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Don't Eat That

Mona: Wow! Look at you, you’ve lost so much weight!

Sona: Really? I guess my diet is working.

Mona: Please tell me what you’re doing, I need to lose weight too.

Sona: Oh, you know, 16/8 IF and Keto.

Mona: Sorry, what?

Sona: Arey! Intermittent fasting where you fast for 16 hours straight and eat all your meals in eight hours. Keto, you know, right? High-fat low carb diet to put your body into fat-burning mode. It really works!

Mona: Okay, I must try this. You look fabulous!

You’ve either had or overheard a version of that conversation at some time or the other. It seems that everyone thinks that they’re too fat and have to lose weight. Our cave-dwelling ancestors never bothered about their weight. They gained and lost weight in cycles according to the seasons and the species survived because of it. But somewhere down the line things changed and gaining weight became the enemy.

Here we are in 2020 and the health and weight loss industry has been growing steadily at a CAGR of 9.1% over the last five years. With these figures (no pun intended), the industry is estimated to be worth over $422,000 million globally by this year. That is many, many crores of rupees! Everyone is buying into the weight-loss craze and yet 31% of the global population is overweight. We must be missing something here.

Why do diets sell?

It’s common knowledge that most diets don’t work. At least it’s something we know logically and yet when we see a headline saying, ‘Lose 15Kgs in One Month’ many of us will stop and look. Too often, curiosity gets the better of us and we click on the link to check if there is some truth to the claim. Could scientists have finally formulated a magic pill that burns fat and gives that perfect figure?

Out of ten people that clicked on the link, two might decide to try this new offering. Then maybe the next day two more, and before you know it, the diet company has made a profit. Okay, let’s back up a little, it’s not all as clear-cut as just being wooed by an ad and buying a product. Oh no! There are layers upon layers to this story, so let’s peel this onion, shall we?

Diets do work

At least the ones that get popular, do. Most diets are carefully designed so that they restrict calories. This inevitably leads to weight-loss in the short-run, and for anyone who has been struggling with their weight, this is a big win. Almost every diet will tell you what to eat and when to eat it. Then it will proceed to tell you how much to eat and make sure that you are eating less than you should. A month later you’ve lost 3-5Kgs and you couldn’t be happier.

You start telling your friends and they want to try it too. In a short time, the new diet has done what it promised and that’s all that counts. Beyond that, if you don’t lose any more weight, or worse still, start gaining weight, it doesn’t matter. By this time the diet is marketing itself and there’s another diet doing the rounds.

Here’s what diet marketers do:

They pander to our insecurities: In a world where people are desperate to lose weight, it is not hard to sell weight-loss solutions.

They offer quick results: The short timeframe in which they promise results looks extremely attractive to someone who has been battling their weight for years.

They keep up with the trends: They are quick to incorporate the trending buzzwords into their campaigns. Wholefoods, vegan, sustainable, and so on are thrown into the mix to add credibility.

They call in the big guns: Nothing makes a diet more popular than a celebrity endorsement. Maybe the celeb was paid a few million to promote the diet, but maybe they actually use it? There’s always a smidge of doubt and some of us will believe the latter.

They use confusion positively: There’s a lot of contradictory advice out there: fats are bad, fats are good, carbs are bad, carbs are good, go vegan, don’t go vegan, and more. Diet marketers, at times, use this confusion to their benefit. They claim to be the voice of rationale that explains things to you clearly, with lots of science to back it up. Finally, something makes sense to you, and so you decide you might try this.

The media helps: No doubt, the media has a big role to play in the success of the weight-loss industry. They set the standards of beauty and attractiveness and anyone who doesn’t measure up is made to feel inadequate. Every advertisement for luxurious living features thin women and muscular men. Every fashion brand showcases their designer wear on size zero models. Every movie and television series portrays the rich and successful as beautiful people with (so-called) perfect bodies.

The programming is clear; to have a great life, women need an hourglass figure and men need six-pack abs. With the perfect life comes the love and admiration of others. The human need for acceptance is so strong that we are willing to try anything to achieve this goal. And that makes the marketing of diets so easy.


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