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The Toxicity of the Wellness Culture
Episode 10822nd August 2022 • Hey, Boomer • Wendy Green
00:00:00 00:46:12

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That is a radical statement! Being well is something we all want. We follow the latest diet trends. We take the recommended supplements. We become "fat phobic," telling ourselves we are not "good enough" if we are overweight.

Debra Benfield, founder and owner of Body in Mind Nutrition, told me that there is an ageist diet/wellness culture that leads to a lack of body respect in the Pro-Aging movement. Deb wants to blaze a path into elderhood without the scales!

Topics covered:

  • Internal biases around eating, diet, weight and fitness, specifically focused on women over 50
  • We have learned that in order to be loved, be worthy or be of value, we must be thin, This belief leads to disordered eating, feeling badly about ourselves. 
  • Intuitive eating - eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full. Stay out of your head, stop counting calories, stop tracking, 
  • We can feel overwhelmed by so many different diets and even may have forgotten how to eat a healthy diet.
  • Research shows that it is not obesity that causes heart disease, diabetes or other diseases, it is actually the behaviors or genetics or trauma. You can be fat and fit. 
  • Being thin does not equal healthy.

Episode Takeaways:

1. Wrap your head around the idea that all bodies are worthy

2. These suggestions can help you age with vitality and protect you from disordered eating

  • Move your body so it feels like play
  • Be socially connected
  • Manage your stress
  • Use intuitive eating

Thanks so much for listening.

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How to reach us

You can email me with questions or comments at

Join the Hey, Boomer Walk to End Alzheimer's Team at 

– Wendy Green is a Certified Life Coach, working with people going through the sometimes uncomfortable life transition from full-time work to “what’s next.” Find out more about Wendy’s 6-week “What’s Next Transition” Coaching workshop

– You can find Debra Benfield at 

- On Instagram at @agingbodyliberation

- or email her at

Books mentioned in the show

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach

How to Raise an Intuitive Eater: Raising the Next Generation with Food and Body Confidence

Show transcript

Toxicity of the Wellness Culture.m4a

Hello. Welcome to the Hey Boomer Show, which is live each Monday on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube and then available the next day on your favorite podcast app. My name is Wendy Green and I am your host for Hey Boomer. And Hey, Boomer is for those of us who believe we are never too old to set another goal or dream, a new dream. It is for lifelong learners who have found meaning and are finding meaning and purpose in their lives and are living their best lives into this new chapter. We at hey boomer are on a push to grow our hey boomer Walk to end Alzheimer's team and what I would like to do is welcome our newest walk member, Kathy McAfee. She joined our Greenville, South Carolina, team. We also have Melanie Whitlock, who is out in Clearlake, California. And you can join her team, her hey, boomer team or Bernadette Wagner. She's having a team out in Hagerstown, Maryland. Everybody who joins the team is going to get a cute, hey, boomer hat that you can wear for the walk and you can wear afterwards with great pride because you are a boomer. So join our team, any of these teams by going to and if you don't want to walk with us or you feel like you can't, you can still go ahead and contribute so that we can find a cure and end this disease and meanwhile help people that are still going through the disease. I also wanted to mention the What's Next Group Coaching program.

This program helps answer the question Who am I now? Who do I want to be? Will I ever feel useful and productive in society again? And what is my value to my family, my community, my society now that I am no longer fully employed or following my career path? At the end of the six week program, you will have a six month plan and possibly a 12 month plan, and the next cohort begins on September the 20th. And let me show you how you can reach out. You can go to Calendly/heyboomer/20min and we can set up a free 20 minute consultation. Find out where you're at, where you want to be. See if this makes sense to you or you don't have to talk to me if you don't want to. You can just check out the program at and learn all about it. It really can be a program that can move you into your next chapter with great comfort and ease. So let's get to what we're talking about today. And I've been struggling with this topic a little bit, the toxicity of the wellness culture. I mean, I mostly try to eat healthy. I take supplements. I exercise some most of the time. No, probably not as much as I should. And I have to admit, I am a fair weather walker and hiker when it is cold and rainy. I am not the one that's out there, but I do get uncomfortable when the scale says I've gained a few pounds and all of these beliefs about weight and fitness and behaviors.

These all are reinforced by my family and by the media. You know, we all hear comments like, oh, she's really put on some weight or, well, wouldn't she be pretty if she just lost some weight? Advertisements and TV shows portray happy, slender people and not so happy larger people. And if they're heavy older people, the images can be even more demeaning. So preparing for this show has shown me how much I've bought into these ideas that fat is bad and skinny is good. Did you know that we as a society spend over $35 billion on diet products annually? It is a lucrative industry. And diet culture is that collective set of social expectations telling us that there's one way to be. And one way to look. And one way to eat. So that we are a better person. And we're a more worthy person if our bodies are in that mold that we all hear about. So today we're going to dissect what it is meant by the wellness culture, how it can be toxic and how it affects us as we age. And I really want you to join in and ask questions, because a lot of this is learning for me, and I'm sure it's learning for you. So feel free to join us. And let me bring on our expert today. Her name is Deborah Benfield.

Hi, Deb. Wendy. Hey, everybody.

So Deborah invites you to join her on the intersection of pro aging and body liberation on her newest website. From her experience, she understands how aging creates vulnerability to the ageist, diet, wellness, culture, and how frustrating it is to find a profound lack of body respect in the pro aging movement. And I had to check with her on that quote because I was like, Wait, pro, aging? Aren't we, like all about accepting where we are? Well, you're going to hear about some of how it's not accepting. Deb is a registered dietitian nutritionist with over 35 years of experience in that field. She's also a registered yoga teacher. She is the founder and owner of Body and Mind Nutrition, a group practice of registered dietitians and nutritionists. And like I said, the founder of her newest site, which is more focused on the aging, she'll tell us more about that. Deborah Benfield She's passionate about preventing and treating disordered eating and eating disorders and supporting you in feeling more comfortable and confident in your relationship with food, eating and your body.

So, Deb.

Tell me how you got into this field in the first place and then kind of what your journey has been to move more into the aging space.

Well, I first want to thank you. I really appreciate your openness to this conversation, because I know it's kind of tricky and surprising to think about how the pro aging movement may have some problems with how we look at bodies. And I think that may be more true for women's bodies. I also want to say that my pronouns are she, her, hers. And I want to talk just a minute about my vocabulary. I you'll hear me say obesity right now as a word that I will not be saying any further. I believe that the way we talk about bodies further stigmatizes pathologizing as bodies that are fat and fat, in my worldview is a descriptor just like you have red hair. Wendy I believe that it's just a descriptor of who you are. I have brown eyes, so it's a description of me. So fat in my worldview is not pejorative. It's a description. So you'll hear me say a fat and not the ugly words. And I'll talk a lot more about that later, too. So I got into this because I really like talking to people as whole human beings. So when I started my career, I pretty quickly started referring clients to therapists to talk about issues outside of what was going on in their eating and their relationship with their bodies. And I happened to develop a relationship with a therapist. That was amazing. Her name is Joan Wilkins, and she was my supervisor, and her specialty was eating disorders. So I, very early in my career, started developing this curiosity and interest in learning more. And it's just kind of become what I do. And I'm very passionate about the work. It's very rewarding to watch and work with a woman who starts to become more powerful in her life and doesn't kind of give her power away by wanting to shrink herself. So I hope that's all well.

And so, you know, we talked about the early time we're getting into the eating disorders, but now you're moving into how it's affecting us as we age. So what brought your interest there?

Well, I will be 64 in December. And when I turned 60, I also became a grandmother for the first time.

Oh, congratulations.

Thank you. So something happened in my head where I just wanted to do more research on what we know to be true about how to support aging with vitality and being who I am and understanding what I understand about diet and wellness culture. I was absolutely shocked by how the anti-aging messages hit me hard and fast that I had to get through what I consider to be a bunch of bullshit. I didn't ask you if I can say those kinds of words on your show.

Of course, again, this is an adult show.

But it just felt like I had to wade through a lot of things that I knew were not based in science and I knew were very adjust and what I consider to be phobic. So I quickly saw that I had to dig a little deeper and I really couldn't find what I was looking for. So I realized that I had to I wanted to create what I think people are needing, what I needed to start with. And it's been it's been fascinating to me to really look at how you can support aging with vitality without getting pulled into all of the you must lose weight. Yeah.

So I want to talk about those biases and I want to talk about internal biases because those certainly do hold us back. I mean, and we have more control over those than we do some of the external biases we hear from the media. So in my world, I talk about living an engaged, meaningful life and getting over that internal bias of I'm too old, I don't have the energy anymore. I don't learn as quickly. And shifting that message. In your world, it's more about eating and diet and weight and fitness. And so what are some of the messages that you hear that are internal biases and how do we address those?

Yeah, I think that it's I really love that we're kind of focused on a particular group of people right now because coming of age, when we all came of age, I went back and looked at the timeline of how women's bodies were portrayed in the media. The forties and fifties, women's curvy and voluptuous bodies were heralded as the ideal, the beauty ideal. And as a matter of fact, there are there is evidence of, like ads for weight gain products.


Yes. I'll show you. There are like you can't be too skinny in the forties and fifties. That's not appealing. Now, of course, all of this marketed to women. Right. And then guess what happened in the sixties?

Twiggy, twiggy.

Twiggy entered our lexicon and the diet industry took hold and just blew up. And women quickly believed they had to be like Twiggy and which, in my opinion, is unachievable and ridiculously thin and likely fragile. And if you pursue that kind of ideal, you have to diet. I mean, that's what happened is the women believed that in order to be beautiful, in order to be valued, in order to have worth, they must diet. So I don't know if you watched Mad Men.

I watch some of that, yeah.

I think the character Betty Draper is an amazing character to talk about when it comes to this, because that show took place when all of this happened and it's set in that time period. They did a great job of showing what happened, especially with women in that time. And she joined Weight Watchers and that was the classic choice. And they show her in several shows going back into the kitchen and sneaking her food and actually bingeing the foods that she was deprived of. So it's really interesting to look at how in the sixties. The dive industry took hold because women felt to be worthy, to be loved, to be valued, they must be thin. And I really feel like that's where it really shifted in a in a big way. And also what you're describing about the money that was to be made based on that. And there are a lot of people that believe that it's not surprising that that's also when the women's movement was taking place and that perhaps there was kind of this interesting way to get women to be disempowered. If they're really focused on dieting, they won't have as much of a voice. They will have as much power. So Naomi Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth, is a wonderful book to read if you want to dig into that concept.


She's not the only one that believes that, but that book is very powerful.

And what's interesting, Deborah, is that if that started in the sixties, here we are.


60 years later and it's still going on. I mean, you know, I can look in my in my cabinet, you know, I have the whole body diet. I have, you know, diet for a small planet. I have South Beach diet. I have like all these books because I'm like, oh, gosh, you know, I've got to lose a little weight. And every trend changes. You know, it's like, Whoa, och, don't eat carbs. Well, now you should eat carbs. Don't eat fruit. Well, now you should eat fruit. You know, it's like count calories don't count calories. And it's so confusing and no wonder it creates disordered eating. I don't know about eating disorders, so maybe you can differentiate that for me because I don't understand that.

Yeah, we're definitely going to talk about that. I don't know if you want to jump into that now, but I think we're we need to talk. I know it's way outside the scope of the show to get to details about eating disorders, but I think it is helpful to look at what is normal and what is disordered and what is an actual diagnosable eating disorder. Yeah. Do you want to do that now?

Well, first of all, Angela says, what was the name of that book you mentioned?

It is titled The Beauty Myth.

The Beauty Myth.

And the author is Naomi Woolf was written quite a while ago, but it's exceptional when it when you look into the principle that we're talking about.

So yeah, we can go one of two ways. Why don't you describe the difference right now? And then we'll talk a little bit more about the dieting and intuitive eating. How about that?

Okay. So perhaps I feel that eating occurs on a continuum and most of us kind of travel up and down that continuum, hopefully not too far toward disordered eating, but normal eating is. Easy. Normal eating is messy. It's eating when you're hungry. When your body says it's time to eat. And stopping. When you're full and. Even a variety of foods that satisfy you. So that you can actually notice when you're satisfied and full. It is not being in your head, counting and calculating and tracking at all. It is only listening to your body and therefore not struggling with feeling guilty or even ashamed of what you're doing. So there's no reaction in your emotional life and there's no space taken up in your head. You're very simply easily eating when you're hungry. Stop it when you're satisfied. And disordered. Disordered eating is likely getting much more in your head with it. And much more rule based, much more tracking, and therefore more reaction. More in your head following rules, and therefore feeling like you're being bad if you've eaten something that you've decided is bad. And eating disorders are. We have many we have anorexia nervosa. We have bulimia nervosa. We have binge eating disorder. We have arfid, which is a new diagnosis, relatively new ARFID stands for If I Get All This right, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. And it's really about having a negative experience like choking or vomiting, that's created an anxiety about eating or a sensory issue where there are many foods that you feel like you can't eat, that you can only eat a shorter list of foods. And there's also something called Orlistat, which is basically a group of disorders that don't fit into any other boxes. So it's like a catchall phrase, but there is a disorder to the point of some debilitation in your lifestyle, so we can break each of these down. There's a lot to talk about with you.

I know this is where I get hung up, because when you describe normal eating, just eat what you want, when you want until you're full. I mean, I think I had mentioned this to you once, you know, like if I had a plate of chocolate chip cookies here, which is my go to dessert and I have a refrigerator with carrots, celery and lettuce, I'm going for the chocolate chip cookies every time. You know, it tastes good. It's easier than putting together a salad. How is that normal eating? Of course, I'm...