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Your Diet Might Be a Cult

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And let me tell you! I have been a member of some diet cults. (Mostly through online diet message boards.) I was a disciple! I spread the word. I drank the organic probiotic Kool-Aid. I paid the membership fees ($30 for a jar of raw sprouted almond butter). I’ve been a sucker. I’ve been judgmental. I thought I was possessed by the devil of refined sugar and food addiction. I’ve been there, and I speak firsthand.
I know what it feels like to believe. I know what it feels like to think that your cult is, well, first of all, not a cult. But I know what it feels like to believe that your diet is the right way. I know how safe it feels to follow a plan and really, really hope and believe that it will actually deliver on all of its promises.
And it all stems from fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of mortality. Fear of imperfection. Fear of losing control. Fear of aging. Fear of not being safe. Fear of the sins of the flesh. It’s sad, it’s lonely, it’s isolating, and it is so, so human.

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Part of the big problem with the diet and beauty industries (and many other industries that capitalize on your insecurities) is that your fears are being exploited. They want you to believe you aren’t good enough as you are. They make you believe we are all supposed to look the same. They want you to believe that you need them to save you.
So if there’s any part of you that’s looking at me and hoping you end up where I ended up, or looking at anyone else and hoping to end up where they ended up, that’s a habit that I want you to become aware of. It’s a very human habit, we all do it, but it’s not helping. Trying to be someone else is what got us into this mess in the first place.

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Your best self is probably the one who trusts yourself the most, is able to relax and be social when you feel like it, and is able to seek quiet time when you need it. Someone who is able to be spontaneous when it suits you, and willing to take up space, speak up, take risks, use your creativity, is willing for things to be messy and imperfect—and is an all-around happier human.

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We’ll be exploring these concepts even later in the book.
I want you to free yourself from diet cults, but I’m not ragging on God. I am a big fan of spirituality and “whatever word you’d like to use for God.” But beware of dogma. You can tell it’s all going south when you are experiencing lots of fear, judgment, and feel all-holier-than-thou.
Here is where I also tell you that once anyone starts making The Fuck It Diet into a cult—including hypothetical, foolish future-me—that is when you remember that you are your own boss and that your own intuition is king.

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