The first step to dieting: Put up a sign that says “no diet is magic”

Starting on the ketogenic diet?! Marvellous. Here’s what I put in my pantry first: a big bold sign to remind me no diet is magic. No. Not even one with a four-syllable name that sounds a bit science-y and a bit like a magical word.

Burn fat forever and then, boys and girls, watch me pull all the calories out of this rabbit stew. Abra-ca-ketone!

Presto change-o, by the magic of science, you can “burn fat forever”. Burn fat forever? This promise appears in the title of one big keto bestseller. Burn fat forever and then, boys and girls, watch me pull all the calories out of this rabbit stew. Abra-ca-ketone!

Hey don’t fret. True magic happens, and if it did not, then my sister’s bread and butter pudding would never be made. (She replaces the bread with croissants! Shh.) If it did not, then no person on this Earth would have the patience to study data of half-a-million keto dieters only to come up with the answer “might not be magic. Might even be a bit bad.”

We can know little to nothing of science and still know that popular weight-loss diets just don’t work. No. Not that one, or that one either. Science makes this case in plain language often, and still so many are persuaded to ignore any science at all but that claimed as fact on a weight-loss infomercial or book cover.

Why are people attracted to popular weight-loss diets? Well. First, they didn’t grow up with a parent who was always on a diet therefore almost always in a stinker of a mood. Second, all sorts of reasons, only one of these being weight loss itself.

In any single person, there’s a lo-cal casserole full of factors that can lead them to a popular diet. I’ve asked folks, “what made you go on this weight-loss diet?” since it became clear to me in early life that Mum’s endless weight-loss diet was driven by something much bigger than her stomach never was. Her complex appetite for agony was enough to deter me from diets for life.

Her complex appetite for agony was enough to deter me from diets for life.

(Not entirely true. I did “gluten-free” once. I’d no idea what “gluten” was, but it did sound like the name of a supermax prison, and who wouldn’t want to be free from the Gluten Bay Military Detention? Me, when I came to know that the prison had an excellent baking facility. Mm. Bread.)

I’m still uncertain what motivated Mum. I suspect it was power. Back in Mum’s dieting youth, women with power were very, very few. But, she had the power to discipline someone: herself.

Now, my mum is unusual; she has that rare charisma of leadership and would have excelled as a general, possibly a cult leader. But, I believe it is not at all unusual for women to diet aggressively. We might cry about our bad relationship with our bodies and go to diet groups to share our ups and downs. But, these tears and Oprah moments conceal, even from us women, a hunger not for bread and butter pudding. It is a hunger for power over others.

Why wouldn’t most people have this hunger? In a world where the most powerful have the most of everything, a power-craving makes total sense. Many middle-class housewives in the middle-century in the West must have longed for power over others, but settled for a Weight Watchers meeting instead.

Australian men have no obligation to behave as women do so they “smash” and “burn” through a diet, whereas we may “balance” or, at our most hostile, “drop”.

Now, Western men diet as openly and almost as often as women. From the time of Atkins, through to Paleo and now to keto, weight-loss diets have manned up. Australian men have no obligation to behave as women do so they “smash” and “burn” through a diet, whereas we may “balance” or, at our most hostile, “drop”.

Keto, per last month’s study in The Lancet, may work as well as all the other weight-loss diets. i.e. not at all. But, weight loss is not a diet’s true appeal. A diet is a promise of power.

Helen Razer is your frugal food enthusiast, guiding you to the good eats, minus the pretension and price tag in her weekly Friday column, Cheap Tart. Don’t miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer. 

Don’t miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.

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