I was reading an article on NPR that interviewed the actress who plays "Kelly" on The Office, and she brought up an interesting point. Dieting is an American pastime. As soon as I read this, I jotted down the idea to write about it because it fascinates me.
I will try to count the number of diets that I've seen people on first hand: Dash, South Beach, Atkins, Metafast, Slimfast, Special K, Weight Watchers, Mediterranean, I'm sure there are more that I can't think of right now. There are so many diets where you can eat this, but not this, or this, except on Tuesdays . . . unless it's the third Tuesday of the lunar calendar. . . . Right. Perplexing!
Now I am not trying to make anyone feel bad, because I understand losing weight is an immense struggle for a lot of people, but it frustrates me a little bit to see companies and the market really take advantage of people struggling. The only real advice people need is to go exercise! And then actually exercise, run, walk, whatever!
So, I want to delve further into this a little bit and talk about why affluent, educated societies struggle with such a basic concept, and why we need to develop all of these secondary plans to fight weight gain.
I think one of the fundamental reasons why dieting is so important in American culture is because we really do have an obesity problem. I myself classify as obese, being just over the BMI of 29. People may look at me and go, "You aren't obese!" but yeah, I am. My lifestyle doesn't lend itself to being overly in shape, as I sit in a chair at a desk for 7 to 8 hours a day, with little to no movement all day long. This is the case for a huge portion of the population.
With the problem of obesity being so prevalent, we, as humans, look for ways to solve it. If you've ever done anything in computer science or bioinformatics, you may know that there are often ten or twenty different ways to solve the same problem. You can use any number of programming languages, any number of coding approaches, and so on. They may all accomplish the same-ish results, but all have different paths to get there. We create all of these solutions, some being way more complicated than they have to be. One of the phrases I keep near and dear to my heart while programming is, "Keep it simple, stupid." Because the more complex the solution, the more chances it will fail. The same goes with diets: the more rules you have to follow, the easier it is to fail.
We focus so much on dieting because we really don't have any other persistent struggle in our lives. We don't worry about having to find and hunt the food. We don't worry about drinking water, war in our backyards, and other disasters (save a few occasions). We really don't have much else to really struggle with consistently. It gives us something to do, something to creatively try to solve, something to worry about, and something to unite around. Seems kind of twisted doesn't it?
I think we all know deep down how to lose weight, and how to keep it off. We just toy with all of these novelty diets to give us something to do, something to read about, something to play with. Weight loss is a struggle, and choosing the diet of the week gives us a way to point at something else when we falter or fail, and say hey, this diet wasn't for me, maybe the next one will work. Let's all do ourselves a favor and just get out and run and play, and lose weight while doing that, rather than struggle with our noses behind books and charts and eating plans. Let's get over this American pastime and do something more fun. Let's all worry about the environment or something.
I was in the checkout line at Wegmans yesterday and saw a magazine with an article on the cover “Eat Yourself Thin!” So, what I find, is that people are looking for the diet in which they have to change the least amount of things in their lifestyle. They are comfortable with their routines and, even if they aren’t happy with their looks or health, they don’t want to change that much.
I think part of it is because, like you said, the more you change, the more things that are likely to fail. I think another part of it is because it can be a shock to change your lifestyle. I know when I settle down on the couch and get all comfy and warm, I like nothing better than to think about Cupcake Wars and maybe doze off a little. To think that the more healthy, responsible version of myself would be getting her chiseled rear end off the couch and going outside, despite the rain, to put in a 10K . . . well, that just makes me want to pull that fleece Bills blanket over my head.
That’s where that saying “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” holds true. It’s a whole different approach to life when you decide to get healthy. You can’t just “eat yourself thin” and expect to maintain that. Unless you are changing your habits and paying attention to your overall health, chances are it’s just going to be another diet you add to the list of ones you’ve tried.
Completely agree on all fronts here. I’ve always found it really frustrating to listen to people talk about all the crazy diets they’re trying, or complaining about wanting to lose weight without really doing anything about it. Because, honestly, the actual, physical act of losing weight is not complicated. Exercise and healthy eating are not mysteries yet to be solved. The real difficulty is psychological. It’s hard not to eat some of the food you might love, or to get yourself out there every day and do something physical, be it running or even just walking a few miles to clear your head. We all really do have the potential to change our bodies, but potential isn’t worth a hill of beans without willpower and determination. Fad diets and the like are, at best, temporary fixes to a lifelong issue (and worse, fixes that make us feel terrible as we deprive ourselves of anything remotely like a normal diet), and at worst, new ways to make people feel bad about themselves as they obsessively follow arcane guidelines without addressing the real health and psychological issues that caused them to get to the point where they felt bad or unhealthy about their weight in the first place.