Remarking Dieting: Thindustry at Work

I've noticed an interesting shift with the word dieting: the concept is there, but the word is being vilified.

Just not in the right way.

See, now diets aren't being advertised as diets. They're being advertised as "lifestyle changes" or the ubiquitous "just being healthy."

They're still diets.

It's actually quite slick, the way the thindustry has caught on to this trend. Now you just don't do Weight Watchers once and then quit (assuming once is enough). No, no my friends. You do Weight Watchers for the rest of your friggin' life.

Take Alli, for instance, the new over-the-counter weight loss aid. You cough up approximately $2/day to take a pill to help you lose weight and keep it off!!!!!! They get you. They really do. Because if you stop taking it once you get to the weight of your choice, it's your fault. You're weak (for gaining weight) and stupid (for stopping the pills). The company is then completely free of blame.

They have message boards on their website, and it's basically an ad disguised as a "helper" ( get the point). People talk about how much weight they want to lose, how much they just can't wait for the pill to get on the market. It reminds me of pro-ana boards. What's your highest weight? What do you weigh right now? What's your goal weight? How are you going to get there? What did you eat today? What are you excited to do when you lose weight? And you come to the boards for support, for reminders of why you're starving yourself and having orange, oily discharge emanate from your anus when you eat foods with a high fat content.

Yee-haw. I can't wait for that to be the new fashion trend: an oily spot on the rear of your pants. Everyone's doing it.

Okay, not quite everyone. I sure as hell won't be.

Reading the research about weight loss is somewhere between disconcerting and hilarious. Too much fat in your diet, or too much weight on your body, and you're gonna die. Sooner, rather than later. Meat has been linked to skin cancer in a recent Australian study. Another study says that by cutting calories, you can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment. The European Union wants tougher food labeling to fight obesity. Because people just keep getting fatter and fatter and fatter.

The thing is this. Food labeling has been around for years in the US, and "obesity" hasn't fallen a bit. If you have a food allergy, labeling is good. It makes sense. But if food labeling fought the so-called "obesity epidemic," why hasn't it worked so far?

People can be stupid, but knowledge of nutrition and calorie content is pretty much standard. even a four year old could probably tell you that pizza is "bad for you." They don't understand how or why, or even if it's true at all. Anyone out there who considers themselves "overweight" knows about calories, carbs, and fat grams.

But these products make money, the government wants to feel that they're "doing something" because they've invested so much in fighting obesity anyway, thus the products stay on the market.

In their ads, diet companies ask, "Are you tired of crash diets? Because we all know diets don't work." Um, right. And what are you selling? Oh yeah- a diet. Only it's not called that. Post Shredded Wheat says it will help you diet without hunger. Weight Watchers says that because it's been around for 40 years, it can't be a fad. Some diets even let you choose the size you want to be when you start.

In public, we all scoff. In private, so many of us want them to work.

Alli says "You put in the will, we put in the power." You can't will yourself tall, you can't will yourself blonde, and you can't will yourself to be a weight your DNA doesn't want you to be. The dieters science writer Gina Kolata interviewed in her wonderful new book, Rethinking Thin, certainly had the will. They wanted to lose weight, she said. Desperately so. Will (or lack thereof) wasn't the problem as to why diets continually failed.

The irony is that the mentality of good food/bad food, and fat is unhealthy (thus no fat is the epitome of health) can trigger an eating disorder. The government talks of the costs of obesity. But what about the cost of eating disorders? What about the cost of Alli, whose benefits are dubious at best? Where is the proof for the costs of obesity?

Maybe the reasons that people who are considered "obese" have more health problems is that they delay seeking medical attention. Why? Their doctors say, "lose weight," as if that will cure strep throat or appendicitis. There is NO WAY a person in this culture can be considered overweight and not know it. None. I don't buy it. The tiny benefits of weight loss stop after any length of time. Losing weight lowers blood pressure. So does starvation. When you maintain your weight, your blood pressure goes back up- presumably because you're not starving yourself anymore.

This is one of the most annoying aspects of my recovery: realizing that when I was anorexic, my views about food and weight were more mainstream than now that I'm healing. It makes you wonder: what the hell was so wrong with anorexia? Why did so many people tell me "I wish I was anorexic. Just a little bit." But the parts they don't see- the thing anorexia is about being really thin and having so much willpower that you can refuse almost all food. It's not willpower, it's not superhuman, it's fear.

In the end, I say screw it. The mental health costs of driving yourself nuts to be a weight your body isn't meant to be are far, far less than any potential costs having an "overweight" or "obese" body might be.

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RioIriri said...

"Maybe the reasons that people who are considered "obese" have more health problems is that they delay seeking medical attention. Why? Their doctors say, "lose weight," as if that will cure strep throat or appendicitis"

THANK YOU. So true.

I hope with more of us joining the chorus, there will eventually be a tide turning, and most people will realize that the emperor is indeed not only nude, but pierced in some very strange places.

I have tried very hard to eliminate the word "overweight" from my vocabulary, because it connotates a state of being too heavy, and needing to change that state.

carrie said...


Exactly. Over *whose* weight, precisely? I weigh more than some, less than others. Does that make me overweight AND underweight?

No. It really just makes me, me.

Hmmm...I think the emperor might also have some tattoos. ;)

Sarah said...

I cannot believe how much alli is being pimped. I would love to know the ad budget for that one.




carrie said...


The ad budget, I've heard is around $100 million dollars. I don't have the news story on hand that documents that, but, you know, give or take a couple of million. And all that for: oily, orange discharge.

::rolls eyes::

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT freakin' post. You tell 'em, Carrie!

carrie said...




I read an article today that says the expected Alli revenues for the first year sales alone (in the US and EU) are...get this...$1.5 BILLION. The irony- there are people starving all over the world. Think Darfur. Think how many people would be saved if we used that money for purposes that, hmmm, worked.

::gets off soapbox::

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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