You may have caught the show “The Men Who Made Us Thin” on BBC2 on Thursday night. If you didn’t, but you’re in the UK, you can watch it on iPlayer here. It was, frankly, excellent, if you’re really into shouting at your TV. Or, in fact, if you enjoy tweeting in capital letters a lot, which is more my style.
The gist of it was – in an ‘encapsulated in a tweet’ form – that the diet industry is in it for the money.
I know, I know. Y’all will be totally shocked to read that.
But the utter balls with which they admitted it was surprising, even to me. For instance, the former Finance Director of Weight Watchers explained that it’s the ‘perfect business model,’ because people are doomed to fail. He said starting a diet is like buying a lottery ticket. You might get lucky, and it might work, but it’s pretty damn unlikely.
Now, I may rant, but I do think it’s worth flexing the ol’ critical muscles when looking at the actual products themselves – because they’re not totally, completely wrong about everything, much as I’d love to think that.
I mean, Slim Fast I hate because it’s processed tasteless trash, but as one commenter pointed out in this post, some people need the simplicity of that kind of solution. The Dukan and Atkins diets are extreme and make you kinda want to die (trust me on this) but eating a diet with more protein and less processed carbs will, more than likely, help you to lose weight. Weight Watchers might be big on celebrity endorsements and calorie restriction, but their whole group counselling thing does have some merit to it, if it can stay on the right side of shaming. Although the clip of Bernice Weston, retro Weight Watchers spokeswoman, saying – and I quote – “when it comes to food, fat people are basically very stupid” suggests… Well, maybe not.
But that’s why, to a point, diets do work – because they’re all partly right. They all will help you to lose weight.
What’s much more difficult, though, is keeping it off.
Because on any of these diet plans – which are, by their very nature, an unnatural way to live – you can’t do them forever. This isn’t just a will power thing – in a practical sense, significantly cutting your calorie intake is damaging for your metabolism, and you’re likely to end up in starvation mode, clinging to the fat reserves you’ve got left. As a result, you stop losing weight.
However, the marketing of these products is one step ahead of that. Working on the fact that you’ve seen results, and they’ve got a backlog of success stories to throw at you, the diet product is one of the few triumphs of corporate evil where the failure of the product becomes the fault of the person that bought it.
So you blame yourself for not succeeding, or for gaining some weight back – because you’re fixated on the scales now, of course – and you eat to make yourself feel better. You gain more weight, and then you decide to take even more extreme measures to lose it again. Solution: a new diet. This time, it’ll definitely work. Right?
Now, I’ve said this time and again, in the interests of full disclosure: I work in the marketing industry. And I wish I were as good at my job as the people that peddle this crap.
Alas, I’m mediocre at best – and frankly, I kinda struggle with the idea of selling people things they ought to have for free. With that in mind, I’d like to point out a couple o’things about losing weight, because… Well, I’ve been there. I’m still going there, in fact. I get it. And I know that to succeed in losing weight, you have to know, understand, and accept two glaring lifelong truths that the diet industry goes to great lengths to cover up.
First of all, there is no such thing as a quick fix. There just isn’t. If you’re going to lose weight, and keep it off, it will take time, and it will involve a lifestyle overhaul. This is a long-term thing which will work purely because it becomes normal.
If you improve your diet, eat enough but not too much, exercise with a combination of resistance training and cardio, you will lose weight. It’s no great miracle, but it does take time. I’m two weeks away from the three-year anniversary of my joining the gym – and I’m still plodding along. But in the grand scheme of things, three years really isn’t that long a time in which to have changed my whole life, so I’ll take it.
Secondly, it is unlikely that losing weight will solve all of your problems. You may still have stretch marks, or loose skin; you may still have issues with food; you may still hate your job, or be unhappy at home. Weight loss is not the key to happiness, and life will still get in the way – but good health will make you better equipped to deal with what life throws at you, as well as making you more confident, comfortable, and generally just plain well.
You don’t hit a goal weight and suddenly strut around in a swish dress on a white background, posing and smiling. You don’t suddenly become the Special K lady and dive gracefully into the swimming pool outside your luxurious house.
But you do get to live every day with purpose and a sense of achievement. You do get to know that you’re in control of your life and your actions, and that your health rests in your hands. And you do lose weight.
It just takes a little while.
So please don’t buy into the diet industry bullsh*t. There is so much crap out there that sometimes it seems like you’re powerless against it – but I promise you, health, wellbeing and self-acceptance are the fundamental tenets of a happy life. By all means, make that lifestyle change, and mix it up with a whole new set of habits and thoughts – but you don’t need to give these people your money.
Just get happy, instead.