And let me tell you! I have been a member of some diet cults. (Mostly through online message boards.) I was a disciple! I spread the word. I drank the organic probiotic Kool-Aid.
Have you ever noticed how cultish fad diets can be?
I didn’t, because I was in the cult. And cult members never think they are part of a cult.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that today’s diets may be filling the same human societal role that religions fill, and not in a good way.
This is a big generalization, but in our modern culture religions do not have the same kind of power or membership that they used to have. We are generally more secular, for better or for worse.
Have diets stepped in to take over the role of religions? I know this is controversial, but hear me out.
Let’s look at what religions offer us. On the positive side, religions offer community, structure, ritual, and purpose, and attempt to spreading kindness, love, spirituality, healing, acceptance, and charity. These are all beautiful things. These are all healthy, healing, positive things to engage in.
But on the dark side, religions can fall prey to fear of the other, shaming, and dogma. They can promote separateness by encouraging and allowing people to start feeling like they know the way. They have figured it out. Our way is right, your way is wrong. It’s fear that translates into moral superiority and separateness.
It’s that messy collective human ego. It’s what happens when basic human fear manifests in the most ironic place for it to manifest: an organization founded for the purpose of spreading love, acceptance, and reverence for the divine. Sadly, it has become a common outlet for the darkest parts of humanity. Witch burning, holy wars, refusing to make cakes for people whose personal lives you don’t agree with. Hypocritical government clerks not doing their secular job.
So what about diets? What do diets offer us? On the lighter side, diets seem to offer health, structure, purity, safety, nourishment, nutrition, and, we hope, a better life. These claims turn out to be completely unfounded scientifically, and diets actually promote disordered eating, body disconnect, and poor health and body image. But still, what we are looking for when we choose to go on a diet is something positive.
Diets also feed into the exact same human fear and darkness that causes holy wars: We know the way and you don’t. We are doing this right, you are doing this wrong. We are following the moral and right way to live. You are not. I don’t eat grains because I am smart and informed and responsible, I know all about phytic acid and gluten and you should too, because you are fat and eating all the wrong things.
And fat people (fat is not a bad word!) tend to take the brunt of the fear and endowed otherness. It’s that same moral superiority you find in some religious followers. It’s that same ego feeling that lets us feel better for a moment because at least we’re doing better than them. It’s that human desire to find identity and tribe, and then using fear of everything and everyone we don’t understand as a way to separate ourselves from other possibilities.
It’s the dark side of religion wrapped up in a new cult.
And let me tell you! I have been a member of some diet cults (mostly through online message boards). I was a disciple! I spread the word. I drank the organic probiotic Kool-Aid. I paid the membership fees ($30 for a jar of raw sprouted almond butter). I’ve been a sucker. I’ve been judgmental. I’ve been there. I speak firsthand.
I know what it feels like to believe. I know what is feels like to think that your cult is, well first of all, not a cult, because again, people in cults never think they’re in cults. But I know what it feels like to believe that your diet religion is the right one. I know how safe it feels to follow a plan and really, really hope that it actually delivers on all of its promises…
And it all stems from fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of mortality. Fear of imperfection. Fear of losing control. Fear of aging. Fear of not being safe. Fear of the sins of the flesh.
It’s sad, it’s lonely, it’s isolating, and it’s so, so human.
Dieting is the new religion, and food has become our new morality.
What’s more: eating and body weight are not moral issues. And even if you still believe someone is ruining their lives, still, it is not your concern.
I’m actually a big fan of spirituality. I love whatever word you’d like to use for God. In fact, the majority of my own personal journey from miserable-diet-cult-member to normal-eating-and-happy-person was thanks to leaning into spirituality and trust. Not knocking God, just knocking what fearful humans do in the name of God…and goji berries.
So are diets your religion? Your tribe? Your identity? Have you found solace and resurrection in fitspo? Is Paleo your salvation? It’s OK if it is. If that’s what feels right to you now, honor that. Just be aware of giving over all your power, autonomy, and intuition to the establishment. Keep a little rebel inside of you, just in case you ever want to become a born-again-normal eater.