I remember how it felt in the early days of adopting a new diet, especially a diet that promised radiant health and effortless weightloss. Specifically veganism and paleo, though these promises are made by MANY diets out there – juicing, gluten-free, primal, keto, etc. These diets offered more than weight loss – they offered the promise of eternal health.
‘Eat like our ancestors ate, the way we evolved (or were designed) to eat! Disease is a product of our modern, western diet and lifestyle. You can avoid disease by eating the right food!’ -Fad Diet Rhetoric
I adopted the diets because I was scared. I was scared of cancer, mostly. Who isn’t? And the diets promised me control of my health. They offered freedom from cancer and other diseases. They offered reprieve from fear and worry. This is powerful stuff.
This image has been floating around the internet – it fits really well with this blog post and I’d love to give the creator credit! EDIT: I found the original artist! You can see the original by clicking on the image!
And of course, the next logical step in this thought process was that people who are sick have brought sickness upon themselves by eating the wrong foods. And the diets and diet ‘leaders’ reinforced this belief, this sense of superiority. I knew something the sick people didn’t, and I was safe, and it was their own fault they were sick. They should have eaten more [insert magic food here] and less [insert food villain here]. Thank goodness I knew the truth.
When famous people got sick, people would speculate online about what they did wrong to make themselves vulnerable to disease. Too much processed food. Too much animal food. Too much soy. Too many carbs. There was always something, some grave mistake they’d made out of their willful ignorance, their selfishness, their laziness. Because they didn’t work hard enough, they didn’t read the right books, they didn’t care enough about their health, so now they were paying the price. And of course we who knew the truth, we who had worked hard enough, we who cared about our health, were safe. We knew how to avoid disease and death. We were doing it right.
For a while, it was really very calming. I wasn’t afraid any more. I believed I had control of my health. I would remain healthy. Thank goodness I’d found the truth and was doing it right.
And it was gratifying too. I felt a little smug. I felt a little superior. The ‘masses’ may have to deal with cancer, but I would not. Because I cared about my health, and they didn’t. If they cared about their health they would eat better. They were lazy, and lazy people are the ones who get cancer.
The diets preyed on my fear of mortality. The fear of mortality that we all have. This is why the diets are so appealing. They promise protection from scary things, from pain and suffering, even from death. Much like religion. Which is why so many people defend and promote their diets with the fervor of a religious zealot. The diets offer the same thing religion does – freedom from pain and worry and death.
Except that people still get sick and die even if they eat the ‘right’ diet. Diets don’t really protect us from disease and death. They simply prey on and exploit our fears.
Fruits and vegetables are good for you. You should eat (or drink) them. Don’t starve yourself. Get some protein. Sleep well and be physically active every day. Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol in moderation (or don’t drink). Wear your seatbelt. Wear a helmet (when appropriate). Cultivate close friendships. Engage in your community. Get some sunlight every day you can. Get your mammograms and skin cancer screenings. Maintain a healthy weight. If you do these things, you can reduce your risk of many diseases. But there are no guarantees, no matter how perfectly you eat. You may still get sick. People get sick. And it is not because they did something wrong. It is because we are mortal. But we can enjoy the time we have here, and the best way to enjoy it is to do the best you can and not stress out about the things that are out of your control, and be kind to yourself and others.
The appeal of Fad Diets is that they quell our fear of mortality. Temporarily. Because we all eventually realize it’s a false promise. We get sick, or someone we love gets sick, or we just come to our senses.