image from Huhainc

Every Single Diet (Even When You Don’t Use That Word) is About These 15 Awful Things.

Savala Nolan
11 min readJan 11, 2023

--

When I was a kid (the 80s and 90s), dieting was en vogue. Intentional weight loss. Getting skinny. Finally losing the fat. Stopping the insanity. Hallelujah! There was no shame in it. If you were on a diet, you said so in public, proudly, and you made sure to use that d-word. Diet! Such a cute sound, sweet even, right? But powerful. Efficient as a razor. It carried a cascade of cultural messages and you could let them all loose just by uttering two syllables: I have enough sense to be unhappy with who I currently am (chubby, fat, plump, etc.).. I’m normal with a normal disdain for un-skinniness. I’m a real, classic girl doing real, classic girl things — (here I hear the song, love me, love me, say that you love me). I have goals and dreams and I’m going to make them all come true with my willpower, with my perseverance. I plan to be a success. To have a boyfriend, to wear the right clothes, to be in control of my life.

Back then, diet was a beloved word, really, and the start of something fabulously new — this time it was going to work.

Now, to diet has fallen out of favor. We don’t say the d-word much. It’s no longer chic — it feels uncool and punitive. So, instead of “dieting,” we make “lifestyle changes.” We make an effort to “take care of ourselves.” It’s really “not about weight” for us. We try keto, or low-carb, or veganism, or gluten-free, or whole-foods-plant-based, or WW, or Atkins, or Noom, or whatever because we “just want to be healthy.” We think that if we don’t use the word diet, then we’re doing something different.

We aren’t.

Scholar and activist Virgie Tovar’s definition of “diet” is the best I’ve ever heard. She says that any method of eating you’d lose interest in upon learning it would not help you lose weight or manage your weight is, indeed, a diet. If you knew a three-month vegan detox would cause you to gain 20 pounds, would you still be on that cleanse? If you learned that keto was going to, say, lower your blood pressure but notch your jeans up three sizes, would you still be buying cauliflower-crust frozen pizza? If the answer is no, then no matter what you call your (latest) eating plan, it’s a diet.

--

--

Savala Nolan

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce