Diet is the New Religion

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone, and it dawns on you half way through that you’re being preached to? Usually the person you’re talking to has no idea that you don’t share the same beliefs as them, and though you’re interested to hear what they have to say, you probably aren’t going to convert. It’s a strange situation, because you have to be polite, even if what they’re saying contradicts your own beliefs completely. You’d think I was talking about religion, or a pyramid scheme, or maybe yoga, but no, I’m talking about diets.

Obviously a diet isn’t just what you do to lose weight, it’s the food you take into your body everyday, everyone has one, and some people think about theirs a lot more than others. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced avid diet discussion, and maybe been guilty of it ourselves. You make a change in your life and it consumes so much of your time and thought that you don’t even realize you talk about it all the time.

Eating is life, without it we wouldn’t exist, but to humans, food is so much more than just nourishment, it’s our culture. How much of your life revolves around food? How many times a day do you think about it? If I look at a bag of potato chips (probably my greatest weakness) and a bag of carrots, my id and ego fight it out, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Who hasn’t had an ice cream binge on a day when you felt like the world was against you? There is nothing wrong with reaching for the carrots or the ice cream, but here’s the thing—it’s an individual choice and it’s not the same for everyone.

What could be more specified than what each person feeds themselves? I personally love olives, pickles, peanut butter, Nutella and mashed potatoes, but I’ve never been a big pasta person, mayonnaise makes me sick, and ricotta cheese does not agree with me. Do I know why I like or dislike any of those things? Of course not! If I could find a way to make my mind crave celery instead of chocolate I would be both skinny and rich, but that’s just not the way I’m wired. If it was easy to curb cravings, we wouldn’t have the very depressing statistic that 75% of dieters gain back the weight they lose. We’re all so individual, so remarkably and amazingly different, that there can be no miracle diet, no sweeping cure, and what I really think more than anything, is that we all need to stop obsessing.

This country is preoccupied with dieting, we can’t stop talking about it, or thinking about it, or judging our families or friends on it. We accept that obsession in other forms is completely unhealthy. We acknowledge that when someone spends so much time thinking, or fretting over one thing there is something truly wrong, but for some reason when it comes to food, it’s not only accepted it’s encouraged. We don’t step in until things have gotten out of control. Maybe the major cause of the so-called “obesity epidemic” is the focus on dieting. There have been many studies which show that taking the focus off dieting and emphasizing living and eating healthy (with room for forgiveness) actually has a greater benefit on people of all shapes and sizes—including overweight people. You know how when you were a teenager and your parents bugged you to clean your room, and the more they nagged you the less you actually wanted to do it? Yeah, it’s like that. We humans are a contrary bunch, and the more you keep telling us we need to lose weight, especially when that is WAY harder than cleaning your room, it really just makes us want to eat a cheeseburger or two.

Ok, so back to the whole diet is a religion thing; religion and diet have always been tied together. Most religions have some form of fasting, and many of them have dietary restrictions as well. There are Jews who keep kosher, Muslims who eat halal, there are Buddhists who try to prevent suffering by eating a vegetarian diet, and there are dozens of others as well. With religion on the decline in the US, it makes me wonder if part of the diet obsession is a need to fill some void. Diet is so practiced, so precise, so important to some people, that it takes on religious significance.

The other day my mom was telling me about a woman who was on a raw food diet, she told my mother that it has cured her son’s ADD and that she was sure it would prevent cancer as well. This woman truly believes the diet will save her, if that isn’t faith than I’m not sure what is. It’s worrisome, because while a devoutly religious person can’t know the truth for certain until they step out of this world, A person who stores their faith in the food they consume will suffer a crisis of faith when some unstoppable disease takes hold of their bodies. If that happens, they’ll have to suffer both the disappointment of years of healthy living, and the pain of illness, I’m not sure which is worse.

The idea that a diet can truly cure any disease has been proven false over and over, and yet people still tell my fiancé that he can cure his type 1 diabetes with a raw food diet, when in reality, going without his insulin for a day could land him in the hospital, or worse. Perpetuating the idea that you can not only diagnose, but cure someone of a medical condition by adjusting their diet (ahem Halle Berry) is just irresponsible and completely dangerous. I want so badly to cure him, and trust me I’d give anything to cure him, but I worry that there is less fact and more self-righteousness responsible for those who preach the wonders of certain diets.

The unfortunate, painful truth is that death is inevitable. I know that’s a total bummer, but it’s an absolute, I’ve struggled with it a lot, and I’ve found the easiest way to deal with it is to accept that it happens, and enjoy what you have. Even if you believe in an afterlife, you still know that you will pass out of this world one day. What worries me about the idea of the “messiah diet” is that it’s not about comforting that morbid knowledge, it’s about buying into a futile hope, and in some cases looking down on others who don’t buy in to it.

I’m all about living life, I have a firm belief that this life is meant to be celebrated, there is so much heartache, so much regret and loss, why do we put more on the pile voluntarily? If eating raw, or vegan, or caveman, or macrobiotic makes you feel great, and you love it, I could not be happier for you, and I wish I felt that way about one particular way of eating too. When your diet turns divine however, when you believe truly that it’s your savior, I can’t help but find that a bit unsettling, because while the belief in god or in religion brings comfort in a time of pain, putting faith in what you eat to stave off the certainty of aging, seems like a comforting delusion that I’d hate to see disappoint.

This post in no way is meant to insult, belittle, or devalue any type of diet, so please forgive me if I have offended. It’s just a discussion, and I’d love to hear some thoughts on it.

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6 Comments

Filed under acceptance, health

6 responses to “Diet is the New Religion

  1. Megan

    Recently a surprising sentence popped out of my mouth that I realized on further reflection was 100% true. I said “I don’t believe in diets, scales or gyms.” I just don’t think things whose sole purpose in your life is to make you skinny are going to do anything but make you unhappy. Food should be delicious, exercise should be fun and health does not equal weight.

  2. I love your illustrations on this piece!!

    If I could cure my diabetes by drinking spinach juice count me in. I think the preaching is what gets people down. I have a rough template of what functions as a diet for me. Personally, and i’d be willing to bet most people agree, that all that matters is moderation. Sometimes I step over the lines, sometimes I walk the line, but mostly I stay within my (personal) range. Having diabetes has forced me to learn about what a controlled diet is and I am grateful for that. I think everyone should know their body and based on their personal goals should have an individual plan that they are comfortable with. It shouldn’t be about preaching but finding, and knowing, what works for YOU!

    And that is one to grow on!

    -James

  3. haren

    Exercise should be fun? That would be nice but I think it’s torture! But I do think there are a lot of people who equate food with rightousness. It’s kind of offends me.

  4. Well said! I love this post. And raw food diet as a cure for diabetes? Shoot me now. I’m not going to even tell my fiance about that.

    • It is nice to know people who know diabetics because they ‘get it’! Your fiance must get stuff like this all the time though!

      The incident Justine is talking about was at a pharmacy. I was arguing with a pharmacist who was telling me I check my blood sugar too often and that there was “No reason for it” when a man on line behind me decided to offer: “You know you can cure yourself by eating a raw food diet”. It felt like he was implicating my lifestyle as the CAUSE of my diabetes. I was besieged! It can be maddening to be lectured by people who don’t know what they are talking about but it happens all the time!

  5. My friend Lisa had this to say, really interesting:

    “This article reminds me a lot of my short stint with macrobiotics. I read tons of books by Michio Kushi regarding diets which were based (almost entirely) on brown rice, miso soup, sea weed / sea vegetables, and a piece of fish a week. It w…as touted as “The Cancer Prevention Diet” and supposedly cured all sorts of ills. Turns out, Michio’s wife Aveline died of cervical cancer at 78, and at 81 Michio himself was diagnosed with colon cancer. So much for that cure-all.
    I do want to say though, that diet does have a HUGE impact on your health. As far as diabetes goes, there is no dietary cure-all for insulin dependent diabetes, but there are tons of foods that can substantially regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels. And it’s pretty obvious that individuals on vegan diets are going to have incredibly low cholesterol as opposed to individuals eating animal products.
    But diet should never be seen as a religion. Personally, I’m a vegetarian who eats vegan when I’m outside of my house (unless I’m somewhere that serves organic dairy), but I’m far from a militant vegan, and it really pisses me off when I come across vegans who force their diet upon other people, and even worse, force their diet upon their pets. Forcing a cat to live off of a vegan diet, for example, is incredibly cruel, as they need taurine (only found in meat) to maintain their eye sight. So militant vegans, more or less, would rather their cats go blind than feed them meat. If that isn’t animal cruelty at it’s finest, I don’t know what is. Ok, end rant. ;)”

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