The Perfect Fit

19 May

There’s a new four-letter word that isn’t allowed in public circles. The word is “diet.” Just like some other famous four-letter obscenities, this one can be used as a noun (“I’m on this new diet…”), a verb (I just started dieting this week…”) or even an adjective (“Today’s a diet day,” or “Do you like my diet body?”). Any way you frame it, the word should not be allowed in polite company. Introduce the word “diet” into a social circle, and the conversation begins to breakdown into squawking and squabbling. The word is about as unwelcome as Cousin Oliver in the last season of the Brady Bunch–and with the same effects. Everyone points fingers of blame as to what works, what doesn’t, and everyone becomes an expert as to what foods are right for your body. People devolve into pundits on Dr. Phil, or talking heads on CNN—talking past each other without listening to other’s views or opinions.

When you introduce the prospect of a new diet to a group of friends, and all their dieting expertise comes out onto the table, you have to work to curb your immediate sense of anxiety. Don’t people realize that anxiety and stress are the reason people gain weight? It’s a vicious cycle. Even choosing a diet has become stressful now. Much like choosing a perfect college, you read brochures and websites, looking at the fine points of a diet to see what can fit your lifestyle, how you can be on a diet and have a full-time internship, and whether this diet allows you to skip breakfast and grab a coffee (the answer is a resounding “No, it’s the most important meal of the day.”) Everyone hates diets but loves it when their friends go on one. I feel like I’m hearing the typical Evangelical spiel on homosexuality—“Hate the sin, love the sinner,” except it’s “Hate the diet, love the dieter.”

Besides the mind games at work with your friends, diet books are the best mental manipulators I’ve ever encountered. Never does one have a better sense of Stockholm syndrome—being in love with one’s captor—than when he or she reads a diet book. While it’s telling you all the sacrifices you’re going to make, the book simultaneously gives you comfortable feelings of hope, acceptance, strength, and power. Almost every diet book works in the same way. First, it outlines how much you’re going to accomplish. The first chapter lets you know everything that’s going to happen once you start the diet. After laying out the inner workings of this particular plan, every diet book will go on to do the following:  a) bash its rivals, b) reinforce why this diet is best, c) throw in some random personal triumph stories for good measure, and d) empower you.

The Perfect Fit (in many ways...)

Why does every diet book sound like it’s continuously pitching its product? Haven’t I already bought the damn book? After bashing The Zone, South Beach, Atkins, and the Magic Cookie Diet, the book will go on to reinforce its propagandist techniques—User stories! Emotional appeals!—and then, finally, leave you empowered. After reading a diet book, I feel as if I could reverse time if I could fly around the world backwards, and fit into a pair of red and blue tights.

The word “diet” is so dirty, that not even diet books want to use it. Diet books spend half their pages trying to convince you that this isn’t a diet. What would pornography be like if it opened with a man in a suit and tie convincing you this wasn’t pornography, and that no women were objectified in the making of this film? A diet is what it is, and if people can’t accept that, then they need to realize that diet doesn’t need to be a dirty word. The problem is that people put the blame on the word “diet,” and not their own minds. It’s so like us humans to displace blame on an abstract concept or idea rather than putting it on ourselves. Maybe the word “diet” can be reclaimed by us, but only if we have a change of mind and a change of heart. Perhaps one day, diet can once again have an invitation to luncheons, and have spots on our social calendars. Until we change the way our minds go, don’t expect an RSVP from good ole’ diet. She just doesn’t fit in anymore.

2 Responses to “The Perfect Fit”

  1. Tim Jalbert 05/19/2010 at 8:36 pm #

    You opened up a very good point. One thing I noticed you didn’t explicitly mention in your discussion that I think is very applicable is money. The cost of a diet vs. the cost of basically eating crappy food everyday is ridiculous. The dollar menus make this easy and the whole food style monopolies make eating healthier food more and more of a problem. We live in a capitalist society and we are bred from childhood to be little Veruca Salt’s. We want everything right now and as quick as possible. The thing is: Getting the golden egg (dieting and eating healthy) has become a trend and it is a difficult trend to become a part of because of money. There is a high demand to eat healthy, so you have the health food stores jacking up the prices. Everyone wants to lose weight and be healthy. There was a time when McDonald’s was cool. The truth hurt this trend just like it did cigarettes. However, eating healthy and losing weight is much harder and takes much more work than gaining weight. Hell, if I wanted to gain 10lbs I could probably do it by Friday, but if I wanted to lose 10 lbs in a healthy way (the key word is healthy) I’d probably be looking at a month or two. People over look this and they always look for the next best thing- the thing that will actually help them lose 10 lbs in a week. They set up ridiculous goals for themselves and they buy into these gimmicks that you were talking about (“Why does every diet book sound like it’s continuously pitching its product?”). This is why I feel dieting has become such a taboo topic. Have you ever saved up to buy something really nice, buy it and then have someone critique it? It puts you in a really awkward place and you hop back into defensive mode justifying all the money you just dropped for a hunk of crap. The same thing happens with dieting. People invest in some ridiculous lose-weight-quick-scheme and then argue why their investment was the best. They don’t want to admit that they are wasting their time. Meanwhile the man that eats healthy, exercises regularly and enjoys his life is laughing at all the little children eating up the trendy BS.

  2. Juliet 05/20/2010 at 12:14 am #

    Mmm…interesting. Glad I got to be a part of the discussion. I know what you’re talking about with the anxiety. I felt that when I first started reading up on nutrition six years ago. The more you read and the more you sort through the workables and the unworkables, the smaller the role anxiety will play in those conversations.

    Tim, I agree with the capitalist part. Thanks to the surplus of corn and the low cost of high fructose corn syrup (and the many other evils of the food industry), we live in a country where feeding the population is about making a profit, not nourishing our bodies. We have separate sections for produce…which is not normal. We’re the only country in the world that has non-organic (a.k.a. genetically modified) produce. There are many countries in the world that have no idea what “organic” even means in relation to produce. Gah! fjdkaslf;dkfas

    There’s more I could say about that, but I’ll end here. Looking forward to hearing more, Matty!

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