What does Burning man have to do with intuitive eating and  recovery from diet culture? How can these two intersect? 

First off, what is Burning man? If you watched the news recently you may have heard that about 70,000 ‘burners’ got stuck in the mud at this massive art and music “festival. Yes, this is indeed what happened to most of us out there. And, for the record, the national guard did not need to come rescue us, and also for the record, the porto potties were in great shape (at least in my area). But I digress. Let’s talk about how this “festival” can be a portal that leads to deeper healing and how it intersects with the principles of Intuitive Eating. 

When participants first enter the gates of Burning man, we are welcomed “home.” When we enter the gates of Black Rock city, we begin our journey away from the ‘default’ world, as we enter a transformative portal into another world. This is a city of 70,000 people that participate in the creation and manifestation of another world. I think most of the default world thinks Burning man is just another huge rave in the desert. To be honest, this event does indeed have a reputation for exploring and celebrating debauchery. The majority of folks that attend are very “liberal” when it comes to the use of conscious altering substances and activities that would otherwise perhaps be frowned upon in the default world. 

Burning man is also a unique environment that inspires a great deal of creative energy. There are thousands of artists that come together from all over the world to create art pieces/structures; some are interactive and some are burned and some are on display in cities all over the world. Most of the “big” art on the playa invokes and inspires deeper inquires on the meaning and purpose of life. This is a place where conversations and connections can happen that might not otherwise happen in our default world. Indeed, something magical happens out there on playa.

Celebrate your unique gifts. Live your unique truth. 

Unlike the default world, Burning man is a place where one can show up fully and be accepted unconditionally without having to hide or compartmentalize themselves. It’s an environment where you get to ‘fly your freak flag” real high. No one is going to judge or shame you. There’s a lot of freedom in that. It’s like taking a big deep exhale. 

Burning man in many respects represents the world we wish we could live in (and when I say ‘we’, I mean myself and thousands of other very liberal upper middle class extremely privileged mostly white hippies, techies and eccentric artists. I am of course leaving someone out no doubt. Not surprisingly and according to BM census data, 95% of burners vote as democrats). And, unfortunately, it’s become increasingly expensive to attend which makes me sad because it doesn’t feel as radically inclusive as it could be. 

How’s it even possible that a place like Black Rock city can even exist? How did this happen? In 2004, the founders of BM wrote ten principals to reflect the community’s’ ethos and culture. These principals are as follows: radical Inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, participation,  and immediacy. 

But what does Burning Man have to do with  Intuitive Eating?

There are two Burning man principals that parallel the intuitive eating process in my experience as a recovered chronic dieter. The first one is Radical Self-expression. Radical Self-expression arises from “the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.”

The second one is Immediacy. “Immediate experience or Immediacy is to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.” Both radical self-expression and immediacy encourage us to embrace the truth of who we are (our unique gifts) and to work towards removing barriers that stand between your liberation and your truth.

Intuitive Eating as a framework to embrace Immediacy and Radical Self-expression

Part of my work counseling clients with Intuitive Eating is to guide them back ‘home’ to themselves and the truth of their body.  It’s a homecoming back from the deprivation and obsession of diet culture. Intuitive Eating is about divesting from diet culture and reclaiming body trust. It’s a process of identifying who you are and what you need to thrive in this world. It’s about reclaiming your live back with radial self-love. 

It’s well known that dieting is a life thief. Dieting robs people of their precious energy and acts as a great barrier between living authentically.

Diet culture acts like a barrier between you and your truth. 

Intuitive Eating is a framework that helps to remove the barriers between you and your inner self, your inner knowing, otherwise known as your intuition. Just like the principal of immediacy at burning man that seeks to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves.

But first, what is diet culture? 

Diet culture is a broad term that describes the “pervasive belief that appearance and body shape are more important than physical, psychological, and general well being.” Diet culture thinks of food as transactional; as something “earned” or “burned off,” “good” or bad.” At its core, it is a culture centered around thinness as the apex of a body and moral hierarchy. It is a fundamental driver in eating disorders, disordered eating, thin privilege, healthism, weight discrimination, and anti-fat bias. 

Diet culture further oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.

The Freedom to Live your Truth.

How does dieting encourage you to hide the truth of who you are?

Is dieting a barrier that distances you from the truth of who you are?

When you follow the rules of diet culture, are you living from your most radially expressed self? Probably not. 

When you follow the rules of diet culture, what stands in the way of you hearing and honoring your inner self, your intuitive wisdom? 

Dieting and diet culture essentially block your ability to listen to your intuition in the context of food, appetite and body. 

Dieting and diet culture is a system that oppresses. Going on a diet (and to be clear, I am not talking about therapeutic diets, but weight loss fad diets, any intentional weight loss diet that is rooted in externalizing calories, weighing foods, avoiding “bad” foods, over-exercising to burn off calories eaten, etc.). Diet culture asks us to disconnect from our physical hunger (our body) if we want to achieve our weight loss goals, and the truth is, that most diets fail us (in the long term) because we ignore hunger, we ignore the truth of our bodies. We also ignore the truth that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Body diversity. 

What is the truth of your body?

Our bodies are incredibly wise and we can only out-smart them by ignoring hunger for so long. The failure rate of dieting is 95-98% after 5 years for the majority of folks. And, yet, dieters don’t blame the diet, they blame themselves. The default world, wants you to blame yourself so that they (the powers that be) can profit off your shame of having “failed” the diet. 

Diet culture loves to promote the myth that our hungers and appetites can be controlled through various pills and shakes or workouts etc. Diet culture loves to promote that your body can be controlled or hacked in the name of “health.” It gives us an immediate sense of control. Dieting “works,” but only short term. 

Immediacy and Radical Self-expression.

Diet culture says that your body is the problem. The problem is not you – the problem is with our oppressive culture. A culture that lies to us, keeps us trapped in a cage that brainwashes us to believe we must shrink our bodies and our lives to fit a standard of beauty. The lies we’ve been fed are that when we get the “perfect” body, then we will be accepted, loved, healthy, etc. I know it really feels like the body is the problem. I understand this as a recovered chronic dieter myself, I was convinced if my body were smaller, my life would be better, I would have more love, acceptance, all the things!

Imagine feeling unconditionally accepted, loved, approved, respected and even celebrated no matter what your size/shape.

What would it be like to live in a world where weight stigma and discrimination didn’t exist?

That is a world I want to live in.

When you begin on the intuitive eating journey, you’ll learn to reject systems of diet culture that keep you feeling trapped and alienated from your own wisdom and intuition. Imagine a sense of peace and freedom with eating. No guilt and no shame. Imagine feeling more confident and at peace in your body now, without actually having to change your size/weight. Imagine feeling less obsessed around food and your body. Your focus and awareness of what really matters begins to shift and you will start to feel a true sense of freedom.

Imagine dancing under a full moon like no one is watching, or if they are watching, they don’t care because they are dancing with you and celebrating the messiness of this crazy life together. No apologies for taking up “too much” space, no holding back. Living your most authentic radically expressed life.  

NO DANCING

One of my favorite art pieces at Burning man 2023 was a giant art sculpture (see picture above) that said,  NO DANCING. Each giant letter contained a different message that pointed the reader back to some truth. One letter said: “My love of dancing was as bad as his cheating and abuse my religious teacher told me. But I broke free. Now, I teach dance. Another letter said: “As a black woman, I have to educate. It’s exhausting.” 

Radical self-expression asks us to honor the truth and to celebrate the gifts of who we are. To break free of assumptions, and systems that keep us trapped and disconnected from our truth. And, Immediacy helps us to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves. In the default world we don’t dance. Instead, we count calories and obey the patriarchy’s rules. At Burning man, everyone is welcome to break free metaphorically and literally to dance our a$$ off and shout a big F you to the patriarchy and the default world. A patriarchy that demands that women (and men too)  be thin (and white) and conform to unrealistic and unobtainable beauty and health standards. 

We are here to DANCE. 

The NO DANCING message represents a silencing of our truth. It represents a disconnect from ourselves and our inner knowing, our intuition. When we can’t dance, we can’t speak our truth. It’s a metaphor for how we show up and live our lives. 

When someone makes an assumption about your health based solely on your body size, this is another form of oppression. Diet culture promotes false assumptions to uphold the status quo (the thin white ideal). Many of these assumptions are harmful. Assumptions such as ‘you are what you eat’, and ‘you can tell how healthy a person is based on their body size, ‘ or ‘fat people are lazy and unhealthy,’ or ‘thin people are healthy and in control.’ These false assumptions perpetuate weight stigma and discrimination, especially for folks in larger bodies. 

I have worked with folks in larger (fat) bodies that avoid going to the doctor because they don’t want to be lectured about their weight (again). They avoid dance classes, yoga classes and public swimming pools out of fear as if they don’t belong. The effects of weight stigma have very similar health outcomes to outcomes that are typically attributed with being of a higher weight. It’s becoming more accepted and research supports that what we think of as health risks associated with being fat may in fact be health risks of experiencing discrimination and internalized stigma. If you want to read more on weight stigma, please click here.

You are exactly where you need to be. 

Even if you’re not a chronic dieter, you still live in diet culture. We are all doing our best to recover from these systems of oppression. All of us to some extent suffer from the internalization of these false beliefs around fatness (anti-fat bias), healthism, and weight discrimination. We may even judge foods as “good/bad” and feel guilty after eating “too” many potato chips. This is okay given that the default world and diet culture is insidious with its agenda to keep us oppressed and distracted.

This is an invitation to ask some deeper questions about your relationship to your body and your relationship to food. 

Are you dancing with your body? 

Are you dancing with food? 

Or, is your mind telling you, NO DANCING. 

You don’t need to go to Burning man however to answer these questions. Start with the gentle awareness of your bodily sensations; your hungers (both symbolic hungers and physical hungers).

Are you well fed or are you starving for something more? Are you living in alignment with the truth of who you are? Do you live radially self-expressed or are there parts that aren’t allowed to come out and dance? 

Just stay curious and keep bringing your awareness back into your body, over and over, as a practice.

You are exactly where you need to be. And, wherever that is, make that enough. 

If you want support in finding your own freedom from body image and food struggles, book a free call with me here

Much love,

Karen Louise

P.S. If you have never gone to BM and are curious, GO! And feel free to email me if you want insider tips, both as a builder and as a sparkle pony, lol.

Also- I want to acknowledge that Burning Man is held on sacred unceded land of the Northern Paiute tribe. 

Lastly, I want to acknowledge my gratitude for all of my friends who have supported me in attending BM for many years.  It’s important for me to acknowledge my many privileges that allow/afford me to dance at BM:, my able-body, my smaller body size, my skin color, my educational background, my sexual orientation, my gender identity (she/her), and my class in society.

I wish for BM to be more diverse (more BIPOC please!) As well as more sustainable (less burning of art pieces please!) And, GD, more affordable like it once was, back in the day, lol,,,sigh! 

That is all! Thank you!

 

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Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN

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