Diet and Wellness Plans are the New Religion with Alan Levinovitz, Ph.D.
Alan Levinovitz, Ph.D

Today I’m talking with Alan Levinovitz, Ph.D., about the surprising connection between current wellness and dieting trends and religion. Alan is an associate professor of religious studies at James Madison University, where he specializes in Chinese philosophy and the intersection of religion and science. His first book, The Gluten Lie, explores modern food fears as religious taboos. He is currently working on another book, Natural, that explains how we turn nature into God.

Alan talks about how religion offers a way to deal with suffering, how to avoid suffering, why suffering happens, and how to fix it. He compares this narrative to the prevailing narrative inherent in diet and wellness culture that promises to help you heal all manner of physical and emotional suffering.

Show Highlights:

  • Halo Top ice cream implies that there is something holy about not consuming calories which is tied up with denial of the body, a deeply religious theme
  • The new secular saints are diet, wellness, and fitness gurus
  • The sphere of religion’s authority is shrinking so we look to other authoritative sources like science to tell us how to avoid suffering
  • People really want food to make them holy and pure although today we use the language of “optimizing” oneself
  • The word holistic has been corrupted by health gurus 
  • Most lifestyle changes that claim to be holistic are not holistic at all, as they are only about the body
  • No one knows why we suffer and die
  • Some kind of narrative helps explain the randomness of suffering and death
  • It’s not just that you should moderate sugar but eliminate all sugar, which echos religious and purity taboos
  • Dietary taboos can be a way to both distance ourselves from certain communities and to form new communities 
  • It’s a really powerful thing to feel like you know something that other people don’t
  • People need narratives and metaphorical shorthands to deal with everyday life. 
  • Be wary whenever someone promises you a hidden, secret solution 
  • Treating the scale like an oracle – you step on the scale and it tells you how good you are
  • In his reading of old Taoist texts, he saw that you will live forever, your skin will clear up and you’ll be able to teleport, which is not much different than current day diet culture.

Links & Resources:

The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat by Alan Levonvitz, Ph.D.

Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Fads, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science by Alan Levonvitz, Ph.D.

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