It seems like every week, I read about some new miracle food/diet/exercise program in the news. What I think is interesting about this constant flood of information on the next big thing is the way in which these items are framed by the media, and the way people relate to them.
I see this most often with food. Red wine is good for you! You should eat more chocolate! Acai berries are nature’s miracle! Raw cane sugar is the new health food! Eat more fish! Eat less fish! These news articles often make it sound like everyone should just convert to a diet of insert food here immediately, and eschew any other information which might have been previously provided on healthy eating.
Almost inevitably, the article stresses the fact that this miracle food is extremely healthy, usually ignoring actual scientific studies which sometimes demonstrate that in fact, the food usually isn’t that much healthier than lots of other foods. The “benefits” of red wine can be found in plain old grapes, along with grape juice, for example. So-called benefits in chocolate require people to consume huge amounts of chocolate to get the desired magic ingredients, so much chocolate in fact that they would probably get sick.
What’s more interesting, to me, is the equation of thin=healthy which goes unspoken in these articles. Usually, the subtext isn’t that the food will make you healthy, it’s that the food will make you thin. This is especially true in the oft-touted juice fasts, which are supposedly “energizing” or “healthy” or “life changing” when really all they are is fad diets. People buy into them by the millions not because they want to be healthy, but because they want to be thin, and because we are all skilled at reading the subtext in advertising which touts “healthy” ingredients.
The thing about most diets is that they involve temporary hardship and restriction which results in temporary weight loss, followed by weight gain. Juice fasts are a classic example. Yeah, you lose a lot of weight on a fast. And then, when you start eating normally, you gain it all back. So you go on another juice fast. And gain. And another fast. And so forth, ad nauseum. Yo-yo dieting can be extremely harmful for the body, but most people seem to be ignoring this fact.
Now, I don’t happen to think that thin=healthy, I think that healthy=healthy, and that a big part of being healthy is eating a diverse and balanced diet, and exercising. It’s that simple. And, in fact, most actual authorities seem to agree with this position. Most people are also aware that lifestyle changes in diet and exercise patterns can result in weight loss and sustained weight loss. That’s not something that really interests me, but if it’s something that someone really wants to accomplish, drinking acai smoothies or going on a juice fast isn’t the way to go. It’s dangerous, it’s stupid, and more importantly, it’s not going to work.
Yet, these miracle solutions sell in huge volumes, and are popular with people at all education levels and in all social classes. I think that speaks to something deep within the American psyche, the need for instant gratification and for things to be easy, and the rejection of the correct, but hard, path. The rejection of science in favour of advertising hyperbole.
And, of course, the desperate longing to be thin.