How A PhD Got Duped By Diet Culture

An article came across my inbox called “The Habits of Successful Weight Losers.” It piqued my interest because the truth is there isn’t a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people succeed at long-term, significant weight loss (this has been shown in literature reviews starting in at least 1999 and was recently acknowledged by Canadian Healthcare professionals. (Note: The article is not linked here due its potentially triggering nature, it’s also one of many of it kind so the points made here address this mistake generally.)

I clicked to read the article, curious if it would make the most common mistake of only looking at short-term weight loss (most people succeed at losing weight short term, but gain it all back within two to five years, a huge number of studies simply look at weight loss during the first year and then claim success) or if it would make the less common, but potentially more harmful National Weight Control Registry mistake.

It turns out that it was the latter. I often use the National Weight Control Registry in talks I give to general audiences, health professionals, and university students, faculty and staff to show how easy it is to be duped by diet culture and the poor “science” that backs it up. In this case the person making this mistake is a celebrated personal trainer, fitness speaker and writer, and PhD who has actually written a book written on this premise, so it’s no surprise that so many people with less training in understanding and analyzing research do make the same mistake.

I wrote about this for The Mighty, and you can read the full piece here!

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6 thoughts on “How A PhD Got Duped By Diet Culture

  1. …live with intention.


    THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. It’s a complete grammatically-correct sentence, but it’s got as much content to it as, “When the fireflies set their clocks to midnight, you know the time is nigh.” It’s fauxlosophical nonsense meant to sound profound on a skim.

    This is, without a doubt, what I hate most about diet culture; this constantly treating fat people like we’re very small children, dazzled by showmanship and vacuity-obfuscating sesquipedalian puffery that sounds vaguely “inspirational” as long as we don’t actually think about it (or, on the flipside, are willing to overthink it until it means something “to us”). It’s so frustrating.

  2. “Willing to overthink until it means something to us…”

    What, how did Scientology get in here?

    In a society determined to punish us constantly for a natural, biological body shape, hammering us mercilessly 24/7 with cures, compensation, moral, ethical, biological, social, relational, political absolutes to STOP BEING WHO YOU ARE NOW, is it any wonder people have taken to everything from gut destroying surgery, prayers and fasting, witch doctor cures, repeat money wasting on fat-a-way programs (everyone knows work), celebrity touted miracle lifetime solutions, and endless, doctor sponsored “proven-unprovens”.

    Maybe it all wraps up neatly and acceptingly with: “Or die trying!”

    The very phrasing of : National Weight Control Registry” sounds profoundly creepy.
    “National”: Of concern to ‘every good solid and true citizen!’, your state, your city, your neighborhood, your home.
    Weight: Bias, absolutes, commodity, expectations, moral judgement, whatever it is, it’s too much.
    “Control”: Brothers keepers, your body is MY business, rules, functions, decisions made FOR you, laws, expectations, violators beware.
    “Registry”: Lists, names, codes, numbers, lines, keeping track, following, watching, criminality, recourse, transgressions, punishments, solutions…

    No, I think it will be that bad, if we’re not careful. Stay vocally aware. Remind them you are human, not a catalogue of mistakes in human form you require their help fixing.

      1. US based puritanism and moral compulsion to keep the unruly body, emotions, behavior in check. “I am my bodies keeper!”…. Even when it is someone else body. Then it is all about lusts and appetites’ and forbidden things…
        Seriously, can’t they just read a book, or go for a walk. Volunteer at the local animal clinic….


    Oh look, COVID is gonna “fix the problem” There, no more worries. God is gonna kill all them fatties once and fer all. Wonder if the virus has a specific weight cut off? Five pounds “over weight” you’re dead, four pounds, you’re OK…

    Article does cover medical professional bias at the end. Part of it is poverty, way more poor fat people (fat people who are poor). Poor, less access to good health care. And don’t forget, doctors let people they don’t like die at greater numbers. White doctors not great for children/infants of color article. No, really. Who knew!?

  4. Isn’t self-reporting the kiss of death for any study? We could all report ourselves as having the ability to sprout wings. Hmm. Can I get grant money for a study of the number of people who can sprout wings?

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