Ah, man. You know how I hate the diet industry, right? We’re clear on that?
Well, this week, I’m filled with even more rage than ever.
I am floored – floored, I tells ye – at how many people I’ve heard say they’re going on a diet in the new year. And in the evil, insidious counterpoint to this, I’ve been absolutely bombarded by ads on Twitter, Facebook, and pretty much everywhere else, telling me how to kick start my weight loss in 2014.
It’s like they don’t realise I’m likely to Hulk out at any moment. They’re playing with fire. So for everyone that’s considered starting a diet in January, please consider this post a personal letter from me to you on the many, many reasons you should rethink that (and set alight any diet books you own.)
So… Let’s begin.
Every time you say you’re going on a diet, or suggest that you need to lose weight, or that you’re too heavy to be happy, you’re perpetuating the idea that your self-worth depends on the number on the scales, and that you are a worse person because that number is higher than the arbitrary amount you, or the media, have decided is acceptable.
Yep – you’re doing that.
And in perpetuating this idea, you’re complicit in a crazy-ass culture that’s resulted in one in four 7-year old girls having been on a diet. One third of 8-12 year old boys trying to lose weight. 60% of adults feeling ashamed of the way they look.
You’re also playing with the following risks: that 35% of dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% develop full eating disorders, like anorexia and bullimia – both diseases that can and do ruin lives. Given that anywhere between 80-95% of dieters fail, you’re talking about what, in my view, is the most spectacular marketing coup in the history of the world.
Because diets do work, in the short term. If you start a diet this January, you’ll probably lose those ten pounds, or whatever you’re aiming for – but if you do so through unsustainable methods, they won’t stay off. You’ll gain ’em right back as soon as you start to eat normally. But while you’re doing it, you will lose weight.
But – by tactical use of “after” photos, “success stories” on white backgrounds (as if the only thing that matters in their lives is how miserable they look in their pre-diet pants, and how great they look in that post-diet dress), and by the perceived wisdom that it’s possible to cut carbs for an entire freakin’ lifetime – they’ve managed to create a smoke and mirrors effect that implies that when you fail a diet, that’s on you. That’s your failure, because you’re weak, and clearly did something wrong. You’re not good enough.
Let me remind you about that time, on Jacques Peretti’s amazing documentary ‘The Men Who Made Us Thin,’ that the former Finance Director of Weight Watchers explained that it’s the ‘perfect business model.’ He described it as ‘like buying a lottery ticket,’ because while you might luck out – it’s pretty damned unlikely.
The Finance Director of Weight Watchers, guys.
I mean… I’ve got nothing.
Of course, I can see where he was coming from. After all, the diet industry is worth £2bn in the UK, and $61bn in the US. That latter figure is over six times as much as it was in 1980. If I’d managed to pull that off, I’d be bragging about it too. I mean, if I were a total freakin’ asshat.
Now, all these statistics should be enough to convince you to ditch the diet industry and refuse to buy into the madness. But if that’s not enough, let me offer you one last thing from my own personal experience.
Losing weight doesn’t fix your problems, and it won’t, in itself, make you happy.
I’ve had times where I’ve been just as unhappy at 150lbs as I was at almost twice that. I have loose skin, and I have stretch marks. I’m still skint all the time, still get a bit blue in winter, and – gosh darn it – I’m still not perfect. These things are all completely unrelated to the number I see between my toes.
Losing weight is not the key to happiness, no matter what the celebrity spokesperson tells you. So long as you’re buying into the diet industry, you won’t be happy, because you’ll still be prey to the scales, to judgement, to a discourse of self-criticism and perceived failure. It’s a never-ending cycle.
If, on the other hand, you check out – if you become aware of the techniques the food and diet worlds are using to make you buy their products, and choose not to engage with them – you’re on to a winner. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life on and off diets because that’s what we’re supposed to do.
So this year, choose health. Choose a long-term view. And choose happiness. Because – as the saying goes – the best things in life are free. And they’re exactly what you deserve.