people have realised that dieting does not work, and it’s seemingly a thing of the past. so how is the diet industry still thriving? more and more people have ‘quit’ dieting and began taking care of their health. diets are out, lifestyle changes are in. but how do these ‘lifestyle changes’ differ from diets??
in her book anti-diet (2019), Christy Harrison refers to this new, covert trend within diet culture as “The Wellness Diet”, because it is in fact, still a diet. Harrison explains how like any other diet, “the Wellness Diet is about eating the supposedly “right” things and removing the supposedly “wrong” ones, all in a bid to attain a state of moral and bodily “correctness” (which of course includes thinness).” these diets don’t call themselves diets, they all claim to be about health and wellness, not dieting. they choose terms such as “protocol, reset, reboot, cleanse, detox, program, template, eating plan, or lifestyle” (Harrison, 2019).
Harrison explains that the argument that “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” is in fact central to diet culture’s new business model. a Marketdata report (2017, cited in Harrison 2019), a market research publisher who offer consulting and strategic planning to the diet industry, reported the following:
- “‘Diet’ has become a four-letter word in the minds of many consumers. ‘Healthy’ eating has replaced ‘dieting.’”
- “Any weight loss company that continues to focus most of their efforts on Baby Boomers is sure to wither and die“
- “Many Millennials today view Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig as your mother’s (or grandmother’s) weight loss program. This will be the challenge—to stay relevant and cultivate this future generation of dieters.”
in their words, the diet industry must continue to adapt to “stay relevant and cultivate this future generation of dieters“, which is why they’re focusing on ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ rather than dieting. this also explains weight watchers’ rebrand in 2018 after the report was published, which I will discuss shortly.
diet industry cashing in on wellness
the diet industry has even started to capitalise on the concept of intuitive eating, a method of healing and rejecting diet culture. intuitive eating is not a diet, it is not intended for weight loss, yet as it gained attraction, the diet industry began using it as a weight loss method. it’s very ironic that intuitive eating is being used by the very thing it is fighting against, but it also shows how terrible the diet industry is. (this article talks more about the issue of diet culture co-opting anti-diet vocabulary)
miss gwyneth paltrow was recently involved in more controversy as she promoted a book about ‘intuitive fasting’ by Dr Will Cole (not actually a doctor). it tries to identify as intuitive eating, but it is actually very restrictive, endorsing fasting for 16 hours (increases to 22 hours on certain days), and a ketotarian diet. yes it’s exactly what it sounds – plant based keto
the author and gwyneth paltrow both claim that it’s a very flexible and unrestrictive plan – but also you cannot eat the following: sugar, artificial sweeteners, gluten, ‘unhealthy’ fats, meat, dairy, alcohol… and promises to help you find food freedom. these are words used by the anti-diet movement, so it’s very immoral for them to use these to promote their diet. there is nothing intuitive about ignoring your hunger cues – this diet could not be further from eating intuitively. placing so much unnecessary restriction on our eating is very harmful to both our mental and physical health (but read more about this here!! it’s a very good article and I don’t want g00p to sue me hehe)
also dietitian Abbey Sharp’s video explains it in a lot of detail, watch it here!
the privilege in wellness
many wellness influencers have struggled with food and body image, as Harrison (2019) stated, “they frame their “protocol” or “reset” as a path to peace with food—not recognizing that they’ve simply traded in one form of disordered eating for another“. but with wellness, comes a lot of privilege.
the picture of wellness is a white, cisgender, middle class, thin, able-bodied person, with the income and time to go to pilates classes, go on wellness retreats, and to buy and eat only organic, non-processed, ‘REAL’ foods.
most wellness influencers promote the idea that health is a choice, yet they don’t acknowledge the fact that they are able to make this ‘choice’ because of their privilege of being wealthy, (mostly) white, thin, young, and able-bodied. they talk about the importance of prioritising your health, but this is not possible for many people. it costs time and money to participate in ‘wellness’ promoting behaviours, and not everyone can prioritise their health over making ends meet.
I keep linking articles but I love this article, it talks about privilege in self-care!!
in 2018, weight watchers rebranded as just ‘WW’ (apparently it stands for ‘wellness that works’ but I don’t remember where I read that and can’t find anything about it so it sounds like I’m making that up lol). they claim that they’re no longer focusing on weight loss, but ‘wellness’.
however by going on their website you can see that their ‘success stories’ are based off weight loss, and it’s literally still all about weight loss. they still have weight loss plans. even their weekly weigh-ins are now called ‘wellness workshops’.
I did their assessment and it just assumed that I wanted to lose weight, although I didn’t tell them I wanted to and I didn’t enter my weight, so again, it’s not just about ‘health’. the screenshots below are from the assessment:
they still see our appetites as things that are unruly and demonise certain foods. they say it’s not a diet yet in the first screenshot they use the term “off track”- how can you go ‘off track’ if it’s not a diet? they still talk about eating as if it’s an issue, and that our bodies need to be controlled – we cannot trust them. this is diet culture talk.
“works for weight loss, works for wellness, works for you!” they’ve just changed their name, that’s all. they still promote a restrictive diet, obsessively monitoring your body, and lowering the number on the scale. counting points is not wellness, it’s still dieting. the people who sign up for weight watchers are still focused on weight loss.
weight watchers for children?
in 2019, WW were under fire for launching a weight loss app for children. they were heavily criticised but rejected claims that they were promoting eating disorders, and claimed that they were encouraging ‘healthy eating’, not weight loss. this is clearly not the case as their website says “weight loss for teens & kids” and discusses lowering the BMI. they also have a traffic light system of foods, which demonises certain foods as they reinforce ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods instead of a source of energy and nutrition. these ideas are already very harmful, but introducing diet culture to young children will probably trigger negative body image, and disordered eating.
through podcasts, youtube videos and reading, I’ve found that most people began to develop eating disorders through dieting as children or teenagers. at this age, their bodies are already going through change as they grow and become more aware of their bodies. children as young as 8 years old, should absolutely not be strictly tracking their food intake and policing their bodies. dieting teaches children to fear food and weight gain, which is a natural part of puberty.
the NEDA (national eating disorders association) even released a statement on this app. (read it here). they wrote: “In a large study of 14- and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder. Those who dieted moderately were five times more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practiced extreme restriction were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet.”
I began to think, is this so bad after all? isn’t it a good thing to be encouraging wellbeing? I do believe that focusing on nutrition and wellbeing is much better than going on fad diets, and obsessing over numbers.
however like any diet, wellness demonises certain foods and places moral value on food. the people who cannot perform wellness are seen as failures and immoral. wellness is a privilege, and a person’s ability to perform wellness is not a determinant of their character.
wellness can also lead to an unhealthy obsession with health eating, and clean or ‘pure foods’ – Orthorexia. read more about Orthorexia here:
so in conclusion,
this was my last post in my diet culture series, so thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!! I’m moving on to research other things, but I’ll definitely write more about diet culture in the future!
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Ashley (2021): Gwyneth Paltrow Calls Intuitive Fasting a Less Restrictive Version of Intermittent Fasting
Gordon (2020): What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat
Harrison (2019): Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating
NEDA (2019): Neda Statement on Kurbo by WW App
Osmanski (2019):Is Self-Care Elitist? How I Reconcile With The Privilege Associated With ‘Wellness’