What’s up with the Beyonce vegan backlash?! Body image expert and spiritual healthy eating coach Heather Waxman responds to the haters – and talks to Ruby Warrington about diet and spiritual development

Beyonce’s fans were mad because they expected a tour or album announcement (to which I say, “Give her a break and get over it, people!”). Meanwhile, many in the vegan community are angry because they think she’s a hypocrite for wearing fur and “posing with captive elephants and tigers” as one person commented.

Here’s the thing: judgment doesn’t get us anywhere. And since I don’t know Beyonce personally, I don’t know her heart and I don’t know her lifestyle, so it’s not really my place to comment. But what I can say is that we need to appreciate how much publicity eating vegan is receiving as a result. Let’s celebrate that! It’s awesome.

But let’s also focus in on what she said in connection to veganism and positive body image. Here’s a direct quote from Beyonce’s interview on GMA: “I am not naturally the thinnest. I have curves. I’m proud of my curves and I have struggled since a young age with diets and finding something that actually works, actually keeps the weight off, has been difficult for me.”

From what I understand, Beyonce started to eat vegan after she had her baby as a way to lose the baby weight in a natural way – opposed to a quick fix. As a result, she said she experienced many other beneficial side effects – like better sleep quality, improved digestion, and a positive feeling that her vegan choices could effect the people around her and the environment.

Which is all great. But I will point to the contradictory of saying you love your curves, but also saying things like you’ve tried everything to stay a certain weight.

If we have true BODYpeace, we don’t feel the need to do something to “keep the weight off” because we can naturally live and eat in a way that allows us to experience peace with our body. As a result, weight becomes a non-issue. It’s just not something you’re concerned about anymore.

This has got to get way harder living in the public eye, and I’m not sure if this was just a poor choice of words or if she actually does still struggle with body image. But either way, I hope that we can all agree that a.) this is great for the vegan movement and b.) pray that Beyonce (and all women for that matter!) is peaceful and happy in her body and continues to make choices from an authentic and ethical place for her.

Read on for Ruby Warrington’s interview with Heather Waxman about spirituality, diet and body image…

I feel like starting to eat ‘healthy’ like Beyonce is the beginning of a lot of people’s spiritual awakening. Do you agree? Why is this?
I absolutely agree. As we let go of foods that are not serving us, we notice that those foods were doing a really good job at numbing out a bunch of stuff we didn’t want to feel. So as we start to eat cleaner, our thoughts and feelings become cleaner too – and that can feel amazing and joyful, but also very intense depending what we were avoiding dealing with. And that’s usually when people turn to spiritual practice for help.

We also see a lot of ‘extreme’ diets in spiritual + self-improvement circles – why is this?
Whenever I see or hear the word ‘extreme,’ the concept of perfectionism instantly comes to mind. And that’s what causes problems, isn’t it? We’ve all heard the cliché “perfection doesn’t exist” – but we don’t live by it as a society, as Beyonce knows only too well. I think most people opt for extreme diets because they think looking a certain way will help them truly love themselves. But that’s not how it works.

I want to add that I actually think that the word “self-improvement” is also damaging, particularly for sensitive souls, because it implies we’re somehow not good enough, which only perpetuates the quest for perfection. What I’ve come to conclude lately is that we’re not necessarily here to improve ourselves. It’s more that embarking on a spiritual path the aim is to become more of ourselves. It’s more about an unfolding, a peeling back, layer by layer, of who we thought we were, only to allow who we really are to be revealed. Which can be messy, beautiful, and terrifying! But, I believe, it’s what we’re all called to do.

But discipline and asceticism have long been associated with spiritual development – do you see echoes of this in things like juice cleansing, etc?
I do, but I think we need to define “discipline” before we dive into this. The word has the same root as the word “disciple” – which means to be a devotee of a certain philosophy. But the word discipline has been turned into something that’s just not fun – so, I prefer to use…devotion.

I think when we lean into our spiritual development with a strong air of devotion…that’s when the miracles unfold for us. And so I also think we need to be disciplined with, or devoted to, things that we have discovered we need to do so we can show up for life ready to give love, receive love, and serve those around us.

This can include juice cleansing, if that’s what you feel called to do! But as every individual body is different, I think it’s important to first get to know your body and also to consider your own mental / spiritual relationship with the concept. I tried (and failed) so many detoxes and cleanses. So, when it came time for me to want to consider detoxing for spiritual purposes, I had to first heal the mental issues I had with cleanses and learn the real “why” behind them, before I was ready to check it out.

What are the warning signs for you as a coach that healthy has tipped into obsessive?
There are a bunch of warning signs, but these are the most common ones I have seen, and they’re always present in my clients.

– You know things have turned obsessive if you’re doing one or more of these:
– You’re constantly thinking about your next meal and counting calories
– You’re obsessed with counting your macros, or avoiding certain foods or food groups because you’re afraid they’ll make you gain weight
– You’re avoiding certain foods or food groups because you want to “fit in” with the fitness / spiritual community you’re a apart of
– You restrict your food all day and then binge eat at night
– You have to work out for a specific amount of time or you have to do a specific type of workout because you’re afraid of gaining weight…and if you don’t have a chance to do that work out, you feel depressed and like your day is ruined

So what do you think a healthy and spiritually aligned attitude to food really looks like?
Our definition of health and spirituality is very individual, but I do believe there is a common thread tying every version of a healthy relationship to food together, and it sounds something like this: “I eat for vitality, freedom, and pleasure.” (Notice how I said vitality – not vanity).

This is definitely where I’m at now, and it’s allowed me to feel the happiest in my body I’ve ever felt. Vitality, freedom, and pleasure are not exclusive, though! I went on vacation last week and vitality went out the window for me. I wanted to eat for freedom and pleasure. So, I ate a bunch of things I normally don’t eat when I’m home like frozen yogurt, sweet potato fries, and chips and guacamole. It was great! When I returned home, I couldn’t wait to return to feeling that vitality. It’s a constant dance.

And what role does taking pleasure in what we eat play in our spiritual development?
Do you have a year to talk about this?! I think one of the most volatile things we’ve done as a society is completely neglect food as a source of pleasure. For example, some of my clients – even though they enjoy eating healthy meals – still equate healthy eating with it being stripped dry of pleasure. Or they think of making meals as another annoying chore on their to-do list instead of an incredible act of self-care and self-pleasure. We’ve lost touch with our feminine relationship to food – which means that for a lot of us, our bodies and our souls are screaming at us, “I just want to feel pleasure!” Enter those “guilty” vegan ice cream binges.

When we hear the word “pleasure” we instantly think of sex. But to me, pleasure is about actively engaging all my senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, and intuition. When we can become devoted (there’s that word again!) to bringing all our senses to every meal, that’s when we really start to feel pleasure and come to a place of BODYpeace that allows to finally feel spiritually and physically nourished.

Has changing your diet connected you to your spiritual practice? Connect with us and share your story on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

If this conversation resonates with you, you can read more from Heather Waxman in her and Kasey Arena’s book BODYpeace: Release Shame and Discover Body Freedom
– a 30-day guidebook marrying the spiritual and the practical side of food and body discovery. To book a 1:1 session with Heather, click here.

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