reject food rules’ is a mirror of image of dieting dietitians’ ‘listen to food rules and ignore your body’, and it’s still a binary. So strategies that aspire to a fair world and promote I/ME score an own goal. As long as practice is beholden to the binary, claims of social justice will forever spin a hamster wheel of rhetoric instead of unfurling a path that makes fairness a real-life possibility. Yes Diet Logic is fundamentally flawed, so too is non-diet discourse, a fact which largely escapes notice in existing critique. That’s why I’m giving it air time here, and because I think we can harness the shortcomings of I/ME to invigorate a socially aware food conversation.
My take-home point is not that ‘diets don’t work’ (even though within the remit of evidence-based practise this is a fact), the point is that Diet Logic is oppressive and oppression is morally wrong.
There is No Body Politic in the Binary
The principle that intellectual work is important in HAES and to other I/ME advocates is demonstrated in a steady flow of ‘what’s wrong with dieting’ critiques, peaking as responses are written to the latest outrage. A substream of intellectual work focuses on refining I/ME practise, energetically railing against compassion being hijacked by the diet agenda, and nailing distinctions between I/ME.
The history of activism shows that a hunger for precision in intellectual work, exemplified in these examples, is crucial for envisioning and enacting justice. At the overlap of activism and healing, feminist radical trauma therapist Bonnie Burstow tells us that liberation needs ‘impassioned praxis’. The tragedy is that non-diet intellectual work, vigorous and vehement though it is, moves us away from justice. Commentary and discussion functions as a smokescreen because it has all the appearance of building critical theory but instead recycles a binary, decontextualised mindset. It leaves profoundly troubling capitalist assumptions about individualism and connection untouched. Its model is one that doesn’t acknowledge interdependence and, even when implemented with care and respect, cannot be emancipatory. Worse, although backed by good intention, it’s not benign, it is part of the problem and it gets in the way of change.
As ever, it’s marginalised people who suffer most as a result.
Here’s how — I/ME theory begins with a model of the divisible, non-traumatised self, abstracted from context. There is no body politic in a health model framed by the binary, or the impermeable isolated self. This means it suits neoliberal narratives, centres privileged bodies and disappears others.
I/ME theory doesn’t acknowledge interdependence and, even when implemented with care and respect, cannot be emancipatory.
One way it does this is that it perpetuates the idea of body signals as innately emergent and inherently safe.This isn’t a scientifically credible stance, for instance, it side-steps neuroscience and misses the reality of trauma. The lack of praxis has real-life consequences. I already wrote about two consequences that stem from this: One, if you’re encouraging someone to act in accordance with body signals you’re assuming the body signal isn’t one of self-harm.
The tragedy is that non-diet intellectual work, vigorous and vehement though it is, moves us away from justice.
Two, the idea that body signals can be trusted as a communication from the authentic self obliterates the reality of implicit bias like racism. It is deep trust in the rightness of a body signal that puts the finger on the trigger of the gun that shoots the unarmed Black youth, Trayvon Martin.
Our ‘true’ visceral selves are not static entities waiting to be accessed as we peel away layers of guff in the process of ‘recovery’. When we live in cultures of systemic white supremacy, sexism and capitalism, our thoughts and body responses are moulded by the interplay of these structural forces in the particularities of our lives. Becoming aware of how power shapes our knowing is a first step in doing something about it. The term “consciousness raising” sounds very 80’s, but the need for it is not outdated.
Consciousness raising reveals that an eating theory rooted in the body-mind binary is a bad idea where justice is concerned, even — maybe especially — when it professes social justice. A binary can’t manage the unwieldy dynamics of power in any meaningful sense so while theory may make a name place for the body politic at the table of intent, it also ensures it cannot show up and engage in imagining justice in any meaningful sense. Where this goes unrecognised, I/ME distracts from the hard work of liberation: intellectual labour is poured into refining surface details, derailing attention from the leap need for deep change.
Binary thinking provides the protectionist structure within which white supremacy thrives. We need to dismantle binary thinking to dismantle oppression, so we need to reject cognitive restraint (diet) and intuitive and mindful eating (non-diet) and use a liberatory alternative
The Case for Connected Eating: doing away with the binary
Diet Logic presents a binary and ask us to live according to the dominant rankings and categories it embeds. Non-diet discourse presents a binary and asks us to surface and unlearn the dominant rankings and categories it embeds. Why not do away with the foundational binary in the first place?
This is what Connected Eating does. A third way that Connected Eating is distinct from Diet Logic and Non-diet/HAES discourse is it acknowledges the pitfalls of replacing one hierarchy in knowledge creation with another, and uncritically using a binary model.
Instead of asserting the primacy of body knowledge as a replacement for the primacy of intellect, and so replicating the template of a system of two, separate, competing categories, it organises knowledge creation relationally, embracing many sources. For simplicity, this model can be represented as triangulating body-mindspirit-society. Or carnal-cognitive-context, imperfect representations of our complex, fleshy and quantum realities, but useful enough to do away with the binary as a must-have model.
Connected Eating is distinct from Diet Logic and Non-diet/HAES discourse as it acknowledges the pitfalls of replacing one hierarchy in knowledge creation with another, and uncritically using a binary model.
Connected Eating centres a confluence of knowledge sources that destablise the body-reason binary, and embeds us in the context of our lives and histories. It recognises the value of body cues and it recognises the limits, undesirability — and impossibility — of theorising body cues as an ‘uncontaminated’ source of knowledge. Instead, it holds that information and wisdom emerge from different ways of knowing that are generatively related. Eschewing hierarchy in favour of specificity, it teaches that identifying and naming these different yet inseparable dimensions can be useful for reaching clarity, and the value of discernment in this process.
The Case for Connected Eating: don’t assume neurotypicality as default
Extrapolating this theory surfaces a fourth point — Connected Eating does not assume neurotypicality as default. To reiterate, some people are left behind by I/ME theories as they presume everyone has reliable access to body signals and these unmediated signals can be relied on to support wellbeing. Outliers to this trauma-free, neurotypical world are dealt with in special measures. Connected Eating (CE)recognises that in the absence of loud or reliable body cues, people can feel very unsafe and confused when it comes to eating. It teaches that prior learning and paying attention to context can help provide a feeling of safety, and a means of guiding eating, when it’s hard to access body knowledge. So CE theory considers people who aren’t able to notice body signals, of hunger or fullness and more, due to shift work, dieting, poverty, medication, learning difficulty, neurodiversity, head injury, trauma and so on.
Whereas using I/ME becomes an act of erasure. Those of us who know trauma are badly let down by theories that exclude us, and can feel invalidated, or at fault, or alienated. Imagine for a minute what it is like to sit in a group of people uncritically enthusing about body signals when you’re someone who self-harms. It’s another slap in the face, another dead end in our search for support, another day being unseen. Another route for being retraumatised. It takes courage to seek help, but it is not necessarily a want of courage that holds us back from contacting the nth provider. Maybe we decide not to try again as an act of self-preservation, because we have risked reaching out again and again and despite all the assurances of being feminist, trauma-informed, liberatory, we know that if someone is offering I/ME, there is no way they have thoughtfully analysed trauma. We might not be searching for help with eating specifically, but spotting I/ME in someone’s professional bio serves to warn us off. For there is a point where risk-taking tips over into recklessness. And after a few decades of this it seems like we better get busy finding an alternative way to heal because the training has trained people in obedience, not deep listening. And, as is true for so many of us, the person seeking help can simultaneously be working around food behaviours, as educator, practitioner, researcher. So that can be all sorts of tricky.
Those of us whose lives are not directly shaped by trauma, or who deny trauma’s legacy, may wonder what the fuss is all about. They are the people who ridicule trigger warnings, feel superior for their Resiliency Prowess and are busy victim blaming and teaching Health Behaviour Change. Knowledge, and ignorance, are constructed daily through our thinking feeling desiring relating bodies, through whom and what we credit, suppress, trash, express, celebrate, invalidate.
The Case for Connected Eating: using many ways of knowing
And a fifth: Connected Eating is theorised to value and integrate cognition and values at the outset. Collapsing cognition so it’s synonymous with food rules is a really unhelpful over-simplification. It strips out nuance, and beefs-up black-and-white logic of body vs mind as a natural means of ordering thought. So, in a terrible irony, it smuggles binary thinking into non-diet theory in plain sight. No, non-diet folks! This is not what you meant it to be.
Ten Ways in Which Well Now’s Connected Eating Differs from I/ME.
Well Now’s Connected Eating:
- surfaces and rejects the ideas that unmediated body signals exist, and are a reliable guide for self-stewardship
- surfaces and rejects the belief that body signals are innate
- does not assume neurotypicality as default (or an intact gut etc)
- acknowledges the pitfalls of replacing one hierarchy in knowledge creation with another
- acknowledges the pitfalls of using a binary model
- rejects the model of an individuated, abstract self, and uses a situated self in relationship
- is theorised to value and integrate cognition and values at the outset
- is concerned with the interplay of personal and collective healing and therefore uses a critical pedagogy (a pedagogy is a frame for teaching)
- works to destabilise the systemic roots of oppression by actively dismantling allegiance to binary thinking in everyday conversation (a critical pedagogy of decoloniality)
- works to destabilise the systemic roots of oppression by challenging norms that silence trauma and by actively speaking of its lived legacy
It is thinking things through intellectually that enables the person with a peanut allergy to avoid peanuts, the vegan and Muslim to avoid gelatine, the vexitarian to turn down the biscuits made with uncertified palm oil or GMO soya or packaged in styrofoam. And what about when we are bodily-craving dangerous substances, like coal, as in pica? Or someone with a stoma manages to stay out of A&E: silencing these voices is ableist. Surely we want a model that does not relegate all this experience to the margins?
At times food and even non-food may register as appealing or desireable through cues like hunger, taste, anticipated satisfaction. Connected Eating assumes at the outset that these are part of the picture, not the sum total: that cognitive knowledge and values have a legitimate place in our food choices and are inseperable from affect.
A smidgin of grey matter as forward planning can make the difference between a plain sailing or choppy waters kind of day. Cognitive knowledge is useful when body knowledge isn’t informative, such as with thirst; realising we are going to be late with an evening meal may prompt us to eat more than usual at lunch time. Or maybe we remember we haven’t eaten as much oily fish as we’d like to over the last fortnight and order some in our next on-line shop. Perhaps we choose one item over another because we know something about the relative glycaemic index of both foods, opting for the high GI food after marathon training.
The Case for Connected Eating: falling for praxis
Without a commitment to praxis it’s easy to get in the habit of leaping from one pleasing conjecture to the next, all the while flying by the seat of magical thinking, closed off to the possibility that nither our feelings of conviction, wholeheartedness, community consensus or lack of obvious alternatives are themselves any guarantee of right thinking. Scrutinising methodology isn’t a prerequisite for an individual making peace with food but it is vital if we want to foster healing-centred practise via knowledge that serves collective liberation.
Another anti-diet book joins the pile . . . another book on intuitive eating, self love, proclaiming EMPOWERMENT POSITIVITY JUSTICE. This book, and the ones before it and the ones to come, are billed across like-minded groups for their awesome and amazing contributions to food peace, body peace, world peace. And it feels like hanging tinsel at a party when the house is burning down. How are you not choking on the smoke? Thank gods for generosity of spirit, for a tender hand, for affirmation by outrage. For books, authors, dedication, risking opinion. But liberation needs more than oodles of animated bonhomie and in-group congratulation, it is not sheer volume of words that will effect deep change, but thoughtfulness put into action.
Applauding productivity for its own sake fits a capitalist rubric, not a liberatory one. I’m not advocating perfectionism, by all means let’s get it out there even when it could better crafted — like this post for instance. But we need to make sure that what we get out there isn’t getting in the way. We don’t need another decoy, another trophy. This isn’t a game, a popularity contest. Lives are being lost, and we all need to be careful, serious, cartographers. Tweaked replicas from the same well-meaning but corrupt lithograph will not amount to a game-changer, however many items get churned out. They still add up to lives blighted by the irresponsible use of power.
Knowledge, Consequence, Lineage
Transformation needs the rigorous thinking that is part of praxis. We can’t allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by ordinary calling itself liberation, or stick up for doctrine ego mediocrity just because we’re left of field and have already invested so much in our education/identity/business. There is a long timeline of people who have been killed for talking of justice. The minute we start glossing over theoretical gaps and inconsistencies we diminish the contribution of all the strategising activists who have gone before us. Tackling fake-news, knife crime, trumped up fear, troubled eating, fat hate, healthism and all the other -isms means we desparately need discernment. Not more of what is, but something radically different. Without this, what is produced gets in the way of progress.
I mean it’s great that to encourage each other and be proud of what we do, by all means let’s keep supporting one another, believing that we have something valuable to contribute, and get it out there. If we prioritise right relationship in this process then personally and collectively we will insist we make sense, centre accountability, and do the ethical thing when we veer off course. Check: food projects and services that rely on I/ME replicate binary logic, if they also promise equity they are wrong. Someone, somewhere in the power chain that determines what Truths get upheld, is deluded.
When this contradiction, and its complicity, is thoughtlessly enfolded, we can still believe that justice was genuinely intended. But when the contradiction is maintained after the fault has been highlighted, this is collusion, calculated complicity, not ignorance, and we will be forced to drop our belief in well meantness unless we are content to live our lives by double-think and imgaine the impunity of the offender is ours for the taking too.
Queer Positive and Trauma-Safe Food Work
I read the blurb extolling eating disorder services that offer I/ME as trauma-informed, and described as safe places for queer folx — maybe with queer counsellors — with despair. The queer person exists in I/ME under sufferance, as a tag along, a favour granted. The binary is not our friend in healing, irrespective of whether we are binary, not binary, or non-binary.
As for the person who self-harms, survivor beware. It’s one thing to navigate inter-personal error from a conversational interface of shared values and mutuality where mistakes and misalignments happen and can be repaired. It’s another thing entirely to enter a space where everyone has missed the fact that the theory they flag-wave assumes my non-existence as someone who is gender expansive and fights off body signals to stay safe.
But the answer isn’t (only, or initially) to copy edit. The problem is not a deficit but a distortion. The solution is not continually adding to the list of suitable responses for people excluded, it’s to adopt a radically different mindset that needs no appendix for the oppressed. The answer then, is surely choosing to wade in and do Love’s Work when we thought we already were, and when it would be expedient, encouraged perhaps, for us to carry on going with the flow. An easy option, if only we could convince ourselves that settling for the lesser of two evils was not still settling for evil.
So Now What?
Treating this analysis as material for intellectual activity is a cop out. Yes, Love’s Work means we need to think things through: it also means we need to act. People are needlessly suffering and dying because the ordinary course of things is built on the colonising lies of binary thinking. How did this get missed by so many for so long? is a constructive question.
Depending on your positionally, it can be hard or a relief, or a murky mingling, to learn that intuitive and mindful eating monetise and mobilise camouflaged beliefs that support capitalism, white supremacy and health-for-the-priviliged. Unintentional harm still harms. Nutrition science has a long and cruel history of perpetuating racism and of racist science. The extractavist and binary methodology of I/ME is a methodology of racism and stereotype that we need to change, now. Offering our friends, colleagues, clients, students new perspectives on I/ME can mobilise narratives, theory and values in support of liberation.
How? If you’re already using I/ME you’ve got a great platform from which to re-route your next conversation so you haul trauma, bias, and embodied social impact into view. I’ve given some examples here. Failing to do this entrenches racism and stereotyping, so we need to turn to people who can support with us with any emotional, spiritual, intellectual or other upheaval the work incites.
I teach Connected Eating because if it’s not inclusive, it’s oppressive.
With big thanks to Nicole Maunsell for conversation and editorial support.
Lucy Aphramor is a poetitian. They perform social action poetry working with director Tian Glasgow from New Slang Productions. Lucy developed Well Now as a way of transforming trauma through food and body stories. www.lucyaphramor.com