Tuesday 17 September 2019

Lorraine Courtney: Insidious diet industry making a fortune from our failures

They're lying to us. But who knew? I mean, one minute, you're slumped on the sofa, watching a size-four-gym-bunny-in-lycra on the telly tell you that her weight-loss programme will make you thin. The next, you discover that it's not true. All their products will do is make your wallet lighter.

An important new independent study on the attitudes of Irish women reveals that 77pc believe that advertising campaigns selling diet and weight-loss foods portray women as having an unhealthy relationship with food. Some 78pc of survey respondents view the models featured in stereotypical ads as having unrealistic, unattainable body shapes.

In addition, 51pc felt the portrayal of women in these ads was cliched. Shockingly, 63pc of women admitted to feeling guilty when their food choices weren't what they considered to be healthy.

The survey was carried out by iReach Consumer Research Panel and is part of LowLow's new "Food to Feel Good About" campaign. The initial stages of the campaign feature an engaging video on their Facebook page, which takes a hilarious spin on the cliched depiction of women in conventional diet food ads.

It also tries to promote a healthy relationship with food by showing women eating in social environments with the tagline: "For people who count friends, not calories."

Diets themselves are problematic enough, but the diet industry? Insidious. Yet weight-loss products and plans constitute a massive industry. In fact, the US diet industry was worth $100bn in 2006 – $600 for every single adult American.

Scarily, this was about the same as the annual budget of the department of education. So, you could think about them as sort of balancing forces, the diet industry being a kind of anti-education campaign.

All of these weight-loss advertisements attempt to sell us idealised bodies, bodies that are so ideal that most of us can never achieve them. Then the associated companies make a small fortune from our failures. Even worse, the diet industry is filled with charlatans who convince us that skinny means healthy, that weight loss is the holy grail and that carrying even a few extra pounds is somehow shameful.

Susie Orbach's 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' was an instant classic when it was published in 1978 and it had one simple, undeniable theory.

At 31, Ms Orbach had been bingeing and dieting for most of her adult life when she wrote that diets make us fat by distorting our relationship with food and urged us to go back to trusting in our self-regulating appetite. She said that diets didn't work because they always ended up in bingeing.

If dieting actually worked, then you'd only have to do it the one time.

In fact, there is loads of evidence that diets may, in fact, contribute to fat storage, and that, in giving people the notion that food is "dangerous", create conditions for rebellion that will eventually ensure that dieters are even more overweight than they were at the beginning.

So, how can it be that, after all these years, we're still queuing up to buy what we know will probably not work? Well, there's always the hope that, this time round, things might be different.

Like most people, I don't cope well with rules. I don't like being told that I can't do, see, say, eat anything I want.

Once the restrictions are lifted, I compensate. And if I've been deprived for long enough, it can be really tough to rein in the overcompensation.

Don't ever forget that the weight-loss industry relies for its profitability on a whopping 95pc recidivism rate. Imagine a drug that had anything like that sort of addictive grip – 95pc – and miserable effect on the population as a whole. There'd be riots. Ban the lot. These people might have 24-inch waists, but it's totally not worth it.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss