Courtney is joined by Olivia Pape, the Director for the Collegiate Recovery Program. They talk about a passion for both of them – our society’s toxic diet culture! What is diet culture? How does it affect us? And what can we do to fight it? And a shameless plug – check out virtual Serenity Place:


All right, everyone. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to wellbeing Wednesdays, our weekly podcast from the Office of Student Wellness. My name is Courtney Weaver. I am your host. I am also the director of, Well WVU here at West Virginia university. See, and my guest today is Olivia Pape, and she is the relatively new director of the collegiate recovery program.

So welcome, Olivia. Thanks for being here today. Thanks for having me. I'm so glad to be here. And by here, I mean at home, right? Because we're being responsible and still practicing appropriately that safer at home order. We're still rocking it. That's, that's important. Um, so why don't you tell us a little bit about your role here at the university.

Absolutely. So, yeah, I'm pretty new in my role as director of the collegiate recovery program. I started in the midst of a global pandemic, um, but I've been working with the program itself for about five years now, since its inception. Um, and yeah, so really the collegiate recovery program is, you know.

Working at the university to build a culture of recovery and of acceptance, um, to really allow students who are in seeking or supporting recovery to have that normative college experience. Um, and we look at, you know, recovery, uh, from all different things, including substance use disorder, eating disorders, uh, mental health concerns, process addictions.

You know, so there's no just this program is for you if you are only in this area. Um, you know, recovery is really an ongoing process in which people are trying to improve wellbeing and strive to reach full potential. And. We are there to support them in any way we can. And so one of the things that you're passionate about and I'm passionate about is talking about issues like body neutrality and diet culture.

And that's going to be our topic today where we talked about diet culture. But first let's talk about that word. Diet, because oftentimes people are using the word diet not to describe a pattern of eating, where the ultimate goal is to like lose weight or change their body shape, but are looking at the word diet is to describe their pattern of eating.

So for example, if someone has Celiac's disease and they have to eat a gluten free diet, otherwise their body will have an adverse reaction. And that can vary as to the physical ailments that befall them. Um. Right? And if someone is, um, diabetic, then they have to make sure that they follow a diet that doesn't address, affect their blood sugar levels or cause they need to maintain a certain amount of them.

But we're not really talking about diets in that sense. Cause when we're talking about diet, we're talking about diet culture, and it's a billion-dollar industry or more. We're talking about diet with a capital D. I mean, it's a huge industry. And. And it's just a, it's really that we are living in a world that is designed to make us low to ourselves.

And therefore the diet culture, you know, the diet industry is huge, right? So let's talk about what diet culture is. And so for the folks at home, this information was actually taken from the website of a professional named Christie Harrison. She has her master’s in public health. She's also a registered dietician, and she's certified in dietetics and nutrition.

So she's legitimate source. We had Cammie hot on here. First episode, she's the registered dietician that works here at WVU. Um, and so when you're looking at nutrition advice, make sure you stick with folks who do have that RDN degree. Uh, let's remember that everyone you meet on social media who thinks they're a wellness expert isn't necessarily an expert in this area just because they've done some mid-level marketing scheme.

And they have a degree. Exactly. Um, so Christie has some great information on her site. And so let's talk about what diet culture is. Um, and so one of its components is that it really values thinness and it equates health and moral virtue. And so basically like weight is acquainted with your value. Um, and so this goes back to what Olivia was saying, that you spend your whole life thinking that.

You're broken or you're not good enough, just because you don't need that impossibly thin ideal that you see. Yeah. Yeah. I think, you know, another thing about that, Courtney, is that it's this idea that, um, you know, it equates to your moral virtue, but it also equates to, you know, your sense of worth. And there's this big idea of.

My life is going to start when I hit this certain weight or hit this certain weight, then I can do X, Y, and Z. Um, even though it's, you know, perhaps an impossibly thin ideal you're working to achieve. Um, you know, and another thing about diet culture that kind of goes along with that is. It's really looking at like, when I lose weight, if I lose weight, I've achieved this higher status, which means that you're willing to dedicate so much time and energy and space and money.

You know, into this whole thing of just, I want to shrink myself. I want to make myself smaller. Um, though, you know, some of these quote unquote idealized bodies are just really not sustainable, right. Especially when you see, you know, celebrities on the cover of women's health or men's health magazine.

It's like, you know, they train. Hours per day. They have, you know, a dietician who's cooking their meals for them because they need to play Superman on the screen. You know, no average person is going to be able to maintain that kind of lifestyle. And I think another thing about diet culture is that it likes to make us feel bad.

Uh. About certain ways of eating, um, while elevating others. And you see this a lot with, uh, current like wellness trends of clean eating. Yes. What was the way we were eating before? Was it dirty eating?

The same kind of dichotomy that you use here when you talk about STI too? Like when people say, well, I'm clean, meaning that they don't currently have an STI, but it's like, well, what's the opposite of that? What does that mean? It's dirty. And that creates a dichotomy that is horrible. Um, because no person should be seeing it, seeing themselves as dirty.

Um, and in this way, it also makes folks ashamed of eating certain foods. Um, and then the, then that distracts from, you know, taking pleasure or purpose, um, from your food. And also just like strips away your power. Because if someone's like, Oh, well, you can't eat that cupcake, it's bad for you. Is it going to make the drop a bank later?


I don't know. Donuts and made me do some weird stuff before then. Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. And it's this idea of the good versus bad. And I think I mentioned this to you the other day. Um, I really even try to steer away from the words healthy and unhealthy, you know, say, Oh, this is a healthy food.

Um, it's like, well, what does that really mean? And then we've also, again. You know, we've put this marker on it off, okay, well now we've got a judgment again, you know, so I try to look at food as, is this loving or is this not loving for whatever that may mean for me. Um, yeah, and you know, when we're looking at kind of this diet culture, I mean, it's harmful in many ways, but it really is oppressive for people who don't line up with this.

You know, societal, historical idea of health and what that's supposed to look like. And that can be, you know, disproportionately harmful to women. Uh, trans folks, people living in larger bodies, people of color, um, people with disabilities. And it's harmful, you know, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

I mean, having a quest for extreme weight loss. Is damaging on so many levels. It can really take a long time to repair. You were saying something earlier about, um, like when we see celebrities on the cover of magazines, I had read about Joaquin Phoenix losing weight to play the joker, and like, it became this thing that I was obsessive about and there was no amount of weight.

I was losing that was going to be enough. And it's like, I mean, it's a brain chemistry thing. It'll really. I mean impact you in some severe ways. That's, that's for sure. Uh, and so let's talk about how, you know, we as a society talk about food. And this is something that I've really been working on myself for the past couple of years, cause I worked closely with a registered dietician in my, in my past.

And you know, she was. Had these incredibly progressive ideas about food that I just really took to heart. And, and you mentioned this earlier about that problematic dichotomy of healthy versus unhealthy, um, labels that we tend to give food that, you know, cucumbers are healthy. Um, but you know, cupcakes are unhealthy.

I keep bringing up cupcakes. I think it's cause I'm crazy. Um, and so I, I myself. Don't like to label food as healthy or unhealthy. I like to label it as like calorically dense or nutritionally, because it can be either or. It could be both, or it could be neither. Uh, and so it sort of takes, it's very like neutral terms that sort of, that.

Moral good and bad, because if we start labeling food in that way, you start associating feelings of guilt and shame with eating certain foods. And all food has value at the end of the day. Right, right. And I think you're right, and it, and it is very black and white to say this food is good or bad. You know, striving to live more in that gray.

How does this make me feel today? Um, you know, and, and for me, like, and, and I fall into it too. I'm, I'm imperfect about this, of saying, you know, healthy versus unhealthy, but it's like, listen, I can binge on broccoli that doesn't make it healthy. You know? I mean, it's kind of looking as well at the intent.

Um, and talking about, you know, how we demonize food, how we demonize the way that we eat, you know, and the attachment that we have there. You know, Oh, you shouldn't eat this. You know, because X, Y, and Z. Um, and that's a real, I mean, that's a real challenge. You know, Oh, this, this food is bad for you. Oh, you shouldn't have that.

And it's like, well, why? Like, so kind of exploring that a little bit further, but I think that getting out of that black and white idea of food is either good or bad. You know, that's really doing us a disservice, I believe. Right? And it's incredibly pervasive. And you see it from such a young age too, because if, you know, a five-year-old says, you know, mommy, can I have another bowl of ice cream?

The automatic response is, no, that's bad for you. Um, and so we take those messages and internalize them, uh, and then bring them forward. We still live in a place where it's seen as acceptable to comment on what other people are eating. Like I couldn't have the palette of a of a 12-year-old, so I still eat a lot of like, you know, macaroni and cheese and I'm a big fan of chicken nuggets and all that girl tattoo of macaroni and cheese.

It's, we get along so well.

Yeah. What that means is, you know, having to set a boundary of, please don't comment on my food. And that goes the other way as well, because you know, so I'm a person in long-term recovery from an eating disorder, and for a long time it was really hard for me to eat with other people because I would look at their plate.

And make an inherent judgment about myself compared to them about, you know, Oh, how are they allowed to eat these things? You know? And there it goes again, that sort of allowance of you can eat X, Y, and Z and not gain weight. And that's not fair. And you know, it's such a, like, that's not my business. Just like my food isn't somebody else's business.

Right. For sure. Uh, and I think we talked about this yesterday, but I don't know if you wanted to touch on that. Checks and balances system that people tend to use with food. Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, that's a big thing for me as well when I'm doing kind of an assessment of myself, because. Listen, I've been in recovery for a long time, but it is an everyday process.

As we know, recovery is on a continuum. There's no end point. There's never a graduation. You are in class every day. And so, you know, looking at. Those checks and balances that we do to say, um, okay, well, I, you know, I ate, uh, this donut this morning, so that means I have to run 12 miles today. Or because I didn't exercise.

I'm not allowed to have carbohydrates. Uh, I need to only eat raw veggies today. Um, and it's, it's another way of trying to keep this balanced. And it's tough, Courtney, because it's like, that's not all inherently bad. I don't think it's like, Oh, am I, am I more hungry because I exercise tonight? Probably. Am I less hungry because, gosh, I've been laying on the couch watching 90-day fiancé for the last eight hours.

I watched that show. I definitely was, Oh my gosh, we have started on a later, but you know, and so and so. There is. There's a fine line. There's again, this gray area of saying, responding to your body, but really examining, am I taking an action with food or, you know, with diet in an effort to fix something about my body effort to, you know, balance what I ate earlier.

You know, kind of. What are you hoping is the end result? Right, right. And I think something that we see a lot in society today are these wellness diets where we see the clean eating, we see the detox that people are pushing, we're see cleanses, and then the overuse of elimination diets. Restricting carbs.

That fear of gluten, where folks, gluten intolerance and science has shown that that's not the case unless you are truly diagnosed with Celiac's disease. Um, and so people, they've have a name for it, which isn't in the DSM, the diagnostic and statistical manual on that. You know, mental health professionals use, but it's called orthorexia and it's where people are using the guise of healthy eating.

And of course I'm using quotation marks and you can't see that a lot of nodding. And I think it's so much easier in a recording studio cause we can pick up each other's like . Anyway, um, you know, this term of orthorexia where people are using this.

There are disordered eating patterns. Often they're reinforced by other folks. It's like, Oh my gosh, you're so healthy. Like, look at your choices. You sacrifice so much. And so they're like, well, if I restricted all this, let me restrict, you know, I'm only gonna eat raw foods now and I'm going to cut sugar and I'm going to do all these other things.

It's damaging to your body. Yeah, absolutely. And again, that's a real, um, you know, challenge, because it's not saying. You know, Oh, there's something wrong with wanting to eat in a way that makes you feel good. And maybe that includes more fruits and veggies and you know, less, you know, pizza out. Like that's not, that's not what we're saying, but what it is, is with orthorexia and was kind of these, you know, pervasive diets that really just get in there and disguise themselves as this is a good thing.

Is it. Is this, you know, overrunning of your life and saying, you know, for me that was a big indicator was like, I am unwilling to go out to dinner with my friends. Unless I am bringing you a baggie of raw vegetables, you know, that is nuts. Like, you know, I mean, it was, it was making me miserable and an orthorexia and also exercise.

Bulimia is a thing that isn't in the DSM and, and is, again. Really tough to distinguish because Ryan, it's, you know, yeah. Wanting to work out, wanting to feel good in my body. And you know, maybe I'm, I'm intense about that, but it's. It's when you get to this place of you're losing pleasure, or your choices are guilt based, or you're having the severe stress, right?

When it's, Oh, the, you know, my diet today was quote unquote off, and I can't stop beating myself up about it, or I didn't work out twice a day. You know, it goes back to those checks and balances and. It's tough because it's shrouded in like, wow, shouldn't we, you know, praise people who are working so hard to eat in a way that makes them feel good.

But it's also like, does it make you feel good? Like does it feel good to limit yourself severely? And I think I always tell people is like, man, you know what's great eating a cookie, but you know what's even better is eating a cookie without guilt attached to it. Yeah. That. That's a very good point. Uh, and I know we'd wanted to talk a little bit more about body image, but we're running out of time.

Uh, so perhaps we, I'm just going to bring you back and we're going to talk about body image and a whole other episode cause this is so closely related to that. And it's, it's related to how we talk about our bodies just in general. Um, but let's just go over a quick few strategies about how to combat diet culture that you can do personally.

Because I mean, it is. Billion-dollar industry and one person's not going to dismantle it, but you can work to dismantle it in your own life. Um, so something that we recommend is first of all, pay attention when society talks about food. Cause as soon as you start noticing the way it's talked about, it's, you can't notice it again.

Um, it's, that's just how it is. And you're going to be like. Wow. Like let's really examine about how a society talks about food, about I talk about food and make some changes yourself. So another idea is to refrain from commenting on someone's weight loss or their weight gain, which you mentioned earlier about staff my plate, cause you never know the full machinations behind these changes because if someone goes through address it, weight loss, and someone's like, Oh my gosh, you look great.

And they're like, well thank you. I was. Diagnosed with, you know, an autoimmune disorder. And it caused me to lose a significant amount of weight because my body was unbalanced chemically. Um, that's not great. Um, and then also if someone says, Oh, well, you look great after losing weight, that implies that they didn't look great before.

And you know, all bodies have value and all bodies are beautiful. And so we really just want to get away from value. Is. Acquainted with how much you weigh? Well, I don't know. I think, I think that it's good to remember that losing weight is not the ultimate achievement. Right? And again, it walks that line of you are allowed to feel good, you know, you're allowed to feel good about losing weight, but it's kind of the why.

And also if that's the most, you know, useful and meaningful thing we have to say about a person, what does that say about us? Right. Oh, that's definitely true. Um, and then another practice that you could incorporate is to practice mindful eating or intuitive eating. And that's really where you're paying attention to, like your bodies.

Hunger cues and your satiety cues, which is such a fun word, satiety stuff, where to say, especially at the end of a week. Um, so no, like am I hungry? Like really be present in the moment when you eat your food, try to eat without distractions. So like eating in front of the television or while you're studying or doing an activity, like just maybe take.

Start with like one meal a day, whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner, to just sit down and really be present with your food, um, and see if that changes anything for you. I'll also say that intuitive eating can be really challenging, and so giving yourself some compassion around that. Um, I think that has helped me with kind of tuning into those hunger and fullness cues.

It's also eating with other people. And right now we're not super able to, but scheduling a zoo like meal with someone can be helpful because then I'm connecting with them and I'm actually less checked out when I'm doing that. Yeah, that's a really good idea. And then our final little piece of advice would be to look into alternate perspectives.

So there's a model called health at every size, and I recommend that people take a look at it. Um. Based on three different principles, which is respect for yourself and for others. Critical awareness, and then compassionate self-care. And if you all just Google health at every size, you'll come up with some great information.

Um, and I recommend that you research it because there are lots of different models of health out there. And I think this is a really inclusive one. So give it, give it a whirl. Uh, and so violently, we have our wellbeing snapshots. Uh, and I think it's, this particular topic is so important in this time of COVID-19, because the number of memes that we have seen that's looking at, well, it's COVID-19 pounds, and that's what you're going to gain in quarantine.

And that, you know. Beach season this year or bikini season this year. It looks like everyone has a great personality. Imply actually distance myself from the kitchen. Yes. Like, you know, my, my, the button on my jeans is socially distancing from itself. Um, and so this is a time I think people really need to.

Give themselves some grace. This is a pandemic. This hasn't been seen in over a hundred years in this country. We are going, your body will change. I mean, that's just kind of how it is. You know, gyms haven't been open. Uh, folks are maybe eating in ways that isn't their norm. Um. And I think also, you know, the weight gain jokes also apply a certain level of privilege as well, which is a whole other thing to unpack.

Hi. It's very fat phobic. And, and to me, I think one of the things that is like is that we're, I mean essentially saying diet supersedes a global pandemic. You know, your weight loss. Is more important than your actual wellbeing of staying safe and, and, you know, recognizing that code. This is a triggering time, especially for people with history of eating disorders, disordered eating.

I mean, there's food scarcity. Things that you typically buy at the grocery store may not be available. Uh, you know, the gym is closed. There's isolation. There's constantly being around the kitchen. You know? And so I think again, like you're saying, having some of that self-compassion, this is a tough time.

It's a tough time on a myriad of levels and throwing in, you know, this fat phobic, like weight gain as a punchline is just really, I mean, so mean to ourselves. Right? And it's coming from not just from individuals, but you know, from institutions that are making these kinds of comments. Right. And it's really disheartening, I think, and disappointed at the end of the day, even with, and I said this the other day, like even with no one around to see us.

We are still afraid to be in a larger body, even in a time where, yeah, we're all kind of living in sweatpants, my casual Friday, whereas,

and we still have this great fear. Um, you know, we shouldn't be doing more to lose weight during this time that, you know, the pandemic diet. Um, and so it just really shows us, you know, how pervasive this is. You know, we live in a society where, you know, the cultural language is commiseration through negative, you know, self-talk, negative body talk, talk about how we need to lose weight and it's just something we have to challenge.

I think. Yeah. For sure. Well thank you so much Olivia, for taking the time out of your day to come and chat with us. Um, we really appreciate it and we'll, we'll definitely have you back so we can talk more about like body neutrality and body image cause those are really important topics and definitely tie into what we're talking about today.

So thank you so much and thank you to all our listeners and we will catch you next time on Wellness Wednesday.