Marginalization in the Nutrition Field
I’m sharing a response to an esteemed colleague who asked for statements from those who have experienced marginalization in the nutrition field, specifically by the eating disorder community. It started with a paragraph and turned into an essay. The full article can be read here, but here are some snippets…
First, allow me to introduce myself… and thank you for letting me share 🙏🏼
My name is David Wiss. I am a 41-year-old White Jewish cishet male from Los Angeles, CA, and a product of the Los Angeles Unified School District. I recently completed a PhD from UCLA, giving me a prestigious title I worked hard for.
My father is a retired orthopedic surgeon who spent much of his early career in the county’s public health care system. Growing up, it was not unusual for him to get paged during a holiday or miss a baseball game to attend to someone who was shot, injured in a motor accident, or hurt on the job. My brother is 19 months older; we grew up close and competitive.
Needless to say, I represent the historically advantaged group. I grew up confident I would attend college and live a comfortable life. If I’m completely honest, I assumed I would be wildly successful, which, in many ways, I am.
Most people don’t know I have a dark addiction segment to my story, partly stemming from a legacy of alcoholism on my mom’s side. Middle school was rough, and I found drugs at a young age. My mother was a hippie in the late 1960s; I became a raver in the late ’90s. I love my mother deeply, who is currently living with dementia in memory care at age 72.
Deviating from the Party Lines
Today, I view food and nutrition as unspoken tools of oppression in society. This comes from someone who has lived in institutions where people get stabbed over a honey bun, where we washed trays for hours in exchange for chocolate muffins, and committed crimes for bags of instant coffee to drink as thick as mud.
I also view weight stigma and diet culture as a tool of oppression. It is evident to many of us working in the field that weight is not simply a personal choice, BMI is racist, and most people seeking nutrition change gravitate toward fad diets. “Diet culture” generates enormous industries (with ties to Big Food and Big Pharma) with questionable beneficial impacts and often harmful consequences, including the onset of life-threatening eating disorders.
It has often been said: “If you want to know the truth, follow the money.”
Finding My Tribe
I’ve had difficulty finding like-minded colleagues who embrace dialectics in dietetics and invite nuance into nutrition. I have found some folks, and the connections feel deep. I do the type of work that most eating disorder dietitians do, but I also include a functional medicine component when it is clinically appropriate.
Unlike many of my colleagues, I think there are solutions to cases of eating disorders that involve conversations around ultra-processed foods, the neurobiology of reward, gut health, and the inflammatory cascade. This is particularly true when there are trauma histories, co-occurring substance use disorders, or persistent depressive symptoms.
Food can be profound, and not all calories are created equal. These conversations can be had from a food-positive, body-neutral, and non-diet perspective. Not all eating disorders have the same biological underpinnings, and we desperately need more discernment and nuance in the food space. Are you here for it?
Throughout history, the encouragement of groups to target one another has been a tool of tyrants. It can be seen from Washington DC to mass incarceration in California. And now, in the nutrition sphere, people are pitted against themselves and, therefore, cannot mobilize against the less-discussed systemic inequities. I’m ready to see some tangible change in the spirit of truth, accessibility, and organic egg yolks with that deep orange carotenoid pigment 🙌🏼
This conversation about the nutrition landscape isn’t black and white and isn’t about right or wrong. We shouldn’t have to pick a side. There is plenty of room for social justice movements to exist simultaneously and synergize. If eating disorder professionals teach our clients to have less rigid and more flexible thinking patterns, I hope we can do the same.
Even though I‘ve felt out of place, I’m not leaving. My path is clear, but it appears long and sometimes feels cold. Feel free to walk with me in pursuit of warmth, truth, resilience, and sustainable recovery. Together, we can accomplish what we can never accomplish alone!
Has the nutrition field become toxic? Share your thoughts with me on Instagram.