The Diet Industry Is A Virus

A poignant takedown of the “wellness industry” by novelist Jessica Knoll who leads with this admission:

“I called this poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear ‘wellness.'”

Half way in, a story:

“I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. ‘The thing is,’ she said with a grimace, ‘you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.’

The new dietitian had a different take. ‘What a gift,’ she said, appreciatively, ‘to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?’ It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.”

Further in, the three paragraph knock out:

“The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look “good,” it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.

If these wellness influencers really cared about health, they might tell you that yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health,yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.

The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear. Wellness is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.”

Make it a four paragraph technical knockout:

“We cannot push to eradicate the harassment, abuse and oppression of women while continuing to serve a system that demands we hurt ourselves to be more attractive and less threatening to men.”

Knoll’s essay is an excellent rebuttal of wellness bullshit, but she errors in suggesting men are free of body image issues and dieting abnormalities. It’s just than men who endure versions of similar struggles are not nearly as willing to talk about what Knoll powerfully lays bare. That taboo is far too strong.

Friday Assorted Links

1. Mea Culpa. Kinda Sorta. Or how not to apologize when added to the ever-expanding sexual harassment list.

Why, in the aggregate, is the male gender failing? Young women’s academic achievement greatly exceeds young men’s. And consider these statistics from Wikipedia:

“In the United States, men are much more likely to be incarcerated than women. More than 9 times as many men (5,037,000) as women (581,000) had ever at one time been incarcerated in a State or Federal prison at year end 2001. In 2014, more than 73% of those arrested in the US were males. Men accounted for 80.4 percent of persons arrested for violent crime . . . . In 2011, the United States Department of Justice compiled homicide statistics in the United States between 1980 and 2008. That study showed males were convicted of the vast majority of homicides in the United States, representing 90.5% of the total number of offenders.”

In the aggregate, something is seriously wrong with how young boys are or aren’t parented. Why are some personal attributes, like being kind, cooperative, caring, and nurturing, most commonly associated with females? And being tough, competitive, and independent more commonly thought of as male attributes? Yes, of course there are gender-based biological differences, but they don’t explain why young women, in the aggregate, are so much more successful in school and society. Why aren’t we talking more openly and honestly about the glaring gender gap that the sexual harassment story is one part?

2. Schools and cellphones: In elementary schools? At lunch?

“It used to be that students through fifth grade could carry cellphones only with special permission. But over the years, an increasing number of parents wanted their elementary-age children to take phones to school, often believing kids would be ­safer — walking home or in an emergency — with the device at the ready.”


“. . . a survey of third-graders in five states found that 40 percent had a cellphone in 2017, twice as many as in 2013. Among the third-graders who had a phone, more than 80 percent said they brought them to school daily. . . .”

Violent crime has steadily declined, yet parents are more anxious. Why? What if parents acknowledged that cellphones will never guarantee that bad things sometimes happen to good people. And what if we redesigned our neighborhoods so that people could walk or bicycle to and from school? And made our roads and other public spaces safe enough that parents didn’t feel a need to give their elementary children cellphones? By giving elementary children cellphones, we’re throwing in the towel on safer, healthier, more secure communities.

Lastly, the article is woefully incomplete since there was no consideration of many adult educators’ own painfully obvious dependence upon their cellphones during the workday.

3. On Being Midwestern: The Burden of Normality.

The Humble Blog is big in the Midwest. Especially among intellectuals who will dig this essay. Shout out to Alison; Don; Karen; Bill; Dan and Laura (honorary Midwesterners).

Early Christman:

“If it is to serve as the epitome of America for Americans, and of humanity for the world, the place had better not be too distinctly anything. It has no features worth naming. It’s anywhere, and also nowhere.”

Late Christman:

“Every human is a vast set of unexpressed possibilities. And I never feel this to be truer than when I drive through the Midwest, looking at all the towns that could, on paper, have been my town, all the lives that, on paper, could have been my life. The factories are shuttered, the climate is changing, the towns are dying. My freedom so to drive is afforded, in part, by my whiteness. I know all this, and when I drive, now, and look at those towns, those lives, I try to maintain a kind of double consciousness, or double vision—the Midwest as an America not yet achieved; the Midwest as an America soaked in the same old American sins. But I cannot convince myself that the promise the place still seems to hold, the promise of flatness, of the freedom of anonymity, of being anywhere and nowhere at once, is a lie all the way through. Instead, I find myself daydreaming—there is no sky so conducive to daydreaming—of a Midwest that makes, and keeps, these promises to everybody.”

4. Why Millennials are obsessed with HGTV.

“I guess for millennials, it feels like a fantasy. We love to see the things that we can’t afford, given that we’re crammed into 300-square-foot apartments and have debt.”

5. The best indie books of 2017.

“Most writers make less than £600 a year, and the average literary title sells just 264 copies. . . . I think about one per cent of books break out. The big publishers have not helped the situation. Since the 2007-8 crash, they have retrenched in terms of what they publish, and how they go about it. I was talking to someone at a major publisher the other day and she asked a colleague about a book: “is this one of the ones we’re getting behind?” The point being, of all the thousands of books published every year, publishers only “get behind” a few. That can make the difference between a book you’ll hear about and one you never will. Of course, an author will never be told the publisher is ‘not getting behind their book’.”

Brutal odds.

6. Best new photog blog en todo el mundo.

Women Make Better Money Managers

If you’re of the male persuasion, slowly step back from the check book or computer, and find a woman to take over your financial decision making.

According to Ronald T. Wilcox, a growing body of research reveals distinct differences in how married men and women approach money and investing. Because men tend to be overconfident, they trade stocks and bonds more actively because they think they know what the next market movement will be. As a result, they incur various transaction costs associated with trading but don’t pick assets any better than women. They’re also less likely to listen to financial advice.

Women are less confident than men about their financial abilities, switch investments less often, and are more likely to listen to financial advice. As a result, they generate risk-adjusted returns superior to those of men.

The Wall Street Journal summarizes Wilcox’s findings thusly, “Men may think they know what they are doing when it comes to investing but often do not. Women may think they don’t know what they are doing but often do.”

Truth be told, you can plug in anything you want for “investing” in the last paragraph. Now if you’ll excuse me, the market is about to close and I have some trades to make.

Bonus link—a couple that has figured out how to enjoy a better quality of life despite making considerably less money.

My “not motivated by money” award nomination double bonus link—and favorite 2012 US Olympian and favorite youth sport parents—Missy Franklin, Dick Franklin, and D.A. Franklin.

My “Forever 21” Test

I passed. In the same way I probably passed that economics class at UCLA that I changed to “pass/no pass” after bombing the first test. In a “C+” kind of way.

Last weekend was the annual Byrnes family downtown Seattle pre-Xmas overnight. Sixteen, Nineteen, their mother, and yours truly, playing the token male.

Historically this trip has been the Thanksgiving/Seattle Marathon weekend, but this year we had to wait for Nineteen to return home from college. Normally I use tapering as an excuse to spend the night frozen on the hotel bed watching football and basketball while the three of them do American Eagle, Forever 21, and [insert the name of a female shopping goddess here] only knows what other stores.

This year, with no race to run Sunday morning, I couldn’t use my normal tapering “get out of shopping” card. So I talked myself into going along in the interest of “family time”. I’d rather get a root canal without anesthesia or be the guy in the Tour de France that got flipped over the barbed wire by the reckless driver than watch two young women shop, even my favorite two young women. I decided to approach it as an endurance test, a gender test, a mental toughness test, a selflessness test.

Store one, Forever 21. I asked where Forever 51 was which elicited smiles. Men, the most important thing to know about Forever 21 is it’s inexpensive. If you want to get back at a lady friend that did you wrong, pick her up something there. The ten minutes of watching blonde one and two round up clothes to try on was tougher than expected, but then they disappeared into the changing room and time came to a complete stop. European finance ministers would solve the Euro crisis for good if they committed an equivalent amount of time.

I had prepared for a warm 10k, but was instead running a marathon in Tampa Florida in the middle of a summer afternoon. Totally out of my league. The wife with the bad wheel found a chair to spend the rest of her 51st year in. Losing my mind, I decided to entertain her by dancing to the incessant techno Christmas music. The more she smiled and laughed, the bolder I got, the bolder I got the more she smiled and laughed. In the end, it was probably twice as bad as you’re imagining.

Finally, I sent the wife in after them wondering if they had been abducted. She reported that they’d be ready in “five minutes” which turned into what felt like five hours. Finally, ready to go, but wait, turns out there’s this strange tradition of putting at least one article of clothing on hold. Kind of like throwing a coin in a fountain. This is so you don’t actually have to decide. Turns out you never go back for it, it’s just a game that everyone, shopper and store employee both enjoy playing.

On the way out, the following mind numbing “straw that broke my back” dialogue took place: One xx, “What’s with ponchos, seems like they’re making a comeback?” Another xx, “Oh no, they’re all the way back.” Still another, “Correction, they’re trying to make it back.”

Please make it stop hurting.

Once on 6th Avenue I breathed in the cold fresh air and slowly recovered. Like anyone who had to fight a young Mike Tyson, I knew I was whupped. One round was all I lasted.

As I collapsed on the bed in the gloriously silent unoccupied room I couldn’t help but think how this family tradition would differ if we had two sons. This is all I know for sure. We wouldn’t speak of ponchos, we’d race go-carts, we’d wrestle, and we’d fall asleep watching Hoosiers.

World Cup Notes

• I’m a casual football fan who shamelessly jumps on the World Cup bandwagon every four years. I am not a connoisseur, but after watching it in slow motion a few times, that disallowed goal at the end of U.S. v Slovenia was a terrible, terrible call. But the one thing I dislike more than missed calls, is people who complain about poor officiating. I didn’t see the first 67 minutes. There may have been blown calls that benefited the U.S. Human error is part of the game, deal with it. So, terrible call and points off for me for dwelling on it.

• Why do women always feel sorry for whomever is behind? After the second tying U.S. goal. “Oh no, it looks like the Slovenian fans are crying.” Note to self: teach daughters that whenever you have your foot on your opponent’s throat apply PRESSURE.

• Notice the coaches down jackets? Nice that there’s somewhere colder than Olympia, WA. Of course it is late Autumn in South Africa. It hasn’t reached 75 in this area yet this year. The previous “latest 75 degree” date was June 9th. The high temp on the 10 day forecast. . . 68. High 50’s this weekend. Apparently, summer has been cancelled. Is Rush Limbaugh right, is global warming a crock?

• Why do people complain about things they can’t change? Like the weather.

Human First

I disagree with most conventional wisdom about gender. Odds are I think about it differently than you. I acknowledge men and women are different, but I feel standard gender stereotypes about men are extremely limiting. More generally, I believe standard gender stereotypes about both men and women are unhelpful exaggerations. I question the usefulness of the classic masculine/feminine continuum. I’m human first, male second. I want to be a more caring, sensitive, selfless person, attributes typically associated with women. Instead of accepting exaggerated gender differences as the natural order of things, educators, parents, anyone involved with young people and I would be better off identifying attributes we want to help both young men and women develop.

A Passport and Library Card

This post is only for men under 35, and my brother, “Mother’s Favorite”. If you don’t fall within that demographic, stop reading.

Yes, a happy wife equals a happy life, but what if  you’re single? Singleness is cool, but if you want to marry, get a passport and a library card. Traveling abroad and reading are probably optional. More advice here.