For the moment lets put aside our analysis of Bompa and Haff’s work to look at another issue. Lately I’ve been concerned with trends, meta-analysis of the diet industry, including personal training, bloggers, strength coaches etc, and I’ve been perplexed at what I might add to the conversation that addresses the concerns I’ve had about getting client results (while reflecting the myriad positions, experiences and goals of my clients and indeed anyone reading). There is plenty of writing on the how to’s of training and dieting: what programs, what diets, the best cheats and “life-hacks”, but I don’t see so much nuanced work on just what is exactly going on with all these diet plans and training routines, as in why they’re failing (of course there is plenty of work on this out there, I am by no means an independent or original thinker) and why we’re failing as an industry. As Abel notes, if we had all the secrets, why would obesity be such a problem for western society? Well, the answer (or indeed the level of focus) is obvious: it’s not carbs, it’s not the minutae of choosing Wendler’s 5/3/1 or Crossfit of endurance training, but rather psychology, behavior, that is: it is above the concerns of ‘how‘. I am guilty of focusing on the ‘how’ of course, because obviously these things are still important, we need to know what to do, but we also need to know why. And that is what we will attempt to look at the in the coming blogs.
Abel delineates between the popular “dieting” mindset he wants to critique, namely: the diet mentality, and the mindset he believes to be the best to adopt for healthy weight management, that is: the self-compassionate mind. As such it might be important for us to break this series into at least two parts, with (1) dealing with the diet mentality and, (2) dealing with the self-compassionate mind.
The Diet Mentality
Before we begin, let us allow Abel to elaborate for us, the key elements of the diet-mentality, which:
is about results/outcomes
is about appearance over substance
is about amplified emotions
separates you from your inner self – is about self-measurement and emotional judgement of yourself (Abel, 2015, p.78)
Abel states there to be two main factors behind the rise of the diet mentality, (1) body consciousness and, (2) marketing (p. 7). Here he targets the “diet-industry”, which he believes uses the billions of dollars per year it generates to influence its audience by aligning its marketing toward body consciousness. We are told, so the argument goes, that we should care about the diet-industries message, that we should care about our weight, we should look leaner, more than that we should want to look lighter, that we cannot define ourselves without such. The diet-industry sells more than an image however, it sells as Abel puts it, “spiritual fulfillment”, tapping into a grander purpose for your life, giving you purpose if you will. And it is in these messages that the diet mentality begins to take hold.
And conversely, didn’t you know that the reverse is also true as well? For within this message is another, more insidious message.
If a lighter and leaner you is a better you, then if you are currently overweight, then of course you are led to believe that you are not “good enough” just the way you are right now.
And from here the personal angst begins. (Abel, 2015, p.8-9)
From this perspective then well-being becomes solely about your physical appearance, and that health is only about how you look, but Abel thinks this process to be in reverse, that it is an a “spiritually” lighter you, that a physically lighter you will emerge. This internalization Abel claims, stops you from seeing the reality that your inevitable failure to achieve the weight you desire is: “what drives and sustains the diet-industry.” (p. 10) To Abel, the diet-industry does not want you to achieve your goals, because, as he states, if they do, they’ve lost a customer. (p, 10)
The diet-mentality is about emotional manipulation, it tells you according to Abel, that suffering is just the way to get the body you want, that self-control and self-denial are the same thing, but you need to realize there is:
… a qualitative emotional difference between the sacrifices involved with an empowering sense of discipline, and the notion of ‘suffering’ which is punitive and based in self-denial and self-deprivation. (Abel, 2015, p.41)
There is nothing necessarily wrong with deciding to lose or control your weight, especially when you begin from a place of care, of self-compassion, but its the diet mentality that twists these goals and perspectives, replacing the self-compassionate mind. Nor is there anything necessarily wrong with adopting food rules 9as long as they aren’t used as Abel puts it to: “deprive, deny, punish or self-incriminate by emotional judgement”, p. 62), but the diet-mentality can cause a prescriptive and emotional undercurrent, that you must deprive and deny yourself of the food you want, and most importantly if you do not, you are a failure, More than this notes Abel, you fail because you put this heavy emotional burden on yourself, that leads you to further emotionally invest and blame yourself, ontologically it seems, as a failure. All of this however fails to see the true goal of any long-term weight management, that is to let go of heavy emotional pressures about diet and body-weight. (p. 60-61)
This might be enough for now, let us continue these issues in Part 1:B.
Abel, S. (2015). The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control. Scott Abel.