Season 1 Episode 11:
The CULT of Diet CULTure w/ Sarah Edmondson
with Michelle Shapiro RD and Sarah Edmondson, actor and NXIVM whistleblower
In this episode, Michelle sits down with Sarah Edmondson, actor and NXIVM whistleblower, to talk about how exactly to identify a “cult” or “culty” selling tactics in the nutrition and diet industry. They compare the manipulative messaging in both cults and diet culture, with tangible tips for how to access your own intuition in these situations.
- Sarah’s background and experience in the NXIVM cult
- Comparison between cult messaging and manipulative messaging in diet culture
- Red flags to look out for with fad diets or self-help programs
- Cult-like behavior in healthcare sales tactics
- How to spot coercive control in diets & personal development programs
- Choosing that health components that resonate with you vs. blindly following a diet fad or trend
- Accessing your own intuition
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Sarah Edmondson’s resources:
A Little Bit Culty podcast
Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM
Cult Recovery Resources
Follow Sarah on IG
Work with Michelle and her free resources:
Work 1-on-1 with a functional Registered Dietitian at Michelle Shapiro Nutrition LLC
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Functional nutrition conference 2023
(1:23) Intro to Sarah Edmondson and the NXIVM cult
(11:24) The cults within diet culture
(24:34) How to spot cult-like messaging in diets, health programs, and healthcare practitioners
(33:33) Accessing your own intuition to create your own system of health beliefs
(39:57) Red flags of culty sales tactics
(44:11) What makes you prone to culty diet culture tactics
(52:15) Divisiveness in the health, nutrition, and diet space
Introduction to Sarah Edmondson, actor and NXIVM whistleblower
There are many things in life that fascinate each of us. The reason I'm a dietitian is not only because I love the spirit of nutritional science, I love the rigor of nutritional science. But I love understanding human behavior. And understanding human behavior at its extremes.
And a big part of this podcast for me has been about what happens when we either kind of listen to our own voices and let that guide our behavior and actions or when we abandon our own voices, and how that influences our health. And that's really what quiet the diet means, right? It's all about trying to quiet the noise of what the world or other people is telling you and accessing your what I believe to be infinite knowledge to your own body and healing.
In my maybe the word obsession isn't right, because I think it's overused, but in my interest in human behavior and the abandonment of self has always come have a very strong interest in extreme personalities or extreme societies and groups.
One of those being cults I am super into learning about cults, I think many of us are, it's very fascinating to understand how amazing people can change through the influence of others. And it makes me feel protective. And it makes self protective and protective of others. And it makes me really cautious of the nutrition messaging that I put out. And what you'll notice about me is I'm always super nuanced and super individualized because I think the broad strokes of either diet culture or anti diet, diet culture can be and just anti diets in general can lead us to abandon ourselves voice.
One cult that I had particular interest in learning about was the MXIVM cult led by Keith Ranieri and you may have heard of this cult from HBOs The Vow or Seduced another series based on it or just in popular media.
And one of the kind of pioneers of leaving that cult was the absolutely amazing Sarah Edmondson who was the guest on our podcast today. And where our worlds collide, and it was just so insane to me that Sarah would even sit down have a conversation. I'm just so blown away by her. I'm so moved by her. I'm moved by her podcast A Little Bit Culty with her partner, nippy, Anthony Eames.
And Sarah came on because I really wanted to have this conversation about what happens either in a diet culture way of us abandoning ourselves voice that could be happening also in you know, even functional providers offices, and we're handling elimination diet, which for me, quite the diet, this podcast has always been about and will always hopefully be about how to access internal dialogue and how to make decisions based on what you actually need. In addition to that, Sarah is just so fascinating and warm and brilliant, and her story is so moving.
And we in this episode uncover kind of what I like to say is the cultish-ness of diet culture and where we can kind of see culty messaging in different things and where we can protect ourselves when other people are applying coercive control over us manipulation tactics and where I see that come up a lot in the health and wellness field.
So it is my joy to have Sarah Edmondson on the podcast today talking about all of this And I'm gonna leave in the show notes, of course her podcast and more information about Sarah because she is so amazing, but I want you to hear it from her herself. So here we go. And I know you're going to enjoy this one. I am blown away that Sarah is on the podcast at all see in there
Okay, wow, I am for the first time and probably yours very nervous about something. And it's this episode because I want it to go so freakin well, because my guest today, the fact that she should even take the time and sit down with me is such an honor and I really really mean that I am here with Sarah Edmondson hosts of a little bit culty she is a light for so many people. And I'm just so excited to have you here today. Sarah, thank you so much.
Thanks so much for having me. This is so fun to be here and also to meet a fellow Shapiro. Well,
I know I think I said I'm gonna have to make Shapiro my middle name and just become Michelle Shapiro. Shapiro. It'd be cool like you because you're middle
let me tell you how cool I am my actual full full name is Sarah Juliette Shapiro Edmondson Ames and I haven't taken it on fully. It's a long name, but even just to top it all off. I think this is a fun fact. So my dad is British. He's not Jewish, and his dad was a lord. So when his dad passed, it made him a lord, which makes me honorable.
Like if I go to England, I can say I'm honorable. But when I was in NXIVM, which I know we're going to talk about my official title when I left was senior proctor so my official full name at that time was the honorable, senior proctor, Sarah Juliet, Shapiro, Edmondson, Ames.
What is the NXIVM cult?
That's amazing. And I think I'm gonna have to go back and reintroduce you is that that's a perfect fit on the title card. That's amazing. We would need an entire other episodes just go through the name, I think. Exactly. Totally. So we are certainly going to be talking about that.
For context for my listeners, if you're a personal friend of mine, you very much already know my obsession with Sarah and the amazing brave people who left the NXIVM cult and lead other people to leave as well. If you are new to Sarah, Sarah, do you mind introducing yourself to us? Sure.
My name is Sarah. I live in Atlanta. I'm originally Canadian, and was still Canadian, actually, technically born and raised in Vancouver. I've got two little boys in the mid 2000s, I joined a personal and professional development group called NXIVM that was a beautiful community of like minded humanitarians trying to evolve themselves, achieve their goals, and ultimately change the world.
But our idealism, blinded us, and we didn't know what was really going on, which was that it was a cover for a group that used coercive control for the leader to procure power, sex and money. And when my husband and I and others found out about this, we decided to blow the whistle, bring this to the authorities, eventually, the FBI, and there was a trial and the leader is now in jail for 120 years. And we have a podcast called A Little Bit Culty that's the short version.
Yeah, that's the short version of a very real and very long story of your life. Yes, but thank you for that beautifully stated and concise version again, just to catch people up. It's interesting. Obviously, this is a generally a nutrition podcast, I do a lot of philosophical conversations to around bodily autonomy, and about making sure that you're making food decisions based on your own personal voice as opposed to other people's.
So this episode, I want us to talk about the cult-iness of diet culture. But what I want to be really careful to do is not minimize the experiences of people who left coercive control situations.
So if I'm saying something as cultish, I'm talking about more manipulative messaging and really bad idea that people can donate or outsource their power to make food decisions, which I'm seeing quite a bit, but I don't want to disrespect anyone who's experienced a different level, of course of control.
That's a great caveat. And I'd also say, you know, one of me and my husband's sort of tools to deal with all this as we We laugh a lot. There's a lot of humor. And that's where we're at in our process. We've been out for almost six years this this June will be six years. And that can be offensive to some people. If they're not ready to laugh yet everyone's there's no grieving, there's anger, there's sadness. Laughter is not always a tool for everybody. So I apologize in advance if I'm, you know, I'm not trying to make light is just where I'm at with it.
Sarah, I'm a Jew from Queens. My uncle is as a stand-up comedian with a 30 year career, the depth and depravity of the jokes that we make to get through our trauma. It's extreme. So you are sacred here. And for listeners as well. We're going to keep it light and funny. And while at the same time having very serious confrontations, hopefully. Yes, yes, exactly.
So I first started, kind of, of course, learning about NXIVM as being a New Yorker, there was always different people that actually had like, even taken seminars that I knew there were people who were always tangentially Yeah.
And I have family members in Albany, too. So there was always people who were like, tangentially kind of associated and especially when the bow came out, people we all obviously were watching and talking together and saying, like, Oh, my God, I, I either met this person had this experience.
So I think in New York state, it also hit really home for us. And this idea, I think, here and especially in New York City, That ego can present itself as you know, positive, and money and all these things have such power and influence over people, especially here. I think it really really resonated with people even if they hadn't had a cult experience or something like that. So I think your story is one that people it really hit home. I know certainly for me, and certainly for a lot of the people close to me in my life.
It's interesting also for me, because so much of my journey with NXIVM and it's 17 years total 12 years in five, six years out to as New York as the backdrop flying into JFK or LaGuardia, taking the train up the Amtrak train, which I will still I love that journey. Nope, the Hudson like it's such a mixed feeling. It's very pretty, it's very pretty. But then, of course, I would use the journey to like visit Manhattan when I could and go to Pure Food and Wine, which was my favorite raw restaurant. Oh, which is a whole other another culty.
How does someone end up in a cult?
I'll just say a whole other. That's a whole other episode right there. Exactly. Yes. It's really New York specifically. And this goes for anywhere in the world, anyone is vulnerable to these things. What I always found so completely fascinating about NXIVM that I felt like related so much to the New York experience in the diet world and elsewhere was that everyone had NXIVM in my head, all of you guys were like, so brilliant independently.
And so the exact and educated and so the exact people who are like, they would never fall for something, quote, unquote, these would be like, to me the least, quote, unquote, again, gullible people in the entire world. And it just really shows you that every single person in their effort to do well and do good for themselves or others, is vulnerable.
And I think that's what really resonated with me, because I'm like, these are the people who would be like, Get out of here, if something looked bad, you know. So, and I'm saying that to compliment you completely. And just to say, that was what always shocked, you know, struck me as I'm like, I never understood how people could end up in these, I always understood, but I think other people couldn't understand how very educated very smart, very cool people could end up in situations like that.
I appreciate that. And I definitely thank The Vow for giving people that very personal look into what that really felt like and sounded like and all the things when they showed at the beginning, and so many people that were in my life before who didn't sign up for various reasons were like, Oh, if you'd said it was like that, I probably would have signed up. So no, I was missing. But I think that's really key. And I appreciate you saying that, because it's a big part of our message. Now, because people who think they aren't susceptible are probably the most susceptible.
The cults within diet CULTure
I think that right now, what I'm seeing is a divide in the nutrition and diet world. And for people in ways of their health, which is that there's either a pathway people can go down, which is they can kind of engage in diet culture and do these restrictive diets, or they have to be fully body positive and not make food decisions or health decisions, because it could be potentially psychologically damaging.
So what ends up happening is, if you're doing something that can appear as a culture, it's kind of bad. And I'll use the example that my clients will come to me and say, I know I shouldn't want to lose weight. And I'm like, so, who says that you shouldn't want to lose weight?
So when people feel they're doing something like eating something and saying, Oh, it's okay, I give myself permission to eat this. They feel like they're doing something that's perceived as positive or societally good. And I think that can really influence people's decisions because they're like, Oh, this is the right thing. Can we talk about in relationship to your experience? How that might relate?
Yeah, in terms of joining NXIVM, or just like in general, I mean, I can Yeah, I have my own separate journey with like weight and dieting. Not dieting, but just like being fit. You know, I've never I've never seen myself as a dieter but I've always been very borderline obsessed with being sin. Never anorexic never Billy Mac, but definitely, like, super aware of what I put in my body. Annoyingly healthy, some might say some of my friends.
I'm one of those people that's like obsessed with various things when I find it, whether it be you know, celery juice or Tumeric lattes, or right now I've been I've been doing bulletproof for like two years and it's annoying for people for me and my I think my journey with that is that I tried to never, you know, say that this is the way because I said that NXIVM was the way for so long.
And I think that's now such a huge red flag for me when I see anyone touting anything as you know, this is the method this is the way that's when it gets dangerous for me it is something that I struggled with like especially after having two kids and there was this like almost a shaming around it wasn't okay to say like I wanted to get my body back or like versus I totally accept that my body will never be the same my birth a child and then the second time a second child it was totally it'd be totally worth it if I stayed like this, and I'm okay with it.
But at the same time, like I want to wear my old clothes, you know, like there was sort of some strange societal pressures around that, like it wasn't okay to say I want to be then again, like trying to relate these two concepts. I think the thing that I see the most as, like a problem across the board is that people are divided. divisiveness is like, so problematic for me right now.
And that's what I find as culty that people just label people assuming they know things. Like, if I saw some random chat on Instagram, I don't normally do this.
But I was looking at somebody saying like, Oh, yeah, they were they weren't into our podcast anymore, because they saw that one of our sponsors was affiliated with this other person that they didn't like, who they found to be really to right wing and, and whatever. And I'm like, I don't even know that other person, we both have the same sponsor, like, how are you making that link, you know, and it happened to be a nutrition thing it was for a probiotic. So I try to use sponsors, or people that I actually use, you know what I mean? Like, not just some random, some random thing.
One hundred million percent. It really is the divisiveness. And what I'm seeing again, is, I of course, hate diet, culture, and all associated parties the most, I've seen it more damaging to clients than anything, what I think a lot of what we see is then there's like this kind of kickback reaction, which is then like, everything is bad, and diet culture, I think people start to like, get new, I call it like, new, like little voices or identities that come along.
And then you have the Sarah voice that's like, you shouldn't want to be thin, it's like, but I also was before at the weight I wanted to be in it felt great. And you know, so you have kind of a new voice, which is that you shouldn't ever want to lose weight or shouldn't want to be fit or want to be those things, because it's body shaming, or something like that. So it's a lot of added shoulds. With the divisiveness too, for sure. Yes.
In NXIVM, we used to say, You're should-ing all over yourself. Now, I never want to use the word show again, but I'm sure they stole it from some other modality, I think what's really key and what I'm hearing you say is that there's these trends, you know, even in diet culture, the you're the expert on this, I'm not but I call myself a casual nutritionist, you know, people are always like, what are you taking now, and you can also
be a nutritionist, but there's no licensure for the word nutritionist. So you're literally a nutritionist you've got it
I definitely was totally guilty of telling people what they should do. I actually have a an idea for another podcast called unsolicited advice with Sarah, where I just tell people how to like how to live their life, it would probably be just like drink celery juice and do Bulletproof. But I don't want to do that.
Because I also know that everybody's different. And I just share like, this is what I do. And I take probiotics and I like Tumeric lattes, and like celery juice with ginger and lemon. And that makes me feel good. But again, nothing back to the way I do find a lot of the extreme diets cult-y for sure. Especially things like keto Oh, yeah, man, that's mostly like, it's not even so much the method itself, it's the people around it being like, I'm so much better than you because I do this.
Exactly. And I think people like to identify with something. And it's really comforting for people to feel like they're a part of something. And I've seen it be really disastrous for people when they kind of join a diet community. And then that doesn't work for them, because it's a physical regimen that just physically doesn't work with their bodies.
And then what ends up happening is they're sick, and now they've lost their community and identity too. I'm sure you could talk at length about that experience. And what that's like, and I'm sure this is a very micro view of of your bigger experience. But can we talk about the sense of community that we seek out when it comes to things with our health, our mental health or our spiritual health?
Yeah, I think it's very, it's very normal to want that it's definitely been something that Nippy and I have discovered in our cult recovery journey, in terms of you know, we were very set on on wanting to know how this happened. And even with the two of us why he joined and why I joined is different it is case by case but generally, a lot of people are looking for community and they're you know, they're lonely.
It's, again, the dividedness is a problem. People want to have answers for things the same way I'm sure that they in the in the community that you've built, they want to know how to live they want to know how to be healthy, and someone's coming and saying hey, yeah, I got I have the way I have a path I have a tool set I have a roadmap whatever you want to call it. So that in conjunction with like minded like we want to be around like minded people.
You know, we just met today we have the same middle last name Shapiro. And we're like we feel connected or like Oh, my goodness, we probably are related that feels so good. Which sidebar I had that when I met Nancy Salzman, also Jewish. And you know, for sure it was like our families are from the same shtetl and that feels good, it feels good. It feels safe.
And not all warmth and love is love bombing. So just to preface that, but of course when you meet somebody and they want to bring you in and envelop you into a community to feel like you've found family is is an incredible gift. If you're looking for family or you know have family or you're estranged from your family or you want to have a better family than what you currently have.
So I think that I see a lot of not necessarily full on cults with diets and diet culture, but very culty. And and that's definitely something that Nippy and I are very careful over not pointing our fingers going absolutely a cult. And that's a cult. It's like I see a dynamic here, that's cultish or culty.
In other words, there's an abuse of power. And what's the abuse of power? Probably more specific, I haven't done a deep dive, particularly on the whole diet culture yet, but certainly people have written to me and more about like MLMs within diet culture. I forget the name of the company you might not even want to mention it. But like, even things like Isagenix, and these companies, that's that sell shakes, Beachbody, that was one I was mentioned,
I'm good to mention Beachbody anytime.
number of people have asked me if we would do an episode on Beachbody. And I just said, I don't know. I don't know enough about it. But from the little research that I did, I was like, wow, definitely problematic. Because a lot of the jargon around what you again should be doing in the company is culty.
Because it's based on the self-help into so this is where like the Venn diagram of self-help overlaps with diet culture overlaps with MLMs, those three things in a Venn diagram, it's like, oh, yeah, really problematic for me.
At the core, the most upsetting part to me is that we know that loneliness is as dangerous for a person health wise as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. There's like this incredible study that showed that yeah, which is devastating too, so I get like ill thinking about someone who's sick and looking for help, and then looking for a sense of community like makes me like ill, it's not really tingly isn't the word it makes me like have reflux. Like, it makes me like sick to think about that truly.
And the idea also that these diet companies, which have huge marketing budgets, even some health care practitioners, if they're leading with ego, truly can put their own financial needs in front of the needs of the consumer. And that happens a lot more I think, than people realize. Because especially in America, you know, everything's a business, like our health care is a business dieting is a business and all this is really hard for people to conceptualize when people are also healthcare professionals.
So I see cult -iness with people following an idol of a health care professional because they can have access to, you know, they have amazing degrees, much like you said, like Nancy Salzman or something, it doesn't necessarily mean that people are doing it out of their most scientific selves. There is a lot of ego and healthcare too. I think that really needs to be addressed.
Absolutely. And I think that probably there's less people like Keith Ranieri out there who are you know, sociopathic or psychopathic, narcissistic sex addict that douchebags my opinion and more so people who are at maybe at one point, starting out wanting to do good, and then that power goes to their head or feeds their ego in an unhealthy way, and they maybe derail a little bit is probably what happens more, especially in that space.
So there's a mixture of like, yeah, I want to help people and then like, oh, wow, I feel so famous or you know, important now and then the values shift is probably what happens. Yeah
There definitely are not as many every now I know the new word of the world is that everyone's a narcissist. I want to write a book not everyone's a narcissist, and not everything's that I culture. That'll be my book, because I've encountered True, true NPD narcissists. And there are very few of them compared to other people, like you're saying, and it's a spectrum. It really is.
And I think that that's also not an easy or successful way of looking at things too to think every healthcare professional is out there for money. That's absolutely not true either. Not everything is a scam. A lot of people or most healthcare professionals are out there for the right reasons.
But there are some people who again, it's more about you praising them than getting the help that you need.
So how can people spot a little bit too much ego a little bit? Not enough science? Like what do you have any tips for people on that? How do you know something's a real deal? What have you learned?
How to spot cult-like messaging in diet culture and health programs
I think one of the very first things is are you being pressured from the beginning to participate in whatever it is, if it's a sales, you know, sign up, now we have this next year, if you sign up in the first 48 hours, you get a 20% discount and anyone who's in sales knows that when people first hear about something is when they're excited and if you miss that window, then you're they're likely not to buy.
Unfortunately, there is truth in that but the problem is is that people use that scarcity mentality and knowing that people have legit FOMO and they want they don't want people to pass that window of wanting to purchase eyes now stand by if you're feeling pressured in any way that's that's a big red flag for me.
Especially if it's like you know, we're going to do this work this you know, body workshop or nutritional discount, whatever the thing is, is probably your it's your it's your field, but I would say also, like you can google pretty easily these days and if, if there's accusations against the person isn't any sort of legal scandal or people whistleblowers that have come out? That's, you know, where there's smoke, there's fire.
And yes, of course, there can be false allegations. But that's something we tell people often is if you are part of something or thinking of being part of something, and there's some sort of allegations against the leader, or the group or the company or the organization, whatever, and you ask them, okay, so what about like this person who says that, you know, you're, I don't know, a narcissist, or you know that you abused them in some way financially, sexually, physically, verbally, whatever, if they say, you know, well, that person just went crazy.
Or that person can't be trusted for whatever reason, or like, they brush it off, that tells me a lot about how sort of like the ethics of the company, a more responsible person would say, you know, this is something that we're dealing with, we're not sure, what would I need to hear like I, you know, we're, we're working with this person to see what damage was done and figuring out how we can fix it.
And you know, how this came to be, and we're really upset about it, like something like that would be a more appropriate response. But either way, one thing I have noticed is that when people have concerns about a company, if they go to the leadership itself, they may be gaslit. And if you don't know about what gaslighting is, in other words, is what gets turned around on the person versus the allegations are dealt with.
One of the main things that happened a lot in NXIVM is that if you did come up with allegations you were accused of being a complainer that's a complaint. And in that world, that's especially with women. That's one of women's worst traits, apparently is complaining. So, yeah, disagree. No, I agree.
Nagging is the best thing and women don't complain. It's what they're saying is so valuable and needs to be heard.
Yeah, so that was something that that's a really strong red flag for me as if you can't share a concern without it being flipped back on you.
I think that those are extremely helpful to start off with, honestly, that was like, let people digest that anyway,
I thought of one more thing, actually, again, I said this at the beginning of that person, and you're not sure if it's the real deal says it's like the cure all end all be all, like, it's just this thing, whether it's mango juice, or protein powder, or like I said celery juice. And there's and that's it like that this is the thing, the cure everything that's there, that's a red flag for me.
Manipulative messaging in diet culture and health programs
100%. And I think when it comes to nutrition, I can tell you, there's like a - two psychologists made the thing that Dunning Kruger effect, which is basically like, the more that you know, the less you think, you know, and also the audio.
So the more I see, the less I know, you know, like, the more I feel like, like I think that so much in healthcare, the best practitioners I know, are all at the point where we're like 10 years and 20 years in, do we know anything at all? Like you actually after meeting so many people, I've worked with over 1000 clients, every single person is so different.
I would never claim that anything works for everyone because it truly doesn't. I would also say something that you said before that was really important too, is that in regards to the placing urgency on clients, and how important that is.
I've been in health business masterminds, and that what I want people to hear from this conversation is that dietitians, doctors, all these people who are again have the most amazing intentions, if they're in these masterminds are being taught to hit people's pain points, to make sure that you're speaking directly to what's ailing them, and to increase urgency on sales.
Again, I'm a New Yorker, like if someone tries to hard sell me on something, I'm like, I'll never speak to you again. Like you're dead to me like it's not it's an It'll never work. But for a lot of people, like you said it preys on their sense of FOMO.
Or, in these cases, people are freaking sick, and they want answers and they're willing to pay or do anything to feel better. And I have to tell people, practitioners are aware of that too, unfortunately. And if it is more of a business than that, you know, warm, safe space with a practitioner. I think it's also like, just a gut feeling. Yeah, just know, like, if this feels a little bit weird, it's weird.
I just have to tell you, I know it's a little bit off diet culture, but my son, my eight year old had fillings to go out. And when we were back in Vancouver over Christmas, because I didn't have a dentist here yet. And Atlanta, Sr, pediatric dentist, and she was like, you need this, he needs this, this this this was gonna cost five grand for all the things he needed, including having the tooth pulled, which was a baby tooth, and put a spacer and whatever is 5k and I'm like, You know what, it was two days before Christmas.
I didn't want him to have to go through this. And also it was just like 5k I just my gut and my gut instinct was that it was It wasn't just a money grab just the urgency of the way that they like what you just said like the pain point and like and also the you know, the clinic will be closed over the holidays. I didn't feel good about it.
I said I'm gonna wait and they were like, that's really dangerous. You have an infection, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I waited brought them to Atlanta, it's cost 700 bucks. They say you don't need to pull the tooth because it's way too wiggly and Nick is going to come out like a month at least. I was so glad I waited but I you know, listen, I was trained in sales and NXIVM, this is sales stuff that I've since learned is is not NXIVM Sales is just sales, which is, which is manipulative. It is manipulative.
And I was just trained that manipulation wasn't bad because I'm leading them somewhere good. Yeah, you know what I mean? I think that a lot of people do think that they're like, Yes, I'm hitting their pain points, but I'm going to help them, right so that they don't feel like they're doing anything bad.
And the thing that we were taught always was like, you know, if I met you, for example, Michelle, and you know, at some cool cafe in New York, and we're hitting it off, and we have rapport, which is, of course, the first thing which we already had, like, instantly, and then I'd find out, you know, what was going on in your life and like, oh, you're a podcaster. And you have these goals. And like, there's always something that limits people.
So to figure out what your limitations were, in other words, what what do you hit up against, that stops you from reaching your goals, or being the best version of yourself, whether it's you procrastinate, or that you get scared with cold calling, or you have your own, you know, personal glass, or whatever it is, I would find that and then I would say, what would it be worth for you to overcome that limitation and have all these dreams, which I would like repeat back to the person? And that would be like, well, that'd be priceless, my great because it's only $2,000.
You were gonna pay priceless.
Okay, so can't afford not to do it. And I felt really good about that, because I thought that I was helping them. And I think that once you see once you see them, that was always my technique. And even since leaving people who've been like, Sarah, you never hard sold me. And I was I appreciate that. Because I was I really did care about people. I wanted them to take the training and to make it work for them. Other people I know totally hard sold. Other people will say things like, well, this is why you're not successful. You can't make this decision. Do you see how you do this and your whole life and people will be like, fuck off. I think that the hard selling within the industry is pretty gross.
It’s extremely offensive to me when it's also someone when it comes to health goals. And I can tell you, very firsthand being in business coaching scenarios where it is, this is literally what a lot of practitioners are being taught is hit the pain points increase urgency of sales. So on my discovery calls, if someone says like, hey, I want to have this goal, can I lose this amount of weight by this time, I'm like, I don't know, let's I can't I'm not God, I have no idea what's gonna happen with your body.
All we can do is create that safe space for people and let the healing happen from their own autonomous decisions. And I think that's really the difference between a practitioner, if someone is telling you with 100% certainty, they can fix a problem. It really is a huge red flag. You're absolutely right.
I also fear when there's only one tool or strategy in a practitioner’s toolbox or a diet toolbox, right? Like, maybe again, the celery juice you could have taken from, you know, that famous or I don't even like that's a name. I don't love to say that famous person's program. And you take bulletproof coffee from Dave Asprey. The fact that you pick the different things from the different programs that you like, is really powerful, as opposed to I'm going like hardcore bulletproof. I'm never eating chickpeas again. You know, like, I think the picking and choosing and feeling what works for you is also what you've adapted, that seems to be working really well, too.
Creating your own system of beliefs
Yeah. And that's the same way I do my spirituality now. Like, I will never join an organization ever again. I'll never follow anyone ever again. I have my own version of meditation. I do a very non culty yoga, which doesn't have a particular like it's not astanga or Kundalini or Bikrahm is just a power flow. And if you know, I like I like that they don't have a, it's like just spiritual enough with not being dogmatic. I like my Palo Santo, I have those other health rituals I just told you about. It's not a particular thing.
Actually. It's funny. You mentioned David Asprey because that's one of the things that the person said, because I'm into bulletproof and David Asprey apparently is, I mean, I don't like, I probably follow him on Facebook, and Instagram. But apparently, he's got a very particular political stance, which means that I must also have that political stance, you're like,
I'm literally putting butter inside of my coffee. I'm not following a political movement. I'm just putting literal butter inside of this coffee that I'm drinking. That's the only thing that's happening. Yeah. And it's also very over assumed and divisive in general, because I wouldn't care very much about what someone's political affiliations are, I want to see the science of what they're presenting much more.
How to access your own intuition to spot cult-like messaging
I think this other idea of what I saw on The Vow, and what I saw from your experience that stood out to me so much, is this idea of just suppressing your own survival instincts and suppressing your own ideas in favor of what the collective or in favor of what the leader is saying. Can we speak into that a little bit?
I think the most dangerous thing that Keith did is he dismantled our inner compass. And that compass is supposed to guide you that gut instinct you said earlier and I had my gut instinct from day one saying Get the fuck out. But I also trusted the person who brought me to stick past day three not knowing that you can have your belief system turned upside down or rewired or be indoctrinated into a new one in three days. If you're open, which I was, I want to get my money's worth.
You know, I did believe it was possible to change and even though I felt I thought a lot of things are really weird and did want to leave, I had made a commitment to stick through it. And that didn't realize was the beginning of overriding my gut instinct.
I had an interview recently with Dan Levin, who was one of the survivors of the Sarah Lawrence College, Larry Ray, survivor, a stolen youth is an incredible story. And he he said something which I want to adopt, which was, it wasn't just that it was dismantled, but like the person then becomes your compass.
So the person you're following is your new compass. And that is something that even though obviously, I was in for so long, and I was like, very deeply devoted, there were certain things that I just didn't do in this.
So in relation to the diet stuff, people would always say things like, well, Keith says that, and I remember I think this is even in my book, I was like, What is he a nutritionist now, because so many people were counting calories. And I personally and what works for some people, I personally have never counted calories. And I saw these people that were like counting calories, and eating canned soup and white bread and having their calories low.
And I'm eating like Quinoa. And, you know, bulletproof coffee i That came later that came later, that was a fad in NXIVM briefly, and I thought it was ridiculous. But I was eating like avocado, like, Wow, that's so many calories. And I'm like, it doesn't work that way. Like I don't want a nutritionist, but I know that I'm eating better than you are. Even if you're eating less calories.
Finding your inner rebel
I'm so glad you brought up calories, because it's part of this aspect of our mental health is when again, we suppress our own instinct, and then we start getting our understanding of the world from other people, there's an easy way to do that, which is starving yourself. So it's actually really easy to gain access and control over someone else's brain through starvation, because our ability to make decisions is so limited.
So some of these diets also have this added power of literally starving our brains of glucose. So we can not access decision making ability or think. And so that was something that I was like that It's so wild that this idea that diet culture, or low calorie diets, or all these things can actually cause you to not only deteriorate internally, but it can actually cause these issues with your ability to hold your own power too.
Absolutely, in fact, I didn't see it as that at the time. I just like internally it was like I'm not going to do that. This is what I've realized about myself in my recovery and trying to understand the journey I went on, is that I am a good girl. I like to follow rules like I'll go through TSA and not make a scene but inside of my This is fucking bullshit.
Yeah, I find you to be such a rebel. I'm surprised I find you so rebellious.
Well, you've seen me on the other side of it. But when I was in NXIVM, I would be like, Yes, I'm going to enter my coach points and do all this like boring data work, but that I never did sort of like it's an external obedience. But an internally, I was very rebellious. That was my true self. My true self inside was like, Keith is not a nutritionist. Why are all these women eating the way that he says, and I knew that they were doing extreme diets, it was always a different thing. It was like one point, they were all raw, which I also tried. Most people were vegetarian, which I tried for like a couple of years. And it didn't work for me.
But that was like looked down upon that I was, you know, quote, choosing violence. And I'm sure there's listeners of people who are vegetarian and say, well, she is choosing violence, because that's probably that's part of the belief around why some people are vegetarian. But that's not the context in which it was used. No, obviously. And in my ideal world, I would like to be vegetarian, but also eat steak. So I don't know how to do it.
Well, Sara, you're on the podcast. I was vegan for over 10 years. And it was one of the factors that deteriorated my health the most. So I'm definitely pro-inclusive of all real foods in people's diets kind of person. So you don't need to have that voice telling you you should be vegetarian, you're good. From a from a registered dietitian.
I appreciate that. And so yeah, that was that was the stage I went to that's what I was going to Pure Food and Wine, which I because I was raw vegan at the time. And that was like the best place to eat in the world.
The food was so so ridiculously good. It was so good. But I mean, and just the odds of that being one year, it was everyone New York was the hottest place in New York. It wasn't it wasn't us specifically landing in these situations twice.
I just think it's hilarious that I was there and met Sarma and then had her on our podcast years later as like breaking news from her her harrowing journey and her culture. One story. But just to backtrack for a second, you were saying about overriding your own voice for the leader. Was that the question?
How to spot cult-like tactics in diet culture and health care
Yeah. What concerns do we have about people blindly following health advice or blindly following practitioners’ advice, or diets or MLMs advice? And how do we get to a point and what what strategies do people use to make us suppress her own voices? Like how do we how do we know that it's not our real voice that's talking to us?
That's a really good question. I don't know if you've read Lennon Doyle's Untamed Of course. Yeah, I love that book. And she talked about and again, don't follow anyone blindly, including her and she's probably the one of the first to say it, but There's something that she says I'm gonna totally butcher it. But she explains very what I now what she I think she calls it the knowing, which requires some stillness and some quiet and to connect with yourself.
For me it's like a conversation with a wiser version of myself. If I can be very still and quiet, I usually do it as a meditating like in shavasana but to go to sleep or in the morning, and it's like, literally, like a two way conversation in turn in my head. I'm like, Oh, hi. Oh, there you are, oh, no, I'm always here. Okay. So and this is sort of like this back and forth.
To connect to that part of myself is something that takes work and not many people, I think, are even still enough to know what that thing is. And also, like, we're lazy, we, you know, we want the quick fix, we want someone to say, this is what we have to do. And a lot of the things that we've looked at, especially with the podcast, almost all of the cults, start with what looks like autonomy and what looks like, you know, choice.
And, you know, in NXIVM it was called being at cause and like, you're responsible for your life, and it's feels very good and very, very potent, but then it slowly erodes at that sense of self. And if you commit to whatever this thing is offering, and you really commit, and a lot of these things require a commitment at some point, that means actually handing over your voice and your decisions.
And that knowing to somebody else. And that happens slowly. It's not like Hey, join this thing for me and you know, get the leaders initials torch into your flesh, right? It happens many, many years over time. Frog in boiling water metaphor, works nicely here to answer your question.
You so freakin answered my question. And I think you know, the whole point of this podcast Quiet The Diet is all about accessing your own voice and trying to push out and down other people's ideas of what's healthy for you. There's obviously merit to working with a healthcare professional duh, of course, I believe that, but I think that it's so important, even in a really healthy relationship with a practitioner or engaging in a diet, that you're still listening to that voice.
And I use a tool with my clients, which is, when you hear a voice coming up and says, like, you should be doing that, just try it a name and associate it with where you might have learned it if it's your real voice. And if it's your real voice, you'll see like a beautiful blue or green or gold color coming up and associate those different voices that we have with colors or sensations.
And there is quite literally a gut response and for people to understand that we are so freakin smart beyond our conscious brains, like we really have those instincts. And those instincts really, I think, ultimately saved you, Sara, because you at some point said, Hey, do you remember hearing like the real rebel Sarah voice coming up and being like, Oh, there I am like, did you have a moment like that?
It definitely started to creep up in the last few years before I left. It wasn't just at the end, there was a lot of things that were happening that weren't okay that I couldn't wrap my head around. Because ultimately, I assumed that even though even the things I didn't like, that the leaders still had good intentions. I couldn't see that course that Keith was bad as a bad person. It was like this is an error or this is like a mistake.
And I was so upset about it. And the full voice didn't come out until I could see the whole picture like what I was actually involved with. But yeah, I've learned from cult expert, Steven Hasson who's incredible man a big part of my healing. He talks about how there's like a pre cult identity. And then when you're in the cult and you fully embrace it, you have your cult identity, but your pre called identity is still in there.
So once the bubble bursts like I just came busting out, I woke up or like deprogrammed or and indoctrinated myself very, very, very quickly. And I was back and then yes, the rebel side came out because I was like, fuck this, not only do I have to expose it, but like, kind of take this thing down. Because it's not only bad, it's the opposite of what we were teaching.
What makes us prone to cult-y diet culture marketing?
Exactly. And I think that incongruence for people can feel really hard. And it's so hard because not only is there this diet culture voice now there's this anti diet culture voice, not only is there a vegan voice inside of all of us, there's a you should eat the meat for protein voice and we have so many different messages going on.
And like you said, we want stillness we get so much decision fatigue that we eventually say please someone just tell me what to eat. I can't I don't even know what to do anymore. Just someone tell me what to do. And I think that the more good someone is as a person the more they're going to have these quandary is because you're trying to do always the most moral thing and the thing that feels good instinctually too.
Yes, decision fatigue is a real thing. I have that right now after moving and trying to figure out what to bring what to pack what to sell what to give away I think had that happened, or like had I been in that state, you know, without NXIVM and somebody saying hey, do this method or join this group, I would have been like, Okay, anything to make this feeling go away.
You're like, Okay, do you have a organizer I can use to do all this stuff with because I cannot think about you know, exactly, it's it's our instinctual survival voices. The more we suppress them, the more they can make us sick inside too. And I think that our body any kind of illness we have our body tries to communicate with us through signs and symptoms. So the more that not only there's voices yelling at us, but we're experiencing symptoms - Which is funny because we think we want to suppress the symptoms, you actually want to let them up. You want to let the voices up you and let the symptoms up and let your body show you what's really going on. But and that's another kind of conversation.
There's one thing I wanted to touch on too, which hilariously is from your friend Marco Vicente. Podcast, WTF Is On My Mind. And he talks about this idea of how discipline is a good thing and kind of like doses and once you kind of chase discipline too much when it comes to health even. And he was talking about how he would like run into the ocean when it was very cold. And then he was like, Wait, am I doing this to help myself? Or am I kind of like punishing myself?
Can we talk about this idea in the health space? Or in your own experience of like, when do we know something is you're punishing yourself or you're actually just doing it because it's good for you. And because you want to do it?
I'm not a big self Punisher with stuff like that personally. But definitely, discipline is something that I struggled with, in my journey because discipline was a definitely like a big part of the NXIVM journey. It was discipline was how you showed character, and consistency. And there's this thing called persistency, which is became a noun, that's one of the things they messed with our language. persistency was a thing that you did every day as a commitment.
So people did persistency is on like learning Spanish or doing crunches, a lot of people did calorie ones. And as you know, the calorie dieting thing was a big part of what turned into like the grossest parts of NXIVM.
I think discipline was something that I kind of my pre cult self kind of rejected, and I sort of pretended to go along with it. I have just things I'm consistent with, like I'm consistent with my yoga, I'm consistent. I've always been a healthy eater. Like I said, there's been points where I've been obsessive, but generally, it's not a diet. I just eat healthy, like I'm gluten free and largely dairy free. Minus goat cheese, very special. Very special, organic. My family's always teasing me that it's like has to be gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, artisanal from the farmers market like that. That's, that's, that's me, but so I'm consistent.
But discipline for the sake of discipline felt too regimented. For me, it's probably why I didn't like Bikram yoga, which now we know, you know, another Wow. Wow. Right. Interestingly, I didn't like it. Even when I was in NXIVM. I did it if I was like, in some foreign country, it's the only thing they offer it but I never, you know, became a devotee. It's funny. I could see that that was cult-y but I couldn't see it in my own group.
I mean, it's obviously because it was very, very slow. If you're a smart person like you are, you have to see enough good and gain enough good from something to continue believing in it. I did do Bikram yoga, but not no, like, very regimented way. But I always was fascinated, because if you did hot yoga, but it wasn't Bikram, they were like, No, you're not doing the 26 postures or whatever it is, that doesn't count. Like it's not the thing. Like we said, nothing can be the thing. And I think that's what's so hard for people too.
I think you're being a person who's generally healthy and you're being a person who pushes harsh discipline and punishment was like a saving grace and, and will always be a saving grace for you, too. That was definitely your inner self. Sounds like protecting you too.
I think so because they also started doing things like penance, right? Especially being Jewish and not being raised Catholic or Christian, or that was a part of my upbringing as like, what what are we doing here, like, this is personal development, this isn't religion, but sure, I'll stand to aim to counter this bad thing I did. Like I just kind of went along with it.
I went along with a lot of things because I liked the good of it. And I knew somewhere internally that if I stood up against it, I wouldn't be able to keep doing what I was doing. So it was like, Sure. But because I was in Vancouver, and there was nobody higher rank overseeing me in person, like on the ground I just kind of did my own thing.
Well, that was a again, another saving grace for you to distance sounds very, very nice to say me for sure. And I think that it's so hard for people to change behaviors. When a it's working for them be it's working for other people, and they feel good doing it. So it makes total sense.
And then at some point, we hope, especially with food or anything like that, because I can guarantee that there's not one strict food program, that's a lifelong, awesome thing to do. There's not one is that hopefully people's inner voice kicks in for them, and they can start making decisions based on what actually works with their bodies too.
Yeah for sure. And I know that like bullet proof isn't what I want to do forever it for me, it helped me lose baby weight after a second baby which was harder. And is also excuse me, like talking about decision fatigue. I don't have to think about my breakfast because I mean, I do eat breakfast, I just eat a little bit later.
But when I wake up and have my coffee with all the stuff in it, I don't have to think about it. I think that's why people do the thing where they get all black socks. You know, they don't have to match their socks. It makes life easier.
It takes the decision fatigue out you don't have to think about it anymore it actually my husband and I just threw out like or donated it if they weren't nice and fresh. All of our socks and then just got only new ones and it was a pretty life changing experience because I was like yeah, I don't have to match these up or I already have all the same sock I think this is an amazing idea. It's brilliant. Brilliant is very generous Sarah.
If that could be your next book exactly what it's called exactly my book that I want to write next is going to be called because we just moved and we got here we had to like go from furnished rental to furnish rental for about four months. So my next book is going to be called My Life In Tote Bags. Oh my god.
Wow. Let me tell you something if you need any additional tote bags to add, I have just so many tote it's a New York thing, right? Yes, so many tote bags.
I have so many In fact, I'm looking at a pile in the corner over there is like I can't I can't get rid of them. I even haven't brought some from Canada
Sarah Shapiro Edmondson, lover of totes a life of Tote bags. Totes, A leaver of NXIVM and a lover of totes. That's the book's name. We've really got it.
I even have a little bit called Tito bags. It says that's my favorite one. That's what I bring to you. Oh, because it's a conversation starter. I need one of these. What are you drinking? By the way? What do we got there?
This is like the quick version of bulletproof of I don't I just needed a little pick me up before this interview. It's zero sugar plant protein. 200 milligrams of caffeine it says super coffee.
It looks amazing. It's really by the way. Yeah. I really love bulletproof coffee. I am not a person who generally drinks coffee consistently, but when I do It's more stabilizing for me than other coffees. And yeah, I love the Bulletproof Coffee works for you too. Because all that matters is that it works for you. That's the only thing that literally matters in nutrition. Whew.
And if I have regular coffee, I get too jittery because of the oil in it like it's a slow release.
It's more grounded to the oil. Yes. Yeah, exactly. It doesn't hit the blood sugar as much. He obviously removes mycotoxins and everything too. Yes. Shout out Dave. I guess right. I mean, we're here. So you know,
Dave, I if you want to be my sponsor, I don't care what your political views are.
So Dave Asprey, this is a message from Michelle and Sarah Shapiro Edmondson, if you want to be A Little Bit Culty sponsor, it doesn't matter. Go right ahead and do whatever you want. Exactly.
DIVISIVENESS IN THE HEALTH AND NUTRITION SPACE
Doesn't matter. I don't even know what his political thing is. I just know that one of my listeners was offended that I would support him. The divisiveness is happening, whether your vaccine or not Vax, red or blue, right or left black or white Republican Democrat, that extreme division is just like - nothing bothers me more.
I think it's more than bothering it's extremely dangerous when it comes to health information. And just as a note about the scientific method, the point of the scientific method is to disprove yourself. So if anyone says anything is This is rock solid nutrition science, this is 100%... We're disproving stuff all the time. That's what we do. That's part that's part of the game.
So we have to be able to have discourse about things especially when it comes to health. You know, I'm a functional dietitian, which instantly makes me like a rebel like where I'm an integrative functional, much more on the holistic side of things.
So hilariously in America, where by in every other country in the world, that doesn't make you a rebel. It's just the way that they practice nutrition in America, that makes you totally controversial to be a functional dietitian, which is, again goes to show you that just because it's a current idea about something it doesn't mean it's inherently or morally wrong or good or anything like that. You just have to look at it everything through the lens of data and objectivity, and more importantly, what feels good. Yeah. For you.
So Sarah, do you have any final tips for people they're approaching? They want to start a diet, they want to start working with a practitioner, what would you say a top tip, or it can be some of you already said that you want to reiterate.
in addition to everything I already said, I think that one thing that people also have to be aware of is that, you know, it's okay to be wrong, and it's okay to make mistakes. And I think sometimes people start something like this, and then they want to make it work and they want to prove to themselves and their family that look, it was a good investment, and then they stick it It's like somebody who stays in a in a relationship that's not healthy, because there's too many downsides to splitting up you know what I mean?
So same thing with this stuff, like give it a try. If you don't, if this doesn't work, you don't have to, you know, get your money's worth, which is what I did, and I wish that I hadn't stuck it through that long. And I think like generally whether it's a diet or a program or personal development or whatever, I think Having the mindset of evolving and being the best you and all that stuff is, is totally fine. But you can also have that with a level of self-love and acceptance and that you're not, you know, broken or damaged and there's nothing wrong with you.
So it's sort of like both things can exist you can love yourself and accept and not be like, negative towards yourself and also developing or growing or bettering yourself which is I don't necessarily have the tools for that isn't like it's something that I'm still aspiring to do and to have, but it's a perceptual shift. You don't have to like feel like shit and down on yourself in order to better yourself.
It's that idea also of this dichotomy that we were talking about the discomfort thing of like, I call it like compassion versus coddling. It's totally okay to be compassionate with yourself and be honest with yourself. It's not okay to be extremely harsh on yourself self critical and punishing, and it's also usually not too helpful to be too coddling and be like, everything you do is great. And this is this is totally fine.
You know, there's a sweet middle, which is just knowing yourself and listening to yourself and being totally compassionate and honest with yourself. And that's, I think, pretty much would help people in any sort of cultish situation.
I agreed. Well said thank you write a book.
Yeah, go ahead. Write it then. Michelle. Okay, we have like 18 book titles that were coming out of this conversation. I feel like we should collaborate more in the future. I know we're going to Sarah this is like my life dream. You don't get it. I just really have to reiterate this. My entire family we're not people who are like, generally celebrity like maybe Larry David were like super integral. We're not like those people.
When I told my cousins and they're gonna die listening says that I was interviewing Sarah Edmondson, they were like, Oh, you're literally meeting like the most important person on planet Earth. I'm like, yeah, like this is my this is my thing. Oh, go to your cousin's name's David and Eric and Amy, David, Eric.
I really appreciate it David, Eric and Amy. I'm going to start my own little group David, Eric and me Do you want to join and you can be my second command. It's it's a small group is on a call. Just like a little organization. I'm going to be the most important person.
You have 48 hours to reply. How much is it worth to? Yeah, that's it.
You can’t afford not to join!
Learn more about Sarah Edmondson and NXIVM
I only two grand to hang out with you. Sarah Edmondson will take it. Well, I'll take it. Sarah, where can people find you besides your incredible podcast A Little Bit Culty which is a must listen, and most people are already listening to where else can people find you and learn from you?
If you want to hear the whole story? My journey? Yes, please. The true story of how I escaped NXIVM the cult that bound my life by the way I have had this removed I had plastic surgery. So that brand is is gone now. Thank goodness, the best way to reach us or reach me is either through Sarah Edmondson on Instagram and A Little Bit Culty on Instagram, I'm elsewhere but I don't really use Twitter that much. I find it kind of gross the whole, Nippy calls it the bathroom wall of social media.
It really is. It's just putting ideas out there. Exactly. Yeah. I don't use Twitter either. No, I think I have one from like five years ago and don't have the login. So if I do have one Don't quote me on that.
But Sarah, thank you so freakin much for spending the time today I am certain will be collaborating the future and I am imploring people. Please go read Sarah's book Scarred. Please go listen to the podcast. It will be the best thing you do. I also have to say WTF is on my mind Mark Vicente. It was very good. Thank you so much for having me. That was a really fun conversation.
Thank you so much for tuning in to the quiet the diet podcast. If you found any of this information relevant or you related to it. Please feel free to share the podcast it would mean the world to us. Also remember to subscribe so you don't miss any episodes and you can follow us on Instagram at quiet the diet pod. We'll put the link in the show notes after each episode. Thank you again for listening and I can't wait to see you in the next episode.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai