Diet Zombies

Well, even if we kill all the diets, they will probably keep shambling about, spewing their usual nonsense. It is astounding that people keep going on diet after diet after diet after diet, always losing and always regaining, and never seem to clue in that the problem is diets as such, not with their own lives. I should know – I’m the resident poster child of this behavior at Casa Anglachel.

There’s two things I stumbled upon on the My Fitness Pal site today. One was a personal blog post where the writer got quite irritated because of the medical literature matter-of-factly stating that substantial weight loss is usually followed by equivalent or great weight regain. She had linked to another blog post where the writer basically rejected medical reports and merely said she was comfortable with her weight fluctuating (which is pretty much rejecting the treadmill of Sisyphus), but then the original poster and her commenters twisted this anti-diet statement into a declaration that of course dieters maintain their weight loss as long as they adopt lifestyle changes, and the scientific reports are wrong! Just look at all the success stories on MFP!

I then found an MFP discussion board thread titled “Success Doesn’t Last,” where dozens of people posted stories of how many times they had succeeded at losing weight only to gain back most, all or even more within a relatively short period of time. In almost every case (which makes sense, given the site), they all blamed themselves for failing to stick with their lifestyle changes and promising to “do it right” this time. Some said they had done it wrong to begin with, but now had seen the light and knew how to lose and maintain.

I’m not going to link to these posts because I don’t want to put individuals on the spot. They are doing nothing more than repeating the conventional wisdom and the language of the diet and fitness industry, and they are all sincere about trying to do something right for themselves. Rather, I look at them as exemplars of Fat Land Living, trying to discipline themselves to stay within the acceptable limits of girth without interrogating the simple fact that the activity of dieting has little hope of success under current cultural and structural conditions.

The emphasis on “lifestyle change” hides the truth of dieting inside a shiny carapace of “fitness” and “health” talk, but the lifestyle change envisioned in this narrative actually is nothing more than an institutionalization of a permanent diet, balanced on a knife edge, where all food is forever the enemy and all activity is wages of sin. They talk about rearranging their lives around limiting their food intake and maximizing their exercise. Eternal vigilance or else Teh Fatz will creep up on you and consume your new form, wrapping you up in layers of icky fat.

Reading this thread made me sad. And anxious. I have been there, done that, so many times, with four significant episodes of gain/loss/regain. I am presently at the end of a loss cycle, having deliberately tried to lose weight since early 2011. I use this language of health and fitness, and know exactly how easy it is (perhaps impossible not to) elide being healthy with being thinner today than I was yesterday, because only reduction in weight, especially if you are one of Teh Fatz, is a socially acceptable expression of health. It is extraordinarily difficult to organize my life around health, to even think about health, in a way that is not simply and transparently an attempt to lose weight.

The likelihood of weight regain for me is in the upper 90%, if not a nice round 100%. I’m doing my best to make my peace with that probability. It is very difficult to keep the diet zombies from sucking out the rational thought in my head and replacing it with Diet Speak (I know how to keep it off now! I have the will to live a new lifestyle that will be superdoubleplusgood for me!). It is difficult to ignore the siren song of Sisyphus’ treadmill, even when I know that trying to live in that mode is nothing less than taking on a terminal illness.

That’s what I want to make clear in my criticisms of food politics and the weight loss industry – it’s not about the individuals who are trying to lose weight. We’re not the zombies. It is the pressure to lose weight at the expense of all other measures and markers of health that is the brain-dead shambling corpse.

It makes it very difficult to be healthy when we’re under constant pursuit by those who only want us to be thin.


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Posted in Anglachel, Culture, Obesity
4 comments on “Diet Zombies
  1. quixote says:

    I get that being permanently constrained and disciplined is not a viable long term approach. But it is possible to form new habits, isn’t it? I’ve never had a problem with weight as such, but my metabolism has slowed with time. Every now and again, I find myself having to retrain myself as to my now-applicable portion size. After a few months, the fullness meter resets and I’m good for a decade or so.

    It could well be that the whole appetite – fullness feedback loop works differently in someone who’s the same weight all the time. What’s your experience? Do you get that new-habit-becomes-new-normal at some point? Or does the feedback loop not reset?


    • anglachelg says:

      Hi quixote,

      Well, if new habits can’t be formed, then I’m going to be very, very fat in the relatively near future.

      My answer is, yes, I believe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks, specifically to teach yourself how to operate in a food environment that promotes excess. This is the “How” of eating that I’m going to try to talk about in future posts. My insights into this come from my long term observations about the changing physical environment and the condition of food ubiquity and from something fairly new that I’ve only become familiar with in the last month or so, which is the concept of eating competence, focusing on how, not what, we’re eating. I think you’ll find that what you do right now is at the very least in the same consumption family as eating competence.

      What I’ve found is that I have found an eating pattern that seems to suit me pretty well. I’m not sure I’m really aware of a feedback loop – I have trouble knowing when I am full or satisfied short of going just a hair too far – but I am finding a comfort and confidence in having a good food routine that gives me lots of good stuff that I (and the Spousal Unit) really like to eat. I’ve been within a few pounds of the same weight for a year now and my body seems pretty happy with where it has settled. It’s still in the low obese range, which is the part I am having to “make my peace with”, but it’s also the first time in my adult life that I have not been caught in a regain/loss/regain cycle.

      I’m hoping that learning eating competence (which has some interesting and counter-intuitive elements compared to the usual blah blah about “mindful eating”) will help me become more cognizant of feedback cues. Right now, I lean heavily on habits of food preparation to ensure I don’t over or under eat, rather than having an internalized sense of “that’s enough, I’m done.”

      Frankly, I’m also tired of food regulation and really prefer thinking of activity and physical motion as the center of self-care. I have a post in draft at present that will start to hammer home the effects of motion.

      As always, thanks for your thoughts!



      • quixote says:

        I clicked on the eating competence link in your other post and kind of chuckled. Yes, you’re right, it was all pretty much “Duh!” to me. Not my smarts. It was just the way my Granny taught me to eat. (And my Gran being the way she was, you did what she said!)

        As for the low obese range, isn’t that pretty much what people used to call “stout”? A perfectly good place to be and one end of our natural human variation. (Speaking as a biologist there. I’m not just being polite šŸ™‚ .) Combine with a good level of fitness and it’s all anyone can ask of themselves.


      • anglachelg says:

        Hi quixote,

        Yes, stout, solid, chunky, all those words and others used to describe someone who is built kind of like a tree stump. BUT … in Fat Land, my weight is still outside acceptable parameters and the cultural narrative is that I need to lose more weight because don’t I want to be healthy? The way weight/BMI has been super-glued to healthy is the problem. My next post will address this. It’s hard to write about health where weight doesn’t rule the conversation.

        The appeal of the eating competence concept and practice to me is that it looks at the consumption environment first and foremost – *how* are you consuming your food? – rather than trying to micromanage the particular food being consumed – *what* are you eating? If the problem is not food composition (or, at least, not for the majority of people) but food ubiquity, then making an effort to restore a natural “scarcity” to your personal food environment makes great sense. Give yourself time to get hungry, then eat. It also echoes traditional eating patterns where food preparation took time, people were busy doing physical things most of the day, and eating is a communal act where everyone takes a break from labor and does something enjoyable.



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