The Weird Sisters from Macbeth

The Complicated Anachronism of “Best Diets”

The concept of dieting – restrained eating for the express purpose of weight loss – has hit a well-deserved rough patch. For three decades the implicit answer to obesity has been simple and simplistic: eat less and move more. It doesn’t work well, so dieting has gained a bad reputation. And yet here we are. Yesterday, U.S. News released its annual ranking of “Best Diets.”

Once again, the Mediterranean diet came in first on this list. But, as Fatima Cody Stanford was quick to point out to MedPage Today, “The Mediterranean diet is not a diet it’s just a way of eating.”

The Anti-Diet Industry

Honestly we were surprised that U.S. News would crank up their tired old best diets PR machine in today’s environment. Yes, some people still turn to dieting at this time of year. But popular sentiment has turned against it. In fact, much of the reporting from serious news outlets for this season of concern about dieting is all about the evils of diet culture.

NPR has tips on how to fight it. People who stand ready to sell you their anti-diet books, blogs, and podcasts will tell you that anyone who says anything about obesity is part of a vast diet industry, promoting diet culture. No matter if the point is health and well-being. Don’t be fooled, says body image researcher Amy Craddock:

“It’s just a rebranding.

“There’s still that very common error of equating health and thinness as one and the same.”

Writing in the New York Times this week, philosopher Kate Manne went straight for the gut punch:

“Diet culture is unhealthy. It’s also immoral.”

The Anachronistic Best Diets

While we don’t agree with the boogeyman approach of the warriors fighting diet culture, the promotion of dieting is anachronistic. The U.S. News publicity machine is caught in this anachronism.

On one hand, the diets at the top of their list are not really for dieting. Rather they are patterns for healthy eating. They are at the top of the list because they are more healthy and less restrictive than the grapefruit diets that litter the dustbin of history.

But it’s still anachronistic. How else can you explain why they use an expert panel for this ranking that is so utterly lacking in diversity. To assemble a panel of 27 experts in 2022 with only one Black person and little ethnic diversity requires a huge blind spot.

Having such a blind spot might explain how they can be so out of sync with popular sentiment about dieting.

Moving On from Dieting

Hilla Nehushtan aptly describes “the logic of diet as one that assumes individuals ought to discipline themselves – and not ‘give in’ to pleasure – in order to achieve an ideal body.”

But this does not work well for dietary and metabolic health. Stanford, an obesity medicine physician, describes a better approach:

“My patients will tell you that I never put them on a ‘diet.’ I help them adopt a way of eating that’s healthy and can be sustained throughout their life course, paying attention to how their cultural influences may weigh heavily on the practice of eating in daily life.”

Best diets? Please, U.S. News, catch up with reality or find another target for your publicity machine.

Click here for more from MedPage Today on the U.S. News ranking. For more on the long decline of dieting, click here.

The Weird Sisters from Macbeth, painting by Henry Fuseli / WikiArt

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January 5, 2022