Since late December my life–and everyone else within earshot of a TV or the Internet–has been plagued with dieting. Ads about dieting, talk show episodes about losing weight. Blog entries about the perils of avoiding office birthday cake. It’s part of the postmodern human ritual, the rite we go through to punish ourselves for the enjoyment of the holidays.
This January more than any other I’ve been struck by one thing over and over again. Dieting in many cases is a socially-acceptable way for people to be completely self-absorbed. I don’t diet anymore, but I have plenty of years invested in the Weight Loss Industry. I stopped playing along when I realised that more people leave Vegas without losing money than keep the weight off from any diet. Ever. Casinos are a better bet than any of the modern marketed weight loss techniques.
Of course, I do have the advantage of my weekly poisoning to keep my weight down, so I’m an unfair sample.
But of the many memories I have from dieting professionally, a few are very vivid.
- Journals kept with all my food intake listed
- Charts and graphs outlining my weight and progress at losing
- Support groups, diet buddies, online chat rooms and forums
- Inspirational sayings taped to the refrigerator
- Little “reminder tokens” in various places (on my desk, on a charm bracelet, on bookmarks)
- Bible studies and prayer groups focusing on the goal of weigh loss
And it struck me that the dieting business in this country, with no small bit of help from Oprah and Good Morning America, has turned dieting into idolatry. We worship not just the idea of thinness or “health” (as the new popular euphemism goes), but the process.
I also suspect that many dieters also enjoy the aspect of having themselves be the focal point of supportive attention. We adults don’t get grades that often. We don’t win prizes on a regular basis; there is no 4-H or Scouts for adults. So the only chance many of us get to hear “that’s fantastic!” or “great job!” is when we go on a diet and tell other people that we’ve managed a minute alteration in our personal relationship with gravity. It is unfortunately NOT socially acceptable to ask another person to tell you your good points or why they are friends with you. So we look for love in the pursuit of the socially acceptable yet ultimately unobtainable. And since pretty much everyone is familiar with the dieting struggle such acceptance and understanding comes easily.
In my life I know exactly one person who has been successful maintaining a weight range s/he is happy with. That person also never tells you when s/he is ‘dieting.’ The ‘diet’ itself consists of small cutbacks in intake and small increases in activity. S/he never makes a big deal of it. The last time this person (Let’s call her/him “Pat”) went through what Pat calls a “corrective spell” I didn’t know it until it was over. Pat informed me that Pat’s outfit was a couple of sizes smaller and didn’t fit six months ago. I wonder if there isn’t something to that, that the truly successful weightloss has to be very internalised. Completely the opposite of the modern religion of the diet industry.