Well I’ve been stewing on this one for a while, and what better day than International No Diet Day to stick my neck out by having a swipe at my most disliked of all the diet products.
To be clear, it is not my intention to have a go at any individual who sells or uses these products. It’s a messed up and confusing society we live in. One where the weightloss industry wields a lot of power over bodies and minds and leaves a path of destruction in its wake.
There are many people in weightloss companies and services who are deliberately causing pain and shame to make a sale. But there are also those who genuinely have not considered the whole picture and are unaware of the damage that their messages causes. I am hoping that this will help with opening some eyes to the this damage.
I hate diet products. All of them and everything that goes along with them. I hate ‘guiltfree’ hashtags, I hate ‘bikini ready’ advertising, I hate diet shakes, diet pills, potions, “cleanses” and “detoxes”. I hate the messages that doing unhealthy things like staving yourself, taking speed, overdosing on caffeine, excessively exercising, taking appetite suppressants or drinking heavily processed drinks instead of eating actual food in the name of ‘weightloss’ is suddenly ‘good’ for you. But of all the products I hate the most, it’s the pyramid selling ones.
Even though the products are pretty much the same as those sold in health food stores, pharmacies and supermarkets, I hate them the most. All the weightloss products have overblown and misleading claims on the packaging. They are plastered in unproven or often proven to be false claims, with truckloads of pseudoscience and just plain lies about ‘magic’ or ‘secret’ ingredients that make their product ‘the one you’ve been waiting for’.
But the pyramid selling ones top the list because of the additional collateral damage of the mode of selling. It is damaging, destructive and contributing to our toxic diet culture in an insidious and underhand way. And this is why.
1. Because it is personal.
In pyramid selling schemes, you are advised and trained to “look for opportunities within your existing circles”. Your workplace, your family and friends. In a lot of cases, the person trying to sell them to you, knows you. All of a sudden, an offhand remark about wanting to lose weight, feeling tired, having no control around food, feeling bloated etc, etc is met with a “solution”. Buy my stuff! This not only validates that what you said was a problem that must be solved (which it may or may not be), but now you need to say no to a friend or family member. This is hard to do. It’s fairly easy to change the channel or switch off when the diet ads pop up on your TV, it’s easy to not buy fitness magazines that have weightloss product ads scattered throughout and to avoid that aisle of your pharmacy. It’s much harder to push back against a friend, work colleague or family member. And this is a problem because of point 2.
2. Because it implies body judgment
Diet products are not the same as Tupperware. If someone offers to sell me Tupperware, there is very little risk that I will start questioning the validity of my pantry storage choices. I am unlikely to spiral into pantry dissatisfaction or pantry hated. Even if I did, it’s not going to effect me all that much. I might just close the pantry door when people are visiting. At the end of the day, I do need to store my food in something and to my knowledge Tupperware isn’t associated with a sharp increase in Pantry Disorders.
It’s not the same as cleaning products, although if someone invited me to a cleaning product party I may wonder if they had had a peek at the floor at my house recently. But again, more likely I’d think, yeah…I do need to clean and if there is a way to make it easier or cheaper, in the long run apparently by not using cleaning products, and better for the environment (by not needing said cleaning products, then great.
If someone offered me to look through a brochure for skin care and make up, I’d think, yeah, I do need to wash my face, and I do like wearing makeup sometimes maybe this stuff would be good. Perhaps I’ll find a gift for someone.
But if someone offered to sell me diet shakes, or a detox or cleanse, that is different. Offering diet products implies that there is something wrong with your body and your weight. It reveals that your friend is looking at, and judging your body and what you eat. It suggests that they have found it unacceptable in it’s current state and now think you should ‘fix’ it with their product. (It wont, but more on that later).
3. Because it makes a seller feel like an expert in nutrition and weightloss…and this is dangerous
Someone who has lost weight by using a diet product such as a shakes program, is not an expert on human nutrition, human behaviour, or human psychology. They do not understand human metabolism, they do not know physiology or biochemistry. They don’t know about eating disorders, they don’t know about hormones, they don’t know about medical conditions and the ‘diet disease relationships’ that exist for these conditions . They don’t know anything about nutrition but what the company has told them, but they don’t know, what they don’t know. I’d like to be clear that I don’t blame the seller for this. They are most likely unaware of the failure of their products or the physical and psychological collateral damage. But I do believe that they have bought a dangerous lie.
I was speaking to someone the other day who decided to stop participating in one of these programs due to health concerns, like fainting, among other things. When telling her ‘upline’ or ’coach’ they replied, with some pressure, that she could ‘just tweak her nutrition’ to prevent her having passing out episodes. WHAT????!!! No you can’t! If your program and product is causing someone to faint regularly, they need to stop and see a health professional. They don’t need someone telling them that they just lack commitment and need some tweaking.
4. Because the seller is always looking for a new sale
I had a friend tell me the other day that they overheard a conversation between a seller and one of her work colleagues, it stated with the seller saying ‘you could stand to lose a few kg couldn’t you?’ STARTED with that!!! Who do you think you are??? You have no idea where someone is at in their health journey just by looking at them. You don’t know what they are already doing, their personal barriers and struggles, their medical history, stage of readiness or mental health. And, unless they want to tell you, this is none of your business.
I’m a dietitian but if you are not coming to me for advice, I will not give you any. I will not judge, comment, food shame or body shame. I will not try to ‘get a sale’ by raising my eyebrows and telling you I have the answer. Because you haven’t asked a question and I know that not only will my judging and shaming be completely counter productive to empowering healthy change, but it’s just not my place. #eyesonyourownplate
I’m on a couple of facebook groups for mums and occasionally someone opens up with serious body image issues, often due to weight gain, or difficulty losing weight. Some of these women reveal that their body shame is seriously effecting their mental health and feelings of self worth. All of a sudden people are offering to fix it with a weightloss product. NO! This will not help. They don’t need a diet shake, they need love, validation that they are enough as they are. Some of these poor Mums sound like they really need to see a psychologist for help with managing these feelings, a 30-day cleanse just isn’t going to cut it.
They might do well to improve their diet and exercise more, but not with a restrictive, expensive, fad diet, with food rules and deprivation, unnecessary supplements and products. They need support, respect and kindness. They need a long term view of behaviour change and health. Otherwise when they (inevitable) stop the program and the weight comes back, they are worse off mentally and physically than when they started. The message that weightloss equals happiness is a lie that the toxic diet industry sells. You only have to listen to the negative body talk coming out of the mouths of your ‘thin’ and ‘not thin’ friends or family alike to see that there is more to the story of being happy with your body and your life than the size you wear. But for a seller who doesn’t understand the complex relationship between food choice, body hatred and psychology, a sale is a sale.
5. Because it is a faulty product…96% of the time
Diets and diet products have an outrageously high failure rate, and this is relevant to all of them, not just the pyramid selling ones. One of the best analogies I have ever read of the problem with diet industry comes from Dr Rick Kausman’s book ‘If not dieting then what?”. In it he has a fabulous quote from a client likening the diet industry to the car industry. “If diets were faulty cars, we would be suing the manufacturer. Instead, we let them blame us”. It’s like they sell you a car that runs off the road for 95% of people, but then point to the 5% so they can blame the driver for the failure. It’s just plain wrong. If weightloss diets and products worked, the industry would be getting smaller, not bigger.
6. Because it’s just not healthy, for your body or your mind.
If a teenager of healthy weight or low weight was skipping meals and real food, but was instead, taking lots of supplements and highly processed diet shakes we’d be worried about their heath. We’d talk about the nutrients they were missing, the psychological stress, the damaging effects on their body and mind of restrictive dieting. We’d raise concern about the detrimental effects on their metabolism, concerns about their study being effected by poor concentration due to hunger and insufficient energy and carbohydrate intake. We’d raise concerns about their moods as we noticed that they were volatile and snappy by 3pm due to a lack of carbohydrate.
But when it’s an adult who feels the need to lose weight, or especially when it is someone who is overweight, suddenly we support them for ‘doing something about their health”. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!! All of the above concerns, are still real problems for adults who are following restrictive diet programs, regardless of their starting weight. None of them are addressed when they are being guided by an ‘upline’ who has little or no understanding of the physical and psychological damage of diets.
Bodies are bodies, healthy is healthy, unhealthy is unhealthy. Regardless of your age, gender or body size, healthy eating looks like eating regular, balanced meals, and maybe regular snacks if you are hungry. It looks like eating mostly minimally processed foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, moderate amounts of protein, unrefined grains and occasionally enjoying indulgences. It does not look like an on again, off again restrictive diet with out of control blow outs and bingeing in between,
So if someone offers to sell these products to you, take care. Don’t buy the lies and feel free to send my little list to the seller. Happy No Diet Day!