It’s 11:52 a.m. You hear your tummy growling and, with satisfaction, remember that you brought your lunch today. Tuna salad sandwich with muenster cheese, sea-salt-and-cracked-pepper kettle-cooked potato chips, a couple homemade chocolate chip cookies, and Honest Tea. You decide to shoot off a few more emails before heading down to the shared office kitchen to retrieve your carefully-packed lunchbag, currently chilling in the refrigerator.
But, like sitting next to a cougher on the subway, your small bubble of contentment is suddenly violently and irreparably popped. All it took was a colleague loudly proclaiming to his open-office-concept compatriots that he “brought [his] low-fat lunch today because [he's] trying to lose weight!” The implication is, of course, that he believes being fat and either enjoying one’s food or not dieting is poor behavior he’s attempting to best by taking the dieter’s moral high-road. And he’s going to let you—well, everyone—know about it.
Then another employee chimes in. “Yeah, after Holiday X my pants are totally tight and I was like, time to switch to yogurt for lunch for a while! It’s great, I’m not hungry at all.”
Yet another member of the chorus: “Nah, you just need to start running. It’s more sustainable, and just look at my calves!”
And the (nonfat, sugar-free) icing on the cake: “I’ve got a couple free passes to my gym, a group of us should work out together. It’s better in a group anyway so we can keep each other honest!” (and what is worse—that you know they aren’t mentally including you in the group that could potentially get together to work out at the gym, or that it’s being used as a tool of employee bonding in the first place?)
Everyone starts pulling out their lunches. And commenting on them. And praising each other for only finishing half, or for being ‘better’ than their own selves by having a nonfat fiber-stocked twig salad or heavily processed frankendairy sugarfree nonfat yogurt substitute. You, prisoner of the open-office-space concept have nowhere to go, though your pointed absence would have been conspicuous, anyway. Of course the fatty isn’t joining in! Does she even know what a calorie is? Silly fatties. You pick at your tuna sandwich and barely touch your chips. Every crackle of the chip bag is a loud reminder that you’re not a part of their world, that you either don’t agree or are not privy to the Mystic Vision of Food Restriction and/or Sacred Treadmill of Redemption.
But that’s not the whole reason your appetite has fled. Frankly, you’re pissed off. You’re mad as hell, and you don’t want to take it anymore. And, dammit, you’re hungry and want to eat your fucking sandwich and chips in peace!
Welcome to the Dieters’ Clusterfuck.
It’s not just work, it’s parties, family reunions, holidays, anywhere there’s food. Like a timid mouse in the face of the jackal the Dieter glares fearfully at the food table, occasionally darting in to take a single plum tomato or grape or (gasp, “I’m being so bad!”) cube of cheese. Those who share the anxiety of the Dieter—other Dieters—quickly discover each other and coalesce near enough to the food table to feed their starvation ideation and far enough away not to be ‘tempted’ to actually take anything.
If you are the non-Dieting thin your presence in the group, whether you’re eating something full-fat or not, is likely to be received with a level of awe and disbelief. You are Neo, The One. How Do You Eat That and Stay So Thin? they ask, voices trembling in appreciation and envy.
If you are the non-Dieting fat your presence in the group, whether you’re eating something full-fat or not, is likely to be received with a sharp cessation of diet talk (since you don’t belong or they think it might offend you, a silly fatty), or an assumption of inclusion—”oh, I was afraid I was going to be ‘bad’ today and brought my baby carrots with me!” they exclaim as you savor a bite of homemade carrot cake. You see, baby carrots, carrot cake, it’s all the same thing, right? Healthy Alternatives! Why can’t you be as smart as Baby Carrots Lady, who knows that baby carrots and carrot cake are in fact the same thing?!
After becoming thoroughly bored with the Clusterfuck (which takes about 0.68 seconds in my experience) you wander elsewhere. Once you’ve left there’s general agreement among the Dieters—usually unspoken—that you didn’t belong, anyway, and isn’t great they can now get back to their circle-jerk and painstakingly show off to each other how much of the diet culture they’ve absorbed? Their cake and cookies, as it were, is the approval and admiration from their fellow dieters as they detail their regime, or empathy as they verbally flog themselves for not being ‘good’ enough by way of an extra snack or missed workout.
This, as I’m sure you know, can go on for hours. Hours. Despite having been a part of the culture in my memoried past I cannot currently fathom how in the deep dark Hades they don’t fall dead asleep after fifteen minutes. Perhaps it’s a way of keeping busy so that they are distracted from their foggied intellect and gnawing hunger, I’m not sure.
And then, by Jove, there’s the Internet. Whole forums dedicated to continuing the Clusterfuck and cultivating the circle-jerk. Not only hours but days, weeks, years are spent basically talking about the same thing over, and over, and over, and over again. “Holiday X came and my jeans are tight, eek!” “Weight Loss X Plan Pill Bar has worked for me!” “In a perfect world beauty’s on the inside but we live in practical reality, am I right? So how many cals in one Arby’s french fry, again?”And still, they keep coming back for more flogging, for more sympathy, for more emotional cookies. If you are extremely lucky you can escape—as many here have!—but most people unfortunately never, ever escape.
Because the Dieters’ Clusterfuck is, by its very nature, unending and infinitely repetitive. Because if you “keep the weight off” you remain as an Enforcer, a Top Dog, an After Picture. This elite status makes you stay on your Lifestyle Plan Change New Lease on Superior Existence and gives you the moral rectitude to keep Active Members and Dietn00bs in line.
If you are in the process of losing weight you are an Active Member of the Dieters’ Clusterfuck. You are likely between your Before Picture and After Picture, a self-righteous Pilgrim on a journey to Enlightenment. You’ve probably lost and regained weight many times before but This Time It’s Going To Work. Most in the Dieters’ Clusterfuck are Active Members. In truth, though they are widely touted, there are really only a rare few After Pictures. They are often diet forum moderators, family members which get trotted out in food-related conversations whether or not they happen to be present, or celebrities endorsing the Diet That’s Going To Work This Time.
Lastly there are the Dietn00bs, those only just opening their eyes in childlike wonder to the vast promises of the Clusterfuck, How It Will Change Your Life and It’s Just Calories In, Calories Out and Anyone With Half a Brain Can Do it! Dietn00bs also include people who don’t currently diet but believe in the verity of the dieting culture. They can include health reporters, anti-obesity researchers, and a plethora of other ‘concerneds.’
The reason I decided to write this somewhat satirical take on diet culture is that I want to reinforce how lucky we are to be out of it. It’s a sticky thing, the diet culture. It pulls you back in with its snake-oil promises of a better life—even vocal fat activists have fallen prey to it, abandoning fat acceptance out of fear of Eating the World or hope that This Time it Will Work. Even some so-called body image promoters and internal beauty enthusiasts adhere to or otherwise believe in the dieting culture. Even people who are otherwise liberally minded believe in or adhere to the dieting or anti-fat culture.
You—the activists reading this post—are brave. I appreciate you. I know what you’re doing is hard. I know it’s sometimes thankless. I know what you’re up against. And I know it sometimes can be hard to stick to your guns in the face of so much distraction and disgust. I applaud you for plowing ahead, regardless. I celebrate your joy in throwing off the chains of the diet culture and I support you as you weather the backlash from those still immersed in it.
And here’s to seeing the diet culture for what it really is—a giant, self-righteous Clusterfuck.