Have you ever noticed how fad diets can become cultish? It took me a long time to see the parallel because I was in the cult, and cult members never think they are part of a cult.
Whether you consider yourself religious or not, looking at the parallel between diets and religions, and the societal roles they play can be very illuminating. For better or worse, depending on your outlook, we are generally a more secular culture than we used to be, and in a way, dieting is filling a role similar to the one that religions used to fill. For many of us, dieting has become our new religion, and food and weight have become our morality.
Looking at the positive side of religion, it offers community, structure, ritual, and an attempt at spreading kindness, love, spirituality, healing, acceptance, and charity.
On the dark side, religions have historically taken advantage of shame and dogma and ignited our “fear of the other” and people who are different from us. People start feeling like they know the one true way. They have figured it out. OUR way is right, THEIR way is wrong. We need to convert the heathens who have yet to see the light and teach them the error of their ways. It is the kind of moral superiority that we use to try and make ourselves feel temporarily safe. And through the ages, so many acts in the name of religion have been used as an outlet for the darkest parts of humanity. Witch burning. Holy wars. Refusing to make cakes for people whose personal lives you don’t agree with.
So how is this like dieting? Diets seem to offer health, structure, purity, safety, nourishment, nutrition, sometimes environmental responsibility, and—we all hope—a better life.
But diets feed into the exact same human fear that causes holy wars: I know the way. We know the way, and you don’t. We are doing this right, and you are doing this wrong. We are following the moral and right way to live. This way of living will keep me safe and on the path of righteousness. I need you to hear the good word of coconut oil and follow my coconut oil path.
I don’t eat grains because I am smart and informed and responsible. I know ALL about phytic acid, and you should too because YOU are fat and eating all the wrong THINGS.
We evangelize, we spread the good news, and in a strange way, through diets, we are also seeking salvation and eternal life. It is our way of convincing ourselves that we are safe. It lets us feel better for a moment because at least we’re doing better than them. It’s the dark side of humanity wrapped up in a new cult.