- Warning: this grumpy post openly mocks modern diet culture.
- Trigger warning: this grumpy post contains references to diet culture and weight loss, and contains the word ‘artisanal’.
Being January and all, it’s Open Season on the diet front. My feelings on this are ambivalent. On one hand, there is little I enjoy more than hate-reading about the weird and wonderful things that people tend to do in January to punish themselves for the crime of enjoying their holidays. The odder the diet, the more glee I feel. *
On the other hand, the months I spent last year doing the AIP (I’m a hypocrite) seem to have sparked off a diet aversion in me. Right at the moment, the second anybody tries to tell me what to eat (or more specifically, not eat), it sparks off my ‘shan’t!’ reflex and I immediately feel the overwhelming urge to do the exact opposite of what I’m told, entirely out of spite. **
I strongly suspect that I am not alone in this, which may be why this year the various January Diets of Self-Flagellation appear to have co-opted the language of the anti-diet movement.
This month’s crop of I-Have-Sinned-And-Must-Be-Punished techniques are rotten with claims to be ‘simple’, stress-free ‘Anti-Diets’.
Technically, a ‘diet’ simply refers to an habitual way of eating. These days most people think of it as ‘a restricted way of eating’. A restricted diet can, of course, exist for any reason from specific health requirements to lack of access to particular foods.
To some people, ‘diet’ always infers weight loss, which can be slightly hilarious when you are talking at cross-purposes. Them: ‘Oh, a salad for lunch. Are you on a diet?’ Me: (confusedly) ‘Well, in a sense …’. I frequently have salad for lunch, because like to eat salad at lunchtime. It is part of my usual diet. I think some people believe I’m one of those perpetual weight-obsessives, rather than a person who gets a craving for something crunchy around midday.
The diet/diet schism can be amusing, but mostly it’s very very sad.
Take the Mediterranean Diet. I love Mediterranean-style nosh: it suits me and, it seems, is recognised as being especially good for long-term general health. Win! This thing called the Mediterranean Diet is a positive influence in my life. It encourages me to eat delicious food with marvellous ingredients that grow well where I live, and are very accessible; and it encourages the joyful cooking and consumption of said food. The fact that the foods and recipes it inspires seem to be good for my own personal body is a wonderful bonus.
The Mediterranean Diet is a completely weight-neutral diet no matter what some people tell you. It is about food and eating and calorie restriction is not a part of it.
You absolutely cannot convince some people of this. If I went about saying ‘Oh yes, it’s all about the Med Diet for me right now’ many people would probably say something annoyingly condescending like ‘Oh, good for you! Lost much?’ and then I’d be forced to get snippy with them and everyone would end up sad. Book shops are chockers with LOSE WEIGHT THE MEDITERRANEAN WAY titles.
And I think that is very sad because the actual Mediterranean Diet is not about weight at all. It is not even specifically about health. It is a ‘diet’ in the true sense of the word: a way of eating. A tradition. A beautiful cultural jewel.
It is, in fact, recognised by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Although I can be inspired by the diet when I select foods and recipes, it is not there for me: it is part of the cultural identity of that region. It is not owned by any author or any ‘diet guru’, it is owned by the people of the region as a whole, and it is a complex and living treasure. The rest of us can only learn from it and find inspiration in it.
The Great Diet Industry (TM) has attempted to turn it into something else altogether. Something commercial that can be neatly packaged for consumption. A ‘health diet’ that certain people associate with ethics and morality: this food is ‘good’. This food is ‘bad’. Never eat this, always eat that, or you are a failure. If you break these ‘rules’ you will get sick and fat and be a bad person.*** They have taken something that is all about joy and home, family and plenty, and turned it into a form of punitive restriction.
To my mind, that sort of thing is a clear-cut case of ‘anti-diet’. If a diet is about eating, an anti-diet is about not eating.
But that’s not exactly a common perception. To many it’s the other way around. Diets are all about privation, so an ‘anti-diet’ is about plenty. Obvs. ****
The mighty Great Diet Industry (TM), plus the would-be Diet Gurus (TM), are canny beasts with a lot of investment in getting us all to consume their products (and nothing but their products) every January, when people are in the mood for a bit of self-flagellation.
Oh god, not anti-diet again.
But they know, as do many of us, that there are two hard-and-fast truths about food restriction. 1) Statistically, restriction diets tend to work in the short term and fail miserably in the long term (yay, profitable potential for repeat customers!) and 2) restricting food really sucks.
So to make their products/grand ideas palatable to the desperate masses, they often trundle out the anti-diet language.
Hence we don’t have ‘Calorie restriction’, we have ‘Sensible Eating Plans (TM)’. We don’t have ‘Deliberately induced state of starvation’, we have ‘Cleanse your toxins!’***** And we don’t have ‘Punish yourself for having fun over Christmas you pathetic wimp’, we have ‘Total lifestyle changes’.
All, apparently, ‘anti-diets’. Which, it would seem, start at ‘Simple, sensible and sustainable ways to be healthy forever and ever, cutting out all that diet crap!’ but inevitably end with ‘Ten foods to never, ever eat again!’
I wish I could say that this was an exaggeration, but my highly enjoyable January hate-reading of the latest flavours of self-deprivation****** have uncovered some magnificent examples of the anti-anti-diet genre.
Unsurprisingly, poor old innocent grains have been at the top of the hit list so far in 2015. Now, having AIP’d for a large chunk of 2014, I’m hardly one to talk: but in my defence I was doing the elimination game to try and find out if specific foods were behind specific health problems. Having established that I am one of the lucky sorts who can apparently metabolise grains and gluten with ease I’m tucking guiltlessly into a range of delicious grains with great enjoyment.
Some people love grains, others don’t wish to eat them, we’re all captains of our own mighty starships. But this didn’t stop me from snorting in amusement mingled with derision when I read a Bold! New! ‘Anti-Diet’ concept that started with the simple premise of Not Eating Sh … er, Foods Of Limited Nutritional Value.
Sounds reasonable, yes? I mean, pretty boring and humourless, and not really taking into account the roles that eating and foods have to play in things like social, cultural, psychological or spiritual health, but a simple enough premise. Is it Food Of Limited Nutritional Value? Don’t eat it! Too easy! Lots of positive-sounding language such as ‘Live your life, eat and be merry!’ and ‘Not even a diet, simply a list of principles to eat well!’ (Red flag red flag red flag.)
At this point it plunged into a lengthy list of rules that included never drinking tap water no matter where you live (because toxins) and cutting out entire very sizeable food groups including all sugars and grains (natch). And all processed foods. And all carbs. Including fruit. And anything you didn’t either grow/kill yourself or else at least source ******* from local artisanal farmers who use only heirloom breeds and who you know personally so you can grill them about whether their grass-fed beef is 100% organic. ********
Awesome stuff. I was thrilled. Thrilled.
One of my all-time favourite ‘anti-diets’ is the Juice Cleanse.
Quite a lot of my appreciation stems from the fact that whenever somebody tells me they’re on a juice cleanse, I actually hear: ‘I am deliberately giving myself the trots. Did you hear me? I HAVE DIARRHOEA!’
I am also very amused by the way the January Juice Cleanse has slotted itself into the annual calendar for so many people. In October you eat Hallowe’en chocolate. In November you drink champagne by the bucketful. In December you eat party food and drink cocktails all month. In January you consume nothing but expensive juice and resign yourself to a month of light-headedness and urgently excusing yourself from meetings. And in February you go back to eating normally including Chicken Casserole Tuesdays and Friday Night Pizza.
I know plenty of people who love to drink juice regularly, and who fast from time to time for various reasons, which seems reasonable to me. But the Juice Cleanse is something different altogether. Firstly, it uses the word ‘cleanse’. ‘Cleanse’ is Great Diet Industry (TM) code for ‘Desperate attempt to lose (imaginary or temporary) weight by people who can’t cope with anybody thinking they are not effortlessly thin because only losers have to diet’.
Apparently she’s ‘cleansing’. For her (snigger) ‘toxins’.
Also, ‘cleansing’ is alleged to remove toxins (sigh) from the body, through the medium of spending many hours contemplating the loo door and getting a slight high from starvation.
Oddly (and to my evil delight) the very same people who do this are also frequently inclined to wax lyrical about the deleterious effects of ‘carbs’ on gut flora. Anybody who has ever prepared for a colonoscopy will tell you that ‘cleansing’ the gut is probably not ideal as far as your gut critters are concerned.
Sadly, as we know, there are actually true toxins out there, including mercury and lead, and unfortunately if we are exposed to large amounts of these things no amount of overpriced cold-pressed organic ginger-and-cucumber shots will help us.
Nevertheless the Juice Cleanse continues to be highly popular every January. It would appear that the only genuine way to do it is to purchase at very high cost (this is important because it is a part of the self-punishment technique), a cleansing ‘system’.
This system must be endorsed by either a willowy celebrity, or else a Comforting White Doctor (CWD). The CWD comes with a back story that includes ‘working with’ people suffering any amount of grievous maladies, a lot of breathless anecdotal commendations, a spotless lab coat, and a really, really awesome logo.
The system is then delivered to your door in some magnificent packaging. The packaging is as important as the celebrity or the CWD. It must be reassuringly luxurious and look pretty cool in the communal work fridge. Words on the packaging are either severely truncated (H@LTH) or even more verbose than this blog (celebrate SELF embrace VITALITY venerate EARTH experience NATURE deliver ENERGY etc. in many, oh many different fonts).
These days, I gather, the bog-standard system containing nothing but juice bottles and a pamphlet is a bit naff, so they have to come with a USP (unique selling point) such as accompanying mini-salad pots or beauty products or the like, that can only be used according to very specific rules, or else the magic doesn’t work. (On Day Three, the Green Vial of Moonlight Complexion must be consumed at the same time as the Mini Mason Jar of Violet Ennui, while wearing white or 95% linen garments, unless the Chartreuse Grail of Inner Radiance With Pomegranate was needed on Day Two, in which case you must swap the Lavender Vial of Maxtreme Ginger Amazeballs with the Third Rainbow Enema by starlight, or by 2 pm.)
You then spend seven to ten days walking strangely and hallucinating, and counting down the seconds until the next bottlette of almond-cacao nib-Madagascan vanilla smoothie with tincture of Wild Alaskan Snorgleberry, after which you smugly explain to your colleagues that you are stuffed, and your energy is really amazing right now, and your skin has just become totally … at which point you break off distractedly and hurry out of the room.
Can’t stop! Cleansing!
And after all this, of course, you have earned the right to passive-aggressively eat a whole pizza right in front of your colleagues, because did they spend $750 for a week’s worth of disturbing psychedelic dreams and the explosive loss of up to 2kg? No! Wimps.
Comedy gold. I tell you, I can’t get enough of this stuff.
This is the magic that is the ‘anti-diet’, and you must admit it is a lot more fun than the old-fashioned boring diets from the seventies and eighties that were all just ‘eat these expensive styrofoam biscuits that we will sell you at great expense, oh, and half a grapefruit with black coffee and also take speed’. Those old things were completely upfront about the fact that they involved starvation, deprivation and eventual failure: and where’s the fun or creativity in that?
So how can you recognise a true ‘anti-diet’ among the great ocean of diets, pseudo-diets, lifestyle changes, punitive regimes of horror and fad diets out there? Here’s my Spotter’s Guide.
Does it actually tell you that it’s an ‘anti-diet’?
Generally a dead giveaway.
Does it talk about ‘clean’ or ‘real’ foods?
It’s not diet food. Of course not! It’s real food, because you didn’t just grab it from the supermarket, you sourced it. Anything else isn’t real food. It’s fake food. That sandwich from the food court? Fake. That sushi – did you catch the fish yourself? Is the chef a personal friend of yours with their own TV show? No? Well it’s not clean food, buddy. It’s dirty. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Get away from me with your fake, dirty ‘food’.
Evaporated, compressed, fake and dirty.
Does it claim to be ‘simple’ then involve a list of more than two rules?
Eating well is simplicity itself. It comes to you as naturally as a butterfly landing on a flower. There are no rules. All you have to do is live simply and follow your heart. And never touch grains again. And not eat too much fruit. Definitely less than two pieces a day, okay, two tops but only if you sourced it artisanally. And don’t even look at grains again. And don’t eat any carbs. Or drink water, because it contains sodium which is actually explosive, did you know that? It reacts with oxygen! And you have oxygen in your body. Just lick the dew from the plants in your garden. As long as the dew is organic, free-range dew, because that dew you lick at the garden centre might be bad, fake imported dew. Don’t talk to anybody who eats grains. And stick to clean foods. Don’t eat dirty foods, like grains, which grow in dirt. And remember, fat is not bad for you! You can eat as much pure organic local artisan coconut oil as you want, I even like to pour it onto the floor and roll around in it – the kids love it! Oh, and don’t eat legumes, nuts, caffeine, alcohol or, um, shellfish. And divide your plate into eight and make sure there is always at least three-eighths of your plate filled with free-range duck fat, and the rest just vegetables. But not starchy ones. Unless it’s taro.
Is it likely to render you incapable of standing upright?
If half the diet is guaranteed to give you constipation while the other half gives you the gallops, congratulations, it’s probably an ‘anti-diet’.
Is it half diet, half conspiracy theory?
Big Pharma and the government are trying to give you cancer, and thyroid disease, with their ‘tap water’ and their ‘food crops’ and their ‘affordable convenience foods’ and their ‘medication’.
Is it … perhaps just a little … elitist?
It’s so easy to grow all your own food from scratch on your 15-acre holiday block! Did you know you can keep your own bees on the roof of your inner-city Edwardian warehouse conversion? Why not catch your own wild seafood while you’re on your yacht? It’s not really a family home unless it has a backyard pizza oven, smokehouse and heirloom plum orchard, is it?
It’s organic, yeah? And is it artisanal? Because you remember I have this allergy to non-handcrafted produce.
You’re not ‘losing weight’, you’re ‘gaining vitality’.
And possibly an ulcer.
Enough merciless bitching for now? Perhaps the kind thing to do is end with some words of wisdom from someone whom I do trust when it comes to the minefield of What To Put Into Our Mouths and Consume.
Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want. **********
* I never claimed to be a good person.
** See above.
*** ‘Sick’, ‘Fat’ and ‘Bad’ are three different words with three different meanings and should never, ever be automatically associated.
***** Two words that make hate-reading the everlasting gift that keeps right on giving.
****** See * and **.
******* A lot of foods can be ‘purchased’ or ‘bought’ but we must only eat things that have been sourced, because this is a clear mark of superiority.
******** And you pur … sorry, source your nosh from said artisan-farmers at your local market to which you travel on your homemade sustainable bamboo bike while wearing quirky vintage mismatched clothes and winsomely bare feet, and drinking kale out of a mason jar, because nobody else in the world is as original, rich, or white as you are. *********
********* See *, ** and ******.
********** As long as you don’t need to avoid it for health conditions.