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.