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It should have been a red flag that women in NXIVM were required to slavishly document every single bit of food they put in their mouths.

But then again, why would it be when keeping a precise and detailed food diary is a commonplace part of countless mainstream nutrition and diet programs, where it’s viewed as a sign of the adherent’s virtue and commitment to keeping herself accountable?

It should have been horrifying that women in NXIVM were expected to consume 800 calories a day — starvation levels of food intake — but then, how many “normal” women partake in intermittent fasting regimes that have them refraining from eating every other day to help them “curb those cravings,” or “beat emotional eating”?

It would not have been possible for Raniere to exploit women’s insecurities for his own purposes if those insecurities were not so culturally entrenched as to be standard, and if the notion that every woman could, and should, be better than what she already is were not so culturally ingrained as to be universal.

But it is not just stubborn attitudes that facilitate the sort of harm the women of NXIVM endured and inflicted on themselves. Starvation helps, too. Literally.

A couple of years ago, Canadian journalist Sarah Berman, whose book about NXIVM is due out in 2021, undertook an experiment. She ate 800 calories a day for a week to replicate the experience of the female NXIVM members.

Encouragingly, Berman described herself as “someone who had never counted a calorie or owned a scale in my life” — an uncommonly psychologically solid profile for a woman living in the West in the 21st century. But within the week of restricted eating, Berman became suggestible, moody and light-headed (her adjectives).

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