Think about how much money you have spent chasing weight loss. How many books have you bought? How many plans have you subscribed to? How many protein bars? How much money on Fitbits and other weird gadgets? How many pounds of almond flour? How much money have you hemorrhaged for the diet industrial complex? And what have you gotten out of it? Chronic low energy, and a deepening distrust in your seemingly insatiable appetite?
The diet industrial complex is made up of weight-loss programs (like Weight Watchers and SlimFast), pharmaceutical and medical companies that make weight-loss drugs, supplements, or procedures, and any other company selling beauty and “health.” These companies thrive on people believing that they are addicted to food, and that weight loss is the answer to all their problems. And they benefit from all of us feeling insecure, hating our bodies, and believing that we are just five pounds away from becoming the woman we are meant to be, and at the same time five pounds away in the other direction, from destroying our health.
No matter what they want you to believe, these are businesses, not philanthropic charities. They do not care about you. They make no promise to do no harm. And these businesses each make hundreds of millions because their products and solutions don’t work long-term. Because if they did, people would buy one book, or one membership, and become “cured.” Then the companies would lose that customer and revenue stream.
It may seem like weight-loss companies sprung up in response to an “obesity epidemic,” but when you actually look at the timeline, the opposite is arguably truer. The “obesity epidemic” only came around in the mid-1980s—after people had already been spending decades using cigarettes as appetite suppressants, using amphetamines, ephedra, and Dexatrim, the grapefruit diet of the 1930s, and the cabbage soup diet of the 1950s. Weight Watchers started in the 1960s, and SlimFast came around in the 1970s. But the number of “obese” Americans didn’t soar until the 1980s and 1990s, when it doubled among adults in the United States.18 We all assume it’s because of our portion sizes and sedentary lifestyles, but the 1980s and ’90s were when exercise became mainstream and low-fat and diet foods and fake sugar were all the rage. Then low-carb became popular, but “obesity” has continued to rise despite all of our dietings. Do you see how this doesn’t entirely add up? Our collective dieting became more and more widespread first, and collective weights have only risen after, likely because of, and in response to, our dieting and fucked-up eating.
Beauty, health, and weight-loss companies have been telling women what is acceptable and attractive since marketing companies have existed. And we’ve always been suckers for it. We all want to be beautiful, and of course, we do when we are taught how important it is for our future happiness, career, love life, personal Instagram lifestyle brand, whatever. But diets and body dissatisfaction are also more likely part of the cause of rising weight setpoints, not the cure. Dieting is directly related to people feeling more and more out of control with food.
But companies who sell weight loss have always been seen as the good guys. They want to help us become thin and healthy and happy! Weight Watchers is trying to rebrand because they just want us to live our best lives! Fuck no. They don’t care about you. Don’t blindly accept that they exist to save us from ourselves. They have always had a vested interest in perpetuating our deep cultural bias against weight and creating products and programs that only work temporarily so you keep coming back again and again. A scary truth is that companies that sell weight-loss programs and drugs also have a lot of power at the policy-making level and often fund the studies being used by the medical community. And many weight-loss drug companies sponsor doctors and public health initiatives. One example is our reliance on the bullshit BMI standard.