Like most Americans, I have struggled with my weight for years. When the number on my bathroom scale reached its all-time high, I decided to do something about it. I decided to go on another diet.
I didn’t have to look far to find the miracle solution I was seeking. I saw a television commercial for a chain of weight-loss facilities that claimed to specialize in helping women like me lose weight. They promised support and motivation, and I loved the thought of having someone in my corner so I made an appointment to meet with a member of their staff.
Monica, the saleswoman at the weight-loss facility, looked phenomenal. She was a tall, thin blond with a beautiful smile and curves like a roller coaster. We went into her office to discuss the options they had available. When we sat down, she handed me a book that held the testimonials of people who had experienced success with her company’s service. She asked me to look through it while she ran a five-minute errand.
“What did you think about the book?” Monica asked as she slid her tiny frame behind the desk into her tiny wingback chair. I hadn’t really given it any thought- so I asked her to allow me to peruse the book again. I was about halfway through my second tour of book when I saw a picture of a woman named Thelma.
Thelma was shaped like me- but she was wearing baggy clothing to hide her frame. Her picture was taken with her normal-sized family at a beautiful vacation spot. Her hair was back in a ponytail and her shorts were bunched into her upper thighs because they had obviously been rubbing together. She looked sweaty, uncomfortable in her skin, and as though she felt totally out of place.
Two inches to the right of Thelma’s “before” picture was her “after” picture. There she stood, in her professionally-taken photograph, white background and all. She was wearing a tight black minidress. Her toned arms were thrown into the air, her head was slightly tilted back, and she appeared to be laughing. She looked free, confident and triumphant, like a woman who had conquered the world. She looked the way I wanted to feel, and I felt the way she looked in her “before” photo. The feeling in my gut was indescribable.
I pointed to Thelma’s “before” picture and said- “she reminds me of me.” I shrunk into my seat, ashamed of what my body had become. The saleswoman kindly asked me if I was okay. “Yes,” I said, around the lump in my throat.
“How could I have let this happen?” I asked myself. “Who am I now?”
I felt powerless and vulnerable- like a failure. The saleswoman must have sensed that I was having an intense emotional experience because she did what any good salesperson would do. She took advantage of the moment.
She immediately launched her sales presentation which was housed in a neatly-packaged flip book made of laminated card stock. She talked about carbohydrates and fat in ways that were both practical and fascinating. Her presentation was rightly based on the presumption that I had become fat because I didn’t know which foods to choose. The presentation was designed for people who were too busy to cook, and it seemed to answer every question I’d ever had about weight loss. It promised to help me mend my relationships with food, and it focused on things like carbohydrate addiction and the glycemic index. She talked about their meal replacement options as if they were made of magic. Monica talked, and talked, and talked- and I hung on her every word.
She wrapped up her presentation on a very high note, making it clear that her program was the best way, the fastest way, and the only way to lose weight. She revisited the picture of Thelma that had made me so emotional- pointing at the line in her handwritten testimonial that said how easy it was for her to stay on the wagon.
“So your weight loss goal is 60 pounds?” said Monica as she closed the laminated presentation booklet. “What’s the first thing you’re gonna do when you’ve reached that milestone?”
I said, “I’m going to buy some strappy stilettos and go dancing.” Then I smiled. I was hooked- and she knew it.
Promises, Possibilities, and Opportunities
The Monicas of this world don’t sell diets. They sell promises, possibilities, and opportunities- and that’s precisely what I bought that day for over three thousand dollars. Of course, the packages didn’t say “Promises, Possibilities, and Opportunities” on them. They said “Granola Bars,” “Slim-down Shakes,” and “Membership Card.” I had purchased another get-skinny-quick kit , hoping that it would make me thin and change my life. Of course, my real problems were deeper than any diet could ever reach.
My fascination with that purchase wore off quickly, as I realized that my new kit was just like every other diet I’d ever tried. Sure, this kit was wrapped in a prettier package, but it had all of the same rules: Eat this, don’t eat that, and weigh yourself regularly to see if you’re any closer to your magic number. I lost 50 pounds that year, and kept it off for over two years. I gained it all back when my stress levels became more than I could handle. I scrambled to find ways to get the weight back off- I took pills, I starved myself… I was desperate and embarrassed. What was happening to me?
I thought I was alone until I went on-line and discovered that the diet spiral was a common thing. The truth is that most of the people who diet once will diet again. 95 percent of dieters will continue to fail at subsequent attempts, but will spend money on the promise of being thin.
Who’s responsible for the lies we’re told about the magic of dieting? If diets don’t work and they’re bad for us emotionally, why aren’t we encouraged to try other methods? Who stands to gain from our despair? The answer is simple. Follow your dollar to one of the most lucrative businesses in our nation: the diet industry.
The diet industry is said to be a 35 billion dollar a year business, and it’s growing all the time. That’s the equivalent of more than $150 per year from every U.S. Citizen. Can you imagine what would happen to the diet industry if every person who ever went on a diet actually succeeded? The results would devastate their bottom line.
The success of the diet industry depends on your return business, not your recovery. They are well-aware of what will happen to them if people lose interest in dieting. That’s why they revamp their products as frequently as possible. They find ways to “improve” their products by adding the latest miracle ingredient or by tweaking other ingredients to stay in line with the latest diet fads.
The diet industry has mastered the art of packaging the intangible. They use pictures of women and men who have supposedly used their products to lay hold of the holy grail of health- a thin body. They sell promises, possibilities, and opportunities to people who can’t see that they are already beautiful, already worthy, and already endowed with the capacity to be whole.
Instead of using photos of people who resemble our friends and neighbors, diet marketers feature images of people with frames that the average person may never obtain. Their disclaimers read: “results are not typical,” and they don’t advertise people who have had average or typical results because they know that the average person is in search atypical results. The makers of these products are often targeted by the Federal Trade Commission for “false advertising.” Many of their products are not even approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
Dieting will make you a lot of things… The unfortunate reality is that it’s not likely to make you permanently thin. Statistics show that nearly 50 percent of women are on diets. 95 percent of those who lose weight will gain their weight back within three years. Most of the people who stop dieting will gain a little extra when the poundage creeps back on. 10 percent of diets will end in eating disorders, and an indeterminable amount of dieters will develop an illness of some type from prolonged malnutrition or from the ingestion of artificial sweeteners.
The success rate for diets is only around 5 percent, and this statistic has remained very steady over the years. Diets are more effective at achieving the opposites of their goals than they are at helping people to achieve what they’ve promised. We are more likely to become sicker, develop eating disorders, and become fatter from diets than we are likely to lose weight! The sad reality is that these statistics are only a secret to the people who need to know them the most.
We, as consumers, would never continue to invest in another product that had a near perfect rate of failure. So, why do we jump back on the dieting bandwagon once we’ve jumped off? What’s the attraction? Well, our attraction to diets is rooted in one very simple thing: we are attracted to the promises and possibilities provided to us by diet marketers, and we are attracted to the opportunity to live easier lives. The diet industry is in the business of selling dreams, and they’ve been very successful at it.
Our only recourse as consumers is to acknowledge the vicious cycle that has made this industry rich. We have to see this cycle for what it is and refuse to participate. Promises, possibilities, and opportunities are not enough. We need self-love, true introspection, exposure to health education, and lifestyle changes before long-lasting results can be achieved.
Fortunately, love and introspection are free. That is, of course, until we naively agree to buy them from the diet industry.
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