The word “cult” may conjure up an image of unorthodox or otherwise questionable or extreme religious followings, but the definition of “cults”, according to Webster, also defines them as;
- A system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator;
- Great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book).
Both of these definitions certainly relate to the world of diets. Here’s how to recognize a diet cult and how to deprogram from the diet cult mentality:
Recognizing a diet cult
- If you aren’t thriving on this diet, or something isn’t working for you – it’s your fault, according to the creator of the diet or their ardent followers.
- A dualist mentality where there are unambiguous “good” and “evil” components of the diet or lifestyle. (ie. a macronutrient, a substance, a supplement).
- Discouragement of critical thinking and a slant towards group-think mentality.
- Creating a dependency on the diet or the abolishment of personal autonomy or critical thinking.
- Overselling the appeal of vanity
- The creator of the diet and its proponents cry persecution when anyone raises a contrary opinion to it.
I would argue though that the cultism isn’t so much the diet itself, but rather the way it is practiced. For example:
Low carb diets: For the most part can be a sensible, healthy way of eating that can be good for the waistline.
Low carb cults: Apples will make you fat, fiber has no health benefits, tiny amounts of sugar will ruin your metabolism and Atkins was infallible. .
Vegetarian diets: Can be healthy if practiced carefully and not too high in refined carbs.
Vegetarian cults: Animal rights crusaders who fancy themselves enlightened and kind in their abstinence of meat. The belief that any meat or dairy in the diet will lead to disease.
Raw Food diets: Probably okay for a short time but limiting and potentially deficient in some vitamins and minerals.
Raw Food Cults: Anything cooked is toxic and destroys enzymes and will cause disease and shortened life. An exaggeration of the benefits of raw food lifestyles including the cure of diseases such as cancer.
Weight Watchers: Very good for accountability and can be helpful in teaching people about portion control
Weight Watchers cult: Obsessing about points to the degree that it interferes with the ability to choose healthy foods based on their nutrient densities.
Let’s not forget the hundreds of big and small commercial weight loss centers that claim to have “the answer” to your weight problems. Oh, and the multi-level marketing “super-juices” and other expensive meal-replacements and supplements may also have a place on the “cult list”.
If you currently are, or have been a chronic dieter or have had negative experiences with dieting in general, you may feel discouraged or even hopeless. Here are some ways to re-wire your brain for sustainable healthy eating:
- This may seem common sense by now but the message bears repeating: There are no quick fixes or universally perfect solutions.
- Know that you and only you make the decisions regarding your health. Learn as much as you can about healthy eating and make decisions from there. You are in control!
- See food as the solution – not the problem to your health and weight.
- Reframe success: Look at markers other than scale weight to determine your goals. Set goals to eat more vegetables, eat out less or walk more.
- Join communities (in person or on-line) that are support-based, encourage critical thinking, individuality, and do not promote extreme measures.
Which diets/programs do you think are cults? How do you keep from falling into the diet trap?